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Term Definition

In his work Dracula, Bram Stoker develops the character of Count Dracula: this includes putting Dracula in Transylvania and his need for new blood upon which to sustain himself. In fact, several of the elements that modern people tend to associated with Dracula were first introduced in Stoker's work. In an important sense, this work was instrumental in crystallizing the modern popular conception of the mythical creature known as the vampire.  

Dracula Summary

Dracula is an 1897 horror novel by Irish author Bram Stoker (1847-1912). As one of the premier works of Gothic fiction, the novel has achieved everlasting fame for introducing the iconic horror character Count Dracula: a staple of worldwide pop culture and the subject of numerous movies and other media.

At the outset of the story, English solicitor Jonathan Harker is abroad in Transylvania to discuss a real estate transaction at the castle of Count Dracula. Though the solicitor is initially charmed by the Count, he soon feels imprisoned in the castle, from which he barely escapes with his life after encountering three vampire sisters. By this time, Dracula has departed for England, where he infects various lairs and haunts two young women: Harker's fiancée Mina Murray and her best friend Lucy Westenra. Newly engaged, Lucy falls mysteriously ill before succumbing to a wolf attack, only to reemerge as a vampire. Professor Abraham van Helsing, who knows about what has happened to Lucy, informs the undead woman's suitors. They track her down, put her out with garlic, and set out to catch Dracula, who has repeatedly preyed less successfully on Mina. The chase proceeds back to Transylvania, where a showdown climaxes with Dracula crumbling to dust after being struck with a Bowie knife.

Core Motifs and Themes

According to various readings, the plight of the novel's female characters is representative of the dichotomy between propriety and carnality in Victorian society. Mina and Lucy both represent the virtues of modesty and premarital chastity; the two foremost traits expected of women in 19th century England. By infecting Lucy, Dracula succeeds at luring a woman of purity to the dark side of vampish lust. In vampire form, Lucy embodies all that is forbidden of women in the proper culture that she once inhabited; therefore, she must be put to rest. 

Due to the Count's appearance and the weapons used to repel him, Dracula has been interpreted as a staunchly pro-Christian work of literature. As an ageless character predating faith, Dracula's very appearance invokes Satan: from his pointy ears and serrated teeth to the pale skin, piercing eyes, and sharp widows peak that frames his countenance. His consumption of blood also represents a devilish, anti-spiritual mode of existence. Symbolically, the crucifix—an icon of Christian faith—is his primary weakness.

Critical Reception and Background

Despite glowing reviews among literary critics at the time of its publication, Dracula was not a huge hit with the late-1890s reading public. The novel generated little money for Stoker, who fell upon financial hard times during the final years of his life. It was only after the story's first few adaptations to motion picture during the 1920s and early 30s that Dracula finally achieved iconic status in the annals of popular culture.

The first significant movie adaptation of the story was F. W. Murnau's Nosferatu (1922). Unauthorized by the Stoker estate, the German director went to great lengths to avoid copyright infringement, such as altering various details and changing the Count's name to "Orlok." Despite these differences, Stoker's widow successfully sued to have the movie withdrawn from circulation. Even though the court ordered that all copies be destroyed, one copy of Nosferatu circulated worldwide and was duplicated many times over. The silent film has since been lauded as one of the greatest horror movies ever made.

The publicity around that lawsuit set the ball rolling on the story's popularity. After a theatrical adaptation of Nosferatu toured the U.S., Hollywood caught wind of Stoker's novel, and Universal Pictures secured rights to bring the story to the big screen with Hungarian actor Bela Lugosi in the starring role. Hitting theatres in 1931, Dracula was an instant smash that has since become the foremost depiction of the world's most famous vampire character.

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