Thursday, May 27, 2010

Daniel Farson's Great-Uncle

Finished reading Daniel Farson's The Man Who Wrote Dracula: A Biography of Bram Stoker (London: Michael Joseph, 1975), today.

Soon after the hundred and thirteenth anniversary of its publication, as it turns out.

A few items of note: firstly, Farson (1927-1997) was Stoker's great-nephew. Here's the lineage, as explained by Farson:
Bram was named after his father, Abraham, a civil servant in Dublin Castle. His mother, Charlotte, may have been twenty years younger than her husband but was the more formidable personality with a vaulting ambition for her five sons, though little time for her two daughters. Her father was Lieut. Thomas Thornley (1796-1850) of the 43rd Reg and married her mother, Matilda Blake, in 1817. Bram's elder brother, William, became known as W. Thornley Stoker. Tom, my grandfather, was two years younger (13).
This lineage has also been exploited by Dacre Stoker, Bram's great-grandnephew, who recently co-wrote an "official" sequel to Dracula, called Dracula: The Un-Dead.

But I digress.

The second item of note is Farson's discussion of "The Dracula Game" (152-161), which concerns the then-burgeoning forays into Dracula scholarship, specifically the psychological interpretations of Bierman ("Dracula: Prolonged Childhood Illness and the Oral Triad"), Royce MacGillivray and Shuster's "Dracula and Surgically Induced Trauma in Children".

Farson is astute in noting that
Playing the Dracula Game is fun, but too easy. The simple explanation, that Bram Stoker sat down to create a first-rate story, is not acceptable to the interpreters who frequently credit the artist with meanings that never occurred to him: Bram would have been astonished, and probably outraged, at their ideas. For in dragging their fantasies from the subconscious, they deny the power of Bram Stoker's imagination which, ultimately, was alone responsible for his masterpiece (160-161).
Interestingly, Farson also prefigured Elizabeth Miller's assertion that very little of the "real" Dracula (i.e. Vlad Ţepeș) was incorporated into the novel: "Even a cursory assessment will show that Stoker seized on the name of Dracula, together with a vague impression of the background, and that was all (130)."

Of course, this doesn't stop the biography being rife with speculation and assumptions, itself. For instance, "While he was absorbed in the vampirism of Carmilla. . ." (23), "Stoker might have seen the Lubek print of 1485" (129), right down the claim that Bram died of syphilis contracted from French prostitutes (233-235). It's from Farson and his doctor's diagnosis that this allegation originates. Peter Haining and Peter Tremayne did a commendable job disputing it in The Un-Dead: The Legend of Bram Stoker and Dracula (London: Constable, 1997), pp. 174-184.

Now, as to Bram himself, he generally seemed to exist on the periphery of larger figures, especially his friend Henry Irving. Seemingly little more than a lapdog, Renfield to Irving's Dracula. After a while, he tends to blur into the background of his own story.

But he was clearly a man with a profound sense of loyalty and a very kind heart. He was quite social and had a large circle of friends. Thus, it was a shame to read of him being exploited so readily. And when he was down and out, it seemed only his "Dear Friend Hommy-Beg" (Sir Hall Caine), willingly offered assistance (229-230).

Stoker's work ethic was admirable, even if it probably came at the expense of fostering a healthy family life. His only son, Noel (born Irving Noel Thornley Stoker), apparently resented Bram's association with Henry (215-216).

The biography itself is a brisk, compelling read. It's scholarly value is hampered by a lack of footnotes and bibliography, in favour of narrative fluency. Nonetheless, it's a recommended tome for your Dracula scholarship shelf.

No comments:

Related Posts with Thumbnails