Filing for Divorce
[from Dracula: The Shade and the Shadow, ed. Elizabeth Miller (Westcliff-on-Sea: Desert Island Books, 1998]
In Chapter 18 of Dracula, Van Helsing says this of the Count: “He must, indeed, have been that Voivode Dracula who won his name against the Turk, over the great river on the very frontier of Turkey-land” (291). Very little attention was paid to the possible connection between the fictional Count and his historical namesake until 1972 when Radu Florescu and Raymond T. McNally’s In Search of Dracula revealed to the world the story of the real Dracula – Vlad Tepes. This was closely followed by McNally’s fortuitous discovery that the Rosenbach Museum in Philadelphia had acquired Stoker’s working papers for Dracula, which prove conclusively that he did know about the existence of the “Voivode Dracula.” Dracula studies have not been the same since. Using the initial findings of Florescu and McNally (some of which the two historians have since revised), many enthusiasts have championed tenuous connections between Count Dracula and Vlad, to the point where it has become increasingly difficult to separate fact from hypothesis.
It has become commonplace to assume that Stoker was inspired by accounts of the Impaler’s atrocities and deliberately modeled his Dracula on the life and character of Vlad. This has resulted in some fanciful and at times ludicrous statements: that “Dracula was the reshaping of four centuries of folk legends that had accreted around the historical Walachian warlord Prince Vlad Tepes” (Dziemianowicz 11); that much of the story of Count Dracula “was drawn … from the ghastly doings of the Hungarian Prince Vlad who was a remote ancestor of Attila the Hun” (Mascetti 274); that the historical Dracula’s abandonment of his Orthodox faith resulted in his becoming subject to punishment by Orthodox priests who “publicly laid the curse of vampirism” on him (Hillyer 17); that the city of Bucharest was “first mentioned in a document dated 1459 and signed Vlad Tepes (Count Dracula)”; and that the “first reported vampires were real historical figures … Elizabeth of Bathory and Vlad the Impaler” (Brownworth and Redding ix). It is time to put such claims to rest.
Investigations into possible connections between the Count and the Voivode began before the publication of In Search of Dracula. In 1958, Bacil Kirtley stated that “Unquestionably the historical past that Van Helsing¼ assigns the fictional vampire Dracula is that of Vlad Tsepesh, Voivod of Wallachia” (14). In 1962, Stoker’s first biographer, Harry Ludlam, asserted that Stoker had “discovered that the Voivode Drakula or Dracula … had earned for himself the title of ‘the Impaler,’ and that the story of his ferocity and hair-raising cruelty in defiance of the Turks was related at length in two fifteenth-century manuscripts, one of which spoke of him as ‘wampyr’” (113). In 1966, Grigore Nandris connected the vampire Dracula with the historical figure, even claiming that available portraits of Vlad were “adapted by Bram Stoker to suit his literary purposes” (375). Building on these obscure references to a possible connection, Florescu and McNally embarked on a quest of their own, the results of which were published in In Search of Dracula (1972, rev. 1994). While their historical research was thorough and well documented, the two authors speculated that the author of Dracula knew quite a bit about the historical figure, and that his sources included Arminius Vambéry (a Hungarian professor whom he met on at least two occasions) and various readings found at the British Museum. But is this the case? Exactly what is the connection between the Count and the Voivode? For the answer, we must go to two sources, the reliability of which cannot be questioned: Stoker’s Notes at the Rosenbach Museum, and the novel itself.
We know from Stoker’s Notes that by March 1890, he had decided to write a vampire novel; in fact, he had already selected a name for his vampire … Count Wampyr. We are also certain that Stoker found the name “Dracula” (most likely for the first time) in a book that he borrowed from the Whitby Public Library in the summer of 1890, An Account of the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia (1820) by William Wilkinson. Stoker not only recorded the call number of the book but copied almost verbatim key passages. This is what Wilkinson wrote:
Wallachia continued to pay it [tribute] until the year 1444; when Ladislas King of Hungary, preparing to make war against the Turks, engaged the Voivode Dracula to form an alliance with him. The Hungarian troops marched through the principality and were joined by four thousand Wallachians under the command of Dracula’s son. (17)
Their Voivode, also named Dracula, did not remain satisfied with mere prudent measures of defence: with an army he crossed the Danube and attacked the few Turkish troops that were stationed in his neighbourhood; but this attempt, like those of his predecessors, was only attended with momentary success. Mahomet, having turned his arms against him, drove him back to Wallachia, whither he pursued and defeated him. The Voivode escaped into Hungary, and the Sultan caused his brother Bladus to be named in his place. (19)
The name “Dracula” appears just three times, two of which more accurately refer to the father (Vlad Dracul). What attracted Stoker was a footnote attached to the third occurrence: “Dracula in the Wallachian language means Devil. The Wallachians were, at that time, as they are at present, used to give this as a surname to any person who rendered himself conspicuous either by courage, cruel actions, or cunning” (19). That Stoker considered this important is evident in that he copied into his own notes “DRACULA in Wallachian language means DEVIL.” The three references to “Dracula” in Wilkinson’s text, along with the footnote, are the only occurrences of the name in all of the sources that we know that Stoker consulted.
