Study Guide

Bram Stoker

Bram Stoker Essay - Critical Essays

Stoker, Bram

Introduction

Bram Stoker 1847–-1912

(Full name Abraham Stoker) Irish short story writer, novelist, biographer, essayist, and critic.

The following entry presents an overview of Stoker's short fiction career through 1993.

Best known as the author of Dracula, (1897) Stoker also wrote adventure novels and romances, other horror novels, and several pieces of short fiction. These short stories have been overshadowed by Stoker's novels and have not attracted much critical attention. In fact, Stoker is regarded as a one-book author, his sole memorable contribution being the creation of the Transylvanian count whose name has become synonymous with vampirism.

Biographical Information

Stoker was born on November 8, 1847, in Dublin. He was bedridden for the first seven years of his life. During this period of illness, his mother told him stories of her own childhood during the cholera plague in the Irish town of Sligo, recounting instances of live interment and corpse burnings. At Trinity College, Stoker made up for his early invalidism by excelling in athletics as well as in his studies. He graduated with honors in mathematics in 1870 and followed his father into the Irish civil service, where he worked for ten years. During this time Stoker also was an unpaid drama critic for the Dublin Mail, contributing glowing reviews, more unabashed praise than criticism, of Henry Irving's theatrical performances. The two men became friends and, in 1879, Stoker left his job to become Irving's manager. He also discharged various managerial, secretarial, and even directorial functions at the Lyceum Theatre. Despite his extensive duties, Stoker wrote a number of novels, including Dracula. Following Irving's death in 1905, Stoker was associated with the literary staff of the London Telegraph. In his final years, Stoker was afflicted with gout and Bright's disease. Some biographers believe that he died of advanced syphilis, having contracted the disease about the time he was composing Dracula. He died on April 20, 1912.

Major Works of Short Fiction

As in his novels, Stoker's short fiction is primarily characterized by its macabre nature and focuses on such themes as family, male rivalry, ambivalence toward women, and the morality of good and evil. For example, “Dracula's Guest,” originally intended as a prefatory chapter to Dracula, is one of Stoker's best-known stories. The tale opens with Jonathan Harker traveling to Dracula's castle, only to be stranded alone in the countryside when his frightened driver refuses to complete the trip. He takes refuge from a violent storm in a mausoleum in a nearby cemetery. As he rests, a beautiful female apparition rises from the tomb and approaches him. Suddenly, he is thrown to the ground and later wakes to find himself warmed and protected by a werewolf. In another story, “The Squaw,” an American visiting Nuremberg drops a pebble from the top of a castle, killing a kitten. Its vengeful mother stalks the man, eventually causing his death.

Critical Reception

Critics have focused on Stoker's novels, particularly the extremely popular Dracula, with very little reaction to his short fiction collections. However, anthologists frequently include his stories in collections of horror fiction. Reviewers of his short fiction works have faulted them for their stereotyped characters and romanticized Gothic plots; with the exception of aficionados of supernatural fiction, they are rarely read today. While critics have frequently decried Stoker's stiff characterization and tendency to melodrama, they have universally praised his beautifully precise place descriptions. Today, many of his short stories are perceived as precursors to Stoker's later novels.

Principal Works

Under the Sunset 1882

Crooken Sands 1894

The Man from Shorrox' 1894

Snowbound: The Record of a Theatrical Touring Party 1899

Dracula's Guest, and Other Weird Stories 1914

The Bram Stoker Bedside Companion: Stories of Fantasy and Horror 1973

Shades of Dracula: Bram Stoker's Uncollected Stories 1982

Midnight Tales 1995

Best Ghost and Horror Stories 1997

Erotic Tales of the Victorian Age [contributor] 1998

The Duties of Clerks of Petty Session in Ireland (handbook)...

(The entire section is 107 words.)

Criticism

Academy (review date 10 December 1881)

SOURCE: Review of Under the Sunset, by Bram Stoker. Academy XX, no. 501 (10 December 1881): 431-32.

[In the following review, the anonymous critic deems Under the Sunset too frightening for children.]

White vellum binding, gilt edges, and creamy paper make this [Under the Sunset] far too dainty a volume even for the book-spoilt children of the present age. Fortunately, its contents will be rather improved than injured by being orally conveyed to the minds of those for whom it has been written, for a word of explanation is occasionally needful; and a judicious mother may prefer to omit some of the Shadow-builder's dismal doings, which might banish...

