- John Gaines
Although most people are aware that the fictional character of Count Dracula was based on a real person, very few people in the U.S. know the details of his life and how he was viewed by the Romanian people today. The political career, battles, and world that the historical Prince Dracula lived in remain a source of enigmatic fascination for the vast majority of people who associate the name with the classic film starring Bela Lugosi. Radu Florsecu’s biography of the historical Dracula, Dracula: Prince of Many Faces, illuminates the true events of Dracula’s life and compares and contrasts them to Bram Stoker’s classic novel.
Florescu begins his biography with a thorough description of Dracula’s characterization in Bram Stoker’s novel and the ways it was influenced by, and deviated from, the historical facts. The book illustrates the links between seemingly minor details in the early conversation between Dracula and Jonathan Harker in the novel and pivotal events in Dracula’s life. In particular, Florescu goes to great lengths to demonstrate that Dracula’s fictional characterization was based on careful research of Dracula’s younger life, which consisted of a Westernized education and a surprising interest in languages and scholarship. Florescu also demonstrates that many of the archaic names used in the novel (i.e. “Buda-Pesth” for Budapest) were correctly rendered for their time period, and that Stoker’s supposedly escapist horror novel was a product of deep research.
As Florescu moves from the fictional Dracula to describing the historical person, his writing is marked by a thorough analysis of the political and geographic realities that shaped Dracula’s reputation for violence and cruelty. Florescu portrays Western European nations on the verge of the Renaissance as gradually losing their interest in crusades and the commands of the Roman Catholic Church as their noble classes became preoccupied with secular political power and wealth. The culture and political concerns of the Ottoman Turks, Dracula’s hated enemies, are also portrayed in great detail, as is the complicated history between Dracula’s family and the Ottomans that led Dracula to fight them with such great zeal.
The only negative quality about the book is its publication date; being published in 1989, the book’s portrayal both of fictional representations of Dracula and the “current” Romanian culture is somewhat dated. Since the book was published, major political changes have happened throughout Eastern Europe following the end of the Soviet Union; it would be fascinating to hear how the transition to a capitalist market economy has influenced scholarship and cultural attitudes towards Dracula in Romania. At least one high-profile Dracula film has been released since the novel’s publication, and numerous works featuring Dracula and other vampire characters continue to be issued. It would have been interesting to see Florescu’s opinions on how more recent works compare and contrast with the historic Dracula. These flaws do not take away from any of the meticulous scholarly research and insight into the life of Dracula himself.
For anyone with an interest in the history of iconic fictional horror characters, or the complicated and bloody history of Eastern Europe, Dracula: Prince of Many Faces is an essential read. It provides a wealth of information on the transition between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, and the profound impact it had on one of history’s most infamous figures. It also contrasts his inherent cruelty and Machiavellian drive for political power with his uncommon bravery and religious devotion, making for a nuanced portrayal of the historic Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia. I highly recommend this biography to anyone interested in medieval and Renaissance history.