Stoker’s debt to Wilkinson is generally acknowledged, but a number of points are often overlooked: Wilkinson refers only to “Dracula” and “Voïvode,” never “Vlad,” never “Vlad Tepes” or “the Impaler”; furthermore there are no specific references to his atrocities. It is no mere co-incidence that the same paucity of information applies to the text of Dracula. Yet the popular theory is that Stoker knew much more than what he read in Wilkinson; that his major sources were the Hungarian professor Arminius Vambéry, and readings in the British Museum.
In Personal Reminiscences of Henry Irving (1906), Stoker gives a brief account of two meetings with Vambéry (238). There is nothing to indicate that the topic of Dracula ever came up. Stoker does tell us, however, that Henry Irving was present at the first meeting, a meal that followed a performance of the play “The Dead Heart.” Is it not more likely that the dinner conversation focused on the play, and (considering Irving’s overpowering personality) on his performance? As the account of this dinner was written several years after the publication of Dracula, one would expect Stoker to have mentioned Vambéry’s role (assuming he had one). Stoker notes that the Hungarian was “full of experiences [about a trip to Central Asia] fascinating to hear” (238). Surely a discussion about the atrocities of Vlad the Impaler would have been as fascinating, had it occurred? Also significant is that this meeting took place in April 1890, before Stoker went to Whitby and read Wilkinson’s book. As for the second encounter, Stoker provides even less information. “We saw him again two years later,” records Stoker, “when he was being given a Degree at the Tercentenary of Dublin University. … He soared above all the speakers, making one of the finest speeches I have ever head [sic]” (Reminiscences 238). The only comment about the subject matter of the talk was that Vambéry “spoke loudly against Russian aggression” (238). Nothing about Dracula. But by this time, Stoker’s novel was well underway, and he was already using the name “Dracula” for his vampire.
The conviction that Stoker gleaned information from the Hungarian seems to be the residue of theories about Stoker’s sources before the discovery of his Notes. As early as 1962, Ludlam was making the claim that “Bram sought the help of Arminius Vambéry in Budapest” and that “Vambéry was able to report that ‘the Impaler’ who had won this name for obvious reasons, was spoken of for centuries after as the cleverest and the most cunning, as well as the bravest of the sons of the ‘land beyond the forest’” (100). Florescu and McNally cemented the connection in 1972: “The two men [Stoker and Vambéry] dined together, and during the course of their conversation, Bram was impressed by the professor’s stories about Dracula ‘the impaler’. After Vambéry returned to Budapest, Bram wrote to him, requesting more details about the notorious 15th century prince and the land he lived in” (Search 115). The only fact we have is that they dined together! Stoker makes no reference to Vambéry in his working papers. No documented evidence exists that Vambéry gave Stoker any information about Vlad, or for that matter, about vampires. Yet we keep encountering statements to the contrary.
Supporters of the Stoker-Vambéry link also go to the novel for textual evidence, claiming that what Vambéry told Stoker is revealed through what Arminius, Van Helsing’s friend, tells Van Helsing. Van Helsing, the argument goes, is Stoker’s alter-ego, and the insertion of Arminius is the author’s tribute to Vambéry, or, as Florescu and McNally speculate, “Stoker’s way of acknowledging his debt” and showing “what information and conclusions the professor had passed on to Stoker” (Search, 1972, 116). But surely the mere inclusion of the name proves no such thing. After all, Dracula contains many names drawn from its author’s friends and acquaintances. The name “Harker,” for example, most likely came from one of the workers at the Lyceum, while “Swales” was taken from a tombstone that Stoker noted in Whitby. Since the authority on Dracula in the novel would need to be foreign, someone acquainted with the Dutch professor Van Helsing, whose name was better to use than Arminius [Vambéry] whom he had briefly met (Finn 42-3)?
