The Good Dracula Name

“One of the most curious and striking of recent productions…one of the most weird and spirit-quelling romances which have appeared for years.” This was how the Daily Telegraph reviewed Bram Stoker’s Dracula soon after its 1897 publication. Numerous decades and countless adaptations later, Stoker’s work retains its appeal.

The Newberry’s 1899 copy of Dracula holds greater appeal yet. It was the first American edition of the iconic novel, and the first to depict the Count’s now-notorious castle on its cover. The cover has since faded, but the design’s elegance still shines through. Inside, the pages are uncreased and unmarked—unmarked, that is, save for a letter pasted inside the front cover and written by Bram Stoker himself.

The note is warmly, if hastily, scribbled. “My dear Stone,” Stoker scrawls. “My novel comes out…for America with Doubleday & McClure and I have asked them to send you a copy of it…for old friendship’s sake.” Herbert S. Stone was himself a prominent publisher, based in Chicago. He co-founded Stone and Kimball, whose papers can be found at the Newberry. As the papers attest, Stone’s work brought him into contact with numerous authors of the day.

Nor are Stone and Stoker the only notables this copy mentions. Stoker’s letterhead includes a touring schedule from the Lyceum Theatre Company, where he was manager. The names of actors Henry Irving and Ellen Terry take pride of place at the top of the schedule. Irving and Terry were well known in their own right. And Irving, some speculate based on the actor’s fondness for playing villains, was Stoker’s inspiration for the Dracula character.

Stoker might have been surprised to learn that Dracula’s name would outlast Irving’s, Terry’s, and Stone’s. “I have asked them to send you a copy of it…for old friendship’s sake if not for its subject,” Stoker says of his novel. He expected, perhaps, that it would soon be forgotten.

Instead, Dracula remains a household name (even if most people don’t learn it directly from Stoker’s book). Here at the Newberry, evidence of Dracula’s earliest years also lives on.

This essay was written by Meredith Carroll, who is participating in the Associated Colleges of the Midwest Newberry Seminar this fall.