Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Will the real Count Dracula please stand up?

A sketch artist rendition of Count Dracula
There is controversy surrounding the connection between Voivode or Prince Vlad Dracula, also known as Vlad III, the Impaler or Ţepeş (hereafter referred to as Prince Vlad), and Count Dracula. As such I have decided to address this connection and will say, as a starting point, that Count Dracula – the Bram Stoker creation – is not Prince Vlad.

It is true that Bram Stoker took the name Dracula, referred in book to him as a voivode and lifted a smattering of biographical data (which was thin, to say the least, and not all of it was actually about Prince Vlad) and used said data to expand the background of the character. However this was part of an amalgam and the more explicit connections between Prince Vlad and Count Dracula came in the twentieth century.

I will offer at this point a debt to Elizabeth Miller and her book Dracula: Sense & Nonsense (D:S&N) from which many of the arguments have been gleaned.

Prince Vlad III
You might ask how we would know that Stoker’s knowledge of Prince Vlad was limited? That is easy, we have his novel and we have his notes. We know that he consulted William Wilkinson’s An Account of the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia and we know of no other source researched that contained reference to Prince Vlad.

Wilkinson’s detail was scant, indeed it only refers to a Voivode Dracula – never Prince Vlad or Ţepeş – and we know that the novel never mentions the names Vlad, Ţepeş or Impaler, it never refers to the title of Prince and it never mentions the atrocities that Prince Vlad is infamous for. Stoker does mention the rank of voivode but never tackles the fact that Count is a lower rank. It may be helpful if I repeat verbatim what Wilkinson said about the Draculas (and there is a reason for pluralisation) as cited in D:S&N (p155):

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.

This is later: 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. He made a treaty with Bladus, by which he bound the Wallachians to perpetual tribute.”

Most importantly (and we know it is most important because of the capitalisation used by Stoker in his notes) was the footnote to the second passage: *Dracula in the Wallachian language means Devil. The Wallachians were, at that time, as they are at present, used to give this surname to any person who rendered himself conspicuous either by courage, cruel actions, or cunning.

Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula
What can be taken from this? Firstly that there is no mention of a name other than Voivode Dracula but, in fact, Wilkinson has conflated Prince Vlad II and Prince Vlad III – the first entry certainly refers to the elder, more properly called Dracul, hence my pluralisation. Stoker did not necessarily know these were different men but, from this passage, he certainly will have thought that the sobriquet Dracula was commonly used. He also believed it meant Devil and this is important as we touch on how Dracula became a vampire. He also knew that Voivode Dracula had a brother but, of course, many voivodes would have had brothers. Wilkinson names him Bladus, most assume this refers to Radu – Prince Vlad’s younger sibling – but I am not proficient in names from the region nor their potential Anglicisation so I couldn’t say if this did actually refer to Radu – though I suspect it did.

So where did the connection come? Clearly from Stoker, in the first instance, as he made a casual connection to “Voivode Dracula”. However the more explicit connections seem to start in film with the Turkish film Drakula Istandul’da, which in turn was based on the 1928 novel by Ali Riza Seyfi entitled Kaziki Voyvoda, which was a reworking of Stoker’s novel but with greater play on the Prince Vlad connection and moved the action from England to Turkey. Given the history of the Ottoman Empire and the apparent impact of Prince Vlad during his reigns this seems hardly surprising at all.

From an academic point of view we can look to Bacil F Kirtley’s Dracula, the Monastic Chronicles and Slavic Folklore in 1956. However it was Raymond McNally and Radu Florescu who really brought the connection to popular Western attention. However their theories were, shall we say, flawed by some dubious academic assertions. Indeed as time moved on, later editions of their work would soften some of the looser evidence they offered regarding the connection. Eventually they would step away from the connection and the following choice quotes by Florescu are cited by Miller: the connection between the historical Dracula and the novel… beyond the title, is limited to four short references from a single book (p 155) and that any connection between fictional and historic Dracula is a Unique and extraordinary accident (p 182). She suggests that McNally has called claims that Stoker was inspired by Prince Vlad’s atrocities as silly. (p 153) However that connection was made by the two academics in the first instance and the behemoth-like concept was out of control and became “fact” within popular concept.

Prince Vlad full length
Some suggest that Stoker heard about Prince Vlad, in detail, from Arminius Vambery, the Hungarian scholar, who is replicated in the novel as Van Helsing’s source of information Arminius, of Buda−Pesth University. Stoker, like many writers, did use names of friends and acquaintances however. The first detail that Arminius, of Buda−Pesth University offered Van Helsing, however, is clearly lifted from Wilkinson as well as from Transylvanian Superstitions by Emily Gerard (a source we know Stoker consulted) mixed together with an author’s imagination and creativity.

