Oct 16, 2013
Vampires in Connecticut; Dracula author Bram Stoker's Descendant to Give Presentation
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Obviously, the subjects of these stories were not actual blood-sucking entities roaming the Earth. Rather than the debonair, romantic fictional creations like Count Vlad, the “vampires” of the 19th century and earlier were thought to be the undead—arisen zombie-like from the grave to find nourishment in the blood of family members.
"Back in the 1500s and 1600s in Europe, the plague and other communicable diseases were unexplained," says Stoker, and in the absence of scientific medical knowledge, people looked for answers in the paranormal. "In lots of other parts of the world, there were plenty of other diseases that nobody knew what was going on—'Why did the father die, and then three days later, the mother dies? Well, she wasn’t mourning properly, or she wasn’t faithful, or the kids weren’t crying enough and so now they got sick, too.' So [the deaths were] explained in those days that someone was coming out of the grave and sucking the life out of them rather than it was a communicable disease."
Thus the "vampire" as a nefarious supernatural creature was born. "The bodily signs of coughing up blood, the body wasting away, the heavy pressure on the chest like a spirit is sitting on the victim and making it difficult to breathe," says Stoker. "Because medicine hadn’t advanced very far, it all was ripe to create legend and myth to explain these situations and give people a way out."
Of course, now that the "cause" of deaths had been "identified" as the dead rising up from their graves to feed upon the living, the solution was simple, says Stoker. "‘We don’t have medicine to fix it? So let’s go into the grave, take their hearts out, burn them, cut their heads off, put garlic in, stake them to the ground’—all these things that gave the, let’s say, less-than-educated people, a way to deal with it."
And across Europe and eventually North America—including right here in Connecticut—that's exactly what happened when communities were felled by undiagnosed communicable diseases. Bodies were exhumed and "taken care of" so that they could no longer prey upon the living.
It's this mix of actual events and ignorant beliefs—and much more—that Bram Stoker wove into his seminal vampire tale, Dracula.
"The novel is so complex on so many levels," say Dacre Stoker (right), who in 2010 along with Ian Holt, wrote a "sequel" to Dracula entitled Dracula The Un-Dead. "Conferences have been going on about Bram Stoker and the hidden meanings inside Dracula—how many of these things did Bram consciously decide and put in his books? We don’t know but certainly, many people have gotten their money’s worth writing stories about the writing about Dracula and giving papers and earning master’s degrees and doctoral theses, and I think it’s great. On one hand, it’s a little strange that it’s just so deep and rich and the possibilities and the different layers, and then I go back and I think, ‘Boy, Bram, you really got them. You wrote a helluva a scary story, and the world over a hundred years later, is still baffled by it. Good for you.’"
From Twilight to "True Blood" to the new "Dracula" series that starts this month on NBC—vampires continue to take up a large place in our consciousness. Why are we continually drawn to stories like Dracula?
"I think the fact that it’s based on semi-realism has kept it really close to people’s consciousness," suggests Stoker. "Frankenstein is a great novel, and a great story, but it was a really creative thought—it was something that was created about putting a body together when science and technology were just busting out. It wasn’t based on myths and legends like Dracula."