Dracula by Bram Stoker

Review by Rose.

A very sick little Irish boy, born in Dublin in 1847, couldn’t run and play like other children, until he was seven years of age, he was bedridden. His mother, who was gifted with an imaginative mind, would sit at his bedside telling him fantastical tales, ones that would linger in his mind through young adulthood and beyond. Due to a long illness and his inability to walk and run and take part in normal childhood activities, this little boy imagined that other children did not. He naturally thought more deeply due to health problems. He would grow up to create one of the most celebrated gothic horror figures in literature. His name was Bram Stoker.

Published in 1897, Dracula is about the most legendary, savage and tormented character ever created in gothic fiction. The novel is an intensely visual piece of writing; consequently, it translates well to film and even ballet. Last year I saw the Northern Ballet’s production of Dracula, a fierce unrestrained production, directed expertly by David Nixon OBE. The BBC also produced a recent adaptation of Dracula, crafted by Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat. Dracula remains firmly ingrained in the public’s imagination, his story like the brashest cymbal crash, echoing through time. He is a character that enthrals artistic auteurs, writers, choreographers, who artistically re-construct parts of his personality and physical appearance, enabling him to stylishly fit into every new decade.

His story has a mesmerising effect on readers, he epitomises excitement, fear, tragedy and mystery. Bram Stoker’s story is enthused with eroticism and was undoubtedly influenced by the sexual repression and hypocrisy of the Victorian Age. Mina, the intelligent and dedicated female, is portrayed as the archetypal female of that age, she is considered pure, a woman that accepts her role in society. Her personality is acutely juxtaposed by the three vampire seductresses, depicted as sexually ferocious.

Another principal theme in Dracula is the concept of ‘living for centuries,’ an idea that has enthralled the imagination of human beings for generations. At this very moment, researchers are investigating ways to extend human life, with corporations like Calico, announcing their explorations into human longevity. Aubrey de Grey, a biomedical gerontologist, working for the SENS Research Foundation, who incidentally looks like he would fit quite contentedly in a castle in the Carpathian Mountains, has proclaimed that human beings in the future will be able to live for a thousand years. De Grey would not laugh if you mentioned the idea of a man living centuries, though relying on the blood of other human beings to prolong life, would undoubtedly fail. He argues that humans should not simply accept their present lifespan, that the future offers the possibility of an enhanced existence. What, one wonders, would a centuries-old human be like? What price would longevity cost? Would this gift of life through science be obtainable equally to the poor and wealthy? Would everyone want it?

Dracula was influenced by the scientific discoveries of the Victorian era, a time of early scientific exploration, where blood was believed to have curative properties. At that time, harrowing diseases like syphilis devastated lives. Stoker was acutely aware of the destruction of diseases, and premature death and was keenly interested in medical advances: the little boy who was bedridden for the first seven years of his life created a character that would prevail. Stoker’s fictional invention, beguiling so many readers over the years, has seen the century's old Count Dracula live for another century to the present day. Francis Ford Coppola said that he could see ‘the power Dracula had over an audience’ when he read the story at seventeen years old: an experience he would never forget. I believe Dracula will influence peoples’ imaginations in another hundred years’ time. Who knows how long people will be living by then?

Dracula’s story begins from the viewpoint of young naïve, career orientated Jonathan Harker. Stoker’s use of a personal diary to introduce us to Dracula and his land, in Transylvania, is a ingenious device. The diary cunningly permits the reader an intimacy with Harker, a feeling of familiarity, that allows the reader to feel his vulnerability when he finds himself a prisoner in the castle, at an elevated scale.

Through Harker’s diary we are rapidly introduced to the turbulent Carpathian Mountains and the four districts of Transylvania, including the nationalities of the people that live there. Harker informs us that he is travelling North, where people have said they descended from Attila and the Huns. We are instantly immersed in tribal territories and given the name of one of the most dreaded leaders of the Western worlds, Attila. In just a few structured sentences, Stoker sets the reader up for the horrors about to happen. Harker is entering territory that has a violent historical past associated with it, it’s a place of power and conquerors, and bloody revolts, Stoker wants us to feel the power of the land and people.

