Bram Stoker's masterwork and greatest novel, Dracula, has been and remains one of the most culturally pervasive novelistic tropes of the last 100 years. Indeed, in multiple film versions as well as in the novel and myriad other mediums, it remains a deeply pervasive cultural idea. Part of the inspiration for the story no doubt takes elements from Stoker's own life and fictionalizes and dramatizes them to the point where the elements of personal struggle remain only as barely audible echoes within the text. Nonetheless, they are there, and particular such issues as his estranged relations with his wife and his long illness as a child are reflected in portions of Dracula. Nonetheless, the main aspect of Dracula that has ensured its continuing popularity is its resonance with the Freudian concepts of Thanatos and Eros, which were some of the most important and prominent ideas in 20th Century Wester culture, and continue to be of major importance today.
Abraham "Bram" Stoker was born to a middle-class Irish family in Dublin, where he was the third of the seven children to be born to his mother and father, after whom he was named (Tsipman). Early in his childhood Stoker suffered an illness that still has not been successfully identified and this illness was severe enough to keep him bedridden until the age of seven years old (tTsipman). Perhaps it was during this long confinement that Stoker began his fantasies of a more morbid nature that we would later see reflected in his works, especially Dracula, which is, of course, considered his masterwork. It is interesting to consider the illness in light of the novel Dracula, since Vampirism somewhat resembles a disease (transmitted almost like rabies) and its victims are forced to remain in enclosed spaces during the day -- all of which suggest a metaphorical connection to Stoker's own childhood illness, which was probably the locus of several primal memories that were no doubt unconsciously reflected in his later creative and expressive works. Nonetheless, he recovered from this illness and grew up relatively hale and hardy from the point of his recovery onward such that he was able to lead a normal and life and eventually he attended Trinity College, the premiere University in Dublin, and later host to talents such as James Joyce and Brian O'Nolan (also known by his nomme de plume of "Flann O'Brien"). It was here that Stoker made several extremely important acquaintances, most importantly the thespian Henry Irving, who would become Stoker's lifelong friend and under whom Stoker would work as a "publicist and theater manager" for 27 years (Tsipman). Indeed, their relationship was so close that Stoker would even eventually pen an entire book about him, entitled Personal Reminiscences of Henry Irving. Working at the theater under Irving, Stoker was able to meet many of the most important cultural movers and shakes of his day, not least in importance among whom (for Stoker's own career anyway) was the "Hungarian professor, traveler, adventurer named Arminius Vambery, who first introduced [Stoker] to the legends of vampirism in Eastern Europe" and thus was largely responsible for planting the creative seed that would flower into Stoker's greatest mature artistic achievement, Dracula (Tsipman).
Indeed, his relationship with Irving, given its duration and the level of intimacy involved, has given rise to many questions since then surrounding the nature of the relationship, and, while it is generally concluded that it never moved beyond a relationship based largely on mutual understanding and deep respect, some people have read undertones of at least a slightly amorous desire into the relationship between the two. Perhaps at least part of the reason for this tendency to view there being something at least unusual about the relationship between the two is the fact that Stoker, despite having had a child by his wife, seems to have become largely estranged from her as their marriage went on, and the suggestion then, is that perhaps some of the emotional dependence of the marital bond was instead released in this strange friendship:
On the domestic front, Stoker was married, unhappily to Florence Balcombe, a woman who was described by her granddaughter, Ann McCaw, as being "cursed with a great beauty" while being very "anti-sex" at the same time. His frustration with his marriage could explain some of the novel's preoccupation with women's sexuality -- especially since women tend to take the dominant sexual role in Dracula.
Indeed, it is due to the strangeness of these circumstances between Abraham Stoker and his wife that so many people (mis)construe the sort of relations that existed between him and Henry Irving. Indeed, the conjecture above about the type of impact that his relationship with his wife had on his own writing shows again the importance of Stoker's own biographical background in relationship to the illustrations of characters and developments of themes as they occur within the text of Dracula, itself. Indeed, we can see that Stoker's experiences, including his own mysterious childhood ailment that kept him confined to a bed for years as well as the sorts of relationships that he entered into romantically with his won wife both likely had an immense impact upon the kinds of tales and stories that he ultimately crafted. Indeed, we can see that, beyond the involvement of the idiosyncratic powers of creativity that Bram Stoker employed in creating Dracula, he was also unconsciously influenced by a wide array of factors, interests, and issues that had been developed in his own life as well as his larger creative concerns. Indeed, it is the idiosyncratic, unique, and realistic vision that Stoker created in mixing his own creative impulses with the Romanian vampire legends that makes Dracula such an important and lasting work even today.
The irony, though, and of course it is such a commonplace irony that it now has become a classic and complete cliche, is that Stoker never lived even close to long enough to see the true success of his own work. Indeed, while Dracula did sell copies while he was alive, it never became an international bestseller of the magnitude that would have ensured him the sort of fame and fortune that we now realize that he most certainly deserved in recognition of his achievement. Indeed, however, it was not his book that ensured the popularity of the narrative, but, again ironically, the filmic interpretation of his work by Hollywood that ultimately ensured the enduring fame and renown that Dracula enjoys today:
But Stoker did not live long enough to see the tremendous success of his novel. Though the first film adaptation was the German "Nosferatu" (1922), it was Universal Studio's 1931 production that ensured Dracula his immortality. Based on a Broadway stage production, the film starred Bela Lugosi, whose voice and physical appearance (though very unlike that of the Count in the novel) shaped the image for the 20th century. This movie has been followed by countless (excuse the pun) adaptations which continue into the present decade. Some very prominent actors have played in Dracula movies: Christopher Lee, Louis Jourdan, Jack Palance, Sir Laurence Olivier, Frank Langella, Gary Oldman, Anthony Hopkins and, of course, Mel Brooks. I might add that movies based on Dracula tend to wander considerably from the original text, to the point sometimes where the story is unrecognizable. Perhaps the most faithful adaptation was the BBC-TV production of 1978 starring Louis Jourdan as the Count.
Nonetheless, the fact is that, whatever its incarnation and no matter how much it ultimately deviates from the original story as Bram Stoker envisioned, it Dracula has been and continues to be an exceptionally strong and important cultural meme that, despite several radically different iterations and evolutions continues to be a dominant cultural force and a powerful cultural artifact whose presence is so persuasive as to border on the totemic. Given, then, the nigh-hegemonic ability of Dracula to exert itself as a forceful meme within the larger discourse of cultural exchange then, the logical question that follows requires the examination of the foundations and archetypes laying dormant and unread within the master narrative of the story itself that have enabled the virus-like dissemination and replication of Stoker's work such that it is now as all-pervasive, culturally-speaking, as the common-cold. What universals (or better to say seeming universals, which are of course dependent upon the specifics of a culture's aesthetic definition of what, for a definite temporal period, appears universal) lay hidden in the semiotics of the Dracula-narrative, what unread semaphores are subconsciously signified within the story itself that has enabled it propagate itself to the point where it has reached the apex of hegemonic supremacy within the evolutionary ladder of cultural discourse? Given the number of cultural permutations, evolutions, and avatars that this whimsical story has found itself repeated in such that the original story is almost lost in the noise of rumors and ideas that have become omnipresent from subtle adaptations of each new interpreter, we must ask what it is…