Study Guide

Dracula

by Bram Stoker

Dracula Analysis

The Plot (Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Jonathan Harker, an English solicitor, visits Count Dracula in Transylvania. He finds death’s aura and aroma surrounding Dracula. Harker is attacked by three female vampires, who are warded off by Dracula. Harker is his; they are given a baby to feed on. When Harker demands to be released, Dracula obliges, but a pack of wolves surrounds the castle entrance. The next day, Harker awakes, weak and sick, with a wound on his throat. Dracula leaves Harker at the castle as a prisoner.

In England, Harker’s fiancée, Mina Murray, visits her friend, Lucy Westenra, a “New Woman” who plans to marry nobleman Arthur Holmwood. During Mina’s visit, a ship runs aground in Whitby. The only living creature aboard is a gray wolf, which escapes into the countryside.

Lucy begins to sleepwalk. Mina follows her and sees a tall, thin man bending over Lucy in a churchyard. The man disappears when Mina approaches. Lucy grows so ill that Mina is forced to call Dr. Seward, Lucy’s former suitor. While Lucy improves, Mina receives word that Harker, who had been reported missing, has been found near Budapest. Mina goes there and marries Harker.

Lucy’s condition worsens, and Seward calls Dr. Van Helsing from Amsterdam. Van Helsing notices two puncture wounds on Lucy’s throat. Lucy is given transfusions directly from the men, who guard her by night. Seward falls asleep while guarding Lucy and finds her more ill when he awakes. More transfusions ensue, and Van Hel-sing insists that Lucy wear a necklace of garlic every night.

One night, a wolf crashes through the window, the necklace slips off, and Lucy is further victimized. Van Helsing tells Holmwood that Lucy is near death. Holmwood kisses Lucy, who fastens her teeth to his neck. Lucy dies. Several neighborhood children are discovered far from home, alive but with their throats punctured. They say they followed a pretty lady in white.

Harker returns to England. Van Helsing suggests that Lucy is a vampire’s victim. By night, Holmwood, Seward, Van Helsing, and Quincey P. Morris visit Lucy’s tomb and find it empty. At daybreak, Lucy returns, and they drive a stake through her heart, cut off her head, and stuff garlic in her mouth.

Mina is vampirized by Dracula. The men track Dracula in London, but he escapes. By hypnotizing Mina, they learn that Dracula is at sea. They follow him to Castle Dracula. Wolves encircle the men and Mina, who gather safely within a “magic” circle Van Helsing traces. The men overtake the cart carrying Dracula’s coffin. As the sun sets, Harker slashes Dracula’s throat with his Kukri knife and Morris gouges Dracula’s heart with his Bowie knife.

Dracula Form and Content (Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

Dracula takes the form of a series of documents, most of them extracted from diaries and journals, the remainder being letters and a handful of press cuttings. The early chapters, from Jonathan Harker’s journal, record his journey to the Carpathian mountain region of Transylvania and his meeting with Count Dracula, who wishes to purchase the Carfax estate at Purfleet near London. Once the papers are signed, Jonathan finds that he is a prisoner. He discovers that the count has supernatural powers and nearly falls victim to three female vampires, but he manages to escape.

The next few chapters introduce Jonathan’s fiancée, Mina Murray, who is becoming anxious for his safety, and her friend Lucy Westenra, who has received three proposals of marriage: from Dr. John Seward, from his American friend Quincey P. Morris, and from Arthur Holmwood. Seward is the proprietor of a lunatic asylum situated at the edge of the Carfax estate; the earliest entries from his diary inserted into the text concern the eccentric carnivorous activities of a patient named Renfield, who is awaiting the advent of his “Master.”

Mina collects some press cuttings dealing with the arrival of a sinister deserted ship in Whitby, where she and Lucy are staying. Shortly thereafter, Lucy begins to act strangely. She falls ill and must be returned to Dr. Seward’s care. Mina is buoyed up, however, by news from Budapest that Jonathan is alive, although stricken with a “violent brain fever,” and she sets off to bring him home.

Seward, baffled by Lucy’s curious symptoms, asks Professor Abraham van Helsing for help. Van Helsing realizes that Lucy is the victim of a vampire, but he is unable to save her. Mina and Jonathan arrive back in England to find that she appears to be dead. Lucy has actually become a vampire, however, and soon begins a predatory career of her own. Her three suitors must go to her tomb with van Helsing to drive a stake through her heart.

Jonathan’s testimony allows van Helsing to identify the enemy and make plans to thwart him, but they fail to locate all the boxes of earth that Dracula has brought with him to England to serve as his resting places. Dracula diverts his predatory attentions to Mina, while van Helsing uses every device that he can to protect her. Renfield is persuaded to help Seward’s friends, and the search for the remaining boxes continues.

