Vambery, Arminius

Vambery, Arminius or Hermann

(väm`bārĭ), Hung. Ármin Vámbéry (är`mĭn), 1832–1913, Hungarian philologist and traveler. In Constantinople (1857–63) he learned several languages and dialects of Asia Minor and then traveled through Armenia and Persia in the dress of a native. He was a professor of Oriental languages at the Univ. of Budapest from 1865 to 1905 and wrote many books on his travels and on languages and ethnology.

Bibliography

See his autobiography (1884) and his memoirs, The Story of My Struggles (1904), both in English.

Vambéry, Arminius (1832–1913)

(pop culture)

Arminius Vambéry, Hungarian historian and possible model for Dr. Abraham Van Helsing in Bram Stoker‘s novel Dracula (1897), was born lame at Szerdakely, near Pressburg, in Hungary. As a young man he took up the study of languages and by the age of sixteen, largely through his own efforts, was fluent in most European languages, including Latin and Greek. At the age of twenty-two he was able to travel to Constantinople and for the first time practiced the languages he had learned. In 1858 he published his first book, a German-Turkish dictionary, the only one of its kind available for many years. He also began to translate Turkish histories that related events in Hungary, for which he earned a position as a corresponding member of the Hungarian Academy in 1861. With a grant from the Academy, he then traveled widely through the Middle East for several years. In 1864 he moved to England, where he was welcomed as an explorer-traveler and given support while he wrote his book, Travels in Central Asia, which was quickly translated into French, German, and Hungarian. He afterward settled in Hungary as a professor of Oriental languages at the University of Pesth.

For the next two decades he was one of the most prolific and famous Hungarian scholars and men of letters. His correspondence kept him in touch with most of the power centers of Europe, and he commented freely on the political questions of his day. In 1883 he wrote the autobiographical Arminius Vambéry: His Life and Travels. Soon after its appearance he encountered a wave of anti-Semitism in Hungary and felt forced to relocate to England. There he continued to write and lecture. He wrote one of his most popular books, a large volume titled Hungary in Ancient, Medieval, and Modern Times (1886), which was reprinted several times under various titles. This volume would have been one of the books available to Stoker for research on the first chapters of Dracula. Vambéry actually met Bram Stoker, possibly for the first time, in 1890 during the early stages of the writing of Dracula. He was on Stoker’s guest list one evening at the Beefsteak Room, where people gathered after an evening at the Lyceum Theatre. In conversation and through his books on Hungary, Vambéry possibly influenced Stoker, though the extent is a matter of debate among Dracula scholars.

Raymond T. McNally and Radu Florescu credit Vambéry with turning Stoker from his prior interest in Austria (reflected in his short story “Dracula’s Guest”) toward Transylvania, the setting of the opening and closing chapters of Dracula. Unfortunately, no correspondence between Stoker and Vambéry has survived, though Stoker mentions their meeting in his Personal Reminiscences of Henry Irving. Elizabeth Miller, who emerged in the 1990s as one of the foremost scholars of the text, has assumed the most skeptical position and suggested that the tie between Vambéry and the text of Dracula is a remnant of scholarly speculation from the period before the discovery of Stoker’s working papers at the Rosenbach Museum. However, while Miller notes, “There is no documented evidence that Vambéry gave Stoker any information about Vlad Tepes or vampires,” and there is no mention of Vlad the Impaler in any of Vambéry’s books, there is cause to believe that Vambéry may have been one of the people from whom Stoker developed his character Abraham Van Helsing. Stoker acknowledges in the novel a debt to Vambéry with a passing mention of him placed in the mouth of Van Helsing:

I have asked my friend Arminius, of Buda-Pesth University, to make his record; and, from all the means that are, he (Vambéry) tells me of what he (Dracula) has been. He must, indeed, have been that Viovode Dracula who won his name against the Turk….

Vambéry’s last work was another autobiographical volume, The Story of My Struggles (1904).

Sources:

Adler, Lory, and Richard Dalby. The Dervish of Windsor Castle. London: Bachman and Turner, 1979. 512 pp.
Bartholomä, Ruth. Von Zentralasien nach Windsor Castle. Leben und Werk des Orientalisten Arminius Vámbéry (1832–1913). Würzburg: Ergon Verlag, 2006.
Miller, Elizabeth. Reflections on Dracula: Ten Essays. White Rock, BC: Transylvanian Press, 1997. 226 pp.
Stoker, Bram. The Essential Dracula. Edited by Raymond McNally and Radu Florescu. New York: Mayflower Books, 1979. 320 pp.
———. Personal Reminiscences of Henry Irving. 2 vols. London: William Heinemann, 1906.
Haining, Peter, and Peter Tremayne. The Undead: The Legend of Bram Stoker and Dracula. London:Constable, 1997. 199 pp.
Vambéry, Arminius. Travels in Central Asia. London: J. Murray, 1864. 493 pp.
———. Arminius Vambéry: His Life and Adventures. New York: Cassell and Company, 1983. 370 pp.
———. Hungary in Ancient, Medieval, and Modern Times. London: T. F. Unwin, 1886. 453 pp.
———. The Story of My Struggles: The Memoirs of Arminius Vambéry. 2 vols. London: T. F. Unwin, 1904.