This is the first in our series on humour in history. Submit your tales of humour in the archives or historiography to email@example.com.
By Estelle Clements
A few years back, I was asked to reconstruct the wedding of Bram Stoker for the city of Dublin. In this capacity, I conducted archival research, focusing on his life, to formulate the script.
Stoker is known, predominantly, for writing Dracula, and being the manager of actor Henry Irving, but the material about his life gives a real sense of the man’s character, mischief, and humour.
For instance, did you know that Bram Stoker stole Oscar Wilde’s first girlfriend; married her quite suddenly; quit his stable job with the civil service in Ireland; and ran off to join Henry Irving’s theatre troupe in London?
No? Wilde didn’t see it coming either- his letters to his absent girlfriend indicate his anxiety that her correspondence to him had suddenly ceased. And he didn’t take it well on learning what had happened, demanding the return of a golden cross he had given her, and lamenting in later letters how much he had cared for her.
The marriage certificate shows that the lady (Florence) was living at Stoker’s brother’s house, a doctor, at the time of the marriage — a fact that did not go unnoticed by the contemporary gossip pages either.
And Stoker had prior form for stealing the affections of the women in Oscar’s life. When Oscar couldn’t make it home for Christmas because he was matriculating from Oxford, his mother, Lady Wilde, had made such a favourite of Stoker she invited him as Oscar’s replacement.
Usurped of his position in the affections of both his mother and girlfriend, Oscar was somehow won over by Stoker as well, and the two formulated a friendship that continued throughout the remainder of their lives.
Stoker himself seems resigned to his fate as a ladies’ man. Writing of his travels, he gives an account of a particularly difficult Atlantic boat crossing:
In the companion-way
had gathered nearly all the passengers, huddled
together for comfort especially the women, who
were mostly in a panic. In such cases the only
real comfort a poor woman can have is to hold on
to a man. I happen to be a big one, and therefore
of extra desirability in such cases of stress (Stoker, 1906: 290).
Dr. Estelle Clements is a researcher and director. Her 2009 flagship production of Bram Stoker’s wedding supported Dublin’s successful bid for UNESCO City of Literature Designate Status. For more, hear Clements on RTE (Ireland’ national broadcaster).
Further Reading from this piece:
Bram Stoker, Personal reminiscences of Henry Irving Volume II (1906).
David J Skal, Something in the Blood: The Untold Story of Bram Stoker, the Man Who Wrote Dracula
David Charles Rose, Oscar Wilde’s Elegant Republic: Transformation, Dislocation and Fantasy in fin-de-siècle Paris
Bram whisking Florence off to London features prominently in this historical fantasy book series 🙂