Hundreds of people attended a special celebration, which ended today, honoring Ireland’s best-selling novelist, Bram Stoker, some dressing up as Goths, zombies and vampires and many attending a wide range of lectures and author interviews.
Taking place in Dublin, the birthplace of the creator of ‘Dracula,’ people from places as diverse as Rome and Las Vegas gained insights over the four-day ‘Bram Stoker Festival’ into the background and influences on the 19th century vampire writer. Such influences included Irish Gothic writer, Sheridan Le Fanu (1814 –1873) and historical characters such as medieval warlord (voivode) Vlad the Impaler of Wallachia, Romania (1431–1476/77), whom some say was a model for the fictional character Dracula.
Opening the festival in the suitably eerie Chapel Royal in Dublin Castle, keynote speaker Bill Hughes, Professor of Gothic Studies at Bath Spa University, compared the writings of Stoker and Le Fanu illustrating how the three elements of religion, law and medicine featured prominently in the structure of the work of the two authors. For example, two of Stoker’s brothers were surgeons and Le Fanu’s father was a Church of Ireland cleric.
Describing Gothic writing as “sophisticated and well-crafted,” Hughes added, referring to cholera and other catastrophes and radical changes occurring in 19th century society, “it is also a way of expressing fear and containing it.”
Sean Hillen, former foreign correspondent for a range of international publications and author of “Digging for Dracula,’ gave a multi-media presentation in the Oak Room of the Mansion House, the official residence of the Mayor of Dublin. His illustrated talk brought listeners on a journey from the ancient citadal of Vlad the Impaler in the rugged Carpathian Mountains in Romania, to Stoker’s Dublin, to Whitby, the English port where the vampire arrives in the novel, to Hollywood in the US, where movie versions of Dracula made Stoker and his character global names.
Asked whether he believed in the vampire myth, Hillen responded diplomatically, “Just because something is written about doesn’t mean its true. But then again, just because we don’t see something doesn’t mean it’s not.”
Other topics of discussion included readings and a Q&A with authors Lynne Truss and Joanna Briscoe, who have written ghostly tales for Hammer Classics, an imprint of Random House, at Trinity College, where Stoker had been a student.
Lively and humorous antics characterized the “Literary Death Match’ held at Smock Alley Theatre in which writers reading their work competed with each other before a panel of judges, with audience participation in a rousing quiz finale.
In ‘The Stoker Debate’ entitled ‘Madness and Sexuality,’ Paul Murray, author of a Stoker biography and former cultural officer at the Irish Embassy in London, and two doctors Jarlath Killeen and psychiatrist John Griffin, explored how Stoker’s health, both physical and mental impacted on his writing.
Experienced guide, Pat Liddy, helped bring to life Gothic tales such as Stoker’s ‘Dracula,’ le Fanu’s ‘Carmilla’ and Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray,’ on a special walking tour through Dublin, while revealing some of the customs associated with Halloween.
Movies, live music performances, a Gothic market fair and even a special exhibit entitled ‘Blood’ at Dublin’s Science Gallery rounded off the festival program.
Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin, founder of The Inkwell Group and co-organiser of the festival’s literary program, said she was delighted with the turnout and diversity of both speakers and participants.
Lara Musto, originally from Rome who was among the participants said she had been fascinated by Bram Stoker’s work ever since she was a child, “Believe it or not, my father used to read me vampire stories at bed-time, and they helped me sleep. So you can imagine, I’ve really enjoyed the talks I’ve attended here in Dublin during the festival.”