Dracula has been attributed to many literary genres including vampire literature, horror fiction, the gothic novel and invasion literature. Structurally it is an epistolary novel, that is, told as a series of diary entries and letters. Literary critics have examined many themes in the novel, such as the role of women in Victorian culture, conventional and conservative sexuality, immigration, colonialism, postcolonialism and folklore. Although Stoker did not invent the vampire, the novel's influence on the popularity of vampires has been singularly responsible for many theatrical and film interpretations throughout the 20th and 21st centuries.
Not long afterward, a Russian ship, the Demeter, having weighed anchor at Varna, runs aground on the shores of Whitby, England, during a fierce tempest. All of the crew are missing and presumed dead, and only one body is found, that of the captain tied 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. These events led to the gradual disappearance of the entire crew apparently owing to a malevolent presence on board the ill-fated ship. An animal described as a large dog is seen on the ship leaping ashore. The ship's cargo is described as silver sand and boxes of "mould" or earth from Transylvania.
Soon Dracula is menacing Harker's devoted fiancée, Wilhelmina "Mina" Murray, and her vivacious friend, Lucy Westenra. Lucy receives three marriage proposals in one day, from an asylum psychiatrist, Dr. John Seward; an American, Quincey Morris; and the Hon. Arthur Holmwood (later Lord Godalming). Lucy accepts Holmwood's proposal while turning down Seward and Morris, but all remain friends. There is a notable encounter between Dracula and Seward's patient Renfield, an insane man who means 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.
Lucy begins to waste away suspiciously. All her suitors fret, and Seward calls in his old teacher, Professor Abraham Van Helsing from Amsterdam. Van Helsing immediately determines the cause of Lucy's condition but refuses to disclose it, knowing that Seward's faith in him will be shaken if he starts to speak of vampires. Van Helsing tries multiple blood transfusions, but they are clearly losing ground. On a night when Van Helsing must return to Amsterdam (and his message to Seward asking him to watch the Westenra household is accidentally sent to the wrong address), Lucy and her mother are attacked by a wolf. Mrs Westenra, who has a heart condition, dies of fright, and Lucy apparently dies soon after.
Lucy is buried, but soon afterward the newspapers report children being stalked in the night by a "booful lady" (as they describe it), i.e. "beautiful lady. Van Helsing, knowing that this means Lucy has become a vampire, confides in Seward, Lord Godalming and Morris. The suitors and Van Helsing track her down, and after a disturbing confrontation between her vampiric self and Arthur, they stake her heart, behead her, and fill the mouth with garlic.
Around the same time, Jonathan Harker arrives home from recuperation in Budapest (where Mina joined and married him after his escape from the castle); he and Mina also join the coalition, who turn their attentions to dealing with Dracula.
After Dracula learns of Van Helsing and the others' plot against him, he takes revenge by visiting — and biting — Mina at least three times. Dracula also feeds Mina his blood, creating a spiritual bond between them to control her. The only way to forestall this is to kill Dracula first. Mina slowly succumbs to the blood of the vampire that flows through her veins, switching back and forth from a state of consciousness to a state of semi-trance during which she is telepathically connected with Dracula. It is this connection that they start to use to deduce Dracula's movements. It is only possible to detect Dracula's surroundings when Mina is put under hypnosis by Van Helsing. This ability gradually gets weaker as the group makes their way to Dracula's castle.
Dracula flees back to his castle in Transylvania, followed by Van Helsing's group, who manage to track him down just before sundown and destroy him by shearing "through the throat" and stabbing him in the heart with a Bowie knife. Dracula crumbles to dust, his spell is lifted and Mina is freed from the marks. Quincey Morris is killed in the final battle, stabbed by Gypsies who had been charged with returning Dracula to his castle; the survivors return to England.
The book closes with a note about Mina's and Jonathan's married life and the birth of their first-born son, whom they name Quincey in remembrance of their American friend.
Before writing Dracula, Stoker spent seven years researching European folklore and stories of vampires, being most influenced by Emily Gerard's 1885 essay "Transylvania Superstitions", and an evening spent talking about Balkan superstitions with Arminius Vambery. Though the most famous vampire novel ever, Dracula was not the first. It was preceded and partly inspired by Sheridan Le Fanu's 1871 "Carmilla", about a lesbian vampire who preys on a lonely young woman. The image of a vampire portrayed as an aristocratic man, like the character of Dracula, was created by John Polidori in "The Vampyre" (1819), during the summer spent with Frankenstein creator Mary Shelley and other friends in 1816. The Lyceum Theatre, where Stoker worked between 1878 and 1898, was headed by the tyrannical actor-manager Henry Irving, who was Stoker's real-life inspiration for Dracula's mannerisms and who Stoker hoped would play Dracula in a stage version. Although Irving never did agree to do a stage version, Dracula's dramatic sweeping gestures and gentlemanly mannerisms drew their living embodiment from Irving.
