May 26 is World Dracula Day, so named to mark to anniversary of the publication of Bram Stoker’s magnificent Gothic novel. One of my favourite holiday experiences of all time was when I sat reading Dracula in the window seat of a house in Grape Lane, Whitby (the Yorkshire seaside town where much of Dracula is set). I could just about see the harbour where Stoker’s mysterious ship comes in under full sail and his demonic black dog disembarks before running up the 199 steps towards Whitby Abbey.
Of course, there are many connections between Stoker and the Wilde family, which you can read about in Wilde’s Women. He was particularly friendly with Lady Jane Wilde; ‘I suppose you dine with Lady Wilde as usual,’ his father asked in one letter between them.
I like to imagine Bram reading Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms & Superstitions of Ireland by his great friend Jane Wilde (who would almost certainly have given him a copy) and thinking ‘hmmmm’.
In Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms & Superstitions of Ireland, published in 1887, ten years before Dracula, Jane explained that:
In the Transylvanian legends and superstitions, of which Madame Gerard (‘Transylvanian Superstitions’ in The Nineteenth Century Vol.18, 1885, pp.128-144) has given an interesting record, many will be found identical with the Irish’.
Particularly significant, she argued, was the shared belief that:
‘the dead are only in a trance; they can hear everything but can make no sign’.
Jane’s descriptions of horned witches who drew blood from victims as they slept might well have informed Bram’s ‘weird sisters’, three female vampires who fed on the blood of men.
While she told tales of men who assumed the shape of wolves and monstrous, soul-devouring hounds, his best loved book reverberates with the howling of wolves, and his Dracula assumes the shape of ‘an immense dog’.
I include details of their friendship in Wilde’s Women: