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Florence Anne Lemon Balcombe Stoker

Portrait of Florence Stoker by Burne-Jones

 

B. 17 July 1858 at Cornwall, England

D. 25 May 1937 at London, England

 

Florence Stoker, A Family Perspective

 

The daughter of Lt. Col. James Balcombe and Phillippa Anne Marshall, Florence was renowned for her beauty—considered in her time the most beautiful woman in Dublin—and in later years for her tenacity in successfully bringing suit against the German Film Company Prana, whose 1922 movie Nosferatu adapted Dracula without permission.

 

Bram would have approved of her taking a stand to protect his legacy. Being accustomed to the strong and self-directing nature of his mother, Bram Stoker was comfortable around accomplished women and appreciated Florence’s self-assurance. 

 

Their lives intersected many times as Bram and Florence grew up in and around Dublin, and they were married in December 1878, in St. Anne’s Church in Dublin. Within a few days of their marriage, Bram whisked her away to London, where he began working for Henry Irving. 

 

Before marrying Bram, Florence had dated Oscar Wilde, who displayed his penchant for drama after their breakup, requesting she return a trinket while sending her flowers anonymously. There must have been no lasting ill will, as the Stokers remained friends with Oscar and the Wilde family (Oscar’s older brother Willie was a classmate and friend of Bram’s at Trinity, and their mother, Lady Speranza Wilde, was influential in her support of Bram’s career). 

 

Although Florence surely regretted Bram’s time being dominated by the long hours at the theatre, she realized he was in his element, and must have known beforehand what his job would entail. If she harbored a grudge against Henry Irving—it is widely believed that she did—there is little evidence that she made a public point of it. Allegations of discord between Bram and Florence, meanwhile, have been repeated so often and colorfully that rumor frequently displaces truth. Frigidity on Florence’s part, and everything from womanizing to gay dalliances on Bram’s, have been supposed. 

 

The original source for much of the sensation was Daniel Farson, Thomas Stoker’s grandson, in the form of his own biography of his great-uncle Bram, The Man Who Wrote Dracula, and information provided to other writers. Farson in fact attributed several statements to his cousin, Ann Stoker, who has denied them. Farson’s own autobiography, Never a Normal Man, discusses his struggle with his own sexuality, and suggests his feelings of neglect and resentment about his family, particularly his parents and his cousin Noel Stoker, Florence’s only child, with whom he spent much time as youths at the home of their grandparents. Farson nevertheless has claimed that his mother, Eve Stoker Farson, confided in him that Florence was never fond of Noel. 

 

While Florence has been described as living miserably in London, jealous of Bram’s life at the Lyceum, this does not seem entirely likely. She enjoyed acting, taking part in charity performances and even chipping in as an extra if needed. Her self-confidence seemed to serve her well as she held her own within London society circles, developing her own friendships within the network of Bram’s Lyceum associates and extended families of Stokers, McGillycuddys and Balcombes. 

 

Bram’s older sister Matilda Stoker lived with Bram and Florence for a time on both Southampton Row and on Cheyne Walk, and provided company for Florence when Bram traveled, often for months at a time, to America. In other cases, as in 1899, Florence traveled with Bram and the Lyceum troupe, accompanied by her sister-in-law Agnes McGillycuddy Stoker. When Bram was not available to escort Florence and Matilda to theatre openings and after-parties in London, his youngest brother George or the composer William Gilbert, a family friend, would stand in. 

 

In their home, Florence entertained in much the same fashion she and Bram enjoyed in Dublin, earning rave reviews for her teas and evening socials, with guest lists of notable intellectuals and artists. 

 

After visiting Florence in London in 1934, actor Vincent Price wrote “She is eighty, but what spark and a lovely sense of humor…” (Vincent Price: A Daughter’s Biography by Victoria Price). Florence, who in fact passed away three years later at age 79, may not have appreciated Price misstating her age!

W. Parker Stoker 2018

Florence Stoker, sketch by Oscar Wilde

Excerpt from the obituary of Bram written by his close friend, the best-selling novelist, Sir Thomas Hall Caine, entitled "Bram Stoker: The Story of a Great Friendship", which speaks of Florence's love for Bram.

