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Dracula's legacy retains its grip on Whitby
ONE HUNDRED years since the death of Bram Stoker, Emily Flanagan looks at the legacy his Victorian horror creation, Dracula, has left the town.
DRACULA swept onto the pages of Victorian literature in 1897, arriving in Whitby on board a Russian ship in the form of a black dog.
His grip has remained on the North Yorkshire seaside town ever since. Bram Stoker’s extraordinary novel has never since been out of print and it has spawned numerous film remakes.
The Irish novelist and playwright only ever visited the seaside town while on holiday and began writing the novel on his first trip to the resort, when he spent a month at the Royal Hotel on the town’s West Cliffs.
But it’s said when his landlady wanted to clean his room, he was moved to a first floor suite overlooking the town and harbour and the imposing ruins of Whitby Abbey.
The abbey and the 199 steps arching up to it from the cobbled streets were all woven into the story, as was the harbour and much of its surrounding geography, all of which still stand the same today as they did then.
Best-selling gothic horror author, GP Taylor, who lives near Robin Hood’s Bay, has also chosen to set many of his books in Whitby.
The author of Shadowmancer and the Mariah Mundi novels has had several of his books recently filmed, with a Hollywood cast, in the seaside resort. Two of his novels are due to be released as films next year.
Whitby was the natural choice for setting much of his writing.
“I read Dracula when I was 14 and I’ve been writing the myths and legends of the North York Moors ever since,” he says.
“I’ve set five of my novels in Whitby. It has a very strong sense of place. "It’s extremely atmospheric.
It’s also full of fantastic characters - every character I’ve ever used in my book comes from somebody I know.
“Whitby is a very, very special place with very, very special people.”
The New York Times bestselling novelist and screenwriter, is still exporting Whitby, as his novels have been translated into 51 languages and sold more than three million copies worldwide.
It wasn't just the location that helped shape Bram Stoker's novel - existing legends from the North Yorkshire coast were also borrowed by the writer.
Harry Collett has lived all his life in Whitby and researched Dracula’s origins in Whitby for his tourist walks through the town.
He says the black dog, another form Dracula takes in the novel, was inspired by the legend of the Barguest, a huge, black phantom hound said to stalk the North York Moors.
“Bram Stoker wrote Whitby folklore, fact and fiction into his novel,” he explained.
“From his first floor window he could overlook the harbour where a Russian ship had run aground a few years before he wrote his book.
“And the big black dog is one of the legends that came with the Vikings. They bought them with them to subdue the local population and it wove into the local psyche.”
Dracula's legacy has sparked a whole new tourism industry for Whitby; thousands of Goths travel several times a year to the town from across the country.
Jo Hampshire, organiser of the Whitby Goth Weekends, was first drawn to the area as she felt the town’s Dracula connections made it an ideal setting for her first Goth weekend 20 years ago.
Now the weekends have turned into a music festival and attracts tens of thousands of Goths from all over the country.
Over the years the huge influx of flamboyantly dressed participants for the weekends in the town have been largely embraced by the local population.
Val Appleton, from Whitby Civic Society said: “I must admit that I enjoy seeing all the Goths and their amazing outfits.
“I don't think most people are Goths, they are individuals and families enjoying the excuse to dress up for a weekend and enjoying Whitby's unique atmosphere.
“I'm sure businesses are delighted that the themed weekends are part of the tourism calendar.
"I think the book's connection with Whitby brings it to the attention of a different section of the public.
“But, I don't understand how people confuse fiction with reality and I find it astonishing to think that people actually go into the church and ask where Dracula's grave is.
"I don't think that people consider the author Bram Stoker but only his character Dracula.”
She added: “Whitby's heritage is important to the town, and the financial input from tourism has enabled it to be improved and developed and maintained because of it.”
Another member of the society, Dell Sewell, said: “I suppose that Bram Stoker and his Dracula have to add to Whitby's literary heritage.
“The exploitation of the novel neither adds to nor detracts from Whitby's heritage but does bring visitors to the town.
“Some may feel it misplaced but at least it keeps Whitby on the mat for a section of the public other than historians.”
Mr Collett thinks that without Whitby, Dracula may never have been written.
“I think Bram Stoker really loved Whitby,” he said.
“You do make a special journey to come here – it’s not a place you pass through. People still come from Australia as a result of that legacy. It’s just one strand of a great kaleidoscope of history here.”