Published by Penguin, April 2013
An acclaimed historian sleuths out literature’s most famous vampire, uncovering the source material – from folklore and history, to personas including Oscar Wilde and Walt Whitman – behind Bram Stoker’s bloody creation.
In more than a century of vampires in pop culture, only one lord of the night truly stands out: Dracula. Though the name may conjure up images of Bela Lugosi lurking about in a cape and white pancake makeup in the iconic 1931 film, the character of Dracula—a powerful, evil Transylvanian aristocrat who slaughters repressed Victorians on a trip to London—was created in Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel of the same name, a work so popular it has spawned limitless reinventions in books and film.
But where did literature’s undead icon come from? What sources inspired Stoker to craft a monster who would continue to haunt our dreams (and desires) for generations? Historian Jim Steinmeyer, who revealed the men behind the myths in The Last Greatest Magician in the World, explores a question that has long fascinated literary scholars and the reading public alike: Was there a real-life inspiration for Stoker’s Count Dracula?
Hunting through archives and letters, literary and theatrical history, and the relationships and events that gave shape to Stoker’s life, Steinmeyer reveals the people and stories behind the Transylvanian legend. In so doing, he shows how Stoker drew on material from the careers of literary contemporaries Walt Whitman and Oscar Wilde; reviled personas such as Jack the Ripper and the infamous fifteenth-century prince Vlad Tepes, as well as little-known but significant figures, including Stoker’s onetime boss, British stage star Henry Irving, and Theodore Roosevelt’s uncle, Robert Roosevelt (thought to be a model for Van Helsing).
Along the way, Steinmeyer depicts Stoker’s life in Dublin and London, his development as a writer, involvement with London’s vibrant theater scene, and creation of one of horror’s greatest masterpieces. Combining historical detective work with literary research, Steinmeyer’s eagle eye provides an enthralling tour through Victorian culture and the extraordinary literary monster it produced.
“A fantastic, well-documented story.” —Library Journal (starred review)
“[A] well-researched and entertaining take on Dracula’s origin story.” —Publishers Weekly
“Who Was Dracula? chronicles the misadventures of Bram Stoker and his numerous friends and colleagues, both famous and obscure, hoping to unearth the recipe for a truly iconic character.” —San Francisco Book Review
“Who Was Dracula? is a book you’ll want to sink your teeth into.” —“The Bookworm Sez”
Jim Steinmeyer is one of today’s most renowned historians of stage magic. He is the acclaimed author of The Glorious Deception and Hiding the Elephant, a Los Angeles Times bestseller. He is also a leading designer of magic illusion who has done work for television, Broadway, and many of the best-known names in modern magic, such as Doug Henning, Siegfried & Roy, and David Copperfield. Steinmeyer has also developed attractions and live shows for the Walt Disney Company, Universal Studios, and Dreamworks, and has twice received fellowships from the Academy of Magical Arts. He lives in Los Angeles.