We also have details from Stoker’s Personal Reminiscences of Henry Irving (1906) of two meetings with Arminius Vambery, neither of which suggest they discussed Prince Vlad or vampires. In fact Stoker states that - in the first meeting - the conversation was about Vambery's travels in Central Asia and makes specific reference to Tibet. The second occurrence was upon seeing Vambery receive a degree at Dublin University and mentions Vambery's role as a speaker - where he spoke against Russian aggression. There are also no references to correspondence with Arminius Vambery in Stoker’s notes. Later in the novel we get more detail from Arminius, of Buda−Pesth University that suggests Count Dracula was in life a most wonderful man. Soldier, statesman, and alchemist. That does not match the infamous Prince Vlad – especially from the Saxon propaganda that earned him the sobriquet Ţepeş – given he was writing a book of Gothic horror, had Arminius Vambery told Stoker of anything about the reputation of the Prince Vlad you would have thought he would have used it, or at least place it in his notes for potential use. Of course I could be wrong about Vambery but there is no evidence to the contrary.

If we look to the history that Count Dracula gives us, as noted by Jonathon Harker, we hear: We Szekelys have a right to be proud, for in our veins flows the blood of many brave races who fought as the lion fights, for lordship.” Prince Vlad was not a Szekely, Count Dracula clearly was. There are enough misunderstandings flying around about the difference between a Wallachian (Prince Vlad) and a Transylvanian (ie they are two separate principalities). Being a Szekely Count Dracula admits to actually being a Hungarian.

He also suggests, What devil or what witch was ever so great as Attila, whose blood is in these veins?” Prince Vlad was not descended from Attila.

Why is this important? Because it underlines the fact that Count Dracula is an amalgam character, that Stoker invented a character and then added details from a variety of sources to make the character interesting. I would argue that no single part is any more important than any other.

Gary Oldman as Count Dracula
Looking at Count Dracula’s description further we see he says “Who was it but one of my own race who as Voivode crossed the Danube and beat the Turk on his own ground? This was a Dracula indeed! Woe was it that his own unworthy brother, when he had fallen, sold his people to the Turk and brought the shame of slavery on them! This is pure Wilkinson but also the Count claims it as an ancestor, one of my own race. It could be argued that Count Dracula is plying his own past but disguising his identity and we could argue that the detail by Arminius, of Buda−Pesth University to Van Helsing suggests this. However we do not know that for certain – it is supposition – and the Van Helsing character does contradict himself at times and forget things (such as they could have destroyed the vampiric Lucy with a simple sacred bullet rather than go through the (wonderfully harrowing) staking and subsequent corpse mutilation). On face value Count Dracula suggests that he is related to the Dracula from Wilkinson not actually that Dracula.

I want to touch briefly on how Count Dracula came to be a vampire as, in order that Prince Vlad can be tied in, there are some confusing aspects to this suggested. As far as I can tell there were no legends surrounding Prince Vlad and vampirism until the connection between Count Dracula and Prince Vlad became popular. Indeed, Prince Vlad is regarded as a national hero in his homeland (though there may have been some manipulation of this during the communist era). However a whole cottage industry seems to have developed suggesting that Prince Vlad was connected with vampirism in legends from his homeland. It has to be said that, even if he had been, no source consulted by Stoker mentions this (as the only source re Prince Vlad that we know of is, of course, Wilkinson).

woodcut of Prince Vlad
One popular suggestion is that Prince Vlad was excommunicated and this is used directly or indirectly to suggest how Prince Vlad became a vampire and thus tie the historical man in to Stoker. Firstly I have to say that I do not know if Prince Vlad was excommunicated or whether this is a modern invention, but it is the implied source of vampirism used in the “biopic” (and very historically inaccurate) film Dracula the Dark Prince.

If he was, it was not because he “turned his back on the church” but because he turned from the Orthodox Church to the Roman Catholic Church for political reasons. As such I doubt that he would have been bothered by his excommunication as he still was a member of a Christian Church (indeed the Holy Church of Rome). It has been suggested to me that all those who follow the Pope are deemed excommunicated by Orthodox churches by rote and thus there would not be a specific excommunication. Taking that on face value it would mean that (if all excommunications lead to vampirism) that we would be overrun by our toothsome friends – there have been a lot of Catholics over the centuries.

However Stoker implied how Count Dracula became a vampire – for that we return to Emily Gerard and note that Arminius has told Van Helsing, They learned his secrets in the Scholomance, amongst the mountains over Lake Hermanstadt, where the devil claims the tenth scholar as his due.” Note now that we know that Stoker believed Dracula to mean devil, he also has the Count using the pseudonym of Count de Ville, and we read 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. The evidence stacks up that it was at the Scholomance that Count Dracula consorted with the devil and I do not think that it is such a stretch to offer the theory that it is the attendance at the Scholomance that was the source of the Count’s vampirism. It is therefore logical that Stoker’s use of the name Dracula had more to do with the meaning of the name that Wilkinson suggested rather than the scant history he offered.

