Dracula is an epistolary Gothic horror novel written in 1897 by Bram Stoker, an Irish author who became famous after writing about the vampire named Count Dracula, who later on had many interpretations (theater, movie and television).
Stoker visited the seaside town of Whitby in England in 1890 and found inspiration for his excellent novel Dracula. Before writing Dracula, Stoker met the Hungarian writer Ármin Vámbéry, who was also a traveler and told dark stories about the Carpathians, inspiring Stoker, who then spent a few years researching on European mythological stories and folklore about vampires.
The novel narrates the story of Dracula, who attempts to move from Transylvania and go to England to find some new blood and try to spread the curse of the undead. It also tells the story of the fight between Dracula and a group of men and women who had Professor Abraham Van Helsing as their leader. The text of Dracula is made of diary entries, telegrams, letters, journal and newspaper clippings.
The novel has a slightly journalistic style because it is a harrowing account presumably written by a few people who witnessed the events described in the book. The Dracula family described with pride by Stoker’s count in the first chapters of the novel, was based on a real family of the fifteenth century, whose most famous member, Vlad the Impaler or Vlad Dracula had a bloody career. Prince of Wallachia, Vlad was an intelligent and wild general who impaled his enemies on very long spikes. The prince used to also murder beggars, force women to eat their own babies, and nail to their heads the turbans of certain ambassadors who were disrespectful.
Although the Count Dracula described by Stoker allegedly is Vlad’s descendant, not the very prince, Stoker manages to make the count be similar to his spine-chilling ancestor and this historical similarity gives Dracula a guise of truth. Stoker uses many of the Gothic fiction conventions, which includes elements like gloomy castles, sublime landscapes, and innocent young girls menaced by ineffable and terrible evil.
The author modernizes this tradition in his work and moves from the conventional landscape of Dracula’s ravaged castle into the tumult of modern England. He portrays the collision of two different worlds: the ancient Transylvania where the count lives and the modern London of the novel’s protagonist. Stoker reveals many of the concerns that characterized his times: the effects of scientific progress, the consequences of the abandonment of traditional beliefs, and the perils of female sexuality.
At the present time as in the past, Dracula remains a captivating study of common attitudes toward religion, sex and science at the end of the 19th century. The story has an epistolary format, it is a series of letters, many diary entries, and ships logs, the narrators of which are the protagonists of the novel, supplemented with several newspaper clippings that narrate events that were not witnessed directly. The events described in the novel take place in England and Transylvania, chronologically, in 1890 between the May 3rd and November 6th. There is a short note written 7 years after the events placed at the end of the last chapter of the novel.
Jonathan Harker, a young English solicitor, travels Transylvania in order to help a Transylvanian nobleman Count Dracula, buy an English estate. Jonathan likes Budapest and he notices that he can already tell that the Western world is starting to be left behind and he is “entering the East,” a part of Europe whose customs and peoples will be, most of the times, unfamiliar and strange.
The journey to the distant Eastern European landscape is daunting, even if at first he is delighted by the Count’s intelligence and generosity. He is charming, but his strangely bloodless appearance is somehow unpleasant to Jonathan’s eyes. Almost right away, Harker is enchanted with the awkward life of the castle. He discusses with the Count the business details at night because the Count is not available in daytime. Although he likes the food, Jonathan never sees servants in the castle. During his explorations, he sees that the castle is located high on a mountaintop and there is no other exit than the main door, which is locked at all times. So he gradually realizes in great shock that he is Dracula’s prisoner in the castle, and the Count is demonic, planning to prey on the swarming masses of London and is only him alive only in order to finish the transaction involving the real estate purchase.
Various terrifying experiences follow. While Harker secretly visits one of the rooms of the castle, three female phantoms called “the sisters” (Dracula’s brides) appear and attack him, trying to bite him on his throat. But the Count appears and chases them away, whispering violently that Harker belongs to him. Later, Harker believes seeing an enormous bat descending the walls of the castle, but that creature is Count Dracula. The following morning, trying frenziedly to escape, Jonathan finds an old chapel that stores many coffin-like boxes. He opens one of them and sees the Count lying in there, seemingly dead.
