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Dracula (1897) is an epistolary novel published by Bram Stoker in 1897. It is part of the gothic horror genre and is the most famous of Stoker's works due to its impact on popular culture and many reproductions in television and film. The novel follows the narratives of multiple characters including Jonathan Harker, Mina (Murray) Harker, and Abraham Van Helsing, as they work together to defeat Count Dracula, a centuries-old vampire.
Epistolary novel: A novel written through a series of documents including letters, diary entries, and accounts. This style of writing first emerged in the 17th century with the publication of Love-Letters Between a Noble-Man and His Sister (1684-7) by Aphra Behn.1
Examples of epistolary novels include The Princess Diaries (2000) by Meg Cabot and We Need to Talk About Kevin (2003) by Lionel Shriver.
Gothic horror genre: A genre that deals with unnatural forces (whether they have scientific or supernatural origins) and their impact on human society. The genre first emerged in the late 18th century with the publication of Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto (1764).
The novel revolves around the theme of Good versus Evil - with Dracula acting as the embodiment of pure evil & Van Helsing and his allies representing a 'Christian' force of good.
Novel / epistolary
Good versus Evil
Epistolary, Repetition, Metaphor, Simile
Frequently Noted Imagery
Blood, religious (Christian) iconography
Suspenseful with moments of melodrama
Dracula follows the story of Johnathan Harker, an English lawyer who journeys to Castle Dracula in Transylvania after being assigned to go there by his firm to conclude a real estate deal with Count Dracula. On his way, Harker is warned by locals about the Count. They give him crucifixes and charms to ward off evil.
Despite the warnings, Harker continues on his journey. While in the Count’s carriage up to his castle, Harker is nearly attacked by a pack of angry wolves. Upon meeting Dracula, Harker finds him to be hospitable and engaging. This initial perception of the Count is proven wrong a few days later, when Harker realises he is a prisoner in the castle and cannot leave. During his stay, Harker comes to realise that the Count may not be entirely human. After he is attacked by three female vampires, Harker escapes from the castle.
At the same time, Mina Murray, Johnathan Harker’s fiancé, is sending letters to her friend Lucy Westenra, who has received marriage proposals from three men, Dr. John Seward, Arthur Holmwood, and Quincy Morris. Mina is visiting Lucy in Whitby when a ship from Russia is wrecked on the shore nearby, all of whose crew are missing and whose captain is found dead. Equally strange is that the only living creature on the ship is a dog and the only cargo on the ship is fifty boxes of earth from Castle Dracula.
After the shipwreck, Lucy begins acting strangely; sleepwalking at night, becoming pale and ill, and showing two tiny red marks on her throat. One night, Mina finds her in the town cemetery and thinks she sees a dark form behind her, with glowing red eyes. No one can explain Lucy’s symptoms, leading Dr Seward to send for his mentor, Professor Abraham Van Helsing, who arrives in Whitby soon after.
After examining Lucy, Van Helsing instructs that her chambers should be covered in garlic to ward against vampires. Lucy begins to recover. Her mother, unaware of the garlic’s purpose, removes the cloves from her room. Lucy is attacked once more and, despite the efforts of Seward and Van Helsing to revive Lucy, she is attacked and killed by a wolf breaking into her home. Lucy’s mother also dies, the shock of the wolf attack giving her a heart attack.
Mina goes to join Harker at this time, who has reappeared in Budapest, suffering from brain fever.
Van Helsing believes that Lucy is not truly dead, and is instead ‘un-dead’. He leads Lucy’s previous suitors, Holmwood, Seward, and Morris, to her tomb.
Upon seeing Lucy feeding on an innocent child, the suitors realise that she must be destroyed, and agree to follow Van Helsing in the ritual of vampire slaying. Holmwood plunges a stake through her heart, and the men cut off her head, stuffing her mouth with garlic to ensure her soul can return to eternal rest.
After killing Lucy, the men move on to destroy Dracula himself, the root of their troubles. Mina and Harker return to England, where they join forces with Van Helsing and the others to defeat Dracula.
Mina and Van Helsing work together to uncover Dracula's whereabouts by piecing together diary entries written by Harker and others. They track down the boxes of earth which Dracula had shipped to England. However, the success of the mission is damaged when Renfield, a mental patient of Dr Seward, lets Dracula into the asylum where Van Helsing and the others are hiding. Upon being let into the asylum, Dracula attacks Mina, who then begins to change into a vampire.
