(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

Dracula Bram Stoker

(Full name Abraham Stoker) Irish novelist, short story writer, and essayist.

The following entry presents criticism on Stoker's novel Dracula (1897).

Dracula is one of the most famous horror novels of all time. Published in 1897, the book garnered much critical and popular attention at the time of its publication and through the years has spawned countless stories and novels by other authors, as well as numerous theatrical and cinematic adaptations. In fact, Dracula has never gone out of print since its first publication. Many critics regard the novel as the best-known and most enduring Gothic vampire story ever published.

Plot and Major Characters

Dracula is an epistolary novel, comprised of journal entries, letters, newspaper clippings, a ship's log, and phonograph recordings. In the first part of the novel, a young English solicitor, Jonathan Harker, is sent to Transylvania to counsel a wealthy client, Count Dracula. During Harker's two-month stay at Dracula's castle, he becomes disconcerted by Dracula's odd appearance, eccentricities, and predatory behavior; he begins to fear for his safety. After some investigation, Harker discovers that Dracula sleeps in a coffin in a crypt beneath the castle during the day and spends his nights stealing babies from the nearby town. He attempts to escape the castle, where he has become a hostage. In the next part of the novel, the scene shifts to England and the friendship between Harker's fiancée, Mina Murray, and a young lady named Lucy. After being courted by three worthy suitors, Lucy has accepted the marriage proposal of Arthur Holmwood, the future Lord Godalming. While on vacation in Whitby with Lucy and her mother, Mina chronicles in her diary the mysterious arrival of a Russian schooner, containing fifty boxes of earth, the corpses of the ship's crew, and a large black dog, which quickly disappears after landing. Lucy begins acting strangely, and Mina finds two tiny holes in Lucy's neck. Abruptly, Mina is called to Budapest to tend to Jonathan, who has escaped Dracula's castle and is suffering from brain fever. When he is sufficiently recovered, the two marry. Meanwhile, Lucy's condition deteriorates, and she gets weaker and paler. Holmwood appeals to his friend and former rival for Lucy's affections, the doctor Seward, to assess her condition. He also calls in a specialist, Dr. Van Helsing. Despite various treatments, Lucy dies.

After Harker and Mina return to London, Harker sees Dracula on the street but begins to doubt his own sanity. Reports in the newspaper detail the abduction of several small children near the cemetery where Lucy was buried. Harker describes his experiences in Dracula's castle to Van Helsing, who connects Dracula with Lucy; he realizes that Lucy has become a vampire and is abducting and biting local children. Van Helsing, Seward, Holmwood, and another of Lucy's former suitors, Morris, trap Lucy, drive a stake through her heart, and cut off her head. Then they place holy wafers in several of the boxes of earth found on the Russian schooner, thereby rendering the coffins uninhabitable for vampires. Meanwhile, Dracula has chosen Mina for his next victim and begins to turn her into a vampire. Van Helsing and his crew try to save her, but realize they have to kill Dracula to do it. They track Dracula to his London home, yet he manages to escape. They follow him to Europe, and after a struggle, they drive a knife through his heart and cut off his head. As Dracula's body disintegrates, Mina is saved.

Major Themes

Initially, Dracula was interpreted as a straightforward horror novel. Yet later critics began to explore the theme of repressed sexuality within the story. Commentators asserted that the transformation of Dracula's female victims, Lucy and Mina, from chaste to sexually aggressive should be considered a commentary on the attitude toward female sexuality in Victorian society. Homoerotic elements in the relationship between Dracula and Harker have also been detected. Moreover, the drinking of blood has been regarded as a metaphor for sexual intercourse, and the stakes that kill Lucy and three other vampire women have been discussed as phallic symbols. Critics have since tended to view Dracula from a Freudian psychosexual standpoint; however, the novel has also been interpreted from folkloric, political, feminist, and religious points of view. Other commentators have identified themes of parricide, infanticide, and gender reversal in Dracula. Autobiographical aspects of the novel have also been a topic of critical discussion, as a few commentators maintain that the novel is based on Stoker's traumatic experiences with doctors—and particularly the procedure of blood-letting—as a sickly child. The literary origins of Dracula have been investigated, such as Dr. William Polidori's The Vampyre, Thomas Prest's Varney the Vampyre, J. S. Le Fanu's Carmilla, and Guy de Maupassant's “Le Horla.”

