Dracula belongs to the tradition of vampire fiction, which is literature thematically concerned with the topic of vampires. While Stoker’s novel has become in many ways the defining example of vampire fiction, it neither originated nor ended the tradition. Vampire fiction has its roots in popular folklore dating back to the medieval period, which featured supernatural stories of corpses rising from the dead. Vampires became especially prevalent in Eastern European folklore of the late seventeenth- and eighteenth-centuries. During this time, a series of real-life vampire “sightings” were also reported across Europe, and in some cases the graves of suspected vampires were even exhumed in what came to be known as “vampire panics.” Stoker was familiar with this background and with the folkloric tradition, which provided a foundation for his own fictional vampire. He is also said to have based his vampire in part on the historical Vlad Dracula (also known as Vlad the Impaler), a fifteenth-century prince known for his cruel and bloody deeds.
In the English literary tradition, Dracula was also preceded and informed by key texts from the Romantic period. In 1819, English author and physician John William Polidori published his short story “The Vampyre: A Tale.” Polidori’s vampire is a mysterious nobleman, who kills young women by draining their blood. The story was immensely popular, inspiring several stage adaptations and paving the way for additional nineteenth-century vampire stories such as James Malcolm Rymer and Thomas Peckett Prest’s popular story Varney the Vampire. Equally influential was Irish author Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s 1872 novella Carmilla. Featuring a female vampire, Carmilla, this Gothic tale includes several elements echoed in Dracula: Lucy’s appearance and sleepwalking, for instance, both make her reminiscent of Carmilla. Yet while Stoker drew inspiration from his predecessors, his novel also played a huge role in canonizing tropes popularly associated with the vampire narrative today. For instance, the vampire’s ability to transform into a bat was not a regular feature in vampire fiction prior to Dracula. Since Stoker’s novel, it has become one of the powers most stereotypically associated with vampires in popular culture.
After Dracula, the tradition of vampire fiction has introduced new levels of moral complexity into the vampire narrative. Twentieth- and twenty-first century vampires increasingly straddle the line between good and evil, inspiring human sympathy and romantic feelings. Stoker’s Dracula is neither morally complex nor sympathetic; it is only Mina’s sense of Christian duty that encourages her to feel sympathy for the vampire. While Stoker describes the vampires with highly sexualized language, he offers little in the way of human-vampire romance. Narratives from Anne Rice’s The Vampire Chronicles and Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series depict vampires as fully developed characters, and often as characters worthy of romantic love. In these narratives, vampires can be as sympathetic and emotionally complex as their human counterparts. Such narratives are often less invested in hunting vampires than they are in exploring vampires as part of a community. While there are plenty of vampire narratives that continue the tradition established by Stoker’s Dracula, the great development in vampire fiction across the last 100 years may be in drawing out the humanity of vampires, and developing more fully the sympathy that Mina first extends toward Dracula.