Later on, in the evening, when the Count returns as usual, Harker asks for his release from the castle. Friendly and obligingly, the Count opens the door of the castle, but a pack of wolves quickly surrounds the doorway and the Count starts laughing maliciously. The next day, Jonathan is weak and sick due to a strange wound in the throat, sees a pack cart, all loaded with mysterious boxes leave the castle. Dracula is gone and Harker is now alone, a lonely prisoner with no way of escape.
In the meantime, back in England, Harker’s fiancée Mina pays a visit to her best friend, the beautiful and charming Lucy Westenra, who has three candidates to her hand: Quincey Morris, Arthur Holmwood and Dr. Seward. She chooses Arthur, a young nobleman, as her fiancé and turns down Morris and Seward, but they all remain good friends. Mina and Lucy go on holiday together to Whitby, a picturesque seaside town.
While they are in that town, a Russian vessel called “The Demeter” shipwrecks and a large wolf-like dog, the only creature aboard, jumps from the wreck and starts running away, escaping into the countryside. The whole crew is missing, except for one dead captain. The ship was bringing silver sand and 50 boxes full of “mold” or earth from Dracula’s gloomy castle. Despite the shipwreck, the boxes are brought on as ordered. We then learn that Dracula had purchased several estates as “Count De Ville” all over London and designed to distribute the boxes to all of them by using transport services and moving them by himself. He does it in order to make sure that the 50 boxes of dirt are used as graves that would give him safety and allow him to rest while he is feeding and regaining his strength.
Lucy starts behaving strangely: she often sleepwalks, and she seems to be getting weaker and paler. Eerie things are happening: one night, Mina discovers her unconscious in the cemetery, with a tall, thin man with eyes that glow bends over Lucy’s body. The figure runs and disappears when Mina gets closer. Lucy cannot remember anything from her experiences when she wakes up. Every night strange things continue to happen and Lucy starts to grow paler and thinner.
The word comes to them from Budapest that Jonathan has been discovered and he is sick. He has brain fever and is recovering in a convent in Hungary, in the countryside. He cannot remember anything from his journey to Transylvania. Mina travels to take care of him and help him return to England. When she gets there, they marry right away. He gives her the diary but is too afraid to read it; she seals it and promises to never read it unless it is for Jonathan’s sake.
Back in England, Arthur is afraid for Lucy’s health and asks her former suitor, Dr. Seward to find out what she is suffering Dr. Seward is puzzled by her illness, and calls in the intelligent Professor Abraham Van Helsing, an Amsterdam specialist, his old mentor, to help him. Van Helsing appears to know from the beginning what he is confronting and tries to use several charms and permanent blood transfusions to keep her alive due to her unusual loss of blood without any signs of hemorrhage or anemia.
One morning, after Dr. Seward sleeps outside Lucy’s door, when Van Helsing and he enter her room, they find her weaker than ever and all white. Van Helsing gives her another transfusion and she improves, but not as well as before. He then gives Lucy a few garlic flowers and tells her to wear them at night around her neck. When the doctors come to see her the following morning, they see that Lucy’s mother had taken away the flowers, afraid that their smell might bother Lucy. Frenziedly, Van Helsing rushes to the room and discovers that she is in a coma. He administers another transfusion to her, and her condition improves again. She tells him that when she has the garlic flowers near, she is no longer afraid of the noises that she can hear at her window.
Every night, Van Helsing sits next to her until he considers her to be well enough so that he can leave. After warning her to keep the garlic flowers around her neck while sleeping, he goes back to Amsterdam.
Lucy’s mother keeps sleeping in her daughter’s room. One night, they are awakened by a large wolf that breaks in through the window. Lucy’s mother dies of a heart attack while Lucy faints and the garlic flowers slip from her neck. Van Helsing, who has returned to England, and Seward, discover her half dead in the morning. They both know she is almost dead and call Arthur. When Arthur tries to kiss her, Lucy’s teeth almost clutch onto his throat. Van Helsing pulls him away. Lucy passes away a few days later.