But let us assume that what Arminius tells Van Helsing is an echo of what Vambéry told Stoker. What exactly does he say?
I have asked my friend Arminius, of Buda-Pesth University, to make his record; and, from all the means that are, he tell me of what he has been. He must, indeed, have been that Voivode Dracula who won his name against the Turk, over the great river on the very frontier of Turkey-land. If it be so, then was he no common man; for in that time, and for centuries after, he was spoken of as the cleverest and the most cunning, as well as the bravest of the sons of the ‘land beyond the forest’ … The Draculas were, says Arminius, a great and noble race, though now and again were scions who were held by their coevals to have had dealings with the Evil One. They learned his secrets in the Scholomance, amongst the mountains over Lake Hermanstadt, where the devil claims the tenth scholar as his due. In the records are such words as ‘stregoica’ – witch, ‘ordog,’ and ‘pokol’ – Satan and hell; and in one manuscript this very Dracula is spoken of as ‘wampyr,’ which we all understand too well. (291)
All of the vital information in this can be traced to Stoker’s own notes and sources: Wilkinson, as we have seen, writes about Dracula and the Turks, as well as the Voivode’s courage and cunning; ‘the land beyond the forest’ was the heading of a chapter in Charles Boner’s book on Transylvania (one of Stoker’s known sources) as well as the title for a book by Emily Gerard, whose article “Transylvanian Superstitions” we know that Stoker read; the information about the Scholomance comes almost verbatim from Gerard’s article; the terms ‘stregoica,’ ‘ordog’ and ‘pokol’ are listed in Stoker’s notes as having come from Magyarland (1881); and ‘wampyr’ was the name that Stoker originally intended to give his Count. Nothing remains to have come from Vambéry.
Arminius makes a second appearance in the text as Van Helsing reports on Dracula to the band of vampire hunters: “As I learned from the researches of my friend Arminius of Buda-Pesth, he was in life a most wonderful man” (360). While he goes on to comment on his “mighty brain, a learning beyond compare, and a heart that knew no fear and no remorse,” Arminius says nothing about his reputation as “the Impaler,” certainly his most memorable characteristic. While the inclusion of the name of Arminius can be seen as Stoker’s tribute to Vambéry, there is no evidence that the Hungarian provided Stoker with any information about Dracula.
But what about the “manuscript” in which “this very Dracula is spoken of as ‘wampyr’”? Some scholars have posited the theory that Stoker actually did see such a manuscript. “During his extensive research at the British Museum,” writes Donald Glut, “Stoker uncovered writings pertaining to Vlad the Impaler” (55). Andrew Mackenzie goes further, declaring that “if the historical Dracula had not been presented as such a horrific figure Bram Stoker would never have selected him from the archives of the British Museum as the character who, transformed by his imagination, was to become a symbol of terror” (55). No doubt Stoker did do some research at the British Museum, but there is not a shred of evidence that he did any of it on the historical Dracula. Now, he could have. The material was certainly there. Christopher Frayling lists what would have been available at the time: included is one of the German printed pamphlets about Vlad Tepes published in Bamberg in 1491 with a woodcut. Could this be the mysterious document to which Arminius alludes? Frayling goes so far as to suggest that this is an “authentic model for Dracula” and that “Stoker must have seen the pamphlet or a reproduction of it” (421). This is, of course, speculation. Yet for many, it has become fact: Paul Dukes, for example, refers to the “woodcut of Vlad the Impaler … found by Bram Stoker in his researches in the British Museum in 1890” (45). The caption accompanying the woodcut reads: “A wondrous and frightening story about a great bloodthirsty berserker called Dracula the voevod who inflicted such un-Christian tortures such as with stakes and also dragged men to death along the ground” (Florescu and McNally, Essential Dracula 59). Given the reference to a “bloodthirsty berserker,” the argument goes that Stoker must have seen this. But the logic behind the argument – Stoker was at the British Museum, the Bamberg pamphlet was at the British Museum, and therefore Stoker saw the pamphlet – is fallacious. We must treat such speculation (including that Stoker had read Munster’s Cosmographia or Richard Knolle's Generall History of the Turks) with caution.
