Dracula, by Abraham Stoker—who generally published under the abbreviated first name Bram—was first published in Great Britain in 1897. Although myths and legends about vampires had existed since ancient times, Stoker's novel synthesized much of this lore and gave it a palpable feeling in the character of Count Dracula. In fact, the character of Dracula has since become so popular that many people who were first exposed to the famous vampire through film or television do not even know who Stoker is. While films, most notably the 1931 film Dracula, starring Bela Lugosi, have overshadowed the book, they have also helped to keep the story alive. In the last half of the twentieth century, the onslaught of Dracula films has added even more mystery to the legend of Count Dracula.
Stoker's inspirations for Count Dracula are heavily debated. However, most critics agree that Dracula was based in part on a historical figure, Vlad the Impaler, a fifteenth-century Romanian ruler known for his indiscriminate brutality, which included a taste for impaling people alive on wooden spikes and watching them die in slow agony. Other inspirations suggested by scholars include John Polidori's story "The Vampyre" (1819), Sheridan Le Fanu's novella Carmilla (1872), and Emily Gerard's Transylvanian travel book The Land beyond the Forest: Facts, Figures, and Fancies from Transylvania, which was published in the late 1880s, right before Stoker wrote his novel. However, while these and other sources have been named as potential inspirations, most modern critics agree that Stoker put his own spin on the vampire myth. In fact, Stoker worked longer and harder on this novel than any of his other works, taking seven years to research and write Dracula.
While the character of Count Dracula was important for establishing the conventions of what would become an entire genre of horror tales, the book's plot was also very timely. In their exposure to Dracula and their attempts to catch him and destroy him, the various vampire hunters underscore the Victorian attitudes that were present at this time. The Victorian Age took place in England during the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901). Victorian moral and religious beliefs included the expected roles of men and women. This is most notable in the book's discussion of sexual matters, which are portrayed in both literal and symbolic ways. The student who wishes to dig deep into the historical and cultural context of the novel should check out The Annotated Dracula (1975), by Leonard Wolf. This edition, which is currently out of print, is available in many libraries. The edition includes extensive footnotes to the text, as well as maps, photographs, and captivating illustrations that underscore the Gothic aspects of the novel.