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Definition: Dracula from The Macquarie Dictionary

a vampire who feeds on human blood in the novel Dracula (1897) by Irish writer Bram Stoker.

Summary Article: Dracula
From Chambers Dictionary of the Unexplained

The most famous vampire in literature, created by the Irish writer Bram Stoker in his 1897 novel of the same name. Although the book was only a modest success in Stoker’s own lifetime, after his death it went on to inspire a huge body of literature, film, drama and academic study, and sparked off an enduring popular interest in the subject of vampires.

When the Irish writer Bram Stoker published his novel Dracula in 1897, he created a central character that remains the most famous vampire in literature. Stoker began this hugely influential work of Gothic horror in 1890, setting three of its chapters in Whitby, England, where he spent a summer holiday that year. He conducted much of his meticulous background research for the novel in Whitby Library, and consulted at least 32 sources for information on Eastern European history, geography and folklore on vampirism. He had initially planned to set Dracula’s castle in Austria, but changed its location to Transylvania. In the course of his reading, he came across the name Vlad Draculea, a name used for the 15th-century Wallachian prince Vlad III, also known as Vlad Tepes (‘Vlad the Impaler’ in Romanian), and adopted the name ‘Dracula’ for his character in place of his first choice, ‘Count Wampyr’. While Stoker certainly based the name of his vampire on this historical figure, most Dracula scholars now agree that this is probably the only real connection the fictional Dracula has with Vlad III. Stoker published the novel in 1897 under the title Dracula (rather than his original title, The Un-Dead) to mixed reviews, and while it never brought him much financial success in his lifetime, it was still in print when he died in 1912.

The story is told mostly in the first person by several of its main characters, in the form of letters and diary entries, although we never hear from Dracula himself. Jonathan Harker, an English solicitor, is sent to Count Dracula’s castle on the border of Transylvania, with contracts for the Count’s purchase of the ruined Carfax Abbey in London. Soon Harker becomes a prisoner in the castle, but gradually realizing Dracula’s true nature, he manages to escape. Meanwhile, his fiancée, Mina Murray, and her friend, Lucy Westenra, are on holiday in Whitby, when a Russian ship, the Demeter, crashes into the harbour in the middle of a terrible storm, and a huge wolf – Dracula in one of his shape-shifting forms – jumps from the ship and runs off. Everyone on the ship is dead, and its cargo is made up of boxes of Transylvanian soil.

Lucy begins to sleepwalk, and, following her one night, Mina sees her being attacked by a dark figure with red eyes. When Lucy starts to waste away, one of her suitors, Dr John Seward, calls in his old teacher, Professor Abraham Van Helsing, who realizes the nature of her illness. Despite blood transfusions, Lucy dies, but comes back as a vampire, and the men have to drive a stake through her heart, stuff her mouth with garlic and decapitate her to free her of the vampire’s curse. They find Dracula’s boxes of Transylvanian earth in Carfax Abbey. Meanwhile, Dracula attacks Mina, and the men put consecrated wafers in the boxes to prevent the vampire from resting in his native soil. He flees to his home country, but is tracked by Mina, who now has a psychic connection with him, and he and his three brides are killed.

Like any novelist, Stoker embroidered on his research, and some of the vampire characteristics he incorporates in his story appear nowhere in recorded Eastern European folklore. The necessity for the vampire to sleep in his own native earth, his inability to cross running water and the fact that he casts neither a shadow nor a reflection in a mirror are all Stoker’s own inventions. On the other hand, a few now very popular myths about vampires are absent from Stoker’s story. Although vampires are nocturnal, traditional folklore does not hold that sunlight is fatal to them, and in the novel, Dracula can move about during the day, although with reduced powers, and is not harmed by bright sunlight; this piece of vampire lore was only introduced with the first film based on the book, Nosferatu (1922). Dracula is also killed with a knife, not a stake.

The book might have slipped into obscurity, like much of Stoker’s work, if it had not captured the imagination of stage and film producers who saw its potential. A 1924 stage adaptation by Hamilton Deane romanticized the Count and gave him his now famous red-lined black cape, and the Hungarian actor Bela Lugosi took the role in the Broadway production before being cast as Dracula in Tod Browning’s 1931 adaptation for Universal Films. This was the first official film version of the book; Nosferatu (1922) was clearly based on the novel, and Stoker’s estate successfully sued for copyright infringement. Since then, Dracula has appeared in over 130 films – more than any other fictional character apart from Sherlock Holmes.

Dracula has inspired many literary tributes and parodies, and has been the inspiration of many vampire characters.

© Chambers Harrap Publishers Ltd 2007

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