Dracula is forced to return to Transylvania, as the boxes of earth he brought with him to England are sterilized by Van Helsing and the others. Van Helsing and Mina cleanse Castle Dracula by killing the three female vampires and closing the entrances with sacred objects. Harker and Quincey pursue Dracula, killing him before he can reach his castle. During the final battle, Quincey is mortally wounded and dies. Upon Dracula’s death, Mina stops transforming into a vampire. She and Harker are reunited.
Mina’s fate differs from her ending in the original novel in many adaptations of Dracula. For instance:
Why do you think the character of Mina varies so much in recreations of Dracula? Consider modernisation, gender, and Hollywood.
Dracula is ultimately a novel about the battle between the forces of good and evil. It has a traditional structure, beginning with exposition, climaxing midway through, and ending with a resolution of good conquering evil.
Dracula's exposition is brief, consisting of the novel's first chapter, in which Johnathan Harker describes his journey through the Carpathian mountains. This opening diary entry establishes the gothic setting of Transylvania and steadily builds tension as Harker journeys to Dracula's castle, despite the warnings from locals.
The novel’s rising action begins at the moment Jonathan Harker enters Castle Dracula to help Dracula finalise his purchase of an estate in England. While in the castle, Harker has a number of supernatural experiences, including his encounter with the three female vampires. Later, there is a sense of dramatic irony regarding Harker’s actions, as he unknowingly aids in Dracula coming to England, putting his then-fiancé Mina and her friend Lucy in danger alongside the entire country.
The conflict of the novel emerges when Dracula travels to England and begins to prey upon the people of Whitby, including Lucy Westenra. This event leads to the climax of the novel with Van Helsing and Johnathan Harker eventually killing Dracula.
The novel’s climax occurs when Lucy’s vampirism is revealed by Van Helsing. This revelation triggers the resolution of the plot, as Van Helsing and Lucy's suitors stake her before preparing to hunt down Dracula. At this moment, the balance between good and evil appears uncertain. Dracula has taken one of the novel's key characters as his victim, and evil is winning.
The falling action occurs after, as Van Helsing and his allies form a plan to track down Dracula and destroy him. Here, we see good gradually begin to triumph over the forces of evil. However, this triumph doesn't come easily, and Mina and Van Helsing work tirelessly to piece together Harker's diary entries to locate Dracula. This steady progression to victory causes the action to gradually slow down.
The action doesn't slow down completely. There is a second climactic moment when Van Helsing and his allies catch up with and confront Dracula, finally destroying him.
Once Dracula is killed, the novel's resolution occurs, bringing the battle of good against evil to a satisfying conclusion.
The novel has a suspenseful tone, indicative of its gothic genre. Suspense is built through the use of epistolary form. By presenting the story through the journals, letters, and accounts of various characters, Stoker gradually reveals elements of the story to the reader.
Since there is no omniscient narrator we, the reader, do not know all of the information instantly. For instance, when Lucy falls ill, even though we may suspect there are darker forces at play, this is not confirmed until Van Helsing arrives to assess what is causing her mysterious illness.
By building up the bigger picture of the story gradually, through the input and perspectives of various characters, a suspenseful tone is created.
Dracula’s genre as a gothic horror novel does not make it unique. The gothic horror genre was very popular in Victorian England, and Dracula could well have got lost among the masses. So, why is it still so popular today?
Dracula has stood the test of time because it has come to be regarded as a classic, its influence extending beyond the page into popular culture. Re-creations of Dracula in television and film have led to many of the novel's characters becoming character archetypes. Count Dracula embodies what we perceive vampires to be, while Van Helsing is the quintessential Vampire Slayer determined to save society from the forces of evil.
Although Johnathan Harker and Mina (Murray) Harker haven’t formed archetypes of their own, they fit well within the archetypes of hero and heroine. For instance, even though Mina is at times a woman in distress, she perseveres and plays an essential role in the eventual destruction of Dracula. The archetypal nature of the characters in Dracula has made the novel popular to adapt, contributing to its influence today.
Character archetype: a character that represents or embodies a general concept.
Dracula’s presence in popular culture has also allowed it to contribute to English literature through the archetypal figure of the vampire. Although Dracula was not the first literary vampire, he is the most well-known, and his popularity has influenced books including Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles (1976-2018) and Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight (2005).
Stoker’s descriptions of setting develop suspense and indicate danger throughout the novel, forming a key aspect of Dracula's gothic genre. This is most evident in the novel’s opening, as Jonathan describes his journey into the Carpathian Mountains, recounting both the natural beauty and foreboding aspects of the scenery.