Of the devotion of his wife during these last dark days, in which the whirlwind of his spirit had nothing lost to it but the broken wreck of a strong man, I cannot trust myself to speak. That must always be a sacred memory to those who knew what it was. If his was the genius of friendship, hers must have been the genius of love.

Australian Town and Country

26 January 1889

A BIT CONFUSED

Sir John J. Millais, the artist is a man who; though young in years and still very fit for his special life work, has become somewhat dull in his perceptive senses, and is apt to be a bit confused, about names and faces. The other night at a Sunday, dinner party, while the ladies were trooping out of the room, Sir John, addressing one of them who was passing, said, "How do you do, Mrs. Bernhard Beere?" "I'm not Mrs. Bernhard Beere," replied the lady tartly. "O, to be sure; how stupid I am!' How do you do, Mrs. Bram Stoker?"(The wife of Henry Irving's manager.) "I'm not Mrs. Bram Stoker; I'm Mrs. Beerbohm Tree," shouted the lady, still more snappishly. "O yes, of course.  How do you do Mrs. Beerbohm Tree?" 

And then the ladies passed out; and Sir John, turning to his next male neighbor, remarked, "Well, I'm sure she needn't have been so angry with me for mistaking her for Mrs. Bram Stoker, Mrs. Bram Stoker is a better looking woman any day than Mrs. Beerbohm Tree." "Of that," replied his neighbor, with a bow, I can be no judge, for I am Mr. Beerbohm Tree.

In a lengthy article on the 127th exhibition of the Royal Academy, comments on portraits include this description of Walter Osborne’s painting of Florence Stoker, which was commissioned by Bram.

 

The Times (London) May 4, 1895

The Academy

 

...."Mrs. Bram Stoker” by Mr. Walter Osborne, who has til now been known for his very clever little paintings, in oil and water colour, of Irish street scenes. To many eyes this portrait will seem to have failed because the flesh tints are somewhat dull and gray, and it may be conceded that this is a fault which will be ruinous if not cured; but in all other respects the picture reveals such power of composition and painting, and is so instinct with grace of line, as to distinguish itself from almost any other work of the year. There are three of four other white satin dresses on the walls of this room; one has only to look at them to see how fine is the quality of Mr. Osborne’s painting.

 

A Dublin friend of the Stoker family, Walter Osborne painted portraits of many members of the Stoker family.

THE LITERARY WORLD

October 19, 1897

The Argonauts, as a literary club formed last year with its headquarters in Bondstreet, is called, have instituted 'Private View Teas,' which are held on Saturday afternoons, for the convenience of visitors to picture galleries or theatres. Among those present at the first of these functions were:

Mr. and Mrs. Humphry Ward, 'Helen Mathers,' 'Iota,' Mrs. Alice Meynell, Miss Violet Hunt, Mrs. Bram Stoker, Mr. Trevor Battye, Sir A. Blomfield, Miss Arabella Kenealy, and others.

The Times, May 26, 1937

Stoker- On May 25, 1937, at Kinnerton Studios,

Knightsbridge, Florence Anne Lemon, widow of Bram Stoker. The cremation will take place very quietly at Golders Green tomorrow (Thursday) at 10 o'clock.

Please accept this as the only intimation.

THE TIMES, MARCH 6, 1934

(ON THE ONE HUNDREDTH ANNIVERSARY OF DU MAURIER'S BIRTH)

excerpt from

THE CREATOR OF TRILBY

A NOTE ON GEORGE DU MAURIER

DAYS FROM A DIARY

BY E. V. LUCAS

.......It was on the death of (John) Leech, in 1864, that du Maurier joined the Punch Table, the suggestion being that he should not worry about being funny but rather should lay emphasis on what was beautiful: a piece of counsel that must have done much to encourage and rejoice the new recruit, for if ever a man worshipped beauty it was he. Not only did he worship it, but he created it. The remark that, by his celebration in Punch of tall and graceful types, du Maurier added 2in. to the height of English woman has often been made; and, such is the imitative adaptability of women, it is probably true.

To Bernard Partridge he once said that the three most beautiful women he had seen were Mrs. Stillman, Mrs. John Hare, and Mrs. Bram Stoker.