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10 Blood-Curdling Facts About Dracula

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Dracula needs no introduction, but we’ll give him one anyway: Bram Stoker’s vampire, a Transylvanian count who turns into a bat, sleeps in coffins, and drinks the blood of the living, is the quintessential horror villain. And in true undead style, he holds up well—he’s as creepy today as he was when Stoker invented him in 1897.

1. DRACULA MAY HAVE BEEN INSPIRED BY A NIGHTMARE.

Carl savich // Wikimedia Commons

As was apparently common among Victorian gothic fiction, Dracula supposedly came from a nightmare ... one possibly caused by bad seafood. According to biographer Harry Ludlam, Stoker said he was compelled to pen the tale after dreaming of “a vampire king rising from the tomb”—following a "helping of dressed crab at supper.” While the fare might not have actually had anything to do with what he dreamt that night, Stoker’s private working notes show him revisiting the frightening vision. In March 1890, he wrote, “young man goes out—sees girls. One tries to kiss him not on the lips but throat. Old Count interferes—rage and fury diabolical. ‘This man belongs to me. I want him.’” Whether this is the actual nightmare or the beginning of Jonathan Harker’s story is unclear, but Stoker returned to the dream repeatedly while writing the book.

2. VAMPIRES SHARE A HISTORY WITH FRANKENSTEIN.

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (Google books), Wikimedia Commons

In 1816, on a gloomy day in Lake Geneva, Lord Byron proposed a ghost story contest that led to Mary Shelley writing Frankenstein. It was also the birth of The Vampyre by John Polidori, he first-ever vampire story written in English. Polidori was Byron’s personal physician and he may have based his aristocratic bloodsucker on his patient—which would make Lord Byron the basis for the bulk of vampire depictions that followed. (Other accounts say that Polidori stole a fragment of fiction that Byron wrote and used it in his story.) In any case, The Vampyre influenced Varney the Vampire, a popular penny dreadful from the 1840s, and Carmilla, a novella about a lesbian vampire from the 1870s, and, of course, Stoker.

3. STOKER STARTED WRITING DRACULA RIGHT AFTER JACK THE RIPPER.

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Stoker began Dracula in 1890, two years after Jack the Ripper terrorized London. The lurid atmosphere these crimes produced made their way into Stoker’s novel, which was confirmed in the 1901 preface to the Icelandic edition of Dracula. Stoker's reference links the two frightening figures in such a way that raises more questions than provides answers, but no doubt confirms the terrifying real-life influence on his fictional world. 

4. DRACULA MIGHT BE BASED ON STOKER'S HORRIBLE BOSS.

Reginald Grenville Eves, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Stoker’s boss of almost 30 years was Henry Irving, a renown Shakespearean actor and owner of the Lyceum Theatre in London. Stoker was Irving’s business manager, press agent, and secretary. Like the Hollywood assistant of today, his job started early and ended late, with a lot of ego boosting in between. Some critics have suggested that the charismatic Irving was the basis for Dracula. In a review of A Biography of the Author of Dracula by Barbara Belford in the Chicago TribunePenelope Mesic wrote: 

Here, Belford suggests, was the aristocratic, tall, flamboyant, mesmerizing figure with the smoldering eyes and elegant long hands whose egotism and allure were transplanted by Stoker into the sexually ambiguous figure who could drain the life out of those around him and yet exert a fascination that made the soul-destroying experience pleasurable.

Whether or not it was inspired by him, Irving didn’t like Dracula. After seeing a performance of the story, Stoker asked Irving what he thought. Irving would only reply, “Dreadful!

5. VLAD THE IMPALER MAY HAVE BEEN AN INFLUENCE, TOO.

Daniel R. Blume, Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0 

It’s believed that Stoker based Dracula in part on a Romanian prince named Vlad Dracula, or Vlad the Impaler, who was known for skewering his enemies. Scholars disagree about how much Stoker knew about Vlad, with some insisting that there’s no proof he based Dracula on the vengeful prince. What we do know from Stoker’s working notes is that he read a book titled An Account of the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia by William Wilkinson. The book mentions several leaders named “Dracula,” including Vlad the Impaler, and how one of them attacked Turkish troops. While reading this book, Stoker changed the vampire’s name from Count Wampyr to Dracula, copying from a footnote: “DRACULA in Wallachian language means DEVIL.”

6. STOKER NEVER WENT TO TRANSYLVANIA.

Lenard denes, Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0

Although Stoker set his book in Transylvania, he never visited the country. Instead, he researched the setting as best he could and imagined the rest. Most of his Victorian readers didn’t know the difference, especially since he added details from travel books, including train timetables, hotel names, and a chicken dish called paprika hendl.