(The entire section is 417 words.)

Harry Ludlam (essay date 1962)

SOURCE: Ludlam, Harry. In A Biography of Dracula: The Life Story of Bram Stoker. London: W. Foulsham & Co., The Fireside Press, 1962, 200 p.

[In the following excerpt, Ludlam describes the plot and circumstances surrounding the creation of several of Stoker's short stories.]

In the summer of 1893 a wider public learned for the first time a little of the character of the man who stood in Irving's shadow, when Hall Caine gratefully dedicated his book Capt'n Davy's Honeymoon to Bram. With a burst of unusual effusiveness Caine wrote:

When in dark hours and evil humours my bad angel has sometimes made me think that friendship...

(The entire section is 2576 words.)

Joseph S. Bierman (essay date 1972)

SOURCE: Bierman, Joseph S. “Dracula: Prolonged Childhood Illness and the Oral Triad.” In The Critical Response to Bram Stoker, edited by Carol A. Senf, pp. 46-51. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1993.

[In the following essay, originally published in 1972, Bierman finds parallels between Stoker's Dracula and two of the author's short stories: “How 7 Went Mad” and “The Wondrous Child.”]

In the early summer of 1895, Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula had a nightmare which he attributed to eating too much dressed crab at supper one night. He dreamed about a vampire king rising from the tomb to go about his ghastly business (Ludlam, 1962)....

(The entire section is 3233 words.)

Times Literary Supplement (review date 11 May 1973)

SOURCE: “Ghoulish Giggles.” Times Literary Supplement (11 May 1973): 517.

[In the following review, the anonymous critic finds The Bram Stoker Bedside Companion disappointing.]

Published seventy-six years ago and continuously in print ever since, Dracula is beginning to exhibit qualities of survival similar to those of such earlier romantic fictions as The Monk and Frankenstein; the main difference being that while Lewis's and Mary Shelley's books appeared in the early years of the Romantic Revival, Bram Stoker's coincided with Victoria's second jubilee. It was, in short, right from the start a story that both in its subject-matter and...

(The entire section is 778 words.)

Daniel Farson (essay date 1975)

SOURCE: Farson, Daniel. “A Literary Man on Holiday.” In The Man Who Wrote Dracula: A Biography of Bram Stoker, pp. 88-104. London: Michael Joseph, 1975.

[In the following excerpt, Farson contends that Stoker's frequent travels provided settings and inspirations for his short fiction.]

With a stamina that seems colossal today, Bram Stoker managed the business affairs of the Lyceum, advised Irving on the productions, arranged the tours of America, and accompanied the actor on his journeys throughout Britain. It seems incredible that he could raise the energy and time to concentrate on anything else. Yet, during this period, he resumed his legal studies and...

(The entire section is 6066 words.)

James B. Twitchell (essay date 1985)

SOURCE: Twitchell, James B. “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Wolfman.” In Dreadful Pleasures: An Anatomy of Modern Horror, pp. 215-16. New York: Oxford University Press, 1985.

[In the following excerpt, Twitchell regards “Dracula's Guest” as “one of the best werewolf stories ever written.”]

One of the best werewolf stories ever written was a story by Bram Stoker. The story, now called “Dracula's Guest,” has a curious history. Initially intended to be the first chapter of Dracula, it is Jonathan Harker's description of an adventure that occurred between Munich and Bistritz. Briefly, what happens is that en route to Dracula's castle Jonathan is stranded in the...

(The entire section is 5889 words.)

Carol A. Senf (essay date 1993)

SOURCE: Senf, Carol A. Introduction to The Critical Introduction to Bram Stoker, edited by Carol. A. Senf, pp. 1-41. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1993.

[In the following excerpt, Senf discusses the defining characteristics of Stoker's short fiction.]

UNDER THE SUNSET (1881)

Stoker's first book, The Duties of Clerks of Petty Sessions in Ireland (Dublin, J. Falconer, 1879), was not reviewed though Dalby observes that it was for many years “recognized as the standard reference work” (7) for clerks in the Irish civil service. Dalby also cites Stoker's introduction to the work, which refers to the numerous works that he had to...

(The entire section is 3672 words.)