Dracula Critical Overview
by Bram Stoker

Dracula book cover
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Critical Overview

(Novels for Students)

Helen Chandler as Mina Seward and Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula, in the 1931 film adaptation of Dracula Published by Gale Cengage

When Dracula was first published, critics found little literary merit in the novel. A reviewer for the Athenaeum wrote in 1897, "Dracula is highly sensational, but it is wanting in the constructive art as well as in the higher literary sense." However, even those critics who did not believe that the novel was literary acknowledged it as a horror work that would appeal to its audience. The Athenaeum reviewer says, "Isolated scenes and touches are probably quite uncanny enough to please those for whom they are designed." In fact, some reviewers admitted that, although their Victorian sensibilities instructed them to reject the base qualities of the novel, they were drawn to it. For example, the Bookman reviewer notes, "we must own that, though here and there in the course of the tale we hurried over things with repulsion, we read nearly the whole with rapt attention." This mixed attitude—praising the horror aspects while denying the work's literary merit—continued throughout most of the twentieth century. For example, in his 1918 book The Vampire: His Kith and Kin, Montague Summers notes this dubious distinction. Summers explains, "the reason why, in spite of obvious faults it is read and re-read—lies in the choice of subject and for this the author deserves all praise." So, despite its widespread popular appeal, Dracula did not share the literary distinction of other Gothic novels like Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.

However, as was also true of Shelley's novel, Stoker's novel exploded onto the screen in the twentieth century and has enjoyed more than one hundred adaptations in several languages. Partly due to this attention, critics began to review the novel once again in the latter half of the twentieth century. Royce MacGillivray says, in his 1972 essay in Queen's Quarterly, "Certainly without the films it is hard to believe that Dracula would be one of the few proper names from novels to have become a household word." Many of these reviewers focused on the sexual aspects of Dracula. For example, in his 1959 essay "The Psychoanalysis of Ghost Stories," Maurice Richardson notes that the novel "provides really striking confirmation of the Freudian interpretation." In fact, Richardson...

(The entire section is 540 words.)