Study Guide

Dracula

By Bram Stoker

Dracula Introduction

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Oh, the old vampire trend. So very 2000s.

Er—so very 1890s?

In 1897, Bram Stoker took central European folk tales and turned them into one of the most famous horror books of all time. But the CW isn't going to be speccing a script about this guy anytime soon—at least, not Dracula as Stoker wrote him. Stoker's Dracula isn't young and sparkly-hot; he's creepy, old, and has a penchant for turning into bats and clouds of mist.

Creepy, old, and occasionally downright boring (just stop with the train schedules, Mina)—yes. But just like some vampire stories we could name coughVampireDiaries cough, Dracula is a lot more interesting to talk about than it is to read. Just like today, vampires in 1897 stood in for a lot of contemporary fears and anxieties. Except while the vampire craze of the 2000s can be read as representing fears of corruption and conspiracy theories, ye olde turn-of-the-century bloodsuckers represented the increasing globalization of London, the risks of sexual activity, or even the increasing presence of technology.

That's right: technology. Just like that creaky rom-com You've Got Mail hinges on the wacky new technology of email, Dracula hinges on telegraphs, typewriters, and phonographs—only with much more gruesome results.

Here's the quick version: Count Dracula leaves his native Transylvania (modern-day Romania, in southeastern Europe) to immigrate to England—presumably to feed on the "teeming millions" in the huge capital city of London. "Invasion literature," or literature that had to do with monsters invading the British Empire (which, at that point, still covered a lot of the world beyond the British Isles), was ridiculously popular at the time. Authors like Rudyard Kipling, H.G. Wells, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle all wrote sensational adventure stories about fantastic creatures or threatening monsters from around the world. Stoker didn't think of himself as a great artist; he was primarily a businessman. He managed the famous Lyceum Theatre in London. Stoker only wrote novels to pay the bills (hah! the idea of writing novels to pay the bills is insane). Honestly, he'd probably be astonished at the lasting impact Dracula has had. He wrote it in a piecemeal, haphazard way—a little here, a little there.

At the time it came out in 1897, it was popular and well-received, but hardly a blockbuster hit. It wasn't until later in the 20th century, when film versions of the novel started to appear, that the novel's popularity really skyrocketed and its impact on popular culture became crystal-clear. Basically every bloodsucker in literature—from Twilight's Edward Cullen to True Blood's Eric Northman to Anne Rice's Lestat & Co. to Sesame Street's The Count—owes their life (or undeath) to Bram Stoker and his xenophobic tale of one Romanian count seducing proper English ladeez.

In other words, Dracula is the super-hideous great-great-grandpappy of Bella Swan.

What is Dracula About and Why Should I Care?

You don't have to think vampires are dreamy to think Dracula is important. In fact, you don't even have to like Dracula to think Dracula is important: It just is.

This is a novel that took a pretty obscure folk tale creep and skyrocketed him into fame and everlasting pop-cultural stardom. It's a novel that used a mythological creature to tap into the fears of a generation... and was so successful that the same exact mythological creature has been doing the same exact thing ever since. Except he's gotten, by and large, way foxier.

For comparison—oh, wait. There is no comparison to be made, because so few creatures have risen from unknown European campfire story to sexy, sparkly, teen-god status in a little over a hundred years. Imagine if, by 2083 (108 years after Jaws came out), great white sharks were portrayed as super-hawt. Or hey—what if 1926 (108 years after Frankenstein was published) saw an influx of drool-worthy zombie babes?

Does that sound farfetched? It was a mere 108 years between the publication of Dracula and the publication of Twilight. And Edward Cullen was hardly the first vampire babe out there—lookin' at you Lestat and Angel.

And we're not even mentioning all the super-important vampire uglies out there.

Pretty much every vampire book or movie in the 20th century owes something to Stoker's novel, from Nosferatu, a silent German film made in 1922, to Blade (1998) to the Anne Rice Interview with the Vampire series. Even Edward Cullen finds himself needing to re-educate his human girlfriend Bella so that she doesn't believe all of the vampire stereotypes that originated in Stoker's novel.

In terms of popular culture, Dracula is everywhere, once you start looking. The "Count" on Sesame Street, for example, is modeled on Stoker's vampire. And do you like sugary cereals? Count Chocula is a shout-out to Dracula, too.