One result of all of this is that readers, accepting these hypotheses as fact, begin to look to the novel for corroborating evidence. First there is the assumption that Stoker drew his physical description of Count Dracula from either the woodcut portrait in the Bamberg pamphlet or from a printed account of Vlad’s physical appearance. For example, in his narration for a recent television documentary, Christopher Frayling states that the woodcut “certainly provided Stoker with the physical description of Count Dracula.” It might also be tempting to deduce that Stoker had access to the following description of Vlad, provided by a fifteenth-century papal legate who had met the voivode:
“He was not very tall, but very stocky and strong, with a cold and terrible appearance, a strong aquiline nose, swollen nostrils, a thin and reddish face in which the very long eyelashes framed large wide-open green eyes; the bushy black eyebrows made them appear threatening.” (qtd. in Florescu and McNally, Prince 85)
However, anyone familiar with nineteenth-century Gothic literature knows that many of the features of Vlad described in the legate’s account (such as the bushy eyebrows and the aquiline nose) had become, by Stoker’s time, common conventions in Gothic fiction. And as for Count Dracula’s “eyebrows almost meeting over the nose,” Stoker records in his notes that this came from Baring-Gould’s The Book of Were-wolves.
Another popular piece of speculation began as early as 1956: that in creating Renfield, Stoker “seems to have adapted the legend” about Vlad’s penchant for impaling mice while he was a prisoner in Hungary (Kirtley 14). Also Nandris (1966) connects the tradition about Vlad impaling birds saying it “is developed in Bram Stoker’s Dracula” (391). This reappears several years later in Farson’s biography of Stoker and is extended to Renfield:
There is a story that he [Vlad] bribed his guards into bringing him small birds which he would mutilate and then impale on sticks in neat rows. If true, this was echoed by Stoker in his powerful characterisation of the lunatic Renfield, who caught flies to feed spiders to feed birds which he devoured himself. (128)
Equally far-fetched is the claim that Vlad’s fondness for impaling his victims was Stoker’s inspiration for his method of destroying the vampire – the use of the wooden stake! According to Glut, “Vlad’s preference for impaling his victims (a method of destroying vampires) … further inflamed Stoker’s imagination” (56), while the travel guide Eastern Europe on a Shoestring claims that Vlad “inspired the tale of Count Dracula by his habit of impaling his enemies on stakes” (651). This connecting of impalement to the staking of vampires is misleading, and overlooks three facts: that Bram Stoker had planned on writing a vampire novel before he ever came across the name of “Dracula”; that there is no definitive proof that Stoker knew anything about Vlad’s fondness for impalement; and that the staking of vampires was a well-established motif both in folklore and in earlier Gothic fiction long before Dracula.
Another consequence of the insistence on connecting the two Draculas is the temptation to criticize Stoker for inaccurate “history.” Why, some ask, did he make Dracula a Transylvanian Count rather than a Wallachian Voivode? Why was his castle situated in the Borgo Pass instead of at Poenari? Why is Count Dracula a “boyar,” a member of the nobility which Vlad continuously struggled with? Why does Stoker make Dracula a “Szekely,” descended from Attila the Hun, when the real Dracula was a Wallachian of the Basarab family? There is a very simple answer to these questions: Vlad Tepes is Vlad Tepes, while Count Dracula is Count Dracula. Considering the preposterous conclusions that the premises behind such questions have generated, a closer look seems warranted.
Although Stoker’s knowledge of the historical Dracula was scanty, he did know that he was a voivode. His use of the title “count” was in keeping with the Gothic convention of drawing villains from the ranks of the aristocracy. A cursory glance shows a recurrence of villainous Counts: Count Morano in The Mysteries of Udolpho (Radcliffe), Count de Bruno in The Italian (Radcliffe), Count Doni in Ernestus Berchtold (Polidori), Count Cenci in The Cenci (Shelley), Count Montonio in The Fatal Response (Maturin), Lord Byron’s Count Manfred, and Wilkie Collins’ Count Fosco. Vampire Counts in pre-Dracula fiction include Count Azzo von Klatka in “The Mysterious Stranger” and Countess Karnstein in Le Fanu’s “Carmilla.” The frequent occurrence of Counts in Gothic fiction links the temporal power of aristocrats, especially foreign aristocrats, with supernatural powers. As for references to the Borgo Pass, the “boyars” and the Szeklers, these are bits and pieces from sundry sources that Stoker mentions in his notes.
