An Interview With Bram Stoker

Dracula was published in the UK by Archibald Constable and Co. on May 26th, 1897. Just over one month later, the following interview with Bram Stoker was published in the July 1st edition of The British Weekly. The interview was conducted by Jane Stoddard under the pen name “Lorna”.

“Mr.Bram Stoker. A Chat with the Author of Dracula”

One of the most interesting and exciting of recent novels is Mr. Bram Stoker’s “Dracula.” It deals with the ancient mediaeval vampire legend, and in no English work of fiction has this legend been so brilliantly treated. The scene is laid partly in Transylvania and partly in England. The first fifty-four pages, which give the journal of Jonathan Harker after leaving Vienna until he makes up his mind to escape from Castle Dracula, are in their weird power altogether unrivalled in recent fiction. The only book which to my knowledge at all compares with them is “The Waters of Hercules,” by E.D. Gerard, which also treats of a wild and little known portion of Eastern Europe. Without revealing the plot of the story, I may say that Jonathan Harker, whose diary first introduces the vampire Count, is a young solicitor sent by his employer to Castle Dracula to arrange for the purchase of a house and estate in England.

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Stoker's handwritten notes detailing the characters in DraculaBram Stoker’s handwritten notes on the characters of Dracula

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From the first day of his starting, signs and wonders follow him. At the “Golden Krone” at Bistritz the landlady warns him not to go to Castle Dracula, and, finding that his purpose is unalterable, places a rosary with a crucifix round his neck. For this gift he has good cause to be grateful afterwards. Harker’s fellow-passengers on the stage-coach grow more and more alarmed about his safety as they come nearer to the dominions of the Count. Kindly gifts are pressed upon him: wild rose, garlic, and mountain ash. These are meant to be a protection against the evil eye. The author seems to know every corner of Transylvania and all its superstitions. Presently in the Borgo Pass a carriage with four horses drives up beside the coach. “The horses were driven by a tall man with a long brown beard, and a great black hat which seemed to hide his face from us. I could only see the gleam of a pair of very bright eyes, which seemed red in the lamplight as he turned to us…. As he spoke he smiled, and the lamplight fell on a hard-looking mouth, with very red lips and sharp-looking teeth as white as ivory. One of my companions whispered the line from Burger’s ‘Lenore’: ‘Denn die Todten reiten schnell’ (‘For the dead travel fast’).”

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Dracula First EditionDracula first edition

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This is the famous king vampire, Count Dracula, in ancient times a warlike Transylvanian noble. Jonathan Harker is conscious from the first that he is among ghostly and terrible surroundings. Even on the night journey to the Castle, wolves which have gathered round the carriage disappear when the terrible driver lifts his hand. On his arrival the guest is left waiting, and presently a tall old man, whom he suspects from the beginning to be none other than the driver himself, bids him welcome to his house. The Count never eats with his guest. During the day he is absent, but during the night he converses, the dawn breaking up the interview. There are no mirrors to be seen in any part of the ancient building, and the young solicitor’s fears are confirmed by the fact that one morning, when the Count comes unexpectedly to his bedroom and stands looking over his shoulder, there is no reflection of him in the small shaving glass Harker has brought from London, and which covers the whole room behind. The adventures of Jonathan Harker will be read again and again; the most powerful part of the book after this is the description of the voyage of the Demeter from Varna to Whitby. A supernatural terror haunts the crew from the moment that they leave the Dardanelles, and as time goes on one man after another disappears. It is whispered that at night a man, tall, thin, and ghastly pale, is seen moving about the ship. The mate, a Roumanian, who probably knows the vampire legend, searches during the day in a number of old boxes, and in one he finds Count Dracula asleep. His own suicide and the death of the captain follow, and when the ship arrives at Whitby, the vampire escapes in the form of a huge dog. The strange thing is that, although in some respects this is a gruesome book, it leaves on the mind an entirely wholesome impression. The events which happen are so far removed from ordinary experience that they do not haunt the imagination unpleasantly. It is certain that no other writer of our day could have produced so marvellous a book.

On Monday morning I had the pleasure of a short conversation with Mr. Bram Stoker, who, as most people know, is Sir Henry Irving’s manager at the Lyceum Theatre. He told me, in reply to a question, that the plot of the story had been a long time in his mind, and that he spent about three years in writing it. He had always been interested in the vampire legend. “It is undoubtedly,” he remarked, “a very fascinating theme, since it touches both on mystery and fact. In the Middle Ages the terror of the vampire depopulated whole villages.”