Critical Reception

Early critical reaction to Dracula was mixed. Some early reviewers noted the “unnecessary number of hideous incidents” which could “shock and disgust” readers. One critic even advised keeping the novel away from children and nervous adults. Today the name of Dracula is familiar to many people who may be wholly unaware of Stoker's identity, though the popularly held image of the vampire bears little resemblance to the demonic being that Stoker depicted. Adaptations of Dracula in plays and films have taken enormous liberties with Stoker's characterization. A resurgence of interest in traditional folklore has revealed that Stoker himself did not conform to established vampire legend. Yet Dracula has had tremendous impact on readers since its publication. Whether Stoker evoked a universal fear, or as some modern critics would have it, gave form to a universal fantasy, he created a powerful and lasting image that has become a part of popular culture.

Principal Works

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

The Duties of Clerks of Petty Session in Ireland (handbook) 1879

Under the Sunset (short stories) 1881

A Glimpse of America (essays) 1886

The Snake's Pass (novel) 1890

The Watter's Mou' (novel) 1894

Dracula (novel) 1897

The Mystery of the Sea: A Novel (novel) 1902

The Jewel of Seven Stars (novel) 1903

The Man (novel) 1905

Personal Reminiscences of Henry Irving (biography) 1906

The Lady of the Shroud (novel) 1909

Famous Imposters (essays) 1910

The Lair of the White Worm (novel) 1911

Dracula's Guest, and Other Weird Stories (short stories) 1914

The Bram Stoker Bedside Companion (short stories and novels) 1973

The Essential Dracula: The Definitive Annotated Edition of Bram Stoker's Classic Novel (novel) 1993

Spectator (review date 31 July 1897)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Recent Novels.” Spectator (31 July 1897): 150-51.

[In the following review, the anonymous critic asserts that the strength of Dracula lies in Stoker's vivid imagination.]

Mr. Bram Stoker gives us the impression—we may be doing him an injustice—of having deliberately laid himself out in Dracula to eclipse all previous efforts in the domain of the horrible,—to “go one better” than Wilkie Collins (whose method of narration he has closely followed), Sheridan Le Fanu, and all the other professors of the flesh-creeping school. Count Dracula, who gives his name to the book, is a Transylvanian noble who purchases an estate in England, and...

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Bacil F. Kirtley (essay date fall 1956)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Kirtley, Bacil F. “Dracula, the Monastic Chronicles and Slavic Folklore.” Midwest Folklore 6, no. 3 (fall 1956): 133-39.

[In the following essay, Kirtley traces the origins of Dracula to Russian monastic chronicles and Slavic folklore.]

Bram Stoker's Dracula, that somewhat belated apparition from the sub-literary pits of Gothic horror fiction, has enjoyed a continuous notoriety since its first printing in 1897. Not only has the novel been republished numerous times, but its adaptions to the stage1 and to the cinema have repeatedly attracted crowded audiences. In the United States the story's impact has been sufficiently...

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Joseph S. Bierman (essay date summer 1972)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Bierman, Joseph S. “Dracula: Prolonged Childhood Illness, and the Oral Triad.” American Imago 29, no. 2 (summer 1972): 186-98.

[In the following essay, Bierman contends that Dracula “mirrors Stoker's early childhood in that it is essentially a tale of medical detection of puzzling illnesses, of obscure diagnoses, and unusual cures in which the phenomenon of the ‘undead’ person is prominent.”]

In the early summer of 1895, Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula, had a nightmare which he attributed to eating too much dressed crab at supper one night. He dreamed about a vampire king rising from the tomb to go about his ghastly business...

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Carrol L. Fry (essay date fall 1972)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Fry, Carrol L. “Fictional Conventions and Sexuality in Dracula.The Victorian Newsletter, no. 42 (fall 1972): 20-2.

[In the following essay, Fry maintains that the latent sexuality of Dracula is an important part of the novel's popular appeal.]

