How One of the Victorian Era’s Most Famous Actors Became Bram Stoker’s Dracula

Bram Stoker (L) and Sir Henry Irving (R). Image Credits: Unidentified photographer, public domain; Lock and Whitfield, public domain

The role of Count Dracula was not one that Henry Irving wanted. More than a century ago, the actor refused the part in a staged reading of Bram Stoker’s exciting new novel, released in 1897. Yet Irving would never entirely shake the specter of the intense, sensual vampire—a character that scholars say he himself inspired.

Abraham “Bram” Stoker grew up in Ireland in the mid-1800s. A sickly child, he spent many days and nights in bed while his mother Charlotte filled his ears with tales of monsters and ghouls, disease and death. But Stoker grew healthier as he got older, and by the time he left home for university, he was a hale, red-haired giant. Bram had become a jock, but a well-read jock, exchanging doting and passionate letters with his idol Walt Whitman.

After college, Bram followed in his father’s footsteps and entered civil service. He might have stayed there, too, were it not for the lure of the theater. So eager was Stoker to immerse himself in Dublin’s dramatic scene that he began volunteering at night as a theater critic for the Dublin Evening Mail—despite the fact that the paper already had paid staff writing reviews.

It was in his capacity as a critic that Stoker first encountered Henry Irving in 1877. The actor was playing the lead role in Hamlet—a well-worn part by any measure, yet Stoker felt that Irving brought a depth and freshness to the performance that had never been seen before.

Henry Irving as Hamlet, from a painting by Sir Edwin Long. Image Credit: Public Domain

Stoker was instantly enchanted. He returned to see a second performance, and then a third, writing a new review each time. Intrigued by the attention, Irving invited an ecstatic Stoker to a dinner party.

An after-meal recitation by Irving cemented the night in Stoker’s mind forever. Even in a dining room the imposing actor commanded his audience with almost mesmeric power. “Outwardly I was as of stone …” Stoker wrote years later in his book Personal Reminiscences of Henry Irving. “The whole thing was new, re-created by a force of passion which was like a new power." When the poem concluded, Stoker “burst out into something like a fit of hysterics.”

That night, he wrote, “began the close friendship between us which only terminated with his life—if indeed friendship, like any other form of love, can ever terminate.”

Irving was flattered by the younger man’s avid attention and enjoyed his company. The two began spending more and more time together, sometimes talking until sunrise. Irving offered Stoker a job as his business manager. Stoker quit his office job (much to his parents’ chagrin) and gave himself over to a life in the theater.

It was a good fit: Stoker was a thoroughly educated man and a gifted manager with a head for figures. Irving’s theater, the Lyceum, blossomed under Stoker’s careful and devoted attention. Yet despite his talents and hard work, which kept him away from his wife and child for days, even months at a time (Bram married Florence Balcombe in 1878; the two welcomed their son Irving—ahem—one year later), Stoker never sought attention or acclaim.

Even if he had, he likely would not have had much luck. Someone once asked Irving if he had a college degree. "No,” he drawled, “but I have a secretary who has two." The “secretary” he spoke of so dismissively was Stoker.

This seemingly symbiotic relationship—Irving as vainglorious master, Stoker the humble servant—went on for decades. “Being anywhere with Irving was contentment for Stoker,” historian Barbara Belford wrote in her 1996 book Bram Stoker: A Biography of the Author of Dracula.

Irving in character. Image Credit: Public Domain

But trouble comes to us all, even the happiest pairs. Stoker had continued to write, scribbling on scraps of paper in the scarce moments he wasn’t working or spending with Irving. (The relationships between Stoker and his wife, and between Irving and his, had long since grown cold). In 1897, those scraps became a book.

Dracula told the story of a naïve young middle-class man held prisoner by a powerful, sensual count.

"His face was a strong—a very strong—aquiline,” protagonist Jonathan Harker wrote in his fictional journal, “with high bridge of the thin nose and peculiarly arched nostrils, with lofty domed forehead, and hair growing scantily round the temples but profusely elsewhere. His eyebrows were very massive, almost meeting over the nose, and with bushy hair that seemed to curl in its own profusion."