7. DRACULA'S CASTLE WAS BASED ON ONE IN SCOTLAND. 

Colin Smith, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0

Many critics believe that Stoker used Slains Castle in Scotland as the model for Dracula’s home. Stoker spent many summers in nearby Cruden Bay and was familiar with the surrounding sites, including these castle ruins on a hill. He was even staying in the area when he wrote the description of “a vast ruined castle, from whose tall black windows came no ray of light, and whose broken battlements showed a jagged line against the sky.”

8. LUCY'S DEATH SCENE WAS BASED ON A REAL EXHUMATION.

Dracula (1992), Columbia

In Dracula, vampire Lucy is killed by her suitor when he opens her coffin and stakes her in the heart. Stoker may have borrowed this from the experience of his neighbor, poet and painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti (who, incidentally, was the nephew of John Polidori). When Rossetti’s wife Elizabeth Siddal died in 1862, Rossetti put a journal of love poems in her coffin, winding it romantically in her red hair. Then in 1869, he changed his mind and the coffin was raised in the middle of the night so he could retrieve the book. The grisly exhumation (some of Siddal’s hair came away in Rossetti’s hands) may have been on Stoker’s mind when he wrote Lucy’s final end.

9. IT WAS ALMOST CALLED THE UNDEAD.

Amandajm, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The working title of the novel was The Dead Un-Dead, which was later shortened to The Undead. Then, right before it was published, Stoker changed the title once more to Dracula. What's in a name? Well, it's tough to say. Upon release, Dracula got good reviews, but it was slow to sell, and by the end of his life, Stoker was so poor that he had to ask for a compassionate grant from the Royal Literary Fund. The Gothic tale didn't become the legend it is today until film adaptations began popping up during the 20th century.

10. STOKER'S COPYRIGHT ALMOST DESTROYED NOSFERATU.

F.W. Murnau, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain 

While Dracula wasn’t an instant hit, Stoker held onto the theatrical copyright. After his death in 1922, a German film company made the now classic Nosferatu, for which they changed the names of the characters, but still didn’t get permission to use the story. Stoker’s widow sued and a German court ordered that every copy of the film be destroyed. Luckily for us, one survived. Eventually, it made its way to the United States and developed a cult following. Today, it’s thought of as one of the definitive pieces of horror cinema.

The movies are what really made Dracula a star. He has appeared in more films than any other horror character—over 200 and counting—and that number doesn’t even include comedies and cartoons.

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12 Smart Book Ideas for Everyone in Your Life
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Books make the perfect gift: they're durable, transportable, and they promise some (hopefully) quality alone time. But what do you get the aunt who loves mystery novels if you're not familiar with the genre? Or the nephew who devours travelogues and goes backpacking around the world? Look no further—we've got them covered, plus 10 other very specific categories.

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Author Sarah Rich and illustrator Wendy MacNaughton fell in love with the work of Cipe Pineles, the first female art director at Condé Nast, after discovering her recipes at a San Francisco antiquarian book fair. Filled with vibrantly colored illustrations, Leave Me Alone With the Recipes shows the joyful spirit and homespun flair that made Pineles’s work so influential. Alongside the recipes, the book includes contributions from luminaries in the worlds of food and illustration, including artist Maira Kalman and Maria Popova of Brain Pickings renown.

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2. FOR ANYONE HAVING SURGERY THIS YEAR: THE BUTCHERING ART: JOSEPH LISTER’S QUEST TO TRANSFORM THE GRISLY WORLD OF VICTORIAN MEDICINE BY LINDSEY FITZHARRIS; $27

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Back in the bad old days of medicine, a consistently blood-soaked apron was a sign of pride. Surgeons rarely washed them—or their hands, or their operating tools. Joseph Lister, the somewhat reluctant hero of Lindsey Fitzharris's new book The Butchering Art, was the genius who convinced the medical world that germs were not only real but a major cause of mortality in their hospitals. With an eye for vivid details and the colorful characters of 19th century medicine, Fitzharris has crafted a book that will make you thank Lister for his foresight—and make you glad you weren't alive back then.

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What constitutes a "family"? In his latest book, A.J. Jacobs (famed for lifestyle experiments like trying to live an entire year in accordance with the Bible) delves into the world of genetics and genealogy to try and orchestrate the world's largest family reunion. With his trademark humor and insight, he ends up exploring the interconnectedness of all of humankind.

