Review — Bram Stoker: A Biography of the Author of Dracula,
by Barbara Belford

In honor of the 1997 centenary of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, you might want to tackle Barbara Belford’s Bram Stoker: A Biography of the Author of Dracula (Knopf, 1996). I can’t say how this book stacks up against the other standard bios — Harry Ludlam’s A Biography of Dracula: The Life Story of Bram Stoker (1962) and Daniel Farson’s The Man Who Wrote Dracula: A Biography of Bram Stoker (1975) are now both out of print — but considered on its own Belford’s book is engrossing, as much for the vivid picture it paints of the world of the Victorian Theater as for its portrait of Stoker. Bram spent almost three decades as business manager for actor Henry Irving, an egotistical genius who was often the Boss From Hell. But on the plus side, Stoker’s position at the Lyceum placed him at the center of Victorian high society, and he counted among his friends and acquaintances Oscar Wilde (who was once madly in love with Stoker’s wife-to-be Florence), Prime Minister Gladstone, George Bernard Shaw, Lord Tennyson, William S. Gilbert (who often served as Florence Stoker’s escort while Bram was at work), Mark Twain, and Walt Whitman (to whom Stoker once wrote in a gushy fan letter, “I am six feet two inches high and twelve stone weight naked and used to be forty-one or forty-two inches round the chest.” Imagine writing that to your favorite author!).

The text is supplemented with an abundance of illustrations, including photographs, contemporary caricatures, and pages from the original manuscript of Dracula. Unfortunately, the book is marred somewhat by Belford’s fondness for roll-your-eyes psychosexual readings of Stoker’s novels (the worm’s cavern in The Lair of the White Worm is “negatively described in vaginal terms: its privacy, its darkness, the strange moist fluids surrounding it, its odor”), and Belford also drops gratuitous digs that smack of attending one too many wymyn’s empowerment seminars, as when she fatuously opines that “A close relationship between any two people, in fact, almost always involves vampiric exploitation” (translation: “My evil ex-boyfriend kept all my Kenny G CDs”). Belford also claims that the all-male dinners in the Lyceum’s Beefsteak Room “created a ‘homosocial’ world of masculine privilege in which women were used as pawns.” Yes, technically speaking ‘homosocial’ could apply to any social group exclusive to a single gender, be it male or female, Greek homo- simply meaning ‘the same’. But Belford obviously uses the term not only to mean that the Beefsteakers were exclusively male but to imply that they were latent homosexuals, since in the next sentence she cites Elaine Showalter on “the shadow of homosexuality that surrounded Clubland”. Hmm, I wonder if Belford would classify the DAR and NOW as ‘lesbosocial’ organizations? Anyway, assuming you can get past lines like these with a chuckle instead of a growl, then you’ll probably find Belford’s biography of Stoker a worthwhile read.

Return to Belfry