On 20 April 1912, a 64-year-old writer and retired theatre manager named Abraham Stoker died quietly at his home in St George’s Square, London. The Times was one of the few major newspapers to carry an obituary. It’s a modest piece, buried on page fifteen, and you have to wade through accounts of Stoker’s sporting prowess, civil service duties and friendship with the actor Henry Irving before you get to the elephant in the room: his ‘lurid and creepy kind of fiction, represented by “Dracula” and other novels’. Even then, ‘his chief literary memorial’, the obituarist asserts with confidence, ‘will be his Reminiscences of Irving’.
Nowadays, Bram Stoker’s association with Irving is grist to the mill of Dracula scholarship, since the vampiric Irving is thought to have been the main inspiration for the bloodsucking count. It is refreshing, then, that Joseph O’Connor’s Shadowplay, a fictionalised account of Stoker’s 27-year stint working under Irving, is not