The natural environment of the mountains is part of 'the wildest and least known portions of Europe' , with uncontrolled 'bewildering masses of fruit blossom' and 'green sloping land' (Dracula, chapter one). The image of this wild natural landscape both appeals to and intimidates the reader, while the sights Harker sees must be glorious and beautiful, they also appear out of control, foreshadowing the danger which awaits him.
The importance of setting is further highlighted in chapter four, when Harker realises he is trapped in Dracula’s Castle. Here the setting appears more menacing than before, underpinning the danger Harker is in;
The castle is on the very edge of a terrible precipice. A stone falling from the window would fall a thousand feet without touching anything! As far as the eye can reach is a sea of green tree tops, with occasionally a deep rift where there is a chasm.
Harker admits while writing this description that he is 'not in heart to describe beauty', as he has realised that he is a 'prisoner' in the castle, with 'doors, doors, doors everywhere'. The repetition of 'doors' emphasises the impact the setting of the castle is having on Harker. He feels as though he is slowly being driven to insanity, with no escape in sight - just more doors.
Dracula is an inherently anti-Christian creature. He defies the laws of nature by remaining alive despite being dead (he is, in fact, the undead). At the same time, his ability to transform anyone - even a god-loving Christian such as Lucy or Mina - into a vampire, highlights the extent of his evil and the danger he presents to England.
Dracula’s inhuman aspects characterise him as The Other. He is uncanny, unfamiliar to the average person, and while he appears to be human, something about him causes others to feel unsafe.
The Other: An individual who does not belong within the social setting they find themselves in.
Uncanny: Something which is strangely familiar in an unsettling way, usually an unnatural force. Though first explained by Ernst Jentsch, Sigmund Freud developed this concept further in Das Unheimliche (1919).
In opposition to Dracula stand Van Helsing and his allies. They embody goodness, and are willing to fight against and destroy the evil that is Dracula, even if it endangers them. This goodness is evident in Mina’s perseverance after she is attacked by Dracula. She pushes her evil urges to the side, and rises above them to allow the others to discover and kill him.
In chapter twenty-four of the novel, Mina asks Van Helsing if it is really necessary to pursue the Count, out of concern for her husband Johnathan Harker’s safety. Van Helsing answers in 'growing passion' and begins a lengthy speech with Christian imagery and a strong presence of the theme of good versus evil;
Thus are we ministers of God’s own wish: that the world, and men for whom His Son die, will not be given over to monsters, whose very existence would defame Him. He has allowed us to redeem one soul already, and we go out as the old knights of the Cross to redeem more. Like them we shall travel toward sunrise; and like them, if we fall, we fall in good cause.
The image of Van Helsing and his allies being 'ministers of God’s own wish', creates a righteous tone. They are carrying out God’s will by hunting down and destroying Dracula. This righteous tone is further emphasised by the metaphor that they 'go out as old knights of the Cross,' likening the group to chivalrous knights, willing to lay down their lives to defeat an evil being.
There is no moral conflict in Van Helsing’s speech, encapsulating the strong divide between good and evil in the novel. Van Helsing knows he is right because he is good and Dracula is evil, underpinned by his language of absolutes.
The descriptions of the vampires in Dracula often have sexual undertones. The vampires are presented as harbingers of evil, their sexual nature being part of their danger.
It’s important to remember that Dracula was written in Victorian England, so when the novel was first published people would have had different views on relationships and sex. One such view was that sex outside of marriage and displays of sexual behaviour in public (even flirting) were sinful.
In chapter fourteen, Johnathan Harker is attacked by three female vampires, the weird sisters. His description of the attack focuses heavily on the physical elements of it:
There was a deliberate voluptuousness which was both thrilling and repulsive, and as she arched her neck, she actually licked her lips like an animal. . . . Lower and lower went her head as the lips went below the range of my mouth and chin and seemed about to fasten on my throat. . . . I closed my eyes in a languorous ecstasy and waited—waited with beating heart.
The reaction to the 'deliberate voluptuousness' is thrill and repulsion, which underpins the conflict between giving into one’s desires or rejecting them. The simile describing the female vampire as being 'like an animal' implies that giving into one's desires or acting as a temptress makes someone less than human.
The focus on the female vampire’s lips - mentioned twice in this brief description - objectifies her and dehumanises her, as she is described not by her character but by her actions. Finally, Jonathan gives in to a 'languorous ecstasy', which represents a perceived sin - that of acting sexually, or being taken advantage of by the sinful and inherently evil vampire.
