From a debilitating childhood illness, to civil servant, to beneficiary of Henry Irving’s coveted patronage, to Acting Manager of the West End’s Lyceum in 1878, Orem gives us his Bram Stoker. There are many gifts to savour—a few months in Stoker’s life as organizing head of the theatre, nestled within a broad strokes life-overview; a possible inspiration for Dracula’s ill-fated Lucy Westenra; and key pointers to Stoker’s struggles which may have influenced his genius, particularly his obsession with blood, and Irving’s overbearing demands. His son often remarked that it was as if Irving had taken something fundamental from his father.
Orem draws Lucy as a highly intelligent Szgany seamstress eking out an existence in the bowels of London’s East End. He gives us a brutal, unvarnished portrayal of the filth, poverty, and starvation in the sweatshops, workhouses, and brothels—a London teeming with Irish Famine survivors and European gypsies. Bram becomes enamoured of Lujzi (Lucy) whose interest in and understanding of, literature surpasses most of the society notables Bram kowtows to as the Lyceum’s front-man.
Despite the wealth of biographical information in this short novel, Miss Lucy is a diverting and thoroughly immersive read. Orem’s smooth, atmospheric style has no traditional dialogue. Thoughts and spoken words are italicised (no inverted commas) and incorporated so skillfully into the text I could feel the inflection and nuance. We learn of Bram’s unhappy marriage, his acquaintance with Oscar Wilde, his correspondence with Walt Whitman, and the influence of the Romantics. It is impossible not to feel compassion for the damaged man who spent seven years writing his denouement when his other works were tossed out in mere months.
This is a must-read for anyone interested in Bram Stoker and the origins of his Dracula, and there’s much here of interest to other readers.