How Bram Stoker Handled A Soul-Sucking Boss

How Bram Stoker Handled A Soul-Sucking Boss

Recently I attended the opening of a gourmet confectionary called R&R Chocolate Palace. As I reached for a Wild Harvested Bolivian truffle, a botoxed woman asked, “Are you in The Industry too?”

The amazing chocolatier, you see, has a day job. He’s the conductor of the Atlantic Symphony Orchestra and the music director behind the soundtracks of several Hollywood blockbusters.

In Los Angeles, you can’t walk into a Starbucks without someone asking you, somewhat desperately, “Are you in The Industry?” Meaning, of course, the entertainment industry, which permeates the city like a layer of smog.

Or fog, if you lived in 19th century London like Bram Stoker (1847-1912).

Stoker knew The Industry well. For over twenty years, he was the personal assistant (PA) to Henry Irving, a leading actor of his time and the first to be knighted.

A Brilliant Public Servant

Before Stoker met Irving, he knocked around Dublin, attending graduate school, writing theatrical reviews, publishing a few short stories,  and working as a civil servant. At age 29, he wrote his magnum opus, The Duties of Clerks of Petty Sessions in Ireland, which became a classic in the field.

The same year, however, Stoker penned a flattering review of Henry Irving’s performance of Hamlet.

Until He Met Dracula

In gratitude, Irving invited Stoker to his hotel room for dinner and a private performance.  He recited a poem, The Dream of Eugene Aram, about a schoolteacher who batters an old man to death for a bit of gold. The performance mesmerized Stoker:

So great was the magnetism of his genius, so profound was the sense of his dominancy that I sat spellbound. Outwardly I was as of stone…The whole thing was new, re-created by a force of passion which was like a new power.

How Bram Stoker Handled a Soul-Sucking Boss at LaterBloomer.com
Henry Irving as Macbeth

Irving and Stoker became close friends, or perhaps, master and acolyte.  According to biographer Barbara Belford, the hypnotic, self-centered Irving is the man who was Dracula.

In 1878, Irving acquired the Lyceum Theatre in London.  He asked Stoker to become his PA and theatre manager, a position Stoker held for 21 years, until Irving sold his interest behind Stoker’s back.

What could have caused such a rift?

The Chilling Masterpiece

Two years earlier, at age 50, Stoker had published Dracula.  He’d written a few minor novels in his 40s, but none of them rivaled this one.  As Barbara Belford tells us,

The novel’s genesis was a process, which involved Stoker’s education and interests, his fears and fantasies, as well as those of his Victorian colleagues. He dumped the signposts of his life into a supernatural cauldron and called it Dracula.

When Stoker asked his employer of almost 20 years what he thought of Dracula, Irving replied, “Dreadful!”  He refused to star in a theatrical adaptation.

Belford thinks that Irving felt it beneath his dignity to act in a play written by an employee.

Stoker and Irving’s relationship, however, appears more complicated than that. Did Irving just see an unflattering portrait of himself in the novel? Or was it something else? Certain members of The Irving Society believe that Stoker might have been privy to a very dark secret about Irving.  (See “The Ripper and The Lyceum” in First Knight, their Society journal.)

After Irving sold the Lyceum, Stoker stayed on as his personal assistant for a few more years, but the two eventually drifted apart.

Henry Irving died in 1905, never realizing he’d turned down the biggest role of the 20th century.

Finally free, Bram Stoker wrote prolifically until he died in 1912 at age 65.  He produced several more novels and a biography of Henry Irving. Stoker’s widow Florence published a short story collection, Dracula’s Guest and Other Weird Stories, after his death.

How Bram Stoker Handled a Soul-Sucking Boss at LaterBloomer.com
Bram Stoker

In 2003, after spending ten months as a PA to a narcissistic magazine editor, Lauren Weisberger wrote The Devil Wears Prada. It too was a sensation, but we’ve already forgotten about it.

Perhaps it takes twenty years under the thumb of a soul-sucking boss and fifty year acquiring wisdom to produce something with the staying power of Dracula.

Sources

42 Responses

  1. Later_Bloomer
    | Reply

    How late bloomer Bram Stoker handled his soul-sucking boss – http://www.laterbloomer.com/bram-stoker/

    • jensaundersyoga
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      @Later_Bloomer perusing your site – I am smitten!

    • CormackCarr
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      RT @Later_Bloomer: How late bloomer Bram Stoker handled his soul-sucking boss – http://www.laterbloomer.com/bram-stoker/

    • CormackCarr
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      @Later_Bloomer Love the Bram Stoker article – great insights, as in the rest of your site….

    • Debra Eve
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      @CormackCarr Thanks! Sure you noticed that a lot of my peeps are Brits and Scots (yes, I know the difference!) courtesy of my English hubby

    • CormackCarr
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      @Later_Bloomer Thanks for the compliment & am impressed that you know the nuances of UK national boundaries! 😉

    • CormackCarr
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      @Later_Bloomer (P.S. Being an ex-pat Scot living in England, I get to speak for both sides. At least, that’s the story I’m sticking to!)

