Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 575
Jonathan Harker, a young English solicitor, travels to Transylvania to transact business with Count Dracula, for whom he has purchased an English country home. With business concluded, Harker finds himself Dracula’s prisoner as well as his blood donor. Shortly thereafter, the Count sails for England, leaving Harker behind, a captive in Castle Dracula.
In England, Mina Murray, Harker’s fiancee, visits her friend, Lucy Westenra, who is suddenly stricken with an unexplained illness. One night Mina follows Lucy during one of her sleepwalking episodes. In a churchyard, Mina finds a tall, thin man embracing Lucy, but the man disappears at Mina’s approach. Upon waking, Lucy remembers nothing of the incident.
Lucy’s condition worsens, and a local doctor, Dr. Seward, calls in a Dutch medical specialist, Van Helsing, who has studied the occult sciences as well as modern medicine.
When Harker returns to England and tells his story to Van Helsing, the doctor believes that Harker’s Count Dracula was a vampire and that he and Lucy’s assailant are one and the same. Despite their attempts to protect her from Dracula, Lucy dies as a result of the monster’s blood lust. In order to save her soul from eternal damnation, Harker and Van Helsing are required to mutilate her body. They then pursue the fleeing Count back to his ancestral castle in Transylvania, where they are finally able to kill him by driving a knife into his heart and cutting off his head just as the sun rises.
This is the quintessential story of the vampire, thing of the undead who has haunted the memory of the European mind for centuries. Although a fantasy complete with open graves and Gothic trappings, the novel is also a fascinating study of suppressed sexuality, especially sublimated female sexuality. It also contains a critique of 19th century notions of social order and progress through science. Van Helsing must use his knowledge of the blank arts in order to destroy Dracula; modern science is not sufficient.
Like other studies of the irrational written during the Victorian period, this tale exposes the dark side of human nature and reveals the marginal control exercised by the rational, scientific mind over the forces of evil and chaos.
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.