The Daily Mail was up to its usual journalistic standards on Friday when it reported that Dracula was based on a real person who lived in Devon, England.
In an article titled “Now it’s Count Drac-oo-arrr! Blood-sucking vampire was from DEVON not Transylvania, claims new book”, the Daily Mail claimed:
Blood-sucking vampire Count Dracula wasn’t from Transylvania – but Devon, a new book claims.
Writer Andy Struthers says that rather than Vlad the Impaler, author Bram Stoker took his inspiration for the famous virgin killer from a priest based in the Westcountry.
The story is being reports on a number of sites, and it is a double load of nonsense.
For one thing, the book Dracula was not based on a priest, it was based in part on that priest’s _work_. But more importantly, anyone who cared to spend a few minutes researching the question already knew that.
He wrote several famous hymns and songs, as well as numerous novels, including a work on werewolves (you can find it at Project Gutenberg). That last work was one of Bram Stoker’s inspirations for Dracula.
Again, we already knew that.
A few minutes of Googling uncovered an interview where Bram Stoker talked about his inspiration and sources for Dracula. That interview was originally published in The British Weekly about a month after the novel was released, and can be found online. (I found it in Google Books.)
Here’s part of the interview:
“Is there any historical basis for the legend (of the vampire)?”
“It rested, I imagine, on some such case as this. A person may have fallen into a death-like trance and been buried before the time. Afterwards the body may have been dug up and found alive, and from this a horror seized upon the people, and in their ignorance they imagined that a vampire was about. The more hysterical, through excess of fear, might themselves fall into trances in the same way; and so the story grew that one vampire might enslave many others and make them like himself. Even in the single villages it was believed that there might be many such creatures. When once the panic seized the population, their only thought was to escape.”
“In what parts of Europe has this belief been most prevalent?”
“In certain parts of Styria it has survived longest and with most intensity, but the legend is common to many countries, to China, Iceland, Germany, Saxony, Turkey, the Chersonese, Russia, Poland, Italy, France, and England, besides all the Tartar communities.”
“In order to understand the legend, I suppose it would be necessary to consult many authorities?”
Mr. Stoker told me that the knowledge of vampire superstitions shown in “Dracula” was gathered from a great deal of miscellaneous reading.
“No one book that I know of will give you all the facts. I learned a good deal from E. Gerard’s ‘Essays on Roumanian Superstitions,’ which first appeared in The Nineteenth Century, and were afterwards published in a couple of volumes. I also learned something from Mr. Baring-Gould’s ‘Were-Wolves.’ Mr. Gould has promised a book on vampires, but I do not know whether he has made any progress with it.”
You can read a copy of the interview here.
To put it simply, the character of Dracula was not from Devon, nor was it based on a person from Devon. It was in fact only remotely connected to an author from Devon.
The book Dracula, as was already known, was based on a mashup of local legends, superstitions, inventions of Mr Stoker, as well as the fictionalized life and death of a real historical person, Vlad the Impaler, whose House (Dr?cule?ti) even inspired the name of the book.
In conclusion, what you thought you knew about the book, and its main character, was more or less correct.
P.S. The Guardian published a similar report on Monday, and cited one of Stoker’s descendants who is both an author and a historian. He disputes the many erroneous press reports “My radar goes up when someone says ‘Dracula was from here’. Dracula was not from Exeter, but part of his inspiration was,” said Dacre Stoker.