Whitby's Gothic Associations
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Whitby's Dracula and Gothic associations
Whitby is known for its Gothic literary associations, made famous by the novel Dracula by Irish author Bram Stoker, published by Archibald Constable and Company in 1897.
During the 1890s, Victorian readers were entertained with fantastic adventure stories by H.G. Wells, Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Louis Stevenson and others. There was a thirst for the macabre and mysterious and already some vampire stories had come into existence. Bram Stoker was working in the Lyceum Theatre in London as a business manager and he was also a personal assistant to the celebrated actor Henry Irving (thought to have been a model for the blood-sucking Count Dracula). Travelling with Irving, Stoker was able to collect material for his writing; in particular, after meeting the Hungarian writer and traveller Armin Vambery, who told him dark stories of the Carpathian mountains, he was inspired to research Transylvanian superstitions and European folklore.
While holidaying at the Royal Hotel on Whitby's West Cliff in the 1890s, Stoker's interest was aroused in a history book he found at Whitby library, on the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia (1820). In this he discovered a reference to Drăculea – dracul meaning either 'the dragon' or 'the devil' in the Romanian language. It was the name given to descendants of Vlad II of Wallachia, the most famous being Vlad III, or Vlad 'the Impaler', celebrated in Romania for driving out the Ottoman Turks in the fifteenth century and who gained a reputation for impaling his many victims. Bram Stoker decided to use the name for his fictional vampire count.
Further inspiration for Stoker's gothic horror story came from Whitby town itself with its winding cobbled streets, pantiled roofs, the 199 steps up to the windswept St Mary's Church and graveyard, and the dramatic ruins of Whitby Abbey standing atop East Cliff, hauntingly present in the mists that roll off the North Sea. Local folk tales of a large spectral hound, the Barghest, said to haunt the town and surrounding moors, along with seafaring characters and legends, would have provided the author with plenty of material for his novel; indeed the passages concerning Dracula's arrival in Whitby truly come to life with his very real description of the town and its surroundings as recorded in the character Mina's diary.
In Stoker's story, Dracula leaves his castle in Translyvania for England, where he plans to feed on the blood of victims, spreading the curse of the undead. His ship, the Demeter, runs aground at Whitby, the crew all dead, and a large hound is witnessed leaping ashore.
The origins of this vessel lie with an event that Stoker would have been aware of, a real-life vessel in the form of a Russian schooner, the Dmitri of Narva (in the Baltic), which broke its back on Whitby's notorious sand bar when entering the harbour during a violent storm in October 1885, and was then discarded on Collier's Hope – the sand on the east side of the harbour between Tate Hill Pier and East Pier. The wreck is recorded in Frank Meadow Sutcliffe's iconic photographs, which Stoker most probably saw. For his novel, Bram Stoker changed the commercial Baltic origin of the ship of Narva to Varna, a port on the Black Sea, and the ship's name Dmitri to Demeter.
History of Whitby Goth Weekend
The Whitby Goth Weekend (WGW) is now an established twice-yearly festival for goths, steampunks, bikers, metallers, punks, emos and people from all alternative lifestyle genres who come to the town for music, shopping, dancing, food and drink, and generally to enjoy the welcoming atmosphere.
The Festival began in 1994 with a group of friends who came to Whitby because of its Dracula connections. Led by Jo Hampshire, the forty or so friends who had met through New Musical Express Magazine came back each year, and now the event brings thousands of people into the town.