Bram Stoker’s Carpathian Sources for Dracula

Until recently, it has largely been believed that Stoker was most influenced by J. S. Le Fanu’s Carmilla (1872) to set Dracula in the Balkan region. It appears he originally intended to set the novel in Styria (in southeast Austria), where Carmilla is set; then he came across references to Vlad Tepes that may have inspired the character of Dracula, so Stoker changed the novel’s location to Transylvania.

However, Stoker was not the first author to set a vampire story in the Carpathians. It is worth noting here, that Transylvania, and Romania, has no vampire tradition, but rather has had one imposed upon it by Europeans, and most intensely so by Stoker in writing Dracula. See my past post Racism in Dracula: The Romanian Perspective, largely based on the work of Romanian scholar Cristina Artenie.

Bram Stoker, whose sources for Dracula are still debated by scholars 123 years after the novel’s publication.

Previously, I have blogged about Jules Verne’s novel The Carpathian Castle (1893) as a possible source for Dracula. According to scholar Raj Shah, there are striking similarities between the description of Dracula’s castle and that of Jules Verne (Shah, Raj. “Counterfeit Castles: The Age of Mechanical Reproduction in Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Jules Verne’s Le Château des Carpathes.” Texas Studies in Literature and Language. 56.4 (2014): 428–71. p. 432-33). However, while similarities exist, Verne’s story is intensely dull and fails beside Dracula itself, so I cannot imagine it was much of an influence. If Stoker did read it, it could only have inspired him to write a better story.

More recently, it has been suggested that Stoker may have borrowed from an even earlier vampire story set in the Carpathian Mountains. This story, “The Mysterious Stranger,” was first published in Chambers Repository of Instructive and Amusing Tracts. Vol. 8, no. 62, 1854, pp. 1–32. I came across mention of this story in an essay by Katy Brundan, Melanie Jones, and Benjamin Mier-Cruz titled “Dracula or Draculitz?” Translation Forgery and Bram Stoker’s ‘Lost Version’ of Dracula” (Victorian Review, Vol 45, No. 2, Fall 2019, p. 293-306). The authors suggest that the reason Stoker chose the Carpathians was the result of his coming across this short story, and they argue as follows for it being a source for Dracula:

“But he [Stoker] stumbled instead upon an anonymous vampire tale set in Transylvania, which helped redirect the novel’s setting toward eastern Europe. Like Dracula, “The Mysterious Stranger” (1854) features an older, aristocratic vampire with “piercing” grey eyes and a sallow complexion who lives in a castle in the wolf-infested Carpathians (14). The very anonymity of ‘The Mysterious Stranger’ seems to have invited borrowing, which Stoker promptly did. The tale’s exact origins eluded researchers for decades, but we now know it is an unauthorized translation of Karl von Wachsmann’s Der Fremde (The Stranger), first published in his collection Erzählungen und Novellen (1844).

“In closely modelling the early portion of Dracula on an anonymous, pirated translation of a German story, Stoker created new textual life from a translated text whose ties to the original author had been severed. This example demonstrates how nineteenth-century mass culture’s parasitic consumption—a mirror of the vampire’s own insatiable appetite—depended in part on translational practices. Stoker’s unauthorized reproduction makes him complicit in the archive’s suppression of the German author responsible for many details of Dracula’s character, from the vampire’s “repulsive” but magnetic manner to his waving the wolf pack away with a hand (“Mysterious Stranger” 14).” (297).

While I was intrigued about the possibility that Stoker was inspired by “The Mysterious Stranger,” I thought the argument here of the work as an influence rather weak. Two characters having “piercing” eyes is not enough. As I’ve shown in my book The Gothic Wanderer, eyes that are piercing or more likely hypnotic are a frequent attribute of vampires and go back to depictions of the Wandering Jew. A sallow or pale complexion is common to most vampires in literature also—Stoker would have found such details in earlier British vampire stories like Polidori’s The Vampyre (1819) and the penny dreadful Varney the Vampire (1846), and so that leads us to just the Carpathian setting and the wolves for similarities. That said, I do think the story’s influence possible; I just don’t feel enough evidence exists to make a strong argument for it.

Readers can draw their own conclusions by reading “The Mysterious Stranger” themselves; the full text can be found online at: https://souo.fandom.com/wiki/Full_Text:_Mysterious_Stranger. However, I will summarize the story here to draw a few conclusions of my own.

The story begins when Count Fahnenberg, an Austrian nobleman, is traveling to an estate he recently acquired in the Carpathians. Accompanying him are his nephew Franz, his daughter Franziska, and her friend Bertha. Franz appears romantically interested in Franziska, but she confides to Bertha that he is too effeminate for her. By contrast, Bertha is engaged to Woislaw, a military man, who is heroic and admirable in Franziska’s eyes. Woislaw is away fighting in the Turkish war, while Franz refused to go.

On their way to the count’s new estate, they fear being attacked by wolves whom they can hear crying in the distance, so they take shelter in some ruins said to be haunted. As the wolves grow closer, a stranger appears and, by a gesture, sends them off. The rescued do not learn the stranger’s name.

When they arrive at the count’s mansion, the party learns from the locals that the ruins they took shelter in are those of Klatka Castle, whose last lord was Azzo von Klatka, a despotic tyrant who was hanged by the peasants he had oppressed.

