Book Review: In Search of Dracula

InSearchOfDraculaIn the last twenty or so years there have been dozens of new volumes about Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula and his inspiration for the Count, the historical Vlad Tepes of Romania, but Raymond McNally and Radu Florescu’s popular In Search of Dracula remains a worthy introduction to the subject. First published in 1972 and revised in 1994, they effectively helped kick off scholarly interest in Dracula and Stoker. Though there have been subsequent books that go more in depth with specific subjects, this really runs the gamut and is a decent starting place for Dracula newbies who have read the novel (or seen one of the many film adaptations) and want to know more.

McNally and Florescu split the book up into several chapters that primarily cover five subjects. First is Stoker’s likely inspirations for Dracula, Romanian Price Vlad Tepes. They cover his biography, as well his reputation (he wasn’t known as “the Impaler” for nothing) and German and Romanian legends that subsequently sprung up about him. There is a smaller section devoted to vampire legends and folklore in Europe. Stoker’s life is also briefly covered, as is the writing of Dracula, and Dracula’s legacy, including information about film and stage adaptions.

McNally and Florescu were among the first to fully explore Vlad Tepes’ impact on Dracula and these early chapters are certainly the most interesting and well researched. In addition to academic research, they also performed some original archaeological and anthropological research in Romania. The book has a lovely and fitting cover from Edward Gorey, illustrations, both of Vlad Tepes and from Dracula, and photos McNally and Florescu took in Romania at sites they believe inspired Stoker or were important in Vlad’s life.

There is a very lengthy series of appendices that include maps, chronologies, genealogy, and more, as well as lengthy book and film bibliographies. Disappointingly, these take up nearly half the book. In Search of Dracula’s major flaw is that it touches upon numerous subjects, but fails to really explore any of them in depth. Overall it works best, as I mentioned, as an introductory guide and reference material.

In the past few years some of their research has been corrected or improved upon and the book gradually fell out of print. They revised and republished the book in 1994 and this edition includes excerpts from Stoker’s diaries, found somewhat recently, and information about Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, who considered Vlad an inspiration.

The American Raymond McNally and Romanian Radu Florescu were both professors at Boston College, which is where they became friends and began doing research together. McNally passed away in 2002, but Florescu is still an active scholar. He has written a number of similar, though more focused books, including Dracula: Prince of Many Faces, Dracula: A Biography of Vlad the Impaler, The Essential Dracula, and In Search of Frankenstein. If you’d like to learn even more about Vlad Tepes and Dracula, Florescu’s other books come recommended, as does the Norton Critical edition of Dracula, which has extended notes and essays in addition to the novel. It was co-edited by David J. Skal, who has also written a number of relevant books: The Monster Show: A Cultural History of Horror, Dark Carnival (about Tod Browning, the director of the 1931 Dracula), Vampires: Encounters With the Undead, and Hollywood Gothic: The Tangled Web of Dracula from Novel to Stage to Screen, among many more. There is also Barbara Belford’s more recent biography, Bram Stoker and the Man Who Was Dracula.

Happy reading!

Author: Samm Deighan

Samm Deighan’s Philadelphia-based Satanic Pandemonium film blog is interested mostly in horror, exploitation, erotica and academic film writing with a love of the gory and the perverse.

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