As Harker came to learn, the vampire Count Dracula would never see his own reflection. But Irving might have. "Somewhere in [Stoker's] creative process," Belford writes, "Dracula became a sinister caricature of Irving as mesmerist and depleter, an artist draining those about him to feed his ego. It was a stunning but avenging tribute."

Irving may have been the most obvious, immediate inspiration for Stoker's count, but he was not the only one. Many elements of Dracula's past were lifted wholesale from history and legends surrounding Vlad the Impaler. Some scholars argue the dramatic, articulate count represented a monstrous version of Stoker's sometimes-friend Oscar Wilde, whose public trial and shunning took place just one year before the novel was written. And there may have been a variety of other inspirations for Stoker's tale. Yet Belford, and other scholars, believe much of Dracula's looks and character were based on Irving [PDF].

In order to protect theatrical rights to his novel, Stoker quickly shaped it into a script and organized a staged reading at the Lyceum, offering the lead role to the theater’s leading man—by then one of the most famous actors in the Victorian era. Irving turned it down. Instead, he watched dolefully from the audience as someone else brought the vampire to life. The reading ended. Irving retreated.

A nervous Stoker found the actor in his dressing room. “How did you like it?” he asked.

“Dreadful,” Irving said.

Two years later, Irving sold the Lyceum out from under Stoker’s nose.

Six years after that, Irving died. But Stoker never forgot their fateful first meeting the night of the dinner party. “So great was the magnetism of his genius, so profound was the sense of his dominancy,” Stoker wrote, “that I sat spellbound.”

15 Powerful Quotes From Margaret Atwood

It turns out the woman behind such eerily prescient novels as The Handmaid’s Tale and Oryx and Crake is just as wise as her tales are haunting. Here are 15 of the most profound quips from author, activist, and Twitter enthusiast Margaret Atwood, who was born on this day in 1939.

1. On her personal philosophy

 “Optimism means better than reality; pessimism means worse than reality. I’m a realist.”

— From a 2004 interview with The Guardian

2. On the reality of being female

“Men often ask me, Why are your female characters so paranoid? It’s not paranoia. It’s recognition of their situation.”

— From a 1990 interview with The Paris Review

3. On limiting how her politics influence her characters

“You know the myth: Everybody had to fit into Procrustes’ bed and if they didn’t, he either stretched them or cut off their feet. I’m not interested in cutting the feet off my characters or stretching them to make them fit my certain point of view.”

— From a 1997 interview with Mother Jones

4. On so-called “pretty” works of literature

“I don’t know whether there are any really pretty novels … All of the motives a human being may have, which are mixed, that’s the novelists’ material. … We like to think of ourselves as really, really good people. But look in the mirror. Really look. Look at your own mixed motives. And then multiply that.”

— From a 2010 interview with The Progressive

5. On the artist’s relationship with her fans

“The artist doesn’t necessarily communicate. The artist evokes … [It] actually doesn’t matter what I feel. What matters is how the art makes you feel.”

— From a 2004 interview with The Guardian

6. On the challenges of writing non-fiction

“When I was young I believed that ‘nonfiction’ meant ‘true.’ But you read a history written in, say, 1920 and a history of the same events written in 1995 and they’re very different. There may not be one Truth—there may be several truths—but saying that is not to say that reality doesn’t exist.”

— From a 1997 interview with Mother Jones

7. On poetry

“The genesis of a poem for me is usually a cluster of words. The only good metaphor I can think of is a scientific one: dipping a thread into a supersaturated solution to induce crystal formation.”

— From a 1990 interview with The Paris Review

8. On being labeled an icon

“All these things set a standard of behavior that you don’t necessarily wish to live up to. If you’re put on a pedestal you’re supposed to behave like a pedestal type of person. Pedestals actually have a limited circumference. Not much room to move around.”