If monster books just aren't your thing or its pop cultural importance doesn't do it for you (check your pulse though—are you sure you're not undead?) there's still plenty more to Dracula. Stoker had lots to say about some of the most important political questions of his day. Many critics like to read Stoker's Dracula as being about the British fear that the people they had colonized and oppressed for so long would come to Britain to take revenge. Or you can read Dracula for what it says about the role of women—the most dangerous women in the novel are also the sexiest.

In short, Dracula is a cultural touchstone—and it's got something in it to appeal to almost everybody.

 
 

Dracula Resources

Websites

The Literary Gothic
This website has a lot of good links about Bram Stoker, Dracula, and film adaptations of the novel.

Stoker Concordance
This is a concordance that allows you to search e-texts of the works of Bram Stoker. This is very useful if you're trying to find a passage as you're writing an essay, but can't remember which chapter it was from.

The Victorian Web
This website is full of useful links, biographies, and articles for students studying the Victorian period.

The Town of Whitby
The town of Whitby is a real-life place in North Yorkshire, England. The town has capitalized on its association with the famous novel. Check out the town's website, especially the links having to do with Dracula.

Movie or TV Productions

Nosferatu, 1922
This is the first film adaptation of Dracula. Unfortunately, the director, F.W. Murnau, didn't have copyright permission to make it. Even though he changed the names of the major characters and set the story in Germany, instead of in England, it's still obviously an adaptation of Stoker's novel. Stoker's widow, Florence, ended up suing the company that made the film. The lawsuit required that all copies of the movie be destroyed. Fortunately for film history, though, some copies of it escaped, so we're still able to watch it. Nosferatu is where the idea that vampires can't survive the sunlight came from—that's not actually part of Stoker's novel.

Dracula, 1931
This is the version of Dracula that we usually think of—the vampire, played by Bela Lugosi, is tall, pale, clean-shaven, and wears a long black cloak with a tall collar. Modern Halloween costumes follow Lugosi's lead.

Nosferatu the Vampyre, 1979
This version, directed by Werner Herzog, is partly an homage to the 1922 Murnau version.

Dracula, 1979
This version of Dracula is based on a popular stage version. Its star-studded cast includes Frank Langella as Dracula and Lawrence Olivier as Van Helsing.

Dracula, 1992
This is Francis Ford Coppola's adaptation—in some ways, it stays very close to Bram Stoker's novel, but the depiction of Mina Murray is pretty far from Stoker's. The cast includes Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder, Anthony Hopkins, and Keanu Reeves.

Riviews, Articles, and Books

Article About a 2009 Sequel to Dracula
This sequel, titled The Undead (which was Stoker's original title for Dracula), was written by a descendent of Bram Stoker.

2009 Graphic Novel "Sequel" to Dracula
Bram Stoker's Dracula continues to inspire! This is a news blurb about a graphic novel, titled Harker, that's described as a sequel to Stoker's Dracula. Read it and let us know what you think of it!

Why Are Vampires So Popular?
This article in The Week magazine looks at the history of vampires in popular culture.

"The Occidental Tourist: Dracula and the Anxiety of Reverse Colonization"
Stephen Arata's influential critical article about Dracula and foreignness. It's linked through JSTOR so you'll probably need to access it from a library computer.

"'Kiss Me with Those Red Lips': Gender and Inversion in Bram Stoker's Dracula"
This is an important article on gender in Dracula, by Christopher Craft. Another article linked through JSTOR.

"'Dracula': Stoker's Response to the New Woman"
This article by Carol Senf looks at the role of the "New Woman" in Dracula. You can access it through JSTOR.

"Technologies of Monstrosity: Bram Stoker's Dracula"
This article by Judith Halberstam explores the role of technology in Bram Stoker's Dracula. You can access it through JSTOR.

Inventing the Addict: Drugs, Race, and Sexuality in Nineteenth-Century British and American Literature
This book by Susan Zieger is about addiction and drug use in 19th-century literature. There's an interesting chapter about Dracula, so you should check it out from your library.

Images

Portrait of Bram Stoker
This is a photo of Stoker as an adult.

Bram Stoker's Birthplace
This is an image of the sign on the house where Stoker lived in Dublin, Ireland.

The Houston Ballet's Dracula
This is an image from the Houston Ballet's 1997 premiere of a ballet version of Dracula.

Vlad the Impaler
Here's a portrait of Vlad the Impaler, the Romanian prince who was (sort of) the inspiration for the character of Count Dracula.