The Messed Up Truth About Horror Novelist Bram Stoker

Irish writer Bram Stoker, the author behind the classic vampire tale "Dracula," went through his own personal horrors as a child, living with a mysterious, unknown illness that left him unable to move on his own until the age of 7 — long after most children run free. And although Stoker would recover well enough to compete as an athlete at Trinity College in Dublin and otherwise lead a relatively normal adult life, health issues caught up with him, contributing to his death in 1912. But like the childhood malady he lived with early on, what caused Stoker's death at the age of 64 remains uncertain to this day.

One of seven children, Stoker was born in 1847 near Dublin, Ireland. As mentioned, Stoker was a sickly kid that spent his younger years completely bedridden, enduring some of the popular medical treatments of the time such as bloodletting — bloodletting and "Dracula," sound familiar? No one thought that Stoker had long to live given his ailment, but even if Stoker's body would not work properly, the future horror writer's imagination surely did. As a child, Stoker spent hours watching the world from his window, listening to ghastly stories his mother told him — some based on her real experience, others grounded in folklore.  

Remembering this time in his life, Stoker later wrote (via The Irish Times) "I was naturally thoughtful, and the leisure of long illness gave opportunity for many thoughts which were fruitful according to their kind in later years."

[Featured image via Wikimedia Commons | Cropped and scaled]

He may have died from complications related to syphilis

Bram Stoker died on April 20, 1912, at his London home. Sources vary on the cause of his death, with some citing exhaustion while others speculate it was syphilis, a sexually transmitted disease. News of his death barely made the papers, as the world was focused on the sinking of the Titanic, which happened five days earlier. Stoker was laid to rest at the Golders Green Crematorium in London. According to the Oxford University Press (UOP) blog, Stoker's cause of death was listed on his death certificate as "Locomotor Ataxy 6 months," an ailment affecting the central nervous system.

Locomotor ataxia is sometimes caused by syphilis, as "The Devil and Daniel Farson: How Did Bram Stoker Die?" — published in the Journal of Dracula Studies — points out. Before he died, though, Stoker had a stroke and lived with gout, a type of inflammatory arthritis caused by a build-up of uric acid in the joints. Also notable, "a granular contracted kidney" was mentioned on Stoker's death certificate. Because locomotor ataxia is typically not fatal, the granular contracted kidney, or Bright's disease — now known as nephritis, or kidney inflammation — may have caused his death, but no one knows for sure (via Leeds University Library). 

[Featured image by Spudgun67 via Wikimedia Commons | Cropped and scaled | CC BY-SA 4.0]

Dracula was Stoker's biggest hit

While Bram Stoker has now been gone for more than a century, his creation, "Dracula," published in 1897, remains popular and is the subject of numerous spinoffs, as well as film and television adaptations. In its time, the gothic horror novel received mostly warm reviews and was something of a bestseller. Written in the form of letters and journal entries, the story follows the experiences of several people who encounter a vampire from Transylvania.

Inspiration for "Dracula" came on a trip to Whitby, England, in 1890. The town's historic abbey and graveyard found their way into "Dracula," as did the story of a shipwreck in its harbor (via Time). The recent shipwreck of the Dmitri captured Stoker's attention. Only a few crew members survived, and the vessel carried some strange cargo. For some reason, the boat was only filled with crates of dirt. A mysterious black dog was also reportedly seen exiting the ship before the beast disappeared into a church graveyard. 

At the advice of a friend, Stoker also looked at a special book at the town's subscription library — "The Accounts of Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia" — and from it he got the final name for the vampire in his story: Dracula, from the Wallachian word for "devil." Before this, Stoker used the name Count Wampyr.