Dracula is an epistolary novel, meaning that is composed from letters, journal and diary entries, telegrams, and newspaper clippings. Jonathan Harker, Mina Murray (later Mina Harker), and Dr. Seward write the largest contributions to the novelalthough the writings of Lucy Westenra and Abraham Van Helsing constitute some key parts of the book. The novel is meant to have a slightly journalistic feel, as it is a harrowing account supposedly written by the people who witnessed the book's events.
A young Englishman named Jonathan Harker travels through Transylvania on a business trip. He is there to aid Count Dracula, a Transylvanian nobleman, in buying an English estate. His journey into the remote Eastern European landscape is fearsome, although initially he is charmed by the Count's generosity and intelligence. Gradually, he comes to realize that he is a prisoner in Dracula's castle, and that the Count is a demonic being who plans to prey on the teeming masses of London. Dracula leaves him to die at the hands of three female vampires, but Jonathan attempts a desperate escape. . .
Meanwhile, in England, Jonathan's fiancée Mina visits her best friend, Lucy Westenra. Lucy has recently been proposed to by three menArthur Holmwood, Dr. Seward, and Quincey Morris. She chooses Arthur to be her happy fiancé. Mina and Lucy vacation together at Whitby, a quaint seaside town. While they are there, a Russian vessel is shipwrecked. A large dog leaps from the wreck and runs away. All of its crew are missing save one dead captain. The ship was carrying fifty boxes of earth from Dracula's castle. Despite the wreck, the boxes are delivered as ordered. Lucy begins to exhibit strange behavior: she sleepwalks often, and she seems to be growing paler and weaker. Eerie things happenone night, Mina finds her unconscious in the cemetery, as a figure with glowing eyes bends over her. The figure disappears as Mina comes closer, but night after night strange events continue and Lucy grows thinner and paler with each passing day.
Word comes from Budapest that Jonathan has been found, sick with brain fever. He can remember nothing of his travels in Transylvania. Mina goes to nurse him back to health and to help him make the trip back to England. When she arrives, they marry immediately. He gives her his diary but is afraid to read it; she seals the diary and promises that she will never read it unless it is for his sake.
Back in England, Lucy has returned to her home in London. Arthur, fearful for her health, asks Dr. Seward to try to figure out what is wrong with her. Seward is baffled by her illness, and calls in the aid of his old mentor, the brilliant Professor Abraham Van Helsing. Van Helsing seems to know from the beginning what he might be up against. He tries to use various charms, as well as constant blood transfusions, to keep Lucy alive. Again and again, his attempts are thwarted by a mixture of Dracula's cunning and bad luck. Lucy's mother is killed by a heart attack during one of Dracula's more dramatic plots to get to Lucy, and Lucy dies a few days later. Arthur's father dies at about this time. Van Helsing takes possession of Lucy's diary and correspondence, which lead him to make contact with Mina Harker.
Meanwhile, the Harkers have returned to England. Peter Hawkins, Jonathan's boss, dies suddenlyleaving the Harkers a considerable fortune. One day while they are in London, Jonathan actually sees the Countwho has been restored to his youth by his feedingand although Jonathan cannot really remember things clearly, he has a nervous attack and falls unconscious. When he comes to, he cannot remember what upset him. Disturbed by this behavior, Mina decides to read the journal. The contents of the journal baffle her, and she wonders if her husband was already in the throes of brain fever. When Van Helsing comes to visit her to ask questions about Lucy, Mina is so impressed by the man that she gives him Jonathan's journal. It provides the missing link for Van Helsing, who now knows how the vampire came to England.
Mysterious attacks against children have begun in the area where Lucy was buried. Van Helsing shows Seward, Quincey, and Arthur that the cause is Lucy, who is now one of the undead. Arthur is the one who gives his fiancée peace by staking her through the heart. The four men pledge to destroy Dracula next.
Mina and Jonathan join with the men, and using the asylum of Dr. Seward as their headquarters, they plan to destroy Dracula for good. The fifty boxes, now scattered in and around London, are the key. The boxes are full of earth made sacred by Dracula's family, and he cannot survive unless he sleeps in them for at least part of the day. The men begin to hunt down the boxes' whereabouts. But Renfield, one of Dr. Seward's patients, works as Dracula's henchman, and with his aid the vampire is able to feed on Mina in secret. By the time the men learn what is going on, they are too late: they burst into the room one night to find Jonathan unconscious and Mina being forced to drink blood from Dracula's chest. Now, after enough time has passed she will become one of the undeadunless they can destroy Dracula first.
They set to work, sterilizing (with holy wafer) all but one of the boxes in one day. Dracula, in the last box, flees back to Transylvania to rest and regroup for another attack. The band of friends tracks him down, splitting up so that Van Helsing and Mina will go to purge the castle while the four young men track the last box. Van Helsing and Mina succeed, killing the three female vampires and using holy wafer to render the castle uninhabitable for the undead. They then regroup with the others, and all together they surround the gypsies who are transporting Dracula in his coffin. During the struggle against the gypsies, Quincey receives a mortal wound. Jonathan and Quincey deliver the killing blows to Dracula just as the sun is setting.