Monday, April 15, 2013

Review: Who Was Dracula? by Jim Steinmeyer

who was dracula

A review by Shellie for Who Was Dracula? Bram Stoker’s Trail of Blood.

Shellie’s quick take:

A historical telling of how Bram Stoker’s 100 year old cultural icon – Dracula - was created and became the character that holds awe even today. This book goes into some of the significant happenings going on around the creation of the novel Dracula.

Shellie’s description:

Vampire fascination is not going to go away. We can see that in the popularity of books and cinema that include vampires. Interest in the novel Dracula, even a 100 years beyond its publication, proves this well. In the non-fiction book Who Was Dracula? author Jim Steinmeyer attempts to enlighten and dispel some long held ideas about who the character was, who Stoker based his character on, how the novel was created, and some intriguing historical details surrounding Stoker at the time.

It appears that Steinmeyer wants readers to believe that Dracula was not entirely based upon Bram Stoker’s boss Henry Irving (many Dracula scholars believe it was). In fact the character is influenced by some famous individuals and events that Stoker came across in his life. These include Oscar Wilde, Walt Whitman, Jack the Ripper and many more.

Less surprisingly, Steinmeyer believes that the mythology we have built around vampires is based upon what Bram Stoker created. He also states that Dracula became a powerful mystical figure a long time ago – indeed he says that Dracula was a revered pop cultural icon 100 years ago. So Vampire love is not new.

Shellie’s thoughts:

This was not an all-encompassing read for me; I felt compelled and intrigued in some parts but a bit lost in others. Generally, I find non-fiction historical books a bit hard to read, but I gave this a go because I loved the novel Dracula and feel that the character Stoker created is an exceptional and memorable one.  So naturally I was curious as to what influenced Bram Stoker when he was writing this popular novel.

There are a lot of meaty historical details around a variety of characters and Bram Stoker’s connection to them, as the author attempts to support his theories. This pulled me in and kept me reading, but at times I felt like I was reading more about Henry Irving (Bram Stoker’s boss and a popular actor and theatre owner) than I was about the novel Dracula or Stoker himself.

I did enjoy the book and in the end would say that Who Was Dracula? is for anyone who is interested in the elements that create a character such as Dracula; anyone interested in the historical situations that surrounded Bram Stoker and influenced him; and those interested in the reasons why it is still so popular 100-plus years after its publication. 3 stars for this intriguing historical book.

*A note to readers: if you are planning on reading this book you may want to read a few other things first – including Dracula, The Picture of Dorian Grey, Leaves of Grass and the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  It does contain some spoilers for these classics. Alternatively, be prepared to skip a bit here and there so you can still enjoy these great books to the full.

336 pages | 04 Apr 2013 | Tarcher

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