— From a 2013 interview with The Telegraph

9. On how we’re all born writers

“[Everyone] ‘writes’ in a way; that is, each person has a ‘story’—a personal narrative—which is constantly being replayed, revised, taken apart and put together again. The significant points in this narrative change as a person ages—what may have been tragedy at 20 is seen as comedy or nostalgia at 40.”

— From a 1990 interview with The Paris Review

10. On the oppression at the center of The Handmaid's Tale

“Nothing makes me more nervous than people who say, ‘It can’t happen here. Anything can happen anywhere, given the right circumstances.” 

— From a 2015 lecture to West Point cadets

11. On the discord between men and women

“‘Why do men feel threatened by women?’ I asked a male friend of mine. … ‘They’re afraid women will laugh at them,’ he said. ‘Undercut their world view.’ … Then I asked some women students in a poetry seminar I was giving, ‘Why do women feel threatened by men?’ ‘They’re afraid of being killed,’ they said.”

— From Atwood’s Second Words: Selected Critical Prose, 1960-1982

12. On the challenges of expressing oneself

“All writers feel struck by the limitations of language. All serious writers.”

— From a 1990 interview with The Paris Review

13. On selfies

“I say they should enjoy it while they can. You’ll be happy later to have taken pictures of yourself when you looked good. It’s human nature. And it does no good to puritanically say, ‘Oh, you shouldn’t be doing that,’ because people do.”

— From a 2013 interview with The Telegraph

14. On the value of popular kids' series (à la Harry Potter and Percy Jackson)

"It put a lot of kids onto reading; it made reading cool. I’m sure a lot of later adult book clubs came out of that experience. Let people begin where they are rather than pretending that they’re something else, or feeling that they should be something else."

— From a 2014 interview with The Huffington Post

15. On why even the bleakest post-apocalyptic novels are, deep down, full of hope

“Any novel is hopeful in that it presupposes a reader. It is, actually, a hopeful act just to write anything, really, because you’re assuming that someone will be around to [read] it.”

— From a 2011 interview with The Atlantic 

China's New Tianjin Binhai Library is Breathtaking—and Full of Fake Books

A massive new library in Tianjin, China, is gaining international fame among bibliophiles and design buffs alike. As Arch Daily reports, the five-story Tianjin Binhai Library has capacity for more than 1 million books, which visitors can read in a spiraling, modernist auditorium with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves.

Several years ago, municipal officials in Tianjin commissioned a team of Dutch and Japanese architects to design five new buildings, including the library, for a cultural center in the city’s Binhai district. A glass-covered public corridor connects these structures, but the Tianjin Binhai Library is still striking enough to stand out on its own.

The library’s main atrium could be compared to that of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Guggenheim Museum in New York City. But there's a catch: Its swirling bookshelves don’t actually hold thousands of books. Look closer, and you’ll notice that the shelves are printed with digital book images. About 200,000 real books are available in other rooms of the library, but the jaw-dropping main room is primarily intended for socialization and reading, according to Mashable.

The “shelves”—some of which can also serve as steps or seating—ascend upward, curving around a giant mirrored sphere. Together, these elements resemble a giant eye, prompting visitors to nickname the attraction “The Eye of Binhai,” reports Newsweek. In addition to its dramatic main auditorium, the 36,000-square-foot library also contains reading rooms, lounge areas, offices, and meeting spaces, and has two rooftop patios.

Following a three-year construction period, the Tianjin Binhai Library opened on October 1, 2017. Want to visit, but can’t afford a trip to China? Take a virtual tour by checking out the photos below.

A general view of the Tianjin Binhai Library

People visiting China's Tianjin Binhai Library.

A general view of China's Tianjin Binhai Library.

A woman taking pictures at China's Tianjin Binhai Library.

A man visiting China's Tianjin Binhai Library.

A woman looking at books at China's Tianjin Binhai Library.

A general view of China's Tianjin Binhai Library.

People visiting China's Tianjin Binhai Library.

[h/t Newsweek]


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