Lord Count Dracula

Count Dracula

[drak-yuh-luh]
Dracula character
Count Dracula
Gender Male
Ethnicity Székely
Occupation Transylvanian nobleman
Allies Brides of Dracula
Renfield
Enemies Jonathan Harker
Abraham Van Helsing
First appearance Dracula
Created by Bram Stoker
Count Dracula is a fictional character, the titular antagonist of Bram Stoker's 1897 Gothic horror novel Dracula. Some aspects of his character may have been inspired by the 15th century Romanian Prince, Vlad III the Impaler. Since creation by Stoker, the character has fallen into the public domain and subsequently appears frequently in popular culture.

Biography

Count Dracula (his first name is never given in the novel) is a centuries-old vampire, sorcerer and Transylvanian nobleman, who claims to be a Székely descended from Attila the Hun. He inhabits a decaying castle in the Carpathian Mountains near the Borgo Pass. Contrary to the vampires of Eastern European folklore which are portrayed as repulsive, corpse-like creatures, Dracula exudes a veneer of aristocratic charm which masks his unfathomable evil.

His appearance is described thus:

In his youth, he studied the black arts at the academy of Scholomance in the Carpathian Mountains, overlooking the town of Sibiu (also known as Hermannstadt) and became proficient in alchemy and magic (Dracula Chapter 18 and Chapter 23).

Later he took up a military profession, combating the Turks across the Danube. According to Abraham Van Helsing:

Using the black arts, Dracula returned from death as a vampire and lives for several centuries in his castle with his three wives for company.

In the 19th century, however, he acts on a long contemplated plan for world domination, and infiltrates London to begin his reign of terror. He summons Jonathan Harker, a newly qualified English solicitor, to provide legal support for a real estate transaction overseen by Harker's employer. Dracula at first charms Harker with his cordiality and historical knowledge and even rescues him from the clutches of his three bloodthirsty brides. In truth, however, Dracula wishes to keep Harker alive just long enough for his legal transaction to finish and to learn as much as possible about England.

Dracula then leaves his castle and boards a Russian ship, the Demeter, taking along with him boxes of Transylvanian soil, which he needs in order to regain his strength. During the voyage to Whitby, a coastal town in northern England, he sustains himself on the ship's crew members. Only one body is later found, that of the captain, who is found tied up to the ship's helm. The captain's log is recovered and tells of strange events that had taken place during the ship's journey. Dracula leaves the ship in the form of a large wolf.

Soon the Count is menacing Harker's devoted fiancée, Wilhelmina "Mina" Murray, and her vivacious friend, Lucy Westenra. There is also a notable link between Dracula and Renfield, a patient in an insane asylum compelled to consume insects, spiders, birds, and other creatures — in ascending order of size — in order to absorb their "life force". Renfield acts as a kind of motion sensor, detecting Dracula's proximity and supplying clues accordingly. Dracula begins to visit Lucy's bed chamber on a nightly basis, draining her of blood while simultaneously infecting her with the curse of vampirism. Not knowing the cause for Lucy's deterioration, her companions call upon the Dutch doctor Van Helsing, the former mentor of one of Lucy's suitors. Van Helsing soon deduces her condition's supernatural origins, but does not speak out. Despite an attempt at keeping the vampire at bay with garlic, Dracula entices Lucy out of her chamber late at night and drains her blood, killing her.

Van Helsing and a group of men enter Lucy's crypt and kill her reanimated corpse. They later enter Dracula's residence at Carfax Abbey, destroying his boxes of earth, thus depriving the Count of his ability to refuel his powers. Dracula leaves England to return to his homeland, but not before biting Mina.

Eventually, the group of heroes — Lord Godalming, Van Helsing, Dr. Seward, Jonathan Harker, Mina and Quincey Morris — track the Count back to Transylvania and, after a vicious battle with Dracula's gypsy bodyguards, destroy him. Dracula's death is shorn of the rituals enjoined by Van Helsing. Despite the popular image of Dracula having a stake driven through his heart, Mina's narrative describes his throat being cut by Jonathan Harker's "kukri" knife and his heart pierced by Quincey Morris's Bowie knife while he is being transported in his coffin en route to Castle Dracula (Mina Harker's Journal, 6 November, Dracula Chapter 27). This omission of the proper rituals of destruction has led some to express doubts whether Dracula has really been finished off. Dracula, it is suggested, may rise again.