When the count’s party returns to visit the ruins, they again meet the stranger who saved them. They thank him for his help and the count invites him to visit them. Although he seems like a hermit and is rather sullen, the stranger agrees to do so at a later date.

Eventually, the stranger becomes a regular visitor and shows interest in Franziska. She likes the stranger, who reveals his name as Azzo (a hint he is the nobleman who was hung). Franz, however, sees the stranger as a rival. After the visits begin, Franziska falls ill and begins having a strange dream in which Azzo comes in a mist, kisses her throat, then vanishes in a mist. The next morning, her neck is red with blood. No one can explain her illness or the dream.

Then Bertha’s fiancé, Woislaw, arrives from the war with the Turks. He has lost a hand in the war and has a new one made of gold, which is very strong. He recognizes Franziska’s symptoms and attributes them to the stranger. When the stranger next visits, Franz challenges him to a duel. In a tense scene, Azzo picks up Franz like he was a baby, but Woislaw intervenes and makes him drop Franz through the great physical strength of his golden hand. Azzo, thinking Woislaw’s strength is supernatural, calls him “blood-brother,” apparently believing Woislaw a vampire like himself.

Woislaw now visits the ruins and finds Azzo sleeping in his tomb. Woislaw nails Azzo’s coffin shut and leaves a packet of nails on top of it. Then he brings Franziska there and tells her she must drive the three nails (stakes) through it. After she does so, he says liquid will flow from the coffin. She must dip her fingers in the blood and besmear it on the scratch at her throat.

Only after Franziska does all this and begins to heal does Woislaw reveal that Azzo was a vampire, which he knew from his own past experience with one. He says a vampire must be destroyed by the one who has been afflicted by him, which is why Franziska had to kill Azzo.

The story ends happily with a double wedding between Franziska and Franz and Woislaw and Bertha.

While “The Mysterious Stranger” does have similarities to Dracula, especially in the vampire having control over wolves, the story being set in the Carpathians, and the vampire appearing in a mist and disappearing, as well as it seeming to be like a dream, there is also much that is strange about it—primarily the insistence that the victim is the one who must kill the vampire. Perhaps if Stoker was influenced by the story, he decided to change this element of vampire lore since that would require both Lucy and Mina to kill the vampire. Why he would make such a change could be an entire article in itself, disputing whether it was to increase the action of the plot not to have Lucy kill Dracula, or whether it was considered too unfeminine for a woman to commit such an act of violence.

Dr. John Polidori, whose story, The Vampire, was a major influence on vampire fiction in both England and France.

One also has to wonder about the origins of “The Mysterious Stranger” itself. While Stoker thought the story was written by an anonymous person, the version he read was really an unauthorized translation of Karl Von Wachsmann’s story “The Stranger” first published in 1844, more than half a century before Dracula, and only a quarter of a century after the publication of Polidori’s The Vampyre, considered the first real European and definitely English vampire story. Polidori’s story was tremendously popular in Europe, being translated and adapted into plays and eventually inspiring countless vampire works. More research needs to be done on whether Von Wachsmann knew Polidori’s story or was inspired by other works that were themselves inspired by Polidori’s story, or whether he had independent vampire sources to draw upon. Little appears to be known in the English-speaking world about Wachsmann, who lived from 1787 to 1862 and appears to have been part of the German literary Romantic Movement. Only the French and German versions of Wikipedia have entries for him (https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karl_Adolf_von_Wachsmann) and the translations of the pages reveal little that tells us much about his literary works. Unfortunately, most of his works appear not to have been translated into English. “The Mysterious Stranger” appears to have been a rare translation.

Certainly, the path to the creation of Dracula remains as mysterious as Dracula himself.

Poster for the Italian version of the The Curse of the Karnsteins starring Christopher Lee. It is doubtful this film was in any way influenced by “The Mysterious Stranger.”

As a side note, according to Wikipedia, the Italian film La cripta e l’incubo (The Curse of the Karnsteins) (1962), starring Christopher Lee as Count Ludwig von Karnstein, may have been influenced by “The Mysterious Stranger,” although Wikipedia admits that the film is more closely based on Le Fanu’s Carmilla. I watched the film recently (available on Amazon prime) and will say that I see absolutely no resemblance between the film and “The Mysterious Stranger,” but the Carmilla influence is obvious. “The Mysterious Stranger,” however, might make a very good film in its own right.

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Tyler Tichelaar, PhD, is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, The Children of Arthur novel series, Haunted Marquette: Ghost Stories from the Queen City, and many other titles. Visit Tyler at www.GothicWanderer.com, www.ChildrenofArthur.com, and www.MarquetteFiction.com.

4 Comments

Filed under Classic Gothic Novels, Dracula, The Wandering Jew

4 responses to “Bram Stoker’s Carpathian Sources for Dracula

  1. Very interesting posting. What I find especially compelling is that this story has a long slow development and the vampire appear to be intertwined with their community. And of course if the text is powerful, it is much more likely to be influential. Thank you for this.

  2. Diane Reynolds

    A very interesting background to the Bram Stoker novel. I wonder if we will ever unravel to a beginning tale?

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