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4. FOR THE SOCIALLY AWARE YOUNG ADULT: THE HATE U GIVE BY ANGIE THOMAS; $18

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Already caught between the conflicting worlds of the poor neighborhood where she lives and her fancy prep school, 16-year-old Starr Carter finds herself in the middle of a tragedy when her childhood best friend is shot and killed by a police officer. As his death becomes a national flashpoint, it becomes clear that she may be the only person alive who can explain what really happened that night. Angie Thomas's writing has earned praise for being gut-wrenching, searing, and deftly crafted; Publishers Weekly called the book "heartbreakingly topical."

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You might think you know the Roosevelts, but historian William J. Mann looks beyond the well-worn stories to expose the bitter rivalries that drove its most famous members' quest for power. Along the way, he examines the Roosevelts who were kept away from the limelight, and the secrets they hold—all told in dramatic style.

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An amusement park in a salt mine? Check. A tree so big it has its own pub? Check. A giant hole that's been spouting flames for 40 years? Check. This guidebook is a compendium of the world's strangest and most wonderful places, and it's guaranteed to inspire some serious wanderlust, especially in more adventurous travelers. For the complete experience, you can also get an awesome wall calendar featuring destinations from the book designed as vintage travel posters; there's a page-a-day desk calendar and explorers' journal too.

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The Public Domain Review is one of the premier online destination for fans of curious history. If you know someone who enjoys stories about weird medieval medicine treaties, ancient automata, deranged 18th century scientists, and other odd subjects well off the beaten historical path, look no further than this book of essays (the site's fourth).

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At the heart of every good mystery is a (usually dastardly) perpetrator, whether it's a Count Dracula or a Jimmy Valentine. With this anthology, Edgar Award winner Otto Penzler has combed through 150 years of literary history to find 72 stories featuring the most famous and entertaining antiheroes authors have ever been able to dream up.

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Jews and humor go together like challah and Manischewitz (after all, as my bubbie says, if you don't laugh, you'll cry). In this "serious history," Columbia professor Jeremy Dauber considers the origins of Jewish humor in Biblical times through its life on Twitter today; how it's reflected—and even influenced—Jewish history; the production of major archetypes like the Jewish mother; and the prominence of Jewish comedians like Sarah Silverman and Larry David. You don't have to be Jewish to love it, but it may help you understand the in-jokes.

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A story told in the form of Law & Order episode summaries. A strange plague that makes girls go invisible, as narrated by a mall worker. A recollection of romantic encounters with the last of humanity’s survivors. In this collection, Carmen Maria Machado fuses urban legends, dystopian tropes, and heavy helpings of sexuality to create a new kind of magical realism strangely appropriate to our era. The images will haunt you long after you put the book down, if you let them.

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A meditation on sorrow and the Civil War populated by a rag-tag group of ghosts, Lincoln in the Bardo starts with the real-life death of 11-year-old Willie Lincoln, Abraham's son. In the book, Willie has entered the Bardo—a Tibetan Buddhist term for a transitional limbo—where there's a fierce struggle underway for his soul.

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Book of the Month Club

Can’t decide what to get, but feeling generous? Give your friend who loves to read a new hardcover book of their choice every month. Literary fans who are short on time will love having someone else do the legwork to find the best new novels; plus, there’s early access to new releases. Prices vary depending on the length of the subscription, and there’s a deal right now where you can get a month free when you give a subscription as a gift.

Find It: Book of the Month

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10 Little Facts About Louisa May Alcott
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Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Born on this day in 1832, Louisa May Alcott led a fascinating life. Besides enchanting millions of readers with her novel Little Women, she worked as a Civil War nurse, fought against slavery, and registered women to vote. In honor of her birthday, here are 10 facts about Alcott.

1. SHE HAD MANY FAMOUS FRIENDS.

Louisa's parents, Bronson and Abigail Alcott, raised their four daughters in a politically active household in Massachusetts. As a child, Alcott briefly lived with her family in a failed Transcendentalist commune, helped her parents hide slaves who had escaped via the Underground Railroad, and had discussions about women’s rights with Margaret Fuller. Throughout her life, she socialized with her father’s friends, including Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Although her family was always poor, Alcott had access to valuable learning experiences. She read books in Emerson’s library and learned about botany at Walden Pond with Thoreau, later writing a poem called "Thoreau’s Flute" for her friend. She also socialized with abolitionist Frederick Douglass and women’s suffrage activist Julia Ward Howe.

2. HER FIRST NOM DE PLUME WAS FLORA FAIRFIELD.

As a teenager, Alcott worked a variety of teaching and servant jobs to earn money for her family. She first became a published writer at 19 years old, when a women’s magazine printed one of her poems. For reasons that are unclear, Alcott used a pen name—Flora Fairfield—rather than her real name, perhaps because she felt that she was still developing as a writer. But in 1854 at age 22, Alcott used her own name for the first time. She published Flower Fables, a collection of fairy tales she had written six years earlier for Emerson’s daughter, Ellen.

