Between 1879 and 1898, Stoker was a business manager for the world-famous Lyceum Theatre in London, where he supplemented his income by writing a large number of sensational novels, his most famous being the vampire tale Dracula published on 26 May 1897.:269 Parts of it are set around the town of Whitby, where he spent summer holidays. Throughout the 1880s and 1890s, authors such as H. Rider Haggard, Rudyard Kipling, Robert Louis Stevenson, Arthur Conan Doyle, and H. G. Wells wrote many tales in which fantastic creatures threatened the British Empire. Invasion literature was at a peak, and Stoker's formula of an invasion of England by continental European influences was by 1897 very familiar to readers of fantastic adventure stories. Victorian readers enjoyed it as a good adventure story like many others, but it would not reach its iconic legendary status until later in the 20th century when film versions began to appear.
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". Later he would also claim that he had a nightmare, caused by eating too much crab meat covered with mayonnaise sauce, about a "vampire king" rising from his grave.
Despite being the most widely known vampire novel, 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, and by Varney the Vampire, a lengthy penny dreadful serial from the mid-Victorian period by James Malcolm Rymer. 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, her husband, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron in 1816. The Lyceum Theatre, where Stoker worked between 1878 and 1898, was headed by the 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. Stoker's notes for Dracula show that the name of the count was originally "Count Wampyr", but while doing research, Stoker became intrigued by the name "Dracula", after reading William Wilkinson's book Account of the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia with Political Observations Relative to Them (London 1820), which he found in the Whitby Library, and consulted a number of times during visits to Whitby in the 1890s. The name Dracula was the patronym (Drăculea) of the descendants of Vlad II of Wallachia, who took the name "Dracul" after being invested in the Order of the Dragon in 1431. In the Romanian language, the word dracul (Romanian drac "dragon" + -ul "the") can mean either "the dragon" or, especially in the present day, "the devil".
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 the United Kingdom 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 F. W. Murnau's unauthorized film adaptation Nosferatu 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 removed from public circulation.