To the general reading public, Bram Stoker's Dracula is one of the best known English novels of the nineteenth century. It was an immediate best seller when it appeared in 1897, and the frequent motion pictures featuring the machinations of Count Dracula since the 1931 film version of the novel have helped make vampire folklore very much a part of the English and American popular imagination....

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Seymour Shuster (essay date September 1973)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Shuster, Seymour. “Dracula and Surgically Induced Trauma in Children.” The British Journal of Medical Psychology 46 (September 1973): 259-70.

[In the following essay, Shuster claims that Dracula is a result of Stoker's long-repressed anxiety stemming from the author's childhood experience with doctors.]

The first portion of this paper is intended to show that a connection probably exists between the horror story Dracula and surgically induced trauma experienced by its author as a child. In the second portion of this paper I will try to draw some practical inferences from the work I have done.

In a personal communication with...

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Judith Weissman (essay date July 1977)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Weissman, Judith. “Dracula as a Victorian Novel.” Midwest Quarterly 18, no. 4 (July 1977): 392-405.

[In the following essay, Weissman perceives Dracula as a Victorian novel, asserting that the novel “is an extreme version of the stereotypically Victorian attitudes toward sexual roles.”]

The sexually straightforward and insatiable woman, a stock figure in much of English literature, virtually disappears from the novel after Fielding and Richardson—until she is resurrected by Bram Stoker in Dracula as a vampire. The vampire, an ancient figure of horror in folk tales, undoubtedly represents in any story some kind of sexual terror,...

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Phyllis A. Roth (essay date 1982)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Roth, Phyllis A. “Dracula.” In Bram Stoker, pp. 87-126. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1982.

[In the following excerpt, Roth discusses Dracula as a seminal work of Gothic fiction and offers a psychoanalytical interpretation of the novel.]

Dracula exerts a complex fascination owing both to Stoker's skill and to the enduring appeal of the Gothic genre of which it is a superb and instructive example, following a tradition originated, by critical consensus, by Horace Walpole with his Castle of Otranto (1764). The most commonly cited pillars of the tradition are William Beckford's Vathek (1786), Ann Radcliffe's The Mysteries of...

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Alan P. Johnson (essay date 1984)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Johnson, Alan P. “‘Dual Life’: The Status of Women in Stoker's Dracula.” In Sexuality and Victorian Literature, edited by Don Richard Cox, pp. 20-39. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1984.

[In the following essay, Johnson explores the depiction of women in Dracula, contending that the novel “presents an incisive and sympathetic analysis of the frustration felt by women in late-nineteenth-century Britain.”]

Leonard Wolf has described exactly the theme in Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897) which seems to account for the novel's widespread and persistent appeal: “energy without grace, power without...

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David Seed (essay date June 1985)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Seed, David. “The Narrative Method of Dracula.Nineteenth-Century Fiction 40, no. 1 (June 1985): 61-75.

[In the following essay, Seed provides a stylistic analysis of Dracula.]

When Bram Stoker's Dracula first appeared in 1897, it was greeted with a chorus of acclaim for its power from the reviewers. One dissenting voice was that of the Athenaeum, which charged the novel with structural weakness:

Dracula is highly sensational, but it is wanting in the constructive art as well as in the higher literary sense. It reads at times like a mere series of grotesquely incredible events; but there are...

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Clive Leatherdale (essay date 1985)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Leatherdale, Clive. “Social and Political Commentary.” In Dracula: The Novel & The Legend, A Study of Bram Stoker's Gothic Masterpiece, pp. 206-22. Willingborough, Northamptonshire, England: The Aquarian Press, 1985.

[In the following essay, Leatherdale considers Dracula as a valuable piece of social and political commentary, maintaining that the novel mirrors “the ideological strains and tensions that afflicted the Britain of Stoker's middle years.”]

From the bourgeois point of view, Dracula is … a manic individualist; from his own point of view … he is the bearer of the promise of true union, union which transcends...

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S. L. Varnado (essay date 1987)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Varnado, S. L. “The Daemonic in Dracula.” In Haunted Presence: The Numinous in Gothic Fiction, pp. 95-114. Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press, 1987.

