Who was Bram Stoker – and why did he write Dracula?
Through the words of Damaris Sterne, daughter of an old seafaring family, we meet a man escaping to Whitby from the pressures of his life in London. As business manager to the great Shakespearean actor, Henry Irving, life has become intolerable.
As Damaris and Stoker become involved in an intense, dangerous affair, he is introduced to the wild sea, the wrecks, and Whitby’s local legends: all of which find their echoes in his most famous novel, Dracula.
Through Stoker, Damaris is shown glimpses of the wider world beyond, and given the means to pursue her own ambitions. But it is not until twenty years later, when the two meet again, that the truth behind Stoker’s novel emerges…
‘As though, somehow, in writing about evil I had given it life…’
‘Shamelessly enjoyable… shades of the late Mrs Cookson and a dash of Anne Rice.’ Independent
‘An engaging tale… The star of the book is the locale of Whitby, its bustling harbour and brigantines, its damp cottages and smoky inns, its winding stone steps and alleyways, its abbey and windy clifftops are all wonderfully evoked.’ The Times
Moon Rising – The Independent 12/2/2000
The art of biography has plunged into a bout of self-scrutiny…. The older gambit was to seal all your speculations into a novel that breathed actual life into people, but never made any courtroom claims to the truth.
A shamelessly enjoyable new example of this venerable craft is Moon Rising by Ann Victoria Roberts: both a bodice-ripping romance, and a biographical fantasia about the roots of a famous novel.
Roberts sets her scene in the Whitby of the 1880s, where a saturnine stranger from London seduces a shrewd local lass. The pair begin a wild affair, spiced by young Damsy’s retelling of gory local legends. This ardent, troubled lover has a kink: what really makes his juices flow is ‘the exchange and mingling of blood’.
Yes, you’ve guessed. It was evidently the yarns and yearnings of Yorkshire, not Ireland or Transylvania, that inspired a Dublin-born theatre-manager named Bram Stoker to dream up Dracula.
With considerable brio, Roberts mixes a crimson cocktail of genres: Victorian Gothic, inevitably, but also shades of the late Mrs Cookson (Damsy grows up to make a fortune in shipping) and a dash of Stoker’s best living (or undead?) disciple, Anne Rice.
This is all tremendous fun, so long as you don’t take the torrid liaison too much on trust. Yet all other details fit the record, and Roberts intriguingly hints that Stoker modelled the creepy Count on his boss and mentor, Sir Henry Irving. As so often, the licence of the novel unlocks the biographical imagination without putting anyone on oath. This comes as a relief, since too many quarrels over the frontiers of fact and fiction can leave the reader feeling… rather drained.
Moon Rising – Amy Ingram July 28, 2001
is how I’d describe Roberts’ book, Moon Rising. The characters, setting and romance are so vividly described, that I couldn’t help but be sucked in, transformed back to the time of Victorian England and the coastal town setting of Whitby. The first person narrative works quite well, in a Rebecca, Jane Eyre kind of way. This is not a light read; the book is dark, passionate, intense, gripping…sometimes shocking. Indeed, not for the faint of heart. The intensity of the relationships described, especially between that of Bram Stoker and Damaris, actually left my heart pounding. I applaud Roberts for her thorough research of Whitby and Stoker. Especially, I appreciate her courage to write about the mysterious Stoker, and, through Moon Rising, attempt to provide an explanation for Stoker’s character, reasons behind Dracula and his whereabouts during a certain time in his life–it was fun pondering the possibilities!
Moon Rising – Kirkus Reviews (US) – September 2000
A top-grade historical with richly-evoked textures of daily life and fugitive moods.
Publishers Weekly (US) November 2000
A passionate affair between Damaris Sterne, an orphaned fishergirl living in the English seaside town of Whitby, and Bram Stoker, future author of Dracula – married and 20 years her senior – is the focus of Roberts’s atmospheric, well-researched historical romance.
The story opens with a chance reunion of the couple two decades after their affair. The once-impoverished young girl has become successful in the male-dominated world of shipping, and is now a wealthy widow. Stoker, longtime business manager to the era’s eminent Shakespearean actor, is old and frail…
He and ‘Damsy’ met during a lethal gale that inspired the storm in Dracula. She lived with her cousin Bella, and the girls hawked fish. Enterprising and feisty, Damsy also posed for photographs sold as picture cards to tourists… [She] matured during her passionate liaison with Stoker… acquired a knowledge of trade that led to marriage, a career and good fortune, while not escaping treachery and sorrow along the way. As a rage-to-riches heroine, her mind-set and self-assurance are ahead of their time, but this gothic romance offers the dramatic thrills common to the genre, and adds the cachet of imagining the source of Stoker’s classic. It’s a cut above similar novels.