The castle of Dracula cannot be found on any of Harker’s maps, as none show its presence. This tells us the reader that the place is isolated, and, in a wilderness, far away from other people. Harker is entering a world different from anything he has ever known in his young life. He seems ill prepared for his destination. Harker is the perfect representation of Victorian British society, of the middle classes, a solicitor’s clerk, who has just passed his examinations to become solicitor, a well-mannered young man who submits to his employer’s authority, expecting to progress his position, by taking on this long hazardous journey. He obeys people in higher social classes and seems in awe of people in more elite positions. He is not the wealthy elite, entitled to live a life of pleasure, he must earn a living, and he wants to progress, to marry and have a family. His aspirations fit perfectly into society and what is expected by his family. The author, Stoker, soon plunges his socially moral inexperienced character into the depths of immorality, decadence and murder.

Mysticism, superstition, religion and the Victorian fear of foreigners

Mysticism, superstition and religion are strong themes and ingrained in the culture of the people living in Transylvania. Harker himself a church man has been told to regard crucifixes as idolatrous, thus he does not want to accept the gift the woman at the Golden Krone Hotel hands him. This is a place where people are extremely devout and seem hugely superstitious, creating rituals, crossing themselves and using objects that they feel will protect them from evil forces. On the way to the castle, in a carriage, Harker passes people kneeling in piety, obviously praying, and crosses everywhere. Harker can only understand a little of the language, which again, amplifies his weakness, the few words he does understand as he leaves are Satan, witch and hell, not exactly the most innocent words one could hear before visiting a total stranger in a castle. Never, the less, Harker is duty bound. In the Victorian era there were many people who were afraid of foreigners and their cultures and habits, Stoker takes full advantage of this fear by placing Dracula in a place many British people of society will not have visited.

The man-made environment versus the natural environment

The beauty of the natural world is emphasised in Harker’s coach journey towards Count Dracula’s castle. Harker describes the ‘slopes of forest and lofty steeps of the Carpathian Mountains’ he tells us that the sun falls on the mountains and in dazzling colours, deep blue’s and purples. This wondrously multi-coloured and romanticised view of the natural environment he encounters, is possibly the most picturesque description he has ever given of his journey, and he is clearly enthralled by this natural beauty of the land. There are ‘jagged rocks and pointed crags, snowy peaks that rise grandly, weeping birches like silver.’ And finally, a sunset that glowed a cool pink.

In the castle, Dracula makes a clear distinction between the man-made built environment where Harker lives, and mostly works, and the natural landscape. He states that city men could never understand the feelings of the hunter. He directly asserts that living in the Carpathian Mountains, away from an ordered society and urban environment, produces a distinction in personality characteristics and traits. Dracula positions himself as a predator and warrior, a rural hunter. This won’t be the first time that author Stoker through narrative places urban dwellers as feebler in mind and body. City men are also projected in discourse in Dracula, as naïve and easily deceived. Harker is seen as a man that cannot look after himself, once placed in a different natural environment. On his journey to the castle, Harker encounters exceptional beauty and exceptional darkness, when night comes, the entire terrain changes dramatically.

As darkness descends, so does the cold, and the sound of howling wolves, which Dracula can mysteriously control with very little effort. Once darkness arrives, the entire territory changes and Dracula's power is incredibly strong.

The castle set in the countryside, is also a fortress, a place of substantial power, it is mysterious with countless rooms and high towers, sealed doors and secrets. As in Bluebeard’s fairy-tale, Harker is told by Dracula, not to wander into certain parts of the Castle. The castle will become a stronger presence in the novel, as the story continues, it is both prison and its construction that mirrors the Count's control, it’s as much a part of Dracula and his personality.  

