NONFICTION

Something in the Blood: The Untold Story of Bram Stoker, the Man Who Wrote Dracula

Liveright: Norton. Oct. 2016. 672p. photos. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781631490101. $35; ebk. ISBN 9781631490118. LIT
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Despite the melodramatic title, this work is a scholarly study of Bram Stoker's (1847–1912) life and times. Historian Skal (Hollywood Gothic) addresses sexual identity and anxiety amid 19th-century upheavals in science, religion, and personhood. He depicts the dark underside of Victorian culture, including preoccupation with the occult, excessive consumption of alcohol and drugs, and prevalence of syphilis. Skal examines homosexuality, just emerging as a societal issue, with a focus on figures such as Stoker's friend Oscar Wilde and literary hero Walt Whitman. Stoker is depicted as resembling a child who never grew up, dominated by his mother and ambivalent toward women despite being married. Fascinated by the theater, he became the manager for actor Henry Irving whom he idolized and with whom he experienced a hostage-like relationship. Stoker's preoccupation with the macabre is traced to accounts of the horrors of the Irish Potato Famine, Irish mysticism, and fairy tales read as a child. Skal explores Stoker's most famous work, Dracula, in detail, with its focus on the magic of blood, the "oldest and deepest and most paradoxical human symbol."
VERDICT For serious students of horror literature and Victorian culture.

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