Finally, I’d like you to look to the picture at the head of this essay. This is a sketch artist’s rendition of Dracula as described in the novel (I am unsure of the artist or the ownership and use it only for illustrative purposes under fair usage). Compare that picture to Prince Vlad’s picture further down. They are not the same man – of course they are not for Stoker never saw a picture of Prince Vlad that we are aware of.

Christopher Lee as Count Dracula
So what does it all matter? In the grand scheme of things not much, Count Dracula and Prince Vlad are so conflated in the popular mind that you can point out all the evidence for the thin connection, as well as the lack of factually accurate evidence for the deeper connection, and people will ignore it and dogmatically stick to the view that they are one and the same. When that is an artist – be it an author, screenwriter, illustrator, director or actor – then that is fine. They are creating their own image of Count Dracula. When it is an academic it is problematic – as such works should strive for accuracy. However when someone suggests that it is what Stoker had in mind then I feel we are doing the man, and his remarkable creation, a disservice.

Ahh, you may say, but you yourself have looked at the 1982 (possibly 1976) absolutely vampire free biopic Vlad Ţepeş on your vampire blog, and I have. I looked at it as an honourable mention because the two figures (literary and historical) are inextricably conflated. However, Count Dracula, as written by Stoker, is not (in my opinion) Prince Vlad though there is a little Prince Vlad (II and III) in him.

As I gird my loins in preparation for the comments I would suggest that should you want further details on much of the nonsense talked about Count Dracula and, of course, the novel itself you should see Elizabeth Miller’s Dracula: Sense and Nonsense:

11 comments:

JaredMithrandir said...

In my own fictional mythology I place my writings in, Stoker's Novel was base don a Real Vampire, but he wasn't as faithful to his source material as Le Fanu or Paul Feval, or even Varney's garbled narrative.

It is a fact that the name Dracula was itself only added at the last minute, and I've written a post on my Forum about how I feel the information about him established before the Dracula confusion makes the Bathory family the likely candidate.
http://z13.invisionfree.com/The_Shadowmen_Lounge/index.php?showtopic=4&view=findpost&p=22352340

There are allot of Vlad is Dracula obsessed people I meet on IMDB who cannot accept that identifying a fictional character with a historical one is not the same as basing him on one.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Jared, I like the way you have put that - identifying rather than basing.

JaredMithrandir said...

Thank you

An alternative to the Bathory rout, (or perhaps cold be merged with it) since as you noted the Dracula references could be interpreted as to his Ancestor. When you trace the rout by which Prince Charles is a descendent of Vlad Tepes it goes through some Transylvanian nobility. And Vlad Tepes has a grandson or great grandson named Lasidius Dracula.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

I am aware of the Vlad - UK royal family line but also aware that that line also (allegedly) leads to Robert Pattinson... eek

JaredMithrandir said...

Should have been spelt Ladislas. I'd forgotten why I considered him significant, it's because he married a Hungarian Noblewoman who owned land in Transylvania.

Allot of British actors have descent from Royalty, Edmund from the Narnia films is a descendent of Darwin, who's a descendent of Mary Bolyen.

JaredMithrandir said...

That top picture reminds me again that I'd like to see an Asian or Eurasian actor play Dracula for a change.

What did you think of the Bathory analysis I linked to?

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Jared - sorry, I should have made comment on that - I apologise for not doing its been a hectic work week.

You say in the analysis - By no means do I think this was intentional on Stoker's part - and I agree with that certainly and there is precious little evidence that Stoker knew of Bathory (though I believe one of his reference works does include mention of her... I'd have to dig to tell you which one.

Generally I think the Bathory/vampire connection is pretty much modern in origin but the actual connections you make are excellent from a writers point of view I could see a wonderful history weaved.

I'm also interested in the "it was a frame job" theorem of Bathory, but ultimately I'm a sucker for the blood countess stories and these fit in with vampirism so well. McNally did write a book - Dracula was a woman - but I have to admit I don't have it.

Re an Asian Dracula look to Dracula: Pages from a Virgin's Diary

JaredMithrandir said...

One could go with the frame up and still include a Vampire. She is destroyed by society, but once imprisoned in her castle, a Vampire offers her a new immortal life of revenge.

I love engaging in the genre of Secret History. Much more fun to me then the easier Alternate history.

That film looks interesting, thanks.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

no worries :)

Scott Harper said...

Well, all I have to say is...well done. I have Professor Miller's book but you were able to put everything succinctly into a short piece. Excellent post!!!

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Thanks Scott :)