The Dead Un-Dead was one of Stoker's original titles for Dracula, and up until a few weeks before publication, the manuscript was titled simply The Un-Dead. The name of Stoker's count was originally going to be Count Vampyre, but while doing research, Stoker became intrigued by the word dracul. Dracula is derived from the word draco in the Megleno-Romanian language, meaning devil (originally dragon). There was also a historic figure known as Vlad III Dracula, but whether Stoker based his character on him remains debated and is now considered unlikely.
The novel has been in the public domain in the United States since its original publication because Stoker failed to follow proper copyright procedure. In England and other countries following the Berne Convention on copyrights, however, the novel was under copyright until April 1962, fifty years after Stoker's death. When the unauthorized film adaptation was released in 1922, the popularity of the novel increased considerably, owing to the controversy caused when Stoker's widow tried to have the film banned.
According to literary historians Nina Auerbach and David Skal in the Norton Critical Edition, the novel has become more significant for modern readers than it was for contemporary Victorian readers, most of whom enjoyed it just as a good adventure story; it only reached its broad iconic legendary classic status later in the 20th century when the movie versions appeared. However some Victorian fans were ahead of the time, describing it as "the sensation of the season" and "the most blood-curdling novel of the paralysed century". The Daily Mail review of June 1, 1897 proclaimed it a classic of Gothic horror:
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 Bram Stoker's fictional Dracula attracted popular attention. During his main reign (1456–1462), "Vlad the Impaler" is said to have killed from 20,000 to 40,000 European civilians (political rivals, criminals, and anyone else he considered "useless to humanity"), mainly by using his favourite method of impaling them on a sharp pole. The main sources dealing with these events are records by Saxon settlers in neighboring Transylvania, who had frequent clashes with Vlad III. Vlad III is revered as a folk hero by Romanians for driving off the invading Turks. His impaled victims are said to have included as many as 100,000 Turkish Muslims.
Historically, the name "Dracul" is 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. From 1431 onward, Vlad II wore the emblem of the order and later, as ruler of Wallachia, his coinage bore the dragon symbol. The name Dracula means "Son of Dracul".
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 nickname. 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. Yet Stoker includes no details about Vlad III's reign and does not mention his use of impalement. Given Stoker's use of historical background to make his novel more horrific, it seems unlikely he would have failed to mention that his villain had impaled thousands of people. It seems that Stoker either did not know much about the historic Vlad III, or did not intend his character Dracula to be the same person as Vlad III.
The Dracula legend as he created it and as it has been portrayed in films and television shows 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. Bathory is known to have tortured and killed anywhere between 36 and 700 young women over a period of many years, and it was commonly believed that she committed these crimes in order to bathe in or drink their blood, believing that this preserved her youth. No credible evidence of blood-drinking or other blood crimes in the Bathory case has ever been found, however the stories and influence may explain why Dracula appeared younger after feeding.
Some have claimed the castle of Count Dracula was inspired by Slains Castle, at which Bram Stoker was a guest of the 19th Earl of Erroll. However, since as Stoker visited the castle in 1895—five years after work on Dracula had begun—there is unlikely to be much connection. Many of the scenes in Whitby and London are based on real places that Stoker frequently visited, although in some cases he distorts the geography for the sake of the story.
It has been suggested that Stoker received much historical information from Ármin Vámbéry, a Hungarian professor he met at least twice. Miller argues that "there is nothing to indicate that the conversation included Vlad, vampires, or even Transylvania" and that, "furthermore, there is no record of any other correspondence between Stoker and Vámbéry, nor is Vámbéry mentioned in Stoker's notes for Dracula.
Although some critics find the novel somewhat crude and sensational, it nevertheless retains its psychological power, and the sexual longings underlying the vampire attacks are manifest. As one critic wrote:
Dracula may be viewed as a novel about the struggle between tradition and modernity at the fin de siècle. Throughout, there are various references to changing gender roles; Mina Harker can be seen as a thoroughly modern woman, using such modern technologies as the typewriter. She also displays some characteristics of the New Woman through her rejection of deference to male superiority and her economic independence. However, Mina still embodies a traditional gender role, as seen in her feminine and maternal nature and her occupation as an assistant schoolmistress.
Stoker's novel deals in general with the conflict between the world of the past — full of folklore, legend, and religious piety — and the emerging modern world of technology, positivism, and secularism.