When the Count has only one secure resting place remaining, he takes flight and returns to Transylvania. He is pursued to his lair by van Helsing, Holmwood (now Lord Godalming), and Harker, who have the half-captivated Mina with them. Seward and Quincey Morris follow in their train, delayed by Gypsies who are the Count’s loyal followers. In the end, their superior weapons prevail. Dracula is destroyed by the mortally wounded Quincey Morris, and Mina is saved.

Dracula Places Discussed (Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

*Castle Dracula

*Castle Dracula. Ancestral home of Count Dracula in Transylvania that is visited by the English estate agent Jonathan Harker at the beginning of the novel. The gate of admittance to the unearthly horrors that are to come, Castle Dracula is the catalyst for the forces of evil in the novel and the place where the young solicitor sent to transact business with the count encounters things worse than any death. An avatar for the loneliness of terror, the castle, “from whose tall black windows came no ray of light,” also becomes the setting for one of the most seductive scenes in the novel—Harker’s encounter with the three vampire “sisters.”

Almost everything that happens at Castle Dracula is chilling or unnaturally suspenseful. What seem to be ordinary circumstances gradually begin slipping into the realm of nightmare, and by the time Dracula leaves his home for England, the castle has already worked its spell, setting the stage for the unholy dread that is then unleashed.

Modeled on Prince Vlad Dracula’s real castle (located in Romania), Castle Dracula is eerily like its historical counterpart although the partially restored ruins are actually quite far from Stoker’s conceptualized fortress. It is to Stoker’s credit that Castle Dracula’s haunting spectral form retains its extraordinarily powerful aura both at the novel’s beginning and again at the end.

*Whitby

*Whitby. Picturesque Yorkshire fishing port off the coast of northern England and the setting of Count Dracula’s dramatic arrival in Great Britain. It is here, in fact, that the Russian schooner Demeter runs ashore—its captain dead at the mast—with a horrid account in its log of the crew’s disappearance at the hands of a fiend, and it is here that a few nights later, Mina Murray (Harker’s fiancé) rescues her sleepwalking friend, Lucy Westenra (Dracula’s first victim), in the local churchyard. With its naïve charm symbolically mirroring the girlish innocence of the two young women, Whitby represents the perfect location for the unsuspecting intrusion of evil.

Hillingham

Hillingham. Westenra family mansion in London. This house does not appear to have been modeled on a real location but may be a composite based on Stoker’s own residence at Cheyne Walk. This is the scene of Lucy’s continued agony at the hands of Dracula after she returns home from Whitby, and it is where the reader is first introduced to Professor Van Helsing, the doctor-philosopher-scientist-metaphysician who later becomes the acknowledged leader and mentor of the group in its relentless pursuit of Dracula. Hillingham not only witnesses the pathetic death of Lucy—despite the countless transfusions she is given—but that of her mother as well, who suffers a massive heart attack when the escaped wolf Bersicker comes crashing through their window in a spectacular mise en scène.

Seward’s Insane Asylum

Seward’s Insane Asylum. Private London hospital for the mentally ill and the residence of Dr. John Seward, this institution appears to have been modeled on the London County Lunatic Asylum near Chatham Road. It is a location fraught with dramatic events, which begin when Seward struggles to understand the mysterious but astute lunatic Renfield, a patient seeking to attain a unique kind of immortality by devouring progressively higher forms of life. When Dracula moves next door to Carfax (formerly Lesnes Abbey/Lady Chapel), the estate Harker has procured for him, the asylum becomes an even greater pivotal center of activity; Renfield gradually begins to do the count’s bidding and allows him to attack Mina after she and her new husband Jonathan join their friends’ concerted efforts to destroy Dracula. The asylum also is witness to moments of great personal dilemma as Renfield alternately embraces the vampire’s temptations and then attempts to liberate himself from Dracula’s omnipresent self. His final abjuration of the count comes at a great personal cost, his own violent death, and leads to one of the most dramatic scenes in the novel—the “blood baptism” of Mina and the searing of her now-polluted flesh with the holy wafer.

*Hampstead Heath

*Hampstead Heath. Large, wildly beautiful, and hilly area in north London that is the scene of Lucy’s attacks on local children, who call her the “Bloofer Lady,” after her untimely death.

*Kingstead Churchyard

*Kingstead Churchyard. London churchyard clearly modeled on the famed Highgate Cemetery, whose name Stoker diplomatically changed to avoid legal repercussions. The final resting place of Lucy, it is also the site where Van Helsing proves to Seward that she has become a vampire and where they proceed with her destruction, joined by her fiancé Arthur Holmwood and the Texan Quincey Morris. In an emotionally powerful scene, the grieving but determined friends drive a stake through the heart of the woman they have all loved, bringing her “the calm that was to reign for ever.”

Czarina Catherine

Czarina Catherine. Ship on which Dracula flees England, bound for the port of Varna. After the ship reaches Varna, Dracula forces it up the Danube River and then proceeds to take an overland route back to his castle. An unusual aspect of this location is that Mina, now under Dracula’s telepathic control, is able to report on the ship’s whereabouts through Van Helsing’s hypnotically induced trances, thereby providing the vampire hunters with daily bulletins regarding Dracula’s intended escape route.

