- Hardcover: 672 pages
- Publisher: Liveright; 1 edition (October 4, 2016)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1631490109
- ISBN-13: 978-1631490101
- Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 2.1 x 9.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 25 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #886,585 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Something in the Blood: The Untold Story of Bram Stoker, the Man Who Wrote Dracula Hardcover – October 4, 2016
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“Sharply written, well-researched (with judicious use of recent discoveries), attentive to detail, and entertaining to read. Skal’s is the finest, most balanced biography of Bram Stoker yet written.”
- Sir Christopher Frayling, author of Vampyres: Lord Byron to Count Dracula and Nightmare: The Birth of Horror
About the Author
David J. Skal is a leading American cultural historian and critic of horror films and Gothic literature. The author of The Monster Show and Hollywood Gothic, he lives in Glendale, California.
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Skal includes lots of rather tangential-at-best material, mini-bios of various folks who connected with DRACULA at one point or another, folks like George Sylvester Viereck and Hester Dowden. Following the lengthy chapter on the actual writing of DRACULA, is a chapter mostly, though not wholly, devoted to the downfall and death of Oscar Wilde, which could be wholly cut. Some readers, I imagine, would grow impatient with the numerous nearly-irrelevant lengthy digressions, but Skal writes so well, his research is so impeccable, and the tales are so juicy, that I found all of those tangents fascinating, and would not part with any of them.
The final chapter is entirely devoted to the history of DRACULA in the 20th Century, after Stoker's death. (Stoker died just five days after the Titanic sank.) This chapter is in essence, a condensed version of Skal's earlier book, HOLLYWOOD GOTHIC: THE TANGLED WEB OF DRACULA FROM NOVEL TO STAGE TO SCREEN, though many of its tales include newly-discovered information, and tales not told in HOLLYWOOD GOTHIC are included. His account of the fall of Horace Liveright is far more detailed (And jaw-dropping) than his accounts of the end results of Liveright's hubris in HOLLYWOOD GOTHIC and in THE MONSTER SHOW. (One wonders how Liveright would feel about his unflattering portrait in a book published by his still-active imprint. This is a Liveright Book.)
It's almost as much a biography of Oscar Wilde as it is of Stoker. Their connection (Though not what you would call friendship) runs deeper than just their mutual romantic relationships with Florence Stoker, Bram's formidable wife. To me, that's a bonus.
Skal also speculates, on not-inconsequential evidence, that Stoker may have been bisexual or at least sexually ambivalent. He does not uncover any proof that Stoker ever had a male lover (Though if he did, novelist Hall Caine, DRACULA's dedicatee, is a likely candidate), but that Stoker was at least what we now call "Bi-Curious" is pretty firmly established. Along with his loving relationship with Caine, there are his well-established worshipful adoration of Sir Henry Irving (Who does not come off well in the book) and of the adamantly omni-sexual Walt Whitman. And then there's his progressively more misogynistic female characters in his later, post-DRACULA novels.
Two minor omissions surprised me (Since Skal seems reluctant to omit anything at all): though Hall Caine and his literary legacy is much discussed, Skal never mentions that Alfred Hitchcock filmed one of Caine's novels, THE MANXMAN, as a silent back in the late 20s. And though he mentions Stoker's Great-Grand-Nephew Dacre Stoker in the acknowledgements, and discusses many of the sequels and variations DRACULA has undergone in the century since Stoker died, Skal never mentions Dacre Stoker's "Authorized" (By Dacre, I must assume) sequel to DRACULA, titled DRACULA, THE UNDEAD, published 6 years ago. (On DRACULA, THE UNDEAD's back cover, Dacre is called "Bram Stoker's direct descendant." Hello? How does that work? I am not my Great-Grand-Uncle's "Descendant.") There's also a goof in a footnote when Skal mentions the roles of Rosalind, Orlando and Jacques in "TWELFTH NIGHT," when those are all characters from AS YOU LIKE IT. But that's just a typo slip neither he nor his editors caught, in a huge book, easily fixed for the next edition.
So, if DRACULA, Bram Stoker, Oscar Wilde, gothic literature and/or late-Victorian London West End Theater fascinates you as much as it does me, I highly recommend this lovely and lavish book, perfect for the vampire-o-phile on your Christmas list.
The padding is fascinating, don't get me wrong, and Skal writes well, but there is just too much collateral material about things like the White Chapel murders,assorted art collectors, and Oscar Wilde (especially Oscar Wilde!) that gives one the impression that, when Skal found the details of Stoker's life unyielding to scrutiny, he chose to throw in fifty pages of stuff related to people who knew someone who knew Stoker, rather than to admit defeat (or at least stalemate) to a man who has thwarted many scholars even from beyond the grave. Even Stoker aficionados admit that his prose was sometimes turgid and nearly unreadable without significant editing, and while he knew quite a few lively characters (like Mark Twain and Walt Whitman) he suffered by comparison to his circle of friends and acquaintances. If this book is any indication, maybe it's time to admit that most of what's been written about Stoker thus far will more than suffice.
Another annoying detail is the way Skal teases too much from the homosocial mores of the 19th century in order to make the story of Stoker in vogue with the current identity politics craze. Stoker knew homosexuals and respected several gay artists, but Skal teases out very murky conclusions more owing to the fact that he knows it sells to have some new salacious angle on an old figure, rather than because the written record bears out his suppositions.
That said, if you're coming to the subject cold- if you're not familiar with the aforementioned Belford book or any of the works produced by Radu Florescu and Raymond McNally (or the works produced by the Stoker and Irving heirs)- you might learn something from this overlong (but still somehow superficial) book. The copious illustrations and photos are easy on the eye, but also confirm the nagging suspicion I had while reading that, despite the amount of text on the page, this new book being treated as revelatory (by reviewers who are smart enough to know better) is really a glorified coffee table prop. A bit disappointing after all the build up, but not totally without merit.