Personality

Although he usually dons a mask of cordiality to deceive others, Dracula often flies into fits of rage when his plans are interfered with. When his three brides attempt to seduce and consume Jonathan Harker, Dracula physically assaults one and ferociously berates them for their insubordination. Though he is capable of forming romantic ties, he freely admits that they are temporary.

Dracula is very passionate about his warrior heritage, emotionally proclaiming his pride to Harker on how the Székely people are infused with the blood of multiple heroes. He does express an interest in the history of the British Empire, speaking admiringly of its people. He has a somewhat primal and predatory world view; he pities ordinary humans for their revulsion to their darker impulses.

Though usually portrayed as having a strong Eastern European accent, the original novel only specifies that his spoken English is excellent, though strangely toned.

Powers, abilities and weaknesses

Count Dracula possesses numerous different supernatural abilities inherent in vampirism, along with additional skills derived from his abilities as a necromancer which allow him to commune with the dead. His age and potency make him far more powerful than the creatures of traditional Eastern European folklore. He has enormous physical strength which, according to Van Helsing, is equivalent to 20 men. Being undead, he is immune to conventional means of attack. The only definite way to kill him is by decapitating him followed by impalement through the heart, although it is also suggested that shooting him with a sacred bullet would suffice. The Count can defy gravity to a certain extent, being able to climb upside down vertical surfaces in a reptilian manner. He has powerful hypnotic and mind control abilities, and is also able to command the loyalty of nocturnal animals such as wolves and rats. Dracula can also manipulate the weather, usually creating mists to hide his presence, but also storms such as in his voyage in the Demeter. He can shapeshift at will, his featured forms in the novel being that of a wolf, bat, dust and fog. He requires no other sustenance but fresh blood, which has the effect of rejuvenating him. Without it, he physically ages at an accelerated rate.

According to Van Helsing:

One of Dracula's most mysterious powers is the ability to transfer his vampiric condition to others. As seen with Lucy and Mina, transfer of the curse is done through a bite to the throat, allowing the Count to ingest the victim's blood at the same time. The victim is transformed gradually, exhibiting physical weakness and a fear of holy objects, the transformation being complete when the body is completely drained. Oddly, all other vampires present in the novel are female, and there is no mention of Dracula's victims on the Demeter ever becoming undead (as they themselves are male). However, it is implied through his encounters with Mina Harker that a person to be turned must also consume some of Dracula's blood:

"By her bed stood a tall, thin man, clad in black. His face was turned from us, but the instant we saw we all recognized the Count-in every way, even to the scar on his forehead. With his left hand he held both Mrs Harker's hands, keeping them away with her arms at full tension; his right hand gripped her by the back of the neck, forcing her face down on his bosom. Her white nightdress was smeared with blood, and a thin stream trickled down the man's bare breast which was shown by his torn-open dress."

Although his acolytes share the Count's enhanced strength, thirst for blood and aversion to holy objects, they do not appear to possess the more advanced powers of their creator, such as shapeshifting into animal forms and weather manipulation. There is one instance where the vampire Lucy shrinks in size in order to squeeze through a crack and reenter her tomb, and the brides of Dracula are observed turning into motes of dust that float in the moonlight, but it is never revealed if Mina and the other vampire acolytes possess the abilities to take the form of animals.

Dracula's powers are not unlimited, however. He is much less powerful in daylight and is only able to shift his form at dawn, noon, and dusk (he can shift freely at night). The sun is not fatal to him, though, as it is in later adaptations. He is repulsed by garlic, crucifixes and sacramental bread, and he can only cross running water at low or high tide. He is also unable to enter a place unless invited to do so; once invited, however, he can approach and leave the premises at will.