Sexuality is an inherent part of the vampire’s nature, and also rears its head when Lucy is turned into a vampire, attempting to seduce her fiance, in chapter sixteen;
Come to me, Arthur. Leave these others and come to me. My arms are hungry for you. Come, and we can rest together. Come, my husband, come!
There was something diabolically sweet in her tone - something of the tingling of glass when struck - which rang through the brains even of us who heard the words addressed to another. As for Arthur, he seemed under a spell; moving his hands from his face, he opened wide his arms.
Here, the 'diabolically sweet' nature of her tones indicates that she is intentionally tempting her fiancé, trying to force him to meet a dreadful fate by seducing him.
Count Dracula is an ancient vampire who lives in a castle in the Carpathian Mountains. Dracula is the novel’s antagonist and villain and the embodiment of evil, acting as the cause of much of the novel's tension. Dracula has the ability to control the weather and shape-shift into animal forms. However, there are limitations to his powers. For instance, despite his great strength, he is unable to enter a home unless invited.
Dracula, Chapter Two. Character archetype: the vampire / the Other
When the Count saw my face, his eyes blazed with a sort of demoniac fury, and he suddenly made a grab at my throat. I drew away and his hand touched the string of beads which held the crucifix. It made an instant change in him, for the fury passed so quickly that I could hardly believe that it was ever there.
Dracula, Chapter Twenty-three. Theme: good versus evil
As the Count saw us, a horrible sort of snarl passed over his face, showing the eye-teeth long and pointed; but the evil smile as quickly passed into a cold stare of lion-like disdain.
Dracula, Chapter Twenty-four. Theme: sexuality / seduction
Your girls that you all love are mine already; and through them, you and others shall yet be mine.
Johnathan Harker is sent by his law firm to Transylvania to complete Count Dracula's purchase of an English estate. After entering castle Dracula, despite warnings from locals, Harker realises he is a prisoner and escapes. Later in the novel, Harker joins forces with Abraham Van Helsing, to destroy Dracula once and for all.
Dracula, Chapter One. Theme: setting
I read that every known superstition in the world is gathered into the horseshoe of the Carpathians, as if it were the centre of some sort of imaginative whirlpool; if so, my stay may be very interesting.
Dracula, Chapter Twenty-four. Relationship: Mina
To one thing I have made up my mind; if we find out that Mina must be a vampire in the end, then she shall not go into that unknown and terrible land alone. I suppose it is thus that in old times one vampire meant many; just as their hideous bodies could only rest in sacred earth, so the holiest love was the recruiting sergeant for their ghastly ranks.
Dracula, Chapter Twenty-seven. Character archetype: the hero
But, on the instant, came the sweep and flash of Jonathan’s great knife. I shrieked as I saw it shear through the throat; whilst at the same moment Mr Morris’s Bowie knife plunged in the heart.
Mina is an insightful character who works as a school mistress. She is the fiancee of Johnathan Harker and the close friend of Lucy Westenra, Dracula’s first victim. Despite nearly becoming a Vampire herself, after being attacked by Dracula, she aids Van Helsing in his search for the Vampire, eventually leading him and his men to Castle Dracula, where they defeat the villain.
Dracula, Chapter Seventeen. Theme: Good versus Evil
I suppose one ought to pity any thing so hunted as the Count. That is just it: this Thing is not human—not even beast.
Dracula, Chapter Twenty-two. Character archetype: the heroine
She was so good and brave that we all felt that our hearts were strengthened to work and endure for her, and we began to discuss what we were to do.
Dracula, Chapter Twenty-one. Relationship: Jonathan
His wife, through her terror and horror and distress, saw some sure danger to him; instantly forgetting her own grief, she seized hold of him and cried out: ‘No! no! Jonathan, you must not leave me. I have suffered enough tonight, God knows, without the dread of his harming you.’
Van Helsing is a Dutch professor who believes in both science and ‘the old ways’. He enters the novel after being called to cure Lucy Westenra after she falls ill, and soon picks up on the signs that she is being attacked by a vampire. He, together with Johnathan Harker, Mina Murray, and Lucy’s suitors, works to defeat Dracula and rid the world of his evil.
Dracula, Chapter Fourteen. Genre: gothic horror (the supernatural/uncanny)
I have learned not to think little of any one’s belief, no matter how strange it be. I have tried to keep an open mind; and it is not the ordinary things of life that could close it, but the strange things, the extraordinary things, the things that make one doubt if they be mad or sane.
Dracula (1897), Chapter Fifteen. Theme: good versus evil
Lucy is a young woman, sought after by many men for her attractive looks and demeanour. She is also the first character in the novel to die by Dracula’s hand. After being preyed upon by Dracula, she becomes a vampire, damning her soul and preventing her from finding eternal rest. Van Helsing and Lucy’s ex-suitors hunt her down and kill her using the rituals of vampire slaying to allow her soul to go to heaven.
