The Closet & The Coffin
For LGBT History Month I’m inviting friends and fans alike to delve into our cemeteries and unearth some queer stories – there are loads, if you know where to look! Today I’m very pleased to post a blog by The Astroholic, himself, Dr Alfredo Carpineti! Alfredo is an astrophysicist and writer for IFLScience; here he investigates the true leanings of one of our most important writers.
We hardly hear the name Bram Stoker, without hearing the word Dracula.
Stoker crafted, thanks to his detailed research, such a compelling vampire story, that it has become the archetype for all others. The story is not a simple gothic horror and no adaptation has, so far, done it justice. Importantly, its unquestionably queer subtext can only be appreciated when put into the perspective of Stoker’s life.
Stoker from the studio of W. & D. Downey, 1906. © National Portrait Gallery 2019.
Stoker was born in Ireland in 1847; his name being an abbreviation of ‘Abraham’. He was an author as well as the business manager for the Lyceum Theatre and the personal assistant of its owner, legendary Victorian actor Henry Irving. Irving is often seen as the inspiration for the Count’s mannerisms. This was not meant as a criticism; Irving himself was someone that Stoker deeply admired.
Stoker was married to Florence Balcombe and they had one child together. She became the literary executor of Stoker after his death and fierecely protected his estate in death; pursuing copyright claims against unauthorised adaptations of his works such as Nosferatu in 1922, where all copies had to be destroyed due to infingement.
Before marrying Stoker, Balcombe was engaged with Oscar Wilde, and she appears to have had a type. Wilde and Stoker had known each other and had a complicated relationship. Many think that it is not a coincidence that Stoker’s work on Dracula was catalyzed and began in full, shortly after the beginning of Wilde infamous trial for Gross Indecency in 1895. Dracula’s homoerotic undertones are seen as the “personal demons” Stoker was battling with himself.
As always, whenever we look at historical figures, we can’t apply the modern lens of sexuality to describe them. We are interpreting their work, their lives, and private writing and trying to glean a meaning that the author themselves might not be able to simply articulate. Stoker visited Wilde on the continent after he had been released from prison, yet he was not one of the mourners at the small funeral for the author of Salome. By 1912, the year of his death, Stoker was fiercely homophobic; demanding imprisonment for all the homosexual authors in Britain.
Those words certainly leave a bitter taste in your mouth. 1912 was a very different epoch, but it was also the year that the seminal Maurice was written by E. M. Forster; a book exploring same sex love in the 20th century. I find Stoker’s view jarring because I compare his views with the touching letters he wrote to American poet Walt Whitman, author among other of Leaves of Grass, a lifelong work that contains sexual imagery and is regarded as one of the great American collections of poetry.
“[…] be assured of this Walt Whitman—that a man of less than half your own age, reared a conservative in a conservative country, and who has always heard your name cried down by the great mass of people who mention it, here felt his heart leap towards you across the Atlantic and his soul swelling at the words or rather the thoughts. […]
How sweet a thing it is for a strong healthy man with a woman’s eye and a child’s wishes to feel that he can speak to a man who can be if he wishes father, and brother and wife to his soul,” Stoker wrote to Whitman in 1876, two years before his marriage with Balcombe.
Whether Stoker felt the need to cover up what may have been his true leanings with homophobic views we can never be sure of. It has been speculated that his admiration of Whitman, who has rumours regarding his own orientation, mirrored the hero worship he felt with Irving.
Stoker’s ashes were mixed with that of his son. © Jim Dyson.
Stoker died on April 20, 1912 and he was cremated in Golders Green Crematorium in North London. It is still possible to visit the urn containing his ashes and pay homage to such a complex and controversial character.