Bram Stoker was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1847. The son of a civil servant, Stoker was a sickly child. Stoker’s mother, a charity worker and writer, spent a good deal of time entertaining her son with fantastic tales. Stoker went on to study math at Trinity College and graduated in 1867, at which time he joined the Irish civil service. He also worked as a freelance journalist and drama critic, which enabled him to meet the legendary stage actor Henry Irving. The two men became lifelong friends, and Stoker managed Irving’s theater from 1878 until Irving’s death in 1905. Stoker married an aspiring actress, Florence Balcombe, and the couple had one son, Noel, who was born in 1879. Stoker moved to London in order to oversee Irving’s theater, and he fell into the city’s literary circles, which included figures such as Oscar Wilde, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Alfred Lord Tennyson.
Stoker’s early fiction is not of particularly high quality. He wrote short stories for children and then a first novel, The Snake’s Pass (1890), which was unsuccessful. Stoker’s fortunes changed in 1897 with the publication of Dracula, which still stands as his greatest -literary achievement. Although the novel was not an immediate popular success, it has been in print continuously since its first publication and has inspired countless films and other literary works. Stoker continued to write until his death in 1912, producing several adventure novels, including The Jewel of Seven Stars (1904) and The Lair of the White Worm (1911).
Vampire legends have been a part of popular folklore in many parts of the world since ancient times. Throughout the Middle Ages and even into the modern era, reports of corpses rising from the dead with supernatural powers achieved widespread credence. The Dracula family, which Stoker’s count describes with pride in the early chapters of the novel, is based on a real fifteenth-century family. Its most famous member, Vlad Dracula—or Vlad the Impaler, as he was commonly known—enjoyed a bloody career that rivaled that of his fictional counterpart. The Prince of Wallachia, Vlad was a brilliant and notoriously savage general who impaled his enemies on long spikes. The prince also had a reputation for murdering beggars, forcing women to eat their babies, and nailing the turbans of disrespectful ambassadors to their heads. While Stoker’s Count Dracula is supposed to be a descendant of Vlad, and not the prince himself, Stoker clearly makes the count resemble his fearsome ancestor. This historical allusion gives Dracula a semblance of truth, and, as the Author’s Note and the coda make clear, Stoker wants to suggest that the documents assembled in the novel are real.
Stoker also relies heavily on the conventions of Gothic fiction, a genre that was extremely popular in the early nineteenth century. Gothic fiction traditionally includes elements such as gloomy castles, sublime landscapes, and innocent maidens threatened by ineffable evil. Stoker modernizes this tradition in his novel, however, moving from the conventional setting of Dracula’s ruined castle into the bustle of modern England. As Stoker portrays the collision of two disparate worlds—the count’s ancient Transylvania and the protagonist’s modern London—he lays bare many of the anxieties that characterized his age: the repercussions of scientific advancement, the consequences of abandoning traditional beliefs, and the dangers of female sexuality. To this day, Dracula remains a fascinating study of popular attitudes toward sex, religion, and science at the end of the nineteenth century.