Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Copyright issues this day--1897

Copyright issues are nothing new.

The Writer's Almanac...

It was on this day in 1897, shortly before the novel itself was published, that the Irish writer Bram Stoker held a dramatic reading of Dracula in an effort to protect the copyright.

Stoker was well respected by the time he published Dracula, with four other novels to his name. But his novels didn't sell well enough for him to make a living, so he also worked as the manager of the Lyceum Theatre in London.

He spent years researching vampire stories and the folklore of Eastern Europe, especially Transylvania (which is now Romania). There were other vampire novels out there, most notably Carmilla, by Sheridan Le Fanu, the story of a female vampire who falls in love with and destroys beautiful girls, set in the forest of southeastern Austria. But Bram Stoker never actually visited Transylvania, and his book was a mixture of inspiration from Eastern Europe and from Britain.

The name Dracula came from one of the most brutal historical figures in the history of Eastern Europe, Vlad III, also known as Vlad the Impaler and Vlad Dracula. His father, Vlad II, took the name Vlad Dracul when he joined the Order of the Dragon — "Dracul" means "dragon" in Romanian, although it also means "devil." The Order of the Dragon was a chivalric order for nobility, committed to upholding Christianity and fighting the Ottomans. So Vlad II's son took the name of Dracula, or Son of the Dragon, and after he died he was called Vlad the Impaler because he tortured and killed his victims by impaling them. He killed women and children as freely as soldiers, and his brutal tactics included nailing turbans to victims' heads, skinning them, making them eat the flesh of people they knew, and all sorts of awful torture. No one is sure how many people Vlad Dracula killed, but estimates say between 40,000 and 100,000.

So it was this man's legacy that Bram Stoker gave to his evil vampire protagonist, who was originally slated to be named Count Wampyr, but renamed Dracula.

But the character of Dracula was not based on Vlad so much as on Stoker's friend and colleague, the actor Sir Henry Irving, who ran the Lyceum Theatre and had asked Stoker to be the manager. Stoker wrote about Irving: "It was marvelous that any living man should show such eyes. They really seemed to shine like cinders of glowing red from out the marble face." Of course, he was writing about Irving in his role as an eternally damned ship captain in Vanderdecken, but Irving did like to play villains, and so Stoker took Irving's knack for villainous roles and combined it with the actual actor's appearance and mannerisms — Irving had beautiful courtly manners, thin lips, hollow cheeks, a pale face and a "shock of coal black hair." These characteristics became forever linked with Bram Stoker's vampire Count Dracula.

Dracula is written as a series of letters and journal entries, and Stoker adapted it for the dramatic reading into five acts, 47 scenes. It was quickly done, not intended to be a final play but to secure a copyright before he published the novel, so that once the book came out, no one could put on a play and charge a lot of money without Stoker getting any of it. The Lyceum was fully booked for the season, and even though he was the manager, he couldn't get an evening show, so he had the performance at 10:15 a.m.

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