Between 1879 and 1898, Stoker was a business manager for the Lyceum Theatre in London, where he supplemented his income by writing a large number of sensational novels, his most successful 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 was very familiar by 1897 to readers of fantastic adventure stories, of an invasion of England by continental European influences. Victorian readers enjoyed Dracula as a good adventure story like many others, but it did not reach its 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" which includes content about a vampire myth. Some historians are convinced that a historic figure, Vlad III Dracula, often called Vlad the Impaler, was the model for Stoker's Count although there is no supporting evidence. Stoker borrowed only "scraps of miscellaneous information", according to one expert, about this bloodthirsty tyrant of Wallachia and there are no comments about him in Stoker's working notes. Dracula scholar Elizabeth Miller has remarked that aside from the name and some mention of Romanian history, the background of Stoker's Count bears no resemblance to that of Vlad III Dracula. From 1890 to 1897 Stoker was a member of the London Library, where markings in Sabine Baring-Gould’s “Book of Were-Wolves”, Thomas Browne’s “Pseudodoxica Epidemica”, AF Crosse’s “Round About the Carpathians” and Charles Boner’s “Transylvania” are attributed to Stoker's research for Dracula.
Later he also claimed that he had a nightmare, caused by eating too much crab meat, about a "vampire king" rising from his grave.
Although it is a widely known vampire novel, Dracula was not the first. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe published The Bride of Corinth in 1797. ("From my grave to wander I am forc’d Still to seek The God’s long-sever’d link, Still to love the bridegroom I have lost, And the life-blood of his heart to drink;) Later Sheridan Le Fanu's 1871 Carmilla, about a lesbian vampire could have inspired Bram Stoker's Dracula, or Varney the Vampire, a lengthy penny dreadful serial from the mid-Victorian period by James Malcolm Rymer. John Polidori created the image of a vampire portrayed as an aristocratic man, like the character of Dracula, in his tale "The Vampyre" (1819). (He wrote Vampyre during a summer which he spent with Frankenstein creator Mary Shelley, her husband poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Lord Byron in 1816.)
The Lyceum Theatre where Stoker worked between 1878 and 1898 was headed by 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. Irving never did agree to do a stage version, but 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 the manuscript was entitled simply The Un-Dead up until a few weeks before publication. Stoker's notes for Dracula show that the name of the count was originally "Count Wampyr", but Stoker became intrigued by the name "Dracula" while doing research, after reading William Wilkinson's book An 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 Old Romanian language, the word dracul (Romanian drac "dragon" + -ul "the") meant "the dragon" and Dracula meant "son of the dragon". In the present day however, dracul means "the devil".