How much did Bram Stoker know about the historical Dracula? There is no doubt that the material was available. But how meticulous a researcher was Stoker? We know that he read and took notes from a number of books and articles (for a complete list, see Leatherdale, Origins 237-9) and that some of this material found its way into his novel almost verbatim. But his research seems to have been haphazard (though at times fortuitous) rather than scholarly. What he used, he used “as is,” errors and confusions included. That his rendering of historical and geographical data is fragmented and at times erroneous can be explained by the fact that Stoker seemed content to combine bits and pieces of information from his sources without any concern for accuracy. After all, Stoker was writing a Gothic novel, not a historical treatise. And he was writing Dracula in his spare time, of which I doubt he had much. He may very well have found more material about the historical Dracula, had he had the time to look for it. But in the absence of any proof to the contrary, I am not convinced that he did. There is no conclusive evidence that he gleaned any information on Vlad from Vambéry, from material at the British Museum, or from anywhere else except that one book he found in Whitby – by William Wilkinson.
I have other reasons for taking this position. Let us assume for argument’s sake that he did learn more from Vambéry, that he did conduct research on the historical Dracula beyond Wilkinson. Why, then, is Count Dracula in the novel never referred to as “Vlad” or “the Impaler”? Why are there no references to his atrocities, which would have been grist for the horror writer’s mill? Why is Van Helsing reduced to stating that “He [Dracula] was in life a most wonderful man”? And why are there no references in Stoker’s working notes to his having found any other material? There are only two possible answers: either he knew more and chose not to use it, or else he used what he knew.
Was Stoker so sophisticated a novelist that he deliberately suppressed material for artistic purposes? One need only consider how greedily he gobbled up and reproduced a significant amount of rather trivial information. Are we to believe that he knew about Vlad’s bloodthirsty activities but decided to discard such a history for his villainous Count in favor of the meager pickings gleaned from Wilkinson? One could argue that absence can be as important as presence: that Stoker deliberately suppressed information in order to make his character more mysterious; or that Dracula’s silence about his past is a consequence of the fact that the text denies him a narrative voice. Such interpretations are intriguing, but one must bear in mind that there is a difference between interpretation and fact.
As for the theories about the connections between the Count and the Voivode, they are (with the exception of the link to Wilkinson) based on circumstantial evidence, some of which is quite flimsy. I do not dispute that in using the name “Dracula” Stoker appropriated the sobriquet of the fifteenth-century Wallachian voivode. Nor do I deny that he added bits and pieces of obscure historical detail to flesh out a past for his vampire. But I do vehemently challenge the widespread view that Stoker was knowledgeable about the historical Dracula (beyond what he read in Wilkinson) and that he based his Count on the life and character of Vlad. While it is true that the resurgence of interest in Dracula since the early 1970s is due in no small measure to the theories about such connections, the theories themselves do not withstand the test of close scrutiny.
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. Thankfully, not everyone has jumped on the Vlad-wagon. Daniel Farson avows that “Stoker seized on the name of Dracula, together with a vague impression of the background, and that was all” (130); David Skal cautions that Stoker was inspired “only to an extent” by accounts of Vlad (22); and J. Gordon Melton suggests that Vlad was a figure upon which Stoker “partially built the title character” (665).
. It should be noted, however, that Emily Gerard’s “Transylvanian Superstitions” (1885), which we know that Stoker read, contains three references to the possessive “Drackuluj” meaning “devil’s” (131) which may very well have reinforced for Stoker his choice of the name.
. In the 1994 revised edition of In Search of Dracula, the claim is less definitive: “The two men dined together, and during the course of their conversation Stoker became impressed by the professor’s stories about his homeland” (150). Florescu and McNally also admit (in both editions) that no correspondence between Stoker and Vambéry has been found.
On an evening in April 1890, among his [Stoker’s] guests was a small, balding middle-European named Arminius Vambery … There he sat between Sir Henry and Bram Stoker and for the rest of the night filled their heads with stories of the superstitions which abounded in his native land. Stories of witches, werewolves and the un-dead … It was the thought of those un-dead beings that specifically excited his [Stoker’s] interest … He also wrote to Vambery in Budapest about his idea and found the little Professor more than willing to elaborate on the story he had told over dinner. (Omnibus 2)
. For example, according to Carol Page, Sean Manchester claims that Stoker based his Dracula on Hunyadi, “since he was a count, and Vlad wasn’t, he was in the right geographic location, and Vlad wasn’t, and so on” (104).
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