Van Helsing epitomizes this struggle because he uses, at the time, extremely modern technologies like blood transfusions; but he is not so modern as to eschew the idea that a demonic being could be causing Lucy's illness: he spreads garlic around the sashes and doors of her room and makes her wear a garlic flower necklace. After Lucy's death, he receives an indulgence from a Catholic cleric to use the Eucharist (held by the Church to be trans-substantiated into the body and blood of Jesus) in his fight against Dracula. In trying to bridge the rational/superstitious conflict within the story, he cites new sciences, such as hypnotism, that were only recently considered magical. He also quotes (without attribution) the American psychologist William James, whose writings on the power of belief become the only way to deal with this conflict.
No character in the novel advocates a rejection of science in favour of either religion or superstition. Van Helsing receives the admiration of the other characters and succeeds in defeating Dracula by dint of a combination of encyclopedic knowledge and "open-mindedness." Late in the novel, as Dr. Seward comes to embrace Van Helsing's open-mindedness, he writes, "In an age when the existence of ptomaines is a mystery we should not wonder at anything!" For the characters, and presumably for the author, science opens the possibility of shockingly unfamiliar phenomena. If the novel sounds a cautionary note, it merely warns against the presumption that established science as yet offers a complete world-view. Within Stoker's fictional universe, (correct) superstitious beliefs have an empirical basis and promise to yield to scientific inquiry.
Jonathan Harker's character displays the problems of dwelling in a strictly rational modern world. Visiting Count Dracula in Eastern Europe, Jonathan scoffs at the peasants who tell him to delay his visit until after Saint George's feast day. As a solicitor, Jonathan is concerned “with facts — bare meagre facts, verified by books and figures, and of which there can be no doubt”. All of Jonathan’s rationality weakens him to what he witnesses at Castle Dracula. For example, the first time Jonathan witnesses Dracula crawling down the face of the castle headfirst, he is in complete disbelief. Not believing what he sees, he attempts to explain what he saw as a trick of the moonlight.
The characters of Dracula use modern technology and rationalism to defeat the Count. For example, during their pursuit of the vampire, they use railroads and steamships, not to mention the telegraph (and a telephone is even used on their behalf at one point), to keep a step ahead of him (in contrast, Dracula escapes in a sailing ship). Van Helsing uses hypnotism to pinpoint Dracula's location. Mina even employs criminology to anticipate Dracula's actions and cites both Cesare Lombroso and Max Nordau, who at that time were considered experts in this field.
A number of scholars have noted the theme of a 'barbarian' prince attempting to usurp British society as being an example of the invasion literature which was popular at the time. Author Kim Newman characterized Dracula as being the story of "a one-man invasion" and drew attention to Van Helsing's claim that Dracula's goal was to become "the father or furthurer of a new order of beings, whose road must lead through Death, not Life".
The character of Count Dracula has remained popular over the years, and many films have used the character as a villain, while others have named him in their titles, such as Dracula's Daughter, Brides of Dracula, and Zoltan, Hound of Dracula. An estimated 160 films (as of 2004) feature Dracula in a major role, a number second only to Sherlock Holmes. The number of films that include a reference to Dracula may reach as high as 649, according to the Internet Movie Database.
Most adaptations do not include all the major characters from the novel. The Count is always present, and Jonathan and Mina Harker, Dr. Seward, Dr. Van Helsing, and Renfield usually appear as well. The characters of Mina and Lucy are often combined into a single female role. Jonathan Harker and Renfield are also sometimes reversed or combined. Quincey Morris and Arthur Holmwood are usually omitted entirely.
Dracula's Guest follows an unnamed Englishman traveller (whom most readers identify as Jonathan Harker, assuming it is the same character from the novel) as he wanders around Munich before leaving for Transylvania. It is Walpurgis Night, and in spite of the coachman's warnings, the young Englishman foolishly leaves his hotel and wanders through a dense forest alone. Along the way he feels he is being watched by a tall and thin stranger (possibly Count Dracula).
The short story climaxes in an old graveyard, where in a marble tomb (with a large iron stake driven into it), he encounters the ghost of a female vampire called Countess Dolingen. The spirit of this malevolent and beautiful vampire awakens from her marble bier to conjure a snowstorm before being struck by lightning and returning to her eternal prison. Harker's troubles are not quite over, as a wolf then emerges through the blizzard and attacks him. However, the wolf merely keeps him warm and alive until help arrives.
When Harker is finally taken back to his hotel, a telegram awaits him from his expectant host Dracula, with a warning about "dangers from snow and wolves and night".
Ian Holt and Alexander Galant have completed the screenplay based on the official sequel novel. Dacre Stoker and Alexander Galant are both Canadians, though Dacre now lives in the US.