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Sir Henry Irving (top hat) and Bram Stoker take a cab from the private Burleigh Street entrance of the Lyceum Theatre, which was reserved for the use of the “Unholy Trinity” of Irving, Stoker and H.J. Loveday, the Lyceum’s stage manager.

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Is there any historical basis for the legend?

“It rested, I imagine, on some such case as this. A person may have fallen into a death-like trance and been buried before the time. Afterwards the body may have been dug up and found alive, and from this a horror seized upon the people, and in their ignorance they imagined that a vampire was about. The more hysterical, through excess of fear, might themselves fall into trances in the same way; and so the story grew that one vampire might enslave many others and make them like himself. Even in the single villages it was believed that there might be many such creatures. When once the panic seized the population, their only thought was to escape.”

In what parts of Europe has this belief been most prevalent?

“In certain parts of Styria it has survived longest and with most intensity, but the legend is common to many countries, to China, Iceland, Germany, Saxony, Turkey, the Chersonese, Russia, Poland, Italy, France, and England, besides all the Tartar communities.”

In order to understand the legend, I suppose it would be necessary to consult many authorities?

Mr. Stoker told me that the knowledge of vampire superstitions shown in “Dracula” was gathered from a great deal of miscellaneous reading.

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The Land Beyond the ForestEmily Gerard’s The Land Beyond the Forest, published in 1888, is still in print

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“No one book that I know of will give you all the facts. I learned a good deal from E. Gerard’s ‘Essays on Roumanian Superstitions,’ which first appeared in The Nineteenth Century, and were afterwards published in a couple of volumes. I also learned something from Mr. Baring-Gould’s ‘Were-Wolves.’ Mr. Gould has promised a book on vampires, but I do not know whether he has made any progress with it.”

Readers of “Dracula” will remember that the most famous character in it is Dr. Van Helsing, the Dutch physician, who, by extraordinary skill, self-devotion, and labour, finally outwits and destroys the vampire. Mr. Stoker told me that van Helsing is founded on a real character. In a recent leader on “Dracula,” published in a provincial newspaper, it is suggested that high moral lessons might be gathered from the book. I asked Mr. Stoker whether he had written with a purpose, but on this point he would give no definite answer, “I suppose that every book of the kind must contain some lesson,” he remarked; “but I prefer that readers should find it out for themselves.”

In reply to further questions, Mr. Stoker said that he was born in Dublin, and that his work had laid for thirteen years in the Civil Service. He is an M.A. of Trinity College, Dublin. His brother-in-law is Mr. Frankfort Moore, one of the most popular young writers of the day. He began his literary work early. The first thing he published was a book on “The Duties of Clerks of Petty Sessions.” Next came a series of children’s stories, “Under the Sunset,” published by Sampson Low. Then followed the book by which he has hitherto been best known, “The Snake’s Pass.” Messrs. Constable have published in their “Acme” library a fascinating little volume called “The Watter’s Mou,” and this with “The Shoulder of Shasta,” completes Mr. Stoker’s list of novels. He has been in London for some nineteen years, and believes that London is the best possible place for a literary man. “A writer will find a chance here if he is good for anything; and
recognition is only a matter of time.” Mr. Stoker speaks of the generosity shown by literary men to one another in a tone which shows that he, at least, is not disposed to quarrel with the critics.

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The Book of WerewolvesSabine Baring-Gould’s The Book of Were-Wolves, published in 1865, is also still in print

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Mr. Stoker does not find it necessary to publish through a literary agent. It always seems to him, he says, that an author with an ordinary business capacity can do better for himself than through any agent. “Some men now-a-days are making ten thousand a year by their novels, and it seems hardly fair that they should pay ten or five percent of this great sum to a middleman. By a dozen letters or so in the course of the year they could settle all their literary business on their own account.” Though Mr. Stoker did not say so, I am inclined to think that the literary agent is to him a nineteenth century vampire.

No interview during this week would be complete without a reference to the Jubilee, so I asked Mr. Stoker, as a Londoner of nearly twenty years standing, what he thought of the celebrations. “Everyone,” he said, “has been proud that the great day went off so successfully. We have had a magnificent survey of the Empire, and last week’s procession brought home, as nothing else could have done, the sense of the immense variety of the Queen’s dominions.”

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Staged Reading Of Dracula At The Lyceum Theatre In 1897

The first theatrical performance of Dracula took place on May 18th, 1897 at the Lyceum Theatre in London. Arranged by Bram Stoker to protect the dramatic rights of his novel, the performance took the form of a dramatic reading performed by a fifteen-strong cast drawn from members of the Lyceum’s resident company of actors.