    • Debra Eve
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      @CormackCarr Just checked out your site … love your mission

  2. Kala
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    What a fun take on the dreadful boss. I love the Dracula movies they do have such deep subtext, I think that’s what makes them so interesting, it’s about desire, love, fear and so much more. I work with women who are suffering through hostile work environments and wanting to get out, and so this post caught my attention. I think we can all make some creative juice out of our suffering just like Bram Stoker did! Whether it’s our life post dreadful boss-that is more in alignment with our values, gifts and dreams!

    • Debra Eve
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      Thanks for stopping by, Kala! Workplace bullying is far more prevalent that anyone realizes. I know very few who’ve escaped it over the course of a long professional career. I’m so impressed at how you’ve found your way to the other side and are now supporting other people who’ve experienced it. You’ve got such an inspiring story too!

  3. Daniela Gitlin
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    Greetings from a fellow A-lister, Later Bloomer Elle B! Your site is awesome. This post on Bram Stoker rocks. Dracula is a masterpiece. Love your clinching closer: “…it takes 20 years under the thumb of an soul-sucking egotist to produce something the caliber of Dracula.” Indeed.
    It speaks to a truth I find myself continuously exploring: you can’t rush experience, there are no shortcuts, and persistence matters. (Actually, that’s three truths.) Sometimes I feel that’s bad news. But you’ve just reminded me it’s good news: it favors us later bloomers.
    I’m subscribing so I don’t forget to follow what you’re up to. You know how it is. The old attic is so full, another bright and shiny blog might come along and unwittingly bump you out. Can’t have that. (Light bulb on! There’s a 6th reason to subscribe.) Write on! Daniela

    • Debra Eve
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      Daniela, I can’t tell you how much your words mean to me. Thanks so much! My dad always used to say “slow and steady wins the race” and I’d roll my eyeballs. Now it’s my mantra!

      P.S. You’ve got the best blog name ever!

  4. Lindsay
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    Wonderful article. I did not know any of these things about Bram Stoker.

    • Debra Eve
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      Thanks, Lindsay. I just adore Bram. He’s one of my literary crushes. He started out as a sickly boy and was bedridden for many years. The nature of his illness remains a mystery. So he overcame much!

  5. Lindsay
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    Two brilliant movies about ghosts that I saw around Halloween are THE INNOCENTS and THE HAUNTING. Both in gorgeous black and white, both smart and scary.

    • Debra Eve
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      I have The Innocents in my library, one of my all-time favorites. It’s based on “Turn of the Screw” I believe. Those were truly the golden years of horror!

  6. florence fois
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    Debra … I told myself that the soul-sucking work was needed to support my children … that I’d get to what I really loved “one day.” It matters not what lies we tell ourselves … we all do what we think we must … write when we can … and eventually come to the cross-roads of WHEN THE HELL??

    Five years ago I decided that no matter how little I had … my time was finally all mine. Kids and grandkids safe and tucked away elsewhere … I grabbed my dream by the throat and like Dracula … drank the sweet nectar of independence.

    Thanks for keeping the light burning … some of us take a while to crawl through that tunnel … but the bright beams you hold for us are a ticket out of the dark 🙂

    • Debra Eve
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      That is the one of the greatest things anyone has ever said to me, Florence. Thank you so much. I’m so excited for you as you set off in your new life!

  7. Diane
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    Being the care giver of a Jeckle and Hyde dementia patient (my mother), my soul is slowly being sucked away. Oh, where is Van Helsing when I need him!
    Diane

    • Debra Eve
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      I can’t even imagine how tough that is, Diane, and my heart goes out to you. Try to take care of yourself and maybe sometimes, escape into books. You’ve still got a great sense of humor 🙂

  8. Pauline Baird Jones
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    So much I did not know about Bram Stoker! Very fun and interesting!

    • Debra Eve
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      And this is only the half, Pauline! He’s an intriguing fellow on many counts. Thanks for stopping by!

  9. Michael Walden
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    Hello from long ago!

    It’s been awhile since I’ve commented but I’m a subscriber 😉

    I’m thinking that this must be some kind of sign from somewhere. I was just yesterday thinking how I wanted to read Stoker’s Dracula again but was going to have to buy it. Dracula is NOT the kind of book to be read online, on any kind of computer, an IAnything or in other manner than page by page, and I mean real pages. So anyhow I set it in my mind to purchase the book again.

    Now, I just also happen to be rereading Neil Gaiman’s American Gods.

    Are you seeing the same synchronicity that I am? 😉

    • Debra Eve
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      Hey Michael, good to hear from you again! Yes, I do see the synchronicity. And, after re-reading the introduction to this edition by Gaiman, I thought “I really need to reread American Gods.” 🙂 Intriguing…

  10. Marla Martenson
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    I love Dracula. I have seen the film with Winona Ryder at least 5 times! What a great inspiration that he wrote the book at 50 years old. I am 50 now and have written 4 books, but I am continuing to write and who knows, maybe one of my books will go down in history like Dracula!