After Lucy’s death, Van Helsing puts over her mouth a small gold crucifix, but a nurse steals it. Arthur’s father also dies at this time. Then Van Helsing takes Lucy’s correspondence and diary, which help him contact Mina Harker. After Lucy’s death, some neighborhood children are found far from their houses with their throats marked by little wounds. They claim that they had been followed by a beautiful lady. When the Harkers get back to England, Van Helsing goes to see them. After discussing with Harker, Van Helsing tells Dr. Seward he believes that Lucy had been bitten by a vampire, a strange creature who lives for centuries eating the blood of his victim and breeds his kind by attacking innocent people and turning them into vampires as well. Van Helsing claims that the only manner to save Lucy’s soul is to dig a stake through the heart of the corpse, chop off her head, then stuff her mouth with a bunch of garlic flowers. But Dr. Seward protests vehemently.
The following midnight Arthur, Helsing and Dr. Seward go to Lucy’s tomb and discover it empty, but when Lucy returns on the following morning, they do what Van Helsing told them with Lucy’s dead body. The four men swear to destroy Count Dracula soon. With Mina’s help, Seward and Van Helsing, using the Dr. Seward’s asylum as their headquarters, find the Count in London and make efforts to prevent him from victimizing anyone else. They decide to remove the boxes full of sterilized earth Dracula had brought along from Transylvania, where he is hiding during the day. The boxes contain dirt made sacred by his family, and he can only survive if he sleeps in them during the day. They eventually trap the Count, but he then escapes.
However, before leaving England, Dracula attacks Mina three times and swears to get back at them through her. This leaves Mina cursed with vampirism and manages to change her, but does not make her a complete vampire. Van Helsing tries to bless Mina by prayers and placing a sacramental wafer on her forehead, which burns her and leaves a bad scar. Under the curse, Mina passes from a conscious state to semi-trance and she can perceive Dracula’s action and surroundings. One of the patients treated by Dr. Seward, Renfield is the Count’s henchman, and with his help, the vampire can feed on Mina’s blood in secret. Renfield is a mad man who wants to eat spiders, insects, rats and birds to suck in their “life force”, and therefore resembles Dracula.
One dawn, Van Helsing hypnotizes Mina and finds out that the Count is at sea and they need to follow him to the castle. Afraid, Mina tells them not to tell her what they are planning because Dracula might be listening. They are surrounded by wolves in that deserted country. Van Helsing draws in the snow a circle with a crucifix and this way the travelers can rest in safety inside the magic fencing. The following morning, they pass by a cart that was transporting a black box, the only box that had not been sterilized with holy water by them.
Van Helsing and Mina turn the castle uninhabitable for vampires by killing the three female undead and placing holy wafer all over. They then join the others, and together they overcome the gypsy drivers and force open the lid of the coffin of the Count, who was planning to flee back to Transylvania in order to rest and get strength for a new attack. During the fight against the cart drivers, Quincey gets a mortal wound. When the sun starts to set, Jonathan and Quincey put a stake in the heart of the dead body. The vampire ceases to exist and Mina is freed from her vampirism curse.
The book ends with a note that Jonathan Harker left 7 years after the events depicted in the novel that details his married life and the birth of their son, who was named after all the members of the party, but whom they address “Quincey”. Quincey is described sitting on Van Helsing’s knee while they narrate their adventure.
Dracula is the vampire that has been “Un-Dead” for many hundred years and maintains his life by sucking blood from victims that are alive. He is the Count of Transylvania after whom Stoker named the book. Even if he is seen only on a few of the four hundred pages of this Gothic novel, his presence can constantly be felt throughout the entire work. He wants to move from the deserted Transylvania, which is barely populated, to England, the starting point of the novel, as a solicitor from England must travel to Dracula’s Castle to help with the transactions. Count Dracula is depicted as a “tall old man, clean shaven, save for a long white mustache and clad in black from head to foot, without a single speck of color about him anywhere.” Contrary to the popular belief, Stoker describes his Count Dracula wearing a large and bushy mustache and having an ample head of curly and dense hair, big eyebrows, and very sharp and white teeth, particularly the canine teeth. Count Dracula also has an amazing vitality, as can be seen, every time that he comes into sight in a difficult situation.
Jonathan Harker is a young Englishman, a solicitor sent to Transylvania to complete the transfer of properties in England to the Count. His journal narrates the essential moments of his trip from Bistritz to Borgo Pass, where Count Dracula’s carriage meets him and records his arrival and horrendous stay at Dracula Castle. Harker is engaged to Mina Murray, who is a young schoolmistress.