Stoker's handwritten manuscript for the staged reading of Dracula

Stoker’s script for the staged reading of Dracula

 

The script, comprising of a prologue and five acts containing forty-seven scenes, was largely assembled from the galley proofs for Dracula, which would be published eight days later on May 26, with handwritten additions, changes and stage directions by Stoker. Even at this late stage, Stoker was undecided about the title for his novel. The programme announced Dracula or The Un-dead. When he signed a publishing contract with Archibald Constable and Company two days later the title had changed to The Un-Dead. Six days later he finally settled on Dracula.

The Lyceum Theatre

As was usual for copyright readings, posters were put up outside the theatre only half an hour before the 10:15 a.m. performance. The audience comprised of just two paying members of the public and some of the Lyceum’s actors, crew and staff. The two members of the audience who had purchased tickets must have been extremely patient. The reading is usually said to have taken about four hours to complete, but  a second reading undertaken one hundred years later, and read “at breakneck speed,” took six hours.

The convention of the time was to list actors only by their surnames in an effort to bestow professional respectability at a time when, with few exceptions, actors were not viewed as socially acceptable. This had made researcher’s attempts to identify individual actors an often frustrating venture. Thanks to Bram Stoker’s meticulously kept records, however, most of the cast have now been identified. The Mr Jones listed in the programme as Count Dracula has traditionally been identified as Whitworth Jones, an actor “whose roles veered toward an assortment of wizards, kings, and demons, including Mephistopheles.” Stoker’s records contradict this theory, showing that Whitworth Jones was not employed at The Lyceum until September 1897 as a member of the Forbes Robertson’s Company, which took out a short sublease of the theatre. He was never a member of Irving’s company. A much more likely candidate is an actor by the name of Thomas Arthur Jones (1871-1954) who usually performed under the name T. Arthur Jones. Like several other members of the Dracula cast, he was appearing in the Lyceum’s current production of Madame Sans-Gêne, for which he was listed as “Mr Jones in the programme. The case for his nomination for the role is strengthened by the fact that he read the part of Sir Robert Walpole in Stoker’s copyright reading of his novel Miss Betty at the Lyceum on January 31st, 1898.

Bram Stoker

Professor Van Helsing was read by Tom Reynolds (1866-1942), who enjoyed a long career as an actor on both stage and screen and as a stage manager. Beginning his career in 1887, he was still attracting strong reviews 45 years later when appearing as the Judge in A.A. Milne’s 1932 production of The Wind in the Willows.

Tom Reynolds photographed by Bassano on November 3, 1919

Kenneth Rivington, then appearing alongside T.A. Jones in Madame Sans-Gêne, read the part of John Seward M.D. He played another famous doctor later in his career. In 1905 he appeared as Dr. Watson opposite William Gillette’s Sherlock Holmes in Sherlock Holmes, The Strange Case of Miss Faulkner at the Duke of York’s theatre in London. Rivington also appeared as Sherlock Holmes in a touring production of the play,  which was notable for featuring a young Charlie Chaplin in his first dramatic role. Forty-six years later, in 1951, the Duke of York’s theatre was the venue for the second week of rehearsals for Bela Lugosi’s British revival tour of Dracula. Rivington played Dr. Watson again in a production of  The Speckled Band at the St. James’s Theatre in 1921.

Ellen Terry and Edith Craig in the Lyceum’s 1892 production of Henry VIII

Mina Murray  was read by Edith Craig (1869-1947), the daughter of the great Victorian actress Ellen Terry. Then appearing as Toinon in Madame Sans-Gêne, Edith had a prolific career in the theatre as an actress, often in productions with her mother, director, producer and costume designer. She was also an early pioneer of the women’s suffrage movement.

Other members of the cast of Madame Sans-Gêne who took part in the reading included Herbert Passmore as Jonathan Harker, E. Eardley Howard as R.M. Renfield, Mr. Porter as the attendant at the asylum, and Herbet Innes (also known as Innis) as the Hon. Arthur Holmwood. Innes later read the part of Robin in the 1898 staged reading of Miss Betty

Wallace Widdecombe (1868-1969), who read the part of Quincy P. Morris, went to America in 1901 with Sir Charles Hawtrey to star in the play A Message from Mars. He continued his career in America until his final role in 1953 in a production of Richard III. His role in the 1932 production of Red Planet by John L. Balderston, who adapted Dracula for the American stage, was just one of many appearances he made on Broadway. He also had roles in several silent films. Remarkably, and previously undocumented, Wallace Widdecombe appeared in the role of Dr. Seward opposite Raymond Huntley in the American production of Dracula in 1929 and 1930 and in the same role opposite Bela Lugosi in a 1943 revival tour of Dracula. At the time of his death, at the age of 100, he was the oldest living member of Actors Equity.