    • Debra Eve
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      I’ve read the book several times, and I do like Coppola’s interpretation. And the truth is, Marla, all our books will go down in history on some level, even if it’s just a personal one 🙂

  11. Heather
    | Reply

    How I Handled a Soul Sucking Job
    Several years ago I worked in the telephone enquiries office of a National company. Our room was very small and overcrowded with no natural light. The day before I started work there the manager had a breakdown and went off long term sick, in fact when I went for my interview one of the current staff advised me not to take the job – I wish I’d listened to her.

    Staff morale was very low, with various groups forming and reforming to ‘gang up’ against other groups of staff in order to relieve the tedium of the job. If, as a new comer, I had any queries about my work, other staff would deliberately steer me wrong and then report me for making a mistake. This was their idea of fun!!! One day there was a ‘security alert’ and the whole building was evacuated apart from our office. We were so hidden away that we were forgotten!

    I hated it. One morning I was due in at work at 6am. I lay in bed, not wanting to get up and go in. When I eventually got up I was running late, so I rang the office to tell them I was on my way in – to say that my supervisor was unhappy at me would be an understatement and I knew that I would not be in for a warm welcome when I arrived at work. Reluctantly I set off to cycle into town. It was a beautiful summer’s morning. It was already warm in the sun and there was a beautiful blue sky overhead. Yet I was full of dread at the thought of spending another eight hour shift in the stuffy, dismal, unfriendly, windowless closet that was coming ever nearer.

    So, on the spur of the moment, I cycled straight past the company building and carried on through the almost deserted streets of my beautiful home town of York and headed out into the countryside for a bike ride. I bought some lunch on the way and had a wonderful day never to return to that job again. It felt as though a weight had been lifted from my shoulders and that was such a relief to me.

    • Debra Eve
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      That is such an amazing story, Heather! Thank you so much for sharing it. And I could just picture it too — I spent several days in York and environs on a trip to England, and on my last day I took a bus out of town early. The walk through town at that hour was wonderful. Going past the Minster, I could almost believe it was another century. Good for you!

  12. David Stevens
    | Reply

    Get out and be your “own boss”. There’s no net to catch you however the thrill is part of the ‘rush’. Thankyou Debra for your continuing fine reading.
    be good to yourself
    David.

    • Debra Eve
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      You’re welcome, David. Lucky for all of us, Stoker finally did become his own boss!

  13. Lynette M Burrows
    | Reply

    Terrific posts. I think there are many of us who can relate to staring in fascination at a character around us who really should be the antagonist in our books! I know I can

    • Debra Eve
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      Thanks, Lynnette! I think that’s why I so relate to Bram, Lynette. I think he really loved the theatre — he toured all Europe and the U.S. with Irving — but hated being a glorified babysitter to an egotist.

  14. Susie Lindau (@Susie
    | Reply

    I can use as many late bloomer role models as I can get!
    Happy Birthday Bram!

    • Debra Eve
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      I agree, Susie! And Bram’s just one of the best. Thanks for stopping by!

  15. Daniela
    | Reply

    Ooooooo…. What was Stoker’s dark secret about Irving? The link didn’t take me to the answer. I’m agog with suspense and strangled curiosity!

    • Debra Eve
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      Thanks, Daniela! They switched to frames. I fixed the link now, but the gist is that Irving was a master Freemason during the Jack the Ripper murders. Stoker was also a Freemason, though lower ranking. One theory claims that the “murderer” was a cabal of Freemasons protecting the secret of a royal member. Irving, because of his high rank, might have participated in the “Ripper” cover up, perhaps by writing the letters to the press. Stoker encrypted some of this in Dracula and it caused a rift between Irving and Stoker. One of the more fascinating Ripper theories.

  16. Michael Walden
    | Reply

    I received The Annotated Dracula on Friday! It is a beautiful book and I can’t wait to dive in! Thank you so very much!

    • Debra Eve
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      Yay! Thanks for letting me know.

  17. Dave Patrick
    | Reply

    Great article which I stumbled across doing research on Bram Stoker/Dracula for a Dracula event in Finedon, Northants, I’m attending next Saturday night – see http://www.northantstelegraph.co.uk/news/top-stories/video-bookshop-s-dark-tribute-to-dracula-1-5559859
    I will be dressing up as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who was the focus of my first book as (late bloomer!) Editor, ‘The View: From Conan Doyle to Conversations With God’ (2009) and saying a few words about the meaning behind Dracula (your article very informative!). My follow up books in ‘The View’ series are ‘The View Beyond: Sir Francis Bacon – Alchemy, Science, Mystery’ (2011) and ‘The Cathar View: The Mysterious Legacy of Montsegur (2012).
    Delighted to have found your website! (and by the way I think you meant to say in an earlier comment that Scots were different from the English (not Brits). As a Scot I’ve always found it strange that Americans tend to say English when they mean British…)

    • Debra Eve
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      Hi Dave, thanks for stopping by! I’ll definitely check out your books — they’re all subjects I’m interested in. And yes, that’s exactly what I meant 🙂

      Love to see that bookstore events are still going strong over there. We’re hard-pressed to find a bookstore here in L.A.

  18. Renato B.
    | Reply

    Hi, Debra,
    I’ve just found your blog – love it! Nice post about Bram Stoker. 🙂

    All the best,
    Renato

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