Moon Rising – Time Out – London, February 2000
The prospect of passion and possession in 19th Century Whitby doesn’t seem remotely appealing at first… However, call me old-fashioned if you will, and a sucker for historical romance, but Ann Victoria Roberts hooks and nets you into her novel, involving you in the life and loves of her feisty heroine.
The main bait is the identity of our fishergirl’s married lover. A theatrical gent and friend of Henry Irving, he’s up from London with aspirations to write a Gothic novel. Whilst she introduces him to the côte sauvage and the wilder parts of Whitby, her in turn reveals to her the wilder and more savage aspects of human nature… The inevitable happens. He is seduced back to London by his actor chums, aboandoning her with a couple of leaving presents that could make or break her.
Tragic failure is not an option for our heroine. How will she multiply those talents a thousandfold and be accepted as the bonny young lady of Threadneedle Street? And will there be true love at the end of it? You’ll just have to find out.
Roberts, with a crafty mixture of fiction and fact, is a great storyteller.
Moon Rising – Meraid Griffin on 14 Nov. 2015
I wanted to know why Bram Stoker wrote Dracula. I wanted to know what type of man would write a novel that so many films were based on and stirred up unknown passions when I was in my teenage years.
There were times the story was so vivid, I felt like a voyeur, especially in the steamy scenes between Damaris and Bram. But there is much more to this story than the discovery of the man Dracula may have been based on, much more.
This is also the journey of a young woman, desperate to be rescued from her miserable life as a fisherlass. She wants to be free from the drudgery of gutting fish on Whitby docks and at first, believes that she has found her saviour, in the guise of a tall and handsome stranger. Over time, Damaris realises that it she and she alone that has the power to make her dreams come true.
This is a tale of greed, power, suppressed passions and love. Thoroughly researched and hard to put down.
‘Shamelessly enjoyable,’ indeed.
After reading this book, there are three things you’ll want to do –
The first, is to visit Whitby, secondly read more of Ann Victoria Roberts’ work and the third is to find a copy of Dracula and see if you agree who the blood sucking vampire was based on.
Moon Rising – The Times 19/2/2000
Have you ever wondered what Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula, was really like? According to Ann Victoria Roberts he had some rather strange sexual predilections which might not be entirely unfamiliar to fans of his fiction.
In Roberts’s new novel, Stoker is fascinated by the by the blood he draws when he deflowers a teenage virgin at midnight in the graveyard of the magnificent ruins of Whitby Abbey… But before deciding that all this is too corny to be true, the reader should bear in mind that very little is known about Stoker’s life and that Roberts has been exhaustive in her research.
The narrative is mainly set during the summer of 1886 when Stoker, escaping the vicissitudes of London life, visited the charming Yorkshire fishing town of Whitby. These are facts. What is not known is what Stoker did during this long, hot summer other than that he uncovered a few interesting folk tales and some of the haunting locations which he used to such great effect in Dracula.
Roberts imagines that he met a 19-year-old fishergirl, Damaris Sterne, during the storm that saw the ship Dimitry wrecked just outside Whitby. The novel is recounted in the first person by the feisty Damaris and describes her tempestuous relationship with Stoker. When the inevitable happens and Stoker abandons her to return to London, Damaris is left isolated, alienated from the townspeople and pregnant. The questions posed are, how will she survive in the patriarchal society of Whitby, and will she ever see Stoker again?
Roberts has written an engaging tale. For the most part she subtly weaves fact and fiction and shows that the real horror of the late Victorian period was not ghosts and ghouls but men and their treatment of women.
Stoker is revealed to be a troubled figure; he tries to be kind to Damaris but his physical and mental desires seem to constantly overcome his better instincts. Roberts shows that, for all his attempts to break free of Victorian morality, he is its slave. Her portrait goes some way towards explaining why Dracula manages to be both a subversive and a conventional text.
However, the star of the book is the locale of Whitby. It’s bustling harbour and brigantines, its damp cottages and smoky inns, its winding stone steps and alleyways, its abbey and its windy cliff-tops are all wonderfully evoked on crisp, rolling sentences. Moon Rising has immeasurably enriched my appreciation of this marvellous town.