Wallace Widdecombe in the early 1900s

Of the remaining parts, Captain Swales was read by Henry Gurney, an actor who remained active until at least 1909, and Lucy Westenra by Mary Foster, who also read the part of Priscilla Pole in the 1898 staged reading of Miss Betty. There is some confusion as to who read the parts of Mrs. Westenra and the servant. One possibility for Mrs. Westenra is Kate Gurney, who may have been related to Henry Gurney. However, Stoker biographer Daniel Farson (1927-1997) claimed that an alternate version of the playbill existed which not only stated that the performance began thirty minutes earlier at 10 a.m., but that the part of Mrs. Westenra was read by a Miss Yeolande. At the time, there were two actresses by the name of Yeolande at the Lyceum – Miss Ida Yeolande and Miss E. Yeolande. Nothing is known of the Miss Cornford listed as reading the servant, but according to Farson the alternate playbill listed a Miss Holland as reading the part. At the time of the reading, an actress by the name of May Holland was employed at the Lyceum.  Despite Stoker’s meticulous records, nothing at all is known of the Mr. Simpson who read the part of the coastguard or the Mrs. Daly who read the part of a vampire woman.

   

Sir Henry Irving

Stoker is said to have desperately wanted Sir Henry Irving, on whom he is reputed to have based the character of Dracula, to play the title role in a full production, but Irving adamantly refused. Legend has it that when Stoker asked Irving what he thought of the reading, the actor replied with a dismissive, “Dreadful!” According to Ellen Terry, Irving, a supreme egotist, “simply could not give himself up to appreciation. It was never any pleasure to him to see the acting of other actors and actresses.”

Dracula was granted License #162 by the Lord Chamberlain’s Office, the official censor charged with protecting the morals of the British theatregoing public. Surprisingly, considering Dracula’s subject matter, the censor found nothing objectionable in the play. He notified Stoker that it was a “very remarkable dramatic version of your forthcoming novel; which I should say amply fulfils the letter of the copyright law….and to my official mind is satisfied that there is nothing unlicenseable in the piece.”

Despite the granting of a license and Stoker’s conviction that a theatrical production would be a popular hit, bringing in much-needed cash to the Lyceum’s coffers, no version was produced during his lifetime. According to the December 3rd, 1899 edition of the Kansa City Journal, however, an American backer approached Stoker with a view to putting Dracula on the stage. The paper reported that ” Since arriving in Boston, Bram Stoker, Manager of Sir Henry Irving, has received a proposition to dramatize his latest book, “Dracula.” If it is put on the stage, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde will, it is said, soon become a pleasant memory.” Nothing more was reported of the project. Perhaps Stoker was unwilling to allow anyone to stage a production of Dracula when he still had hopes of persuading Irving to star in a production at the Lyceum?

On May 18th, 1997, exactly one hundred years after the staged reading at the Lyceum, Dracula or the Undead received a second performance at the Spaniards Inn in Hampstead, London, to an audience of two – an intentional homage to the original production . Built in 1885, the inn was an appropriate setting for the reading as it was mentioned in chapter fifteen of the novel. In his diary, Dr. Seward wrote of his visit to Lucy’s tomb with Van Helsing. After finding the tomb empty, they recovered a small child, one of the victims of the now un-dead Lucy, from among the tombstones. They left the child for a patrolling policeman to find at the edge of Hampstead Heath. “We heard his exclamation of astonishment, and then we went away silently. By good chance we got a cab near the ‘Spaniards,’ and drove to town.”

Stoker’s script for Dracula Or The Un-Dead was published for the first time in 1998 by Pumpkin Books. (Andi Brooks)

Thank you to J. Betterton for additional details of Thomas Arthur Jones (see comments below).

A very rare recording of Sir Henry Irving, Bram Stoker’s choice for Count Dracula, delivering a recitation from Richard III, recorded on May 9th, 1898.

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Related articles

An Interview With Bram Stoker

Contemporary Reviews Of Bram Stoker’s Dracula

The Library

A collection of rare editions of Dracula