Miss Mina (Wilhelmina) Murray is Jonathan Harker’s fiancée, who eventually becomes a “persecuted maiden” towards the end of the story. She is young, and works as an assistant schoolmistress. She does not have parents and later becomes Mina Harker, helping the team to track down Count Dracula.
Miss Lucy Westenra is the closest friend of Mina Murray, a 19-year-old young woman who is engaged to Arthur Holmwood. She is affected by sleepwalking, which leads her to becoming the Count’s first victim, and after Lucy’s “death”, she becomes an “Un-Dead.”
Mrs. Westenra is Lucy’s mother, who dies of a heart attack due to a heart ailment, being one more victim of the vampire.
Arthur Holmwood is a strong man, aged 29, Lord Godalming’s only son of; Holmwood inherits this title after his father’s death. His is engaged to Lucy and joins the team to track down and exterminate Dracula.
Dr. John Seward is the head of the lunatic asylum, is more or less of the same age as Arthur Holmwood and one of the suitors for Lucy Westenra’s hand. He is a determined and intelligent man.
Quincey P. Morris is another suitor for Lucy’s hand, he is American and his wealth allows him to pay the expenses paid for the tracking down of Dracula.
Dr. Abraham Van Helsing is an M.D., a D.Litt., a Ph.D. and an attorney. He is an old and lonely bachelor, who is very kind and fatherly. He comes from Amsterdam and has a sound knowledge of folklore, medicine and the occult, which allows him to take charge of Lucy’s sickness, which he immediately labels as vampirism. He is also the designer of the strategy used to track down Count Dracula.
M. Renfield is a tall madman aged 59, Dr. Seward’s patient, who comes under Dracula’s influence.
Mr. Swales is an old man who is a friend of Lucy and Mina at Whitby, where Count Dracula’s ship landed. He senses the imminent horror of Count Dracula, but nobody believes him.
Bram Stoker Biography
Abraham “Bram” Stoker (1847 – 1912) was an Irish author, who is best known nowadays for his Gothic novel Dracula, written in 1897.
He was born in 1847 in Dublin (Ireland) and was the son of a civil servant (Abraham Stoker) and writer and charity worker (Charlotte Mathilda Blake Thornley) who used to tell her son fantastic tales. Stoker had an unknown illness until he went to a private school when he was of seven, fully recovered. He then went to study maths at Trinity College, graduated in 1867 and then joined the civil service.
He also worked as a drama critic and freelance journalist, when he met the legendary actor Henry Irving. They became good and lifelong friends, and Stoker was the manager of Irving’s theater from 1878 until the actor’s death in 1905. Stoker married Florence Balcombe, an aspiring actress and had one son, Noel, born in 1879.
Stoker then moved to London in order to manage Irving’s theater and entered the literary circles of this city that included writers such as Alfred Lord Tennyson, Arthur Conan Doyle and Oscar Wilde. Stoker’s early works included short stories for children, then he wrote his first novel, The Snake’s Pass (1890), unsuccessful. He became famous in 1897 when he published Dracula, considered to be his best literary achievement, printed continuously since it was first published, and inspiring many films and other works.
Stoker wrote until his death in 1912, producing a few adventure novels, among which The Jewel of Seven Stars (1904) and The Lair of the White Worm (1911). He was an auditor at the College Historical Society. He also was president of the University Philosophical Society, his first paper being on Sensationalism in Fiction and Society. Stoker was a theatre critic for the Dublin Evening Mail, wrote stories (The Crystal Cup – published in 1872, followed by The Chain of Destiny), the non-fiction work The Duties of Clerks of Petty Sessions in Ireland (1879) which remained a standard work, and possessed an interest in art, being the founder of the Dublin Sketching Club (1874). He also wrote the horror novels The Lady of the Shroud (1909) and The Liar of the White Worm (1911). After Irving’s death, he published Personal Reminiscences of Henry Irving in 1906, and managed successful productions for the Prince of Wales Theatre.
After suffering several strokes, Stoker died in 1912. Some biographers claim that he died of tertiary syphilis, others attribute the cause to overwork. After being cremated, his ashes were placed in an urn at the Golders Green Crematorium.