Moon Rising – Jenni J on 1 Nov. 2015
I have just finished reading this for the second time and found I enjoyed it even more than the first. For a start, it’s a cracking story involving love, sex, jealousy, possession and murder. Secondly, the author is an accomplished writer who has done her research about the people, places and events she describes but who also has the imagination to bring them to life. The setting of Whitby is evoked so vividly that I feel I could find my way around the narrow alleys and the cliff paths even though I have never been there.
Damaris Sterne, the young heroine lives and works amongst the fisherfolk, a life of poverty and privation,biting cold and constant damp – my hands ached with hers as she gutted piles of freezing cold fish although, thankfully, I didn’t develop chilblains!
When she meets and falls in love with an older man, her life changes in many ways for the better. But this man is Bram Stoker, married to Florence and committed to work for Henry Irving, the great actor/manager in London. What happens next is a clever and credible imagining of Stoker and how he came to write Dracula.
The overwhelming power and violence of a storm-tossed sea together with the near helplessness of those who struggle against it are mirrored in the relationships and emotions of these characters. A sense of evil pervades and for all there is tragedy and loss but the final chapters bring this powerful story to a very satisfying ending.
All in all, a very good read.
Moon Rising – V. G. Harwood on 17 May 2015
I happened across this book as I was researching Whitby’s literary heritage and being as this book uses this as a premise for the story, this seemed like the ideal novel to read.
What really shines through in this book is Whitby – the town really is the star in this novel – with lots of detail about the town and its rich heritage (not just literary, but shipping as well). The author clearly knows the town well and it’s a real treat to read about such detailed invocations of such a wonderful, magical place. The folklore of the town really shines through
Moon Rising – Booklist (US) January 2001
Roberts reaches back into the past, fashioning an atmospheric historical romance featuring renowned theatrical agent and author, Bram Stoker. A chance encounter on a stormy cliff overlooking the North Sea sets in motion a chain of events irrevocably altering the lives of both Stoker and Damaris Sterne, a high-spirited orphan yearning for adventure and independence.
When an unhappily-married Bram and a restless Damaris launch into a passionate, ill-advised affair, they fall victim to both the strictures of Victorian society and the sinister motives of an unscrupulous blackmailer. Meeting years later, the two former lovers are finally able to set the record straight and settle some old scores.
This Gothic thriller fairly crackles with heartrending emotion and eerie suspense.
Moon Rising – Deanna on 3 November 2015
The author manages to capture the Victorian era to perfection with the under currents of sexual repression of the times. There’s everything in the book sex, passion, love and power all of which is inter twinned with the story of Bram Stoker – who’s most famous book Dracula is still read today. The town of Whitby is the highlight of the book with its myths and legends.
Ann Victoria Roberts has managed to insert Bram Stoker’s story into that of Damaris Stern, a strong passionate woman, so Bram Stoker’s story is told through her eyes. A rip roaring great read which I recommend.
Moon Rising – Edel M Barnes on 8 Nov. 2015
I have just finished Moon Rising, an excellent, gripping tale by Ann Victoria Roberts, the author of Louisa Elliott, Liam’s Story and A Masters’ Tale. Through the eyes of Damaris Stearne, a daughter of sea-faring folk, we meet Bram Stoker, a harried, stressed and exhausted fugitive from London theatre circles, they engage in a passionate love affair which is flavoured by tales of ghosts and unnatural events. As their affair progresses, we see in Stoker’s obsession with such stories, the genesis of Dracula, his most famous novel. The author is clearly knowledgeable in matters maritime, and familiar with Whitby, its connections and trade. Moon Rising is both an unsettling narrative and a touching love story, a page turner that keeps the reader engaged from start to finish. An excellent read, I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Moon Rising – Barbara Dan, award winning author of Silent Angel – Published on Amazon.com
Ann Victoria Roberts is one of the best fiction writers I’ve ever read. Her story is handled with such skill and descriptive power that it’s hard to put down. The story focuses on a young woman and her love affair with Bram Stoker, a married man spending time away from his marriage on the coast of Whitby, England. Damaris learns hard lessons about love, passion and betrayal, while Stoker, a writer, utilizes his spare time exploring the legends and wrecks at sea, which he later incorporates into his novel about Dracula. Fortunately Damaris matures after being abandoned and left to face the future alone. I heartily recommend it to other writers and to readers who enjoy English fiction.