Famous sayings of Count Dracula

  • "Welcome to my house! Enter freely. Go safely, and leave something of the happiness you bring! ... I am Dracula; and I bid you welcome" (Jonathan Harker's Journal, 5 May, Dracula Chapter 2).
  • "Listen to them - the children of the night. What music they make!" (Jonathan Harker's Journal, 5 May, Dracula Chapter 2: in reference to wolves).
  • "You will, I trust, excuse me that I do not join you, but I have dined already, and I do not sup." (Jonathan Harker's Journal, 5 May, Dracula chapter 2) This line was changed in the 1931 film adaptation to the more famous, "I never drink... wine.
  • "We Szekelys have a right to be proud, for in our veins flows the blood of many brave races who fought as the lion fights, for lordship." (Dracula Jonathan Harker's Journal Chapter 3).
  • "This man belongs to me!" (Dracula Jonathan Harker's Journal Chapter 3: addressed to his brides with reference to Jonathan Harker - expressing his possessiveness and ambiguous sexuality).
  • "Yes, I too can love. You yourselves can tell it from the past. Is it not so? Well, now I promise you that when I am done with him you shall kiss him at your will." (Dracula Jonathan Harker's Journal Chapter 3; Dracula admonishing his brides for having attempted to seduce Jonathan)
  • "And you, their best beloved one, are now to me, flesh of my flesh; blood of my blood; kin of my kin..." (Dr. Seward's Diary, 3 October, Dracula Chapter 21: to Mina)
  • "Your girls that you all love are mine already!" (Dr. Seward's Diary, 3 October, Dracula Chapter 23)

In popular culture

Dracula is arguably one of the most famous villains in popular culture. He has been portrayed by more actors in more film adaptations than any other horror character. Actors who have played him include Max Schreck, Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney Jr., John Carradine, Christopher Lee, Denholm Elliott, Jack Palance, Udo Kier, Jonathan Massey, Frank Langella, Louis Jourdan, Klaus Kinski, Duncan Regehr, Stefan Lindahl, Edmund Purdom, Gary Oldman, Leslie Nielsen, George Hamilton, Gerard Butler, Patrick Bergin, Dominic Purcell, Richard Roxburgh, Marc Warren and Keith-Lee Castle. The character is closely associated with the cultural archetype of the vampire, and remains a popular Halloween costume.

Allusions to history

Following the publication of In Search of Dracula by Radu Florescu and Raymond McNally in 1972, the supposed connections between the historical Transylvanian-born Vlad III Dracula of Wallachia and Stoker's fictional Dracula attracted popular attention.

Historically, the name "Dracula" is the given name of Vlad Tepes' family, a name derived from a secret fraternal order of knights called the Order of the Dragon, founded by Sigismund of Luxembourg (king of Hungary, Croatia and Bohemia, and Holy Roman Emperor) to uphold Christianity and defend the Empire against the Ottoman Turks. Vlad II Dracul, father of Vlad III, was admitted to the order around 1431 because of his bravery in fighting the Turks and was dubbed Dracul (dragon) thus his son became Dracula (son of the dragon). From 1431 onward, Vlad II wore the emblem of the order and later, as ruler of Wallachia, his coinage bore the dragon symbol.

Stoker came across the name Dracula in his reading on Romanian history and chose this to replace the name (Count Wampyr) that he had originally intended to use for his villain. However, some Dracula scholars, led by Elizabeth Miller, have questioned the depth of this connection. They argue that Stoker in fact knew little of the historic Vlad III except for his name. There are sections in the novel where Dracula refers to his own background, and these speeches show that Stoker had some knowledge of Romanian history but certainly one of no depth. Stoker includes few details about Vlad III save for referring to Dracula as "that Voivode Dracula who won his name against the Turks", a quote which ties Stoker's Vampire to the Wallachian prince in earnest, due to Prince Vlad's famed battles with Turks over Wallachian soil, a thing which Stoker clearly made reference to.

While Vlad III was an ethnic Vlach, the fictional Dracula claims to be a Székely. In addition the vampire's aversion to holy objects is uncharacteristic of Vlad, who was in fact part of a Christian order and often invoked the name of God in his actions.

The story of Dracula as Stoker created it and as it has been portrayed in films and television shows ever since may be a compound of various influences. Many of Stoker's biographers and literary critics have found strong similarities to the earlier Irish writer Sheridan le Fanu's classic of the vampire genre, Carmilla. In writing Dracula, Stoker may also have drawn on stories about the sídhe — some of which feature blood-drinking women.

It has been suggested that Stoker was influenced by the history of Countess Elizabeth Bathory, who was born in the Kingdom of Hungary. It is believed that Bathory tortured and killed up to 700 servant girls in order to bathe in or drink their blood. She believed their blood preserved her youth, which may be connected to the element of Dracula in which Dracula appeared younger after feeding.

See also

Notes

References

  • Clive Leatherdale (1985) Dracula: the Novel and the Legend. Desert Island Books.
  • Bram Stoker (1897) Dracula. Norton Critical Edition (1997) edited by Nina Auerbach and David J. Skal.

External links

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