Power Relations

Dracula’s social strength is asserted in dialogue through his ancestry that he explains to Harker. We understand that Dracula is a descendent of imperial warriors, a man that has fought in many battles. The castle is luxurious, and prosperity is evident in many of the rooms Harker spends his time in. The castle rooms have exquisite furnishings, gilded decorations and gold. Harker is unnerved by the riches in the castle, admitting they are finer than those he had seen in Hampton park. Wealth, prestige and even intelligence, create a compelling distinction between the strength of the men. Dracula has lived centuries, building up both his knowledge of human beings and the world. Stoker judiciously constructs Dracula’s dominant strength over Harker in power relations, in both social class, wealth and intellect, as well as physical strength. Dracula is imperial, a king in his domain, a nobleman. Thoughout their interaction in dialogue, it's obvious that Harker feels small and insignfiicant in the presence of the Count, he also shows confusion even when he is imprisoned, as he has been taught by society to respect the higher classes. Later in the novel, we see more expressions of social dominance and social weakness, with characters, like the American wealthy businessman, and the working doctor at the asylum, who struggles to attract Lucy. Power relations and power of the social classes in dialogue are recurrently utlised in Dracula. This may demonstrate the huge difference in the social classes that Stoker himself would have seen during his adulthood.

Sexual Repression in the Victorian Age and sexual expression in Dracula

It’s well known that during the Victorian era sexual repression was part of the culture of the time. When Harker is seduced by the three-vampire seductresses in the novel, he has no idea how to handle such aggressive, erotic advances, though he is clearly sexually aroused. In the Victorian era, women were either considered pure and ladies, expected to follow their husband’s rules. Though there were exceptions, as there are in every society. Nevertheless, most females were expected to be submissive to the male, considered the head of the family. Women could also be placed in asylums, if they strayed from what was expected, or acted oddly in their marriage, even strength of thought in some families could be viewed as unhealthy. Wives had to show they had not engaged in sexual activity of any kind, or they were labelled ‘wanton’ or ‘whores.’ Mina’s character in the beginning of the novel is very much how one expected a female of that time. Yet, she is intelligent. In the novel Stoker shows the three vampire females as sexually predatory, even animalistic, quite willing to show their sexual power, something that was the reverse of what occurred in Victorian Society. Yet, the author Stoker also portrays them as blood thirsty vampires, the undead, with no morals, capable of killing the most innocent of all, a human baby. The portrayal of the whore versus the angel, is typical of the way women were regarded at that time.

Van Helsing later praises Mina for her purity, her innocence, her noble nature and kindness, emphasisisng how she represents all that is good, thus she must be saved from evil.

The Victorian's were also considered hypocrites, while pretending to be one thing in society and social situations, it's said that sexual activities were going on behind the facade of politeness and purity. Some have even argued that the Victorian's were more open than one thinks, if one analsyses the books of the time and the discussions that went on in the Victorian era. It could be said that the idea of the 'way Victorian's were' has been created through discourse and passed through the ages, but may not be as simplistic as first thought.

Many people have remarked on the theme of homosexuality in Dracula, certainly scenes with Harker and the vampires, when Dracula enters and tells the women ‘he is mine’ appear to allude to homosexuality and bisexuality in the novel. Dracula feeds off anyone and asserts his dominance over both sexes. The sucking of blood from his victims, could itself be considered an imtimate sexual activity, it involves close intimacy with the victim and often victims become helpless under the spell of the count.

Disease and Mortality in the Victorian Era

Syphilis was one of the most devastating diseases in the Victorian era, it’s well known that men would sometimes pass this onto their wives, and some doctors would even lie about the nature of the illness, their husbands had, in order to preserve the family’s name. Some men would also frequent brothels and see prostitutes, outside of the marriage. Stoker is also said to have been aware of the Cholera epidemic in Ireland, as his mother told Stoker about this catastrophe. Stoker created a character that could withstand all the disease that was prevalent in the historical time Stoker lived. Stoker also saw many people become sick and die at younger ages exhibiting sometimes, horrific symptoms. The theme of disease is prominent in Dracula, in the way that Dracula takes blood, and moves from one person to the next, causing something like a plague, each of his victims destoyed on the ship. One victim taking another and another. Stoker invented a character that could ultimately survive all disease, yet also pass disease on to one person after another. It's possible that Stoker was acutely aware of his impermanence in the time that he lived. He was a member of the psychical society that investigated life after death, so mortality was definitly an pre-occupation in Stokers mind, due to the time that he lived. Also investigations into paranormal activity were a great part of the Victorian era. This search for proof that lives goes on after death, enabling human beings to feel that if they did die shortly they would be able to exist in another way, gave people some relief from the trauma of watching others die early, and knowing their own lives may not last long. In those days, it was not unusual for families to have the dead close to them, to create photographs of dead loved ones, so death was very much in a person's life. In the modern world people do not spend time with dead relatives and if one looks at the way the dead were treated in the Victorian era, one can imagine it was a great part of their lives, not something to be hidden or locked away. Though this will have affected people psychologically.

