Something in the Blood: The Untold Story of Bram Stoker,
the Man Who Wrote Dracula by David J. Skal
Liveright, 2016; 672 pp
Reviewed by Charlie Riccardelli
Who could have guessed that a book about Bram Stoker would have so little to say about Bram Stoker? David Skal’s new biography Something in the Blood: The Untold Story of Bram Stoker, the Man Who Wrote Dracula isn’t so much a story of Stoker but rather a cultural history of the arts in Victorian London. That’s all well and good, but over the course of this dense book as readers learn more about Oscar Wilde, sexual politics, or Stoker’s mother hacking someone’s limb off, can you blame them if they start feeling like children frustrated on a long road trip wondering “When are we gonna get to Stoker?”
Skal has written several strong books about horror’s role in our culture (The Monster Show is a particularly worthy read), but Something in the Blood is something of a slog wrapped up in the stories of the people and events happening around author Bram Stoker as he rose within the artistic community making friends with literary titans like Wilde or Walt Whitman as well as working with the biggest names in Victorian theatre. More often than not, these other figures in Stoker’s life muscle the narrative of Something in the Blood from our subject, veering the book into disjointed tangents. Skal is particularly fascinated by the sexuality of artists in this era (including Stoker), but the exploration of this subject reads more like the chance capitalize off of our current society’s focus on queer politics with not much to say about them. Perhaps shedding light on how these issues were addressed in the time are enough, but it plays like a distraction from the focus of the book, Stoker.
Given the scattered nature of the writing, why not write a book about Victorian arts or queer history in Victorian London? Something in the Blood jostles from dragging itself to Stoker’s story than rushing right out of it. The man dies so suddenly that it’s a surprise to read that the last hundred pages are an expedited look into the impact Dracula had in the century since Stoker’s death. Skal hasn’t written the book so much as patched together research and tried to give it life but it didn’t take.