Dracula Study Guide

The first edition of Dracula was published in June 1897. As late as May of that year, Stoker was still using his original working title for the novel, The Un-Dead. "Undead," a word now commonly used in horror novels and movies, was a term invented by Stoker. Dracula was his most famous novel, instantly a bestseller and perhaps the most famous horror novel ever. It has been made and re-made in film adaptations, been reprinted numerous times, and has continued to sell copies for a hundred years.

Although earlier novels about vampires had been published in England, Stoker's depiction of the vampire has had perhaps the strongest hold on the popular imagination. Stories of vampires or vampire-like creatures exist in all cultures: from China to India to the Incan Empire, variations of the vampire have populated diverse peoples' nightmares and folklore. Stoker researched Eastern European legends, which offer widely varied tales about supernatural monsters. In Eastern European lore, there is not one kind of vampire but many, and "vampire" is not so distinct a category from "demon" or even "witch" as it has become in modern horror movies. Stoker chose freely from among the legends about various Eastern European demons, some of them bloodsucking, and came up with a suitable interpretation of the vampire for his novel.

He also studied Eastern European history. In the prince of Wallachia, Vlad Tepes, or Dracula ("Son of Dracul"), Bram Stoker found inspiration for his tale of an undead nobleman. Vlad Tepes ("Vlad the Impaler") was a fifteenth Christian nobleman who fought against the Turks. He was a defender of his country and his religion, winning the Pope's praise for his campaigns against the Moslems. The times were full of fear for Christendom?Constantinople, the Rome of the East, had just fallen to the ever-expanding Turks. Vlad was also legendary for his cruelty, to Moslem and Christian enemies alike. He was famous for his love of impaling his victims, a method of execution in which it often took days for the condemned to die. After one battle, thousands of Turkish soldiers were impaled at Vlad's command. After Vlad's death, legends about him continued to multiply. Stoker drew on Vlad's legend for the creation of the vampire Dracula.

Stoker was deeply concerned with sexual morality. Although his novel is full of racy subtext?possibly far more subtext than the author intended?his own views regarding sex and morality were in many ways quite conservative. He favored censoring novels for their sexual content?he considered racy literature dangerous for the ways that it nurtured man's darker sexual tendencies. Although Dracula has many scenes that seem to revel in sexual language and sensual description, these pleasures are sublimated to a Victorian and Christian sense of morality. Sexual energy, in Stoker's view, has great potential for evil, but part of the novel's trick is that Stoker is allowed to have his cake and eat it, too. In writing a novel that implicitly conflates sin with sexuality in a moralizing way, Stoker is also given free reign to write incredibly lurid and sensual scenes. The themes of Christian redemption and the triumph of purity carry the day, but the sexually loaded scenes?that of the three female vampires closing in seductively on a powerless but desiring Jonathan Harker, for example?tend to linger longest in the reader's mind.