3. SHE SECRETLY WROTE PULP FICTION.

Before writing Little Women, Alcott wrote Gothic pulp fiction under the nom de plume A.M. Barnard. Continuing her amusing penchant for alliteration, she wrote books and plays called Perilous Play and Pauline’s Passion and Punishment to make easy money. Alcott wrote about cross-dressers, spies, revenge, and hashish. These sensational, melodramatic works are strikingly different than the more wholesome, righteous vibe she captured in Little Women, and she didn’t advertise her former writing as her own after Little Women became popular.

4. SHE WROTE ABOUT HER EXPERIENCE AS A CIVIL WAR NURSE.


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In 1861, at the beginning of the U.S. Civil War, Alcott sewed Union uniforms in Concord and, the next year, enlisted as an army nurse. In a Washington, D.C. hotel-turned-hospital, she comforted dying soldiers and helped doctors perform amputations. During this time, she wrote about her experiences in her journal and in letters to her family. In 1863, she published Hospital Sketches, a fictionalized account, based on her letters, of her stressful yet meaningful experiences as a wartime nurse. The book became massively popular and was reprinted in 1869 with more material.

5. SHE SUFFERED FROM MERCURY POISONING.

After a month and a half of nursing in D.C., Alcott caught typhoid fever and pneumonia. She received the standard treatment at the time—a toxic mercury compound called calomel. (Calomel was used in medicines through the 19th century.) Because of this exposure to mercury, Alcott suffered from symptoms of mercury poisoning for the rest of her life. She had a weakened immune system, vertigo, and had episodes of hallucinations. To combat the pain caused by the mercury poisoning (as well as a possible autoimmune disorder, such as lupus, that could have been triggered by it), she took opium. Alcott died of a stroke in 1888, at 55 years old.

6. SHE WROTE LITTLE WOMEN TO HELP HER FATHER.

In 1867, Thomas Niles, an editor at a publishing house, asked Alcott if she wanted to write a novel for girls. Although she tried to get excited about the project, she thought she wouldn’t have much to write about girls because she was a tomboy. The next year, Alcott’s father was trying to convince Niles to publish his manuscript about philosophy. He told Niles that his daughter could write a book of fairy stories, but Niles still wanted a novel about girls. Niles told Alcott’s father that if he could get his daughter to write a (non-fairy) novel for girls, he would publish his philosophy manuscript. So to make her father happy and help his writing career, Alcott wrote about her adolescence growing up with her three sisters. Published in September 1868, the first part of Little Women was a huge success. The second part was published in 1869, and Alcott went on to write sequels such as Little Men (1871) and Jo’s Boys (1886).

7. SHE WAS AN EARLY SUFFRAGETTE.

In the 1870s, Alcott wrote for a women’s rights periodical and went door-to-door in Massachusetts to encourage women to vote. In 1879, the state passed a law that would allow women to vote in local elections on anything involving education and children—Alcott registered immediately, becoming the first woman registered in Concord to vote. Although met with resistance, she, along with 19 other women, cast ballots in a 1880 town meeting. The Nineteenth Amendment was finally ratified in 1920, decades after Alcott died.

8. SHE PRETENDED TO BE HER OWN SERVANT TO TRICK HER FANS.


Orchard House, the Alcott family home. Phillip Capper from Wellington, New Zealand (Flickr) // CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

After the success of Little Women, fans who connected with the book traveled to Concord to see where Alcott grew up. One month, Alcott had a hundred strangers knock on the door of Orchard House, her family’s home, hoping to see her. Because she didn’t like the attention, she sometimes pretended to be a servant when she answered the front door, hoping to trick fans into leaving.

9. ALCOTT NEVER HAD CHILDREN, BUT SHE CARED FOR HER NIECE.

Although Alcott never married or had biological children, she took care of her orphaned niece. In 1879, Alcott’s youngest sister May died a month after giving birth to her daughter. As she was dying, May told her husband to send the baby, whom she named Louisa in honor of Alcott, to her older sister. Nicknamed Lulu, the girl spent her childhood with Alcott, who wrote her stories and seemed a good fit for her high-spiritedness. Lulu was just 8 when Alcott died, at which point she went to live with her father in Switzerland.

10. FANS CAN VISIT ALCOTT'S FAMILY HOME IN CONCORD, MASSACHUSETTS.

At 399 Lexington Road in Concord, Massachusetts, tourists can visit Orchard House, the Alcott family home from 1858 to 1877. Orchard House is a designated National Historic Landmark, and visitors can take a guided tour to see where Alcott wrote and set Little Women. Visitors can also get a look at Alcott’s writing desk and the family’s original furniture and paintings.

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