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Stoking the imagination

TCD MUN SOC HIST Officers 1872-73
Bram Stoker seated centre

Today is the 165th anniversary of the birth of Bram Stoker (1847-1912), well-known civil servant and author of The Duties of Clerks of Petty Sessions in Ireland, which he published to some acclaim in 1879. He wrote the more popular, but considerably less practical, novel, Dracula, almost 20 years later. Stoker was a graduate of Trinity, a top-class student athlete (despite being quite ill for most of his early childhood) and a member of the student societies the Hist and the Phil. The Library has a good collection of manuscript material relating to the Stoker family generally, although only a small amount of it relates to the great man himself.

One of the items in the collection supposedly links the idea of Dracula – with its themes of blood infection and the ‘undead’ – to an epidemic of cholera which was witnessed by Stoker’s mother, Charlotte Thornley, in Sligo in 1832. Stoker scholars believe Charlotte’s vivid descriptions of the suffering she had seen may have fuelled her son’s Gothic imagination in later life. Among the papers in the Library is a copy of Charlotte’s account of the onslaught of the disease.

Cholera epidemics were not unheard-of in the nineteenth century but the one in 1832 was particularly virulent; infection was believed to be so rapid that a man, becoming infected on one side of town, was said to have fallen from his horse, dead, at the other. It was thought more than 1,500 people died from the epidemic; that carpenters were unable to keep up with the demand for coffins and local legend suggested that some people were buried alive, so great was the haste to dispose of the corpses.

TCD MS 11076/2/3
TCD MS 11076/2/3 f2 Stoker, Mrs CMB (Thornley) Experiences of the Cholera in Ireland ?1832

Jane Maxwell