Scientific Invention

Stoker was very interested in scientific inventions, particularly medical invention and the progress of medical science, his brother, Thornley, was an eminent surgeon. Stoker made notes of his brother’s notes on brain surgery in Dracula. In the Victorian era blood was seen to have almost magical qualities. He was also interested in psychical research and one wonders if Stoker spent a great deal of time, thinking of ways that science would advance in the future and create a person that could indeed live for centuries. A person that could escape both disease and death. Blood transfusions were in their very infancy in experimentation at this time, Stoker also showed an interest in hypnotism, Dracula has the ability to persuade others to do things, with a power that appears quite similar to hypnotism, which was also popular at the time. Stoker's interest in medical science is what makes Dracula interesting, even now scientists are investigating longevity and how to create human beings that can last hundred's of years. Of course if this happened, study years would be much longer, working years would be longer, if you were in a job that you enjoyed than that might look wonderful. But many people are not in that position. Western develped countries are very much capitlist, and therefore one wonders how much these companies would charge people for extra years. If only the wealthy were to have a longer life, what kind of society would we have?

Despite this modern concerns, the fact that Stoker created a character that could live hundred's of years, demonstrates that he was interested in longevity and science, possibly he wondered what mankind would be like the future, and if any advances to create a person living longer would actually happen. Those questions that may have been ridiculed in the time he lived, are now discussed with seriousness in science labs.

Dracula's Creation

Dracula is a very manipulative person in the book, he has a supreme ego and is aware of his own power, wealth, prestige and uses it. Throughout Harker's stay at the castle, Dracula continues to be polite, while blackmailing Harker and imprisoning him. The three women in his castle follow his orders, they are controlled by Dracula and their to admire him and do his bidding. Though scholars have cited Vlad the Impaler from the 15th Century as a clear influence on Dracula's creation, others have rightly pointed out that Henry Irving was also most likely a strong influence in the construction of Dracula's personality. Stoker from a young age worshipped Irving, one could even call it an obsession. He was attached to Irving in a very strong way. But Irving by all acounts, though considered a great actor could have narcisstic traits, it's said by some that he expecting his admirers to fight amongst themselves for his attention. He would favour some and not others. Stoker was Irving's manager for many years, and devoted himself to the man and his theatrical work, but when Stoker showed him his manuscript of Dracula, Irving said it was terrible. Possibly, this could have been jealously, as Irving had always been the great star between the two men, he saw himself as above Stoker. The way their relationship worked was simply that Irving was the man with all the talent, Stoker as manager although useful was not the talented one. While this was the case, their relationship worked. However, if Stoker created something of notable value, it would change the power relations between the two men. Irving may not have liked the fact that Stoker could create something that surpassed his work as an actor. Some have said that Irving may have recognised himself in the book. Though personally I feel it may have been a threat to the balance of power in their relationship. Stoker was described as amiable, thoughtful and a hard worker. Irving could be less than amiable. Some have expressed that the relationship and friendship between Stoker and Irving was possibly the most dominent powerful relationship in Stoker's life. The most important thing about the working and friendship part of their relationship, is that Irving's personality helped Stoker create 'Dracula' thus one can only see this as a benefit.


Romance was a great part of Gothic literature, romance is clearly evident in the exhange of affection between Harker and Mina, in their letters and regard for each other and expressions of a deep love. They write with a sense of romance and depth of feeling that would not be present in the modern world, though this expression of affection and love is a wonderful part of the novel. The sea, ships, castles and wolves all add to the romantic landscape of the novel. The topography of Dracula, is in itself hugely romantic, it creates a wonderful atmosphere in the novel. Stoker spent time at Whitby, by the church, watching the ships come in. If anyone has visited Whitby, they can see the setting itself is romantically atmospheric. Dracula at its heart is a love story. Dracula himself desires love.