Dracula (1897), Chapter Eight. Genre: gothic horror (the supernatural). Character archetype: maiden / damsel in distress.
There, on our favourite seat, the silver light of the moon struck a half-reclining figure, snowy white…something dark stood behind the seat where the white figure shone, and bent over it. What it was, whether man or beast, I could not tell.
Quincey Morris is an American gentleman from Texas and the third suitor of Lucy. He ultimately sacrifices himself while fighting against Dracula with Van Helsing.
Arthur Holmwood was one of Lucy’s suitors and her fiance. He is the son of Lord Godalming, whose title he inherits. Arthur fights against Dracula, eventually agreeing to kill Lucy when he realises that she has become a vampire.
John Seward is a doctor who was taught by Van Helsing. He is the administrator of the insane asylum located near Dracula’s English home. This asylum is where the characters hide out while hunting down Dracula towards the novel’s close.
Seward is first introduced as one of Lucy’s suitors. Despite Lucy rejecting his marriage proposal, he still cares for her. When Lucy first becomes unwell John Seward is her doctor, and he later calls upon Van Helsing to cure her. After Lucy's death, Seward joins Van Helsing in his fight against Dracula.
Mrs Westenra is Lucy’s mother, who removes the garlic from Lucy’s room which is keeping her safe. She appears to be of weak health and dies of a shock-induced heart attack after a wolf leaps through Lucy’s bedroom window.
Renfield is a patient at the mental asylum where John Seward is an administrator. During the novel, Seward holds a number of interviews with him to try to understand the nature of his psychosis. Renfield eats live creatures such as spiders and flies with the belief that they will provide him with strength. Toward the novel’s close, Renfield lets Dracula into the Asylum where Van Helsing, Mina and the others are hiding, leading to Mina being attacked.
Key themes in the novel include; setting, good versus evil, and sexuality.
Dracula remains a well-known piece of literature today due to many adaptations of the novel in TV, film, and literature.
1 Louise Curran, 'Letters, letter writing and epistolary novels', British Library (2018).
The characters in Dracula (1897) are as follows:
Good versus evil and the eventual triumph of good over evil is the main idea behind Dracula (1897). The novel's protagonists risk their lives to defeat Count Dracula, the embodiment of evil.
Dracula was published in 1897. Bram Stoker began writing the novel in the 1890s.
Bram Stoker is the author of Dracula (1897)
At its time of publication Dracula (1897) was well-received. The Gothic horror genre was already popular in Victorian England, and the story interested many. The novel remains well-received and popular today due to its impact on popular culture, with many adaptations in film, television, and literature.
Dracula is a novel based on the theme of good versus evil. The moral lesson of the book is to not give into the temptation presented by evil (Count Dracula) and to continue in the fight against evil.
When was Dracula published?
Who is the author of Dracula (1897)
Which of these characters are not one of the protagonists in Dracula (1897)?
What is epistolary fiction?
A work of literature written in the form of letters or other documents
What tone does Dracula (1897) have?
Suspenseful with moments of melodrama
What is the genre of Dracula (1897)?
When is the novel's rising action begin?
The novel’s rising action begins at its opening, when Jonathan Harker visits Castle Dracula to help Dracula finalise his purchase of an estate in England.
When does the novel's conflict appear?
The conflict of the novel appears when Dracula travels to England.
When is the novel's climax?
The novel’s climax occurs when Lucy’s vampirism is revealed by Van Helsing.
When does the novel's falling action occur?
The falling action occurs as the protagonists hunt down Dracula and eventually destroy him.
True or false? Dracula (1897) has two climatic moments
True! The first climactic moment is when Lucy's vampirism is revealed. There is a second climactic moment when Van Helsing and his allies catch up with and confront Dracula, finally destroying him.
Why is Dracula (1897) still popular today?
Dracula has stood the test of time because of its presence in popular culture, created by the novel's adaptations in television and film.
Why is setting important in Dracula (1897)?
Stoker’s descriptions of key settings is a key aspect of its gothic genre, developing suspense and indicating danger.
What theme does this quote represent?
'Thus are we ministers of God’s own wish: that the world, and men for whom His Son die, will not be given over to monsters...'
Good versus evil
What theme does this quote represent?
'There was a deliberate voluptuousness which was both thrilling and repulsive, and as she arched her neck, she actually licked her lips like an animal.'
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