[In the following essay, Varnado views Dracula as a dramatization of the “cosmic struggle between the opposing forces of darkness and light, of the sacred and the profane.”]

Bram Stoker's Dracula is one of those rare novels that merits the timeworn phrase “it needs no introduction.” Since its publication in 1897 the book has established an undeniable claim on the public imagination. Not only has it passed through innumerable editions (including foreign translations), it has...

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Ken Gelder (essay date 1994)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Gelder, Ken. “Reading Dracula.” In Reading the Vampire, pp. 65-85. London: Routledge, 1994.

[In the following essay, Gelder elucidates various critical interpretations of Dracula.]

Few other novels have been read so industriously as Bram Stoker's Dracula. Indeed, a veritable ‘academic industry’ has built itself around this novel, growing exponentially in recent years and, in effect, canonising a popular novel which might otherwise have been dismissed as merely ‘sensationalist’. To enable its canonisation (a process to which this chapter contributes), Dracula has become a highly productive piece of writing: or rather, it has...

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Stephan Schaffrath (essay date spring 2002)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Schaffrath, Stephan. “Order-versus-Chaos Dichotomy in Bram Stoker's Dracula.Extrapolation 43, no. 1 (spring 2002): 98-112.

[In the following essay, Schaffrath analyzes Stoker's use of the order-versus-chaos dichotomy in Dracula.]

This paper pursues two goals. The first goal is to present evidence that shows that much of the critical readings that have been done on Dracula can be summarized under the concept of an order-versus-chaos dichotomy, a bipolar mental construct that permeates the entire novel. The second goal is to show that this order-versus-chaos dichotomy in Dracula does not function simply in the same ways that a...

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Christopher Herbert (essay date summer 2002)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Herbert, Christopher. “Vampire Religion.” Representations 79 (summer 2002): 100-21.

[In the following essay, Herbert offers a religious interpretation of Dracula.]

Here chiefly, Lord, we feed on Thee, And drink Thy precious Blood.

—Charles Wesley1


Once consigned to the limbo of the subliterary, Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897) has attained canonical status by gaining recognition as a pioneering exploration of forbidden zones of sex.2 The strong religious thrust of this novel has correspondingly been ignored,...

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Dennis Foster (essay date 2002)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Foster, Dennis. “‘The Little Children Can Be Bitten’: A Hunger for Dracula.” In Bram Stoker, Dracula: Complete, Authoritative Text with Biographical, Historical, and Cultural Contexts, Critical History, and Essays from Contemporary Critical Perspectives, edited by John Paul Riquelme, pp. 483-99. Boston: Bedford, 2002.

[In the following essay, Foster applies a psychoanalytic interpretation to Dracula.]

We are all familiar with that moment of dreamlike suspension in movies when the monster, the killer, or some swarming, vital mass of birds, worms, or spiders waits somewhere just out of sight. The protagonist, who should know better, moves steadily,...

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Gregory Castle (essay date 2002)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Castle, Gregory. “Ambivalence and Ascendancy in Bram Stoker's Dracula.” In Bram Stoker, Dracula: Complete, Authoritative Text with Biographical, Historical, and Cultural Contexts, Critical History, and Essays from Contemporary Critical Perspectives, edited by John Paul Riquelme, pp. 518-37. Boston: Bedford, 2002.

[In the following essay, Castle utilizes a historical approach to Dracula, focusing on Anglo-Irish relations in the late nineteenth century.]


Historical approaches to literature have become increasingly appealing to many readers in the past two decades, and nowhere is this more apparent...

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Further Reading

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)


Belford, Barbara. Bram Stoker: A Biography of the Author of Dracula. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1996, 381 p.

Biography of Stoker.


Barclay, Glen St. John. “Sex and Horror: Bram Stoker.” In Anatomy of Horror: The Masters of Occult Fiction, pp. 39-57. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1978.

Investigates the popular appeal of Dracula.

Carter, Margaret L., editor. Dracula. Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1988, 253 p.

Critical essays on Dracula.

McNally, Raymond T., and Radu Florescu. In Search of Dracula:...

(The entire section is 284 words.)