*Borgo Pass

*Borgo Pass. Mountain gap in Transylvania near Castle Dracula in which the final dramatic scenes of the novel take place in a series of symbolic tableaux devised to convey the message that good ultimately triumphs over evil. It is here that the men finally track Dracula after purchasing a steamship, horses, and provisions, and it is here that Van Helsing and Mina anxiously wait for them while protecting themselves from Dracula’s “sisters” by means of a sanctified holy circle. From this secure place, Van Helsing later makes his way to the castle and destroys all three, along with Dracula’s lordly tomb, returning to Mina just in time for them to witness the novel’s most intense chase, as the gypsy wagon carrying the count’s sleeping body races against the desperate horsemen attempting to overtake them. The last deft strokes of the narrative conclude with the mortally wounded Morris plunging his bowie knife into Dracula’s heart as Harker cuts his throat. Comparing the surrounding snow to the now stainless forehead of Mina, Morris dies acknowledging that the curse has passed.

When the friends return to this site seven years later, they revisit their terrible memories of Castle Dracula, which “stood as before, reared high above a waste of desolation,” but are nonetheless deeply comforted by the newfound joys that have come into their lives, especially the birth of the Harkers’ little boy, Quincey, the promise of new life.

Dracula Historical Context

Organized Religion in the Victorian Age
The Victorian Age witnessed both a rising and falling in the popularity of...

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Dracula Setting

Stoker uses a circular structure for his novel, incorporating two settings. Transylvania is the setting for the beginning and end of the...

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Dracula Literary Style

Gothic Novel
Dracula is a Gothic novel, which is also sometimes known as a Gothic romance. Many scholars consider...

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Dracula Literary Techniques

Stoker uses a circular structure for his novel, incorporating two settings. Transylvania is the setting for the beginning and end of the...

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Dracula Literary Qualities

Paradoxically, Dracula has been judged both a failure and a masterpiece. To most modern readers the novel seems uneven, containing...

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Dracula Social Concerns

Dracula has appealed to readers for almost a century, at least in part because it deals with one of the great human conflicts: the struggle...

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Dracula Ideas for Group Discussions

Discussion groups may face two significant difficulties when discussing Dracula. One is that group members may not actually read the novel....

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Dracula Compare and Contrast

1890s: In the Victorian Age in England, attitudes towards sex are extremely repressed and private. However, in reality, the...

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Dracula Topics for Discussion

1. Like most horror stories, Dracula is about the struggle between good and evil. What are some of the symbols of good and evil in the...

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Dracula Ideas for Reports and Papers

1. Compare Dracula with its film adaption or with later vampire literature. How are these later works influenced by the novel?

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Dracula Topics for Further Study

Read several British newspaper articles circa 1897 to get a feel for how they are written. Imagine that you are a contemporary reporter in...

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Dracula Literary Precedents

Dracula has considerable cultural importance. Stoker was not the first writer to make use of the vampire legend. Throughout the nineteenth...

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Dracula Related Titles / Adaptations

Numerous films of Dracula have appeared, most of which make little attempt to follow the plot of the novel. The first film version was...

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Dracula Media Adaptations

Dracula has been adapted into countless films. However, the film that helped define the cinematic image of the count was the classic...

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Dracula For Further Reference

Farson, Daniel. The Man Who Wrote Dracula. New York: St. Martin's, 1976. This biography of Bram Stoker was written by his grandnephew...

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Dracula Bibliography and Further Reading

Sources
Bentley, C. F., "The Monster in the Bedroom: Sexual Symbolism in Bram Stoker's Dracula," in...

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Dracula Bibliography (Great Characters in Literature)

Carter, Margaret L., ed. Dracula: The Vampire and the Critics. Ann Arbor, Mich.: UMI Research Press, 1988. Part of the Studies in Speculative Fiction series, this work examines some of the major critical interpretations of Dracula.

Leatherdale, Clive. Dracula, the Novel and the Legend: A Study of Bram Stoker’s Gothic Masterpiece. Wellingborough, England: Aquarian Press, 1985. An excellent critical study, which offers interpretation of perspectives in Dracula including sexual symbolism, religious themes, occult and literary myth, and political and social allegory.

Roth, Phyllis A. Bram Stoker. Boston: Twayne, 1982. One of the volumes in Twayne’s English Authors Series, this book deals with both Stoker’s life and his works. Contains an extensive chapter on Dracula.

Senf, Carol A., ed. The Critical Response to Bram Stoker. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1994. An anthology of some of the more interesting critiques of Dracula from a scholarly point of view.

Stoker, Bram. The Essential “Dracula.” Edited by Leonard Woolf and revised in collaboration with Roxana Stuart. Rev. ed. New York: Plume, 1993. Includes the original complete text of Dracula with notes, an introductory essay, a selected filmography of major vampire films, commentary by leading horror writers, and new illustrations by Christopher Bing. Also features an extensive bibliography.