Bram (Abraham) Stoker was born November 8, 1847, in Dublin, Ireland. At Trinity College, Dublin, he excelled as an athlete, having overcome a childhood illness which made him unable to walk or even stand. He entered civil service, as had his father, at Dublin Castle. He also worked as drama critic for a Dublin newspaper, and in the course of his job met the actor Sir Henry Irving, a man he greatly admired. He became the actor’s manager, a position he held for 27 years.
Dracula has appealed to readers for almost a century, at least in part because it deals with one of the great human conflicts: the struggle between good and evil. Stoker acknowledges the complexity of this conflict by showing good characters attracted to evil. For example, Jonathan Harker, the lawyer who journeys to Transylvania, is almost attacked at Dracula’s castle by three young female vampires. In fact, he seems to be actually welcoming the attack before it is interrupted by the count. In this scene, as well as others, Stoker suggests that evil, represented by the vampires, is an almost irresistible force which requires great spiritual strength to overcome. It eventually takes the combined forces of a band of men, representing different countries, to defeat the vampiric count. Stoker’s novel is a symbolic exploration of a conflict which has long troubled humankind.
Stoker uses a circular structure for his novel, incorporating two settings. Transylvania is the setting for the beginning and end of the novel, and, since he had never been there, Stoker had to rely on research for his description of the country and its people. The rest of the novel takes place in England, a setting familiar to Stoker and his audience.
Stoker explores the conflict of good and evil throughout the novel and does not allow good to triumph until the last few pages. In the meantime, all of the characters are drawn into the conflict and divided into two camps: the good forces led by Dr. Abraham Van Helsing and the evil forces by Count Dracula.
Paradoxically, Dracula has been judged both a failure and a masterpiece. To most modern readers the novel seems uneven, containing passages filled with suspense and others which are uneventful and slow. The most effective section of the novel is the beginning, describing Jonathan Harker’s trip to Transylvania, his stay with Count Dracula, and his growing suspicion of his host.
While Dracula’s subject matter is disturbing, young readers today are unlikely to find the novel extremely frightening and may miss its sexual elements altogether. Depictions of violence in movies and television have produced a great difference between modern readers and Stoker’s original Victorian audience. The suspense and terror which mark Dracula’s finest passages depend on the reader’s imagination rather than graphic descriptions.
1. Like most horror stories, Dracula is about the struggle between good and evil. What are some of the symbols of good and evil in the novel?
1. Compare Dracula with its film adaptation or with later vampire literature. How are these later works influenced by the novel?
Numerous films of Dracula have appeared, most of which make little attempt to follow the plot of the novel. The first film version was the German Nosferatu, a silent film made in 1922. Because it was an unauthorized adaptation, its director, F. W. Murnau, changed the setting and the characters’ names, but the plot is largely unchanged.