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How Irish was Bram Stoker's Dracula?

An entertaining case for a green-isled monster.

Was Dracula Irish?
Radio 4

A great programme about the possible origins of Bram Stoker’s Dracula (8 October, 4pm) had the presenter and novelist Patrick McCabe revelling in the evidence that the Dublin-born Stoker was decisively influenced by Irish folklore. He amassed a mountain of evidence against the idea that the count could have been from anywhere but Sligo.

McCabe talked dramatically about a deformed fifth-century Irish chieftain who rose from the dead several times only to demand the blood of his people, until he was eventually buried upside down under a heavy stone after being pierced with a sword made of yew. “Blood is too precious a thing in these days of dishonourable peace, and the glories of the great races are as a tale that is told,” murmured McCabe, before hurrying to interview an expert in the grounds of Dublin Castle where
Stoker worked for years as a civil servant and where, we were told, the heads of unfortunates had been impaled on spikes in the 15th century.

In the grounds of a church nearby, the Stoker family had a vault full of skeletons going back 800 years, a place where Bram would play as a child (here members of the public could be heard giggling delightedly as they were exhorted to ignore any protruding bony fingers). “Is Dracula English? Is he Irish? Or is he the greatest and most puzzling internationalist of all time?” McCabe wondered.

We didn’t really get to the bottom of any of it – this was the definition of the kind of “who knows?” doc, so beloved of Radio 4 – but, endearingly, McCabe asked questions continually. “Where did it come from?”; “Who was he?”; “Could this be true?” And each question was voiced as though he, like the poor Jonathan Harker himself, were sweating in the back of a mountain-bound carriage, the pelts slung across the seats giving off a sour odour as he considered various omens, arguments and vast horrors.

This was presenting at its keenest, but it fell on the right side of play-acting. “I find myself quite mesmerised by my literary quest,” Mc- Cabe said at one point, the emphasis on “-ised”, like Bob Dylan recalling, with an agonised thrill, some abiding adolescent passion.

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 15 October 2012 issue of the New Statesman, India special

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The Bloody Mary is dead: all hail the Bloody Caesar

This Canadian version of an old standard is a good substitute for dinner.

It is not anti-Catholic bias that makes me dislike the Bloody Mary, that lumpish combination of tomato juice and vodka named after a 16th-century English queen who, despite the immense reach of her royal powers, found burning Protestants alive the most effective display of majesty.

My prejudice is against its contents: the pulverised tomatoes that look like run-off from a Tudor torture chamber. A whole tomato is a source of joy and, occasionally, wonder (I remember learning that the Farsi for tomato is gojeh farangi, which translates literally as “foreign plum”) – and I am as fond of pizza as anyone. Most accessories to the Bloody Mary are fine with me: Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco, celery, black pepper, even sherry or oysters. But generally I share the curmudgeon Bernard DeVoto’s mistrust of fruit juice in my spirits: “all pestilential, all gangrenous, all vile” was the great man’s verdict. His main objection was sweetness but I will include the admittedly savoury tomato in my ban. At the cocktail hour, I have been known to crave all kinds of odd concoctions but none has included pulp.

To many, the whole point of a Bloody Mary is that you don’t wait until the cocktail hour. This seems to entail a certain shying away from unpleasant realities. I know perfectly well the reaction I would get if I were to ask for a grilled tomato and a chilled Martini at brunch: my friends would start likening me to F Scott Fitzgerald and they wouldn’t be referring to my writing talent. Despite its remarkably similar contents, a Bloody Mary is a perfectly acceptable midday, middle-class beverage. If the original Mary were here to witness such hypocrisy, she would surely tut and reach for her firelighters.

Yet, like the good Catholic I certainly am not, I must confess, for I have seen the error of my ways. In July, on Vancouver Island, I tried a Bloody Caesar – Canada’s spirited response to England’s favourite breakfast tipple (“I’ll see your Tudor queen, you bunch of retrograde royalists, and raise you a Roman emperor”). The main difference is a weird yet oddly palatable concoction called Clamato: tomato juice thinned and refined by clam juice. Replace your standard slop with this stuff, which has all the tang of tomato yet flows like a veritable Niagara, and you will have a drink far stranger yet more delicious than the traditional version.

Apparently, the Caesar was invented by an Italian restaurateur in Calgary, Alberta, who wanted a liquid version of his favourite dish from the old country: spaghetti alle vongole in rosso (clam and tomato spaghetti). He got it – and, more importantly, the rest of us got something we can drink not at breakfast but instead of dinner. Find a really interesting garnish – pickled bull kelp or spicy pickled celery, say – and you can even claim to have eaten your greens.

I’m sure that dedicated fans of the Bloody Mary will consider this entire column heretical, which seems appropriate: that’s the side I was born on, being Jewish, and I like to hope I wouldn’t switch even under extreme forms of persuasion. But this cocktail is in any case a broad church: few cocktails come in so many different incarnations.

The original was invented, according to him, by Fernand Petiot, who was a French barman in New York during Prohibition (and so must have known a thing or two about hypocrisy). It includes lemon juice and a “layer” of Worcestershire sauce and the tomato juice is strained; it may also actually have been named after a barmaid.

All of which proves only that dogma has no place at the bar. Variety is the spice of life, which makes it ironic that the world’s spiciest cocktail bestows a frivolous immortality on a woman who believed all choice to be the work of the devil.

Next week John Burnside on nature

Nina Caplan is the 2014 Fortnum & Mason Drink Writer of the Year and 2014 Louis Roederer International Wine Columnist of the Year for her columns on drink in the New Statesman. She tweets as @NinaCaplan.

This article first appeared in the 08 October 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin vs Isis