Jonathan Harker stands outside Dracula’s remarkable castle, wondering what sort of adventure he has gotten himself into. After a long wait, the count appears and welcomes Harker. Clad in black, he is a tall old man, who is clean-shaven aside from a long, white moustache. When the two shake hands, Harker is impressed by the strength of Dracula’s grip, but notes that the ice-cold hand is more like that of a dead man than a living one. Still, the count’s greeting is so warm that the Englishman’s fears vanish. Harker enters and takes his dinner before a roaring fire. As the two converse, Harker notices what calls Dracula’s “marked physiognomy”: the count has pointed ears, exceptionally pale skin, and extremely sharp teeth. Harker’s nervousness and fears return.
The next day, Harker wakes to find a note from Dracula, excusing himself for the day. Left to himself, Harker enjoys a hearty meal and, encountering no servants in the castle, explores his bedroom and the unlocked room adjacent to it. He sees expensive furniture, rich tapestries and fabrics, and a library filled with reading material in English—but notes that there are no mirrors to be found anywhere.
That evening, Dracula joins Harker for conversation in the library, as he is eager to learn inflections of English speech before moving to his new estate. The men discuss the pervasiveness of evil spirits in Transylvania. Harker describes the house that the count has purchased: it is an old mansion called Carfax, quite isolated, with only a lunatic asylum and an old chapel nearby. Dracula draws out the conversation long into the night, but abruptly leaves his guest at daybreak. The count’s strange behavior increases Harker’s sense of uneasiness.
The next day, Dracula interrupts Harker shaving. Harker is startled and accidentally cuts himself. Glancing at his shaving mirror, he notices that the count has no reflection. Harker is also startled by Dracula’s reaction to the sight of his blood: the count lunges for his guest’s throat, drawing back only after touching the string of beads that holds Harker’s crucifix. After warning Harker against cutting himself in this country, Dracula throws the shaving mirror out a window. Left alone, Harker eats breakfast, noting that he has never seen his host eat or drink. His suspicions aroused, he once again goes exploring, only to discover one locked door after another. Harker realizes he is a prisoner in the count’s castle.
That night, Harker questions his host about the history of Transylvania. Dracula speaks enthusiastically of the country’s people and battles, and he boasts of the glories of his family name. Over the course of the next several days, the count, in turn, grills Harker about matters of English life and law. He tells Harker to write letters to his fiancée and employer, telling them that he will extend his stay in Transylvania by a month. Feeling obliged to his firm and overpowered by the count, Harker agrees. Preparing to take his leave for the evening, Dracula warns his guest never to fall asleep anywhere in the castle other than his own room. Harker hangs his crucifix above his bed and, satisfied that the count has departed, sets out to explore the castle. Peering out a window, Harker observes Dracula crawling down the sheer face of the castle. He wonders what kind of creature the count is and fears that there will be no escape.
One evening soon thereafter, Harker forces a locked room open and falls asleep, not heeding the count’s warning. Harker is visited—whether in a dream or not, he cannot say—by three beautiful women with inhumanly red lips and sharp teeth. The women approach him, filling him with a “wicked, burning desire.” Just as one of the voluptuous women bends and places her lips against his neck, Dracula sweeps in, ordering the women to leave Harker alone. “When I am done with him you shall kiss him at your will,” the count tells them. To appease the disappointed trio, Dracula offers them a bag containing a small, “half-smothered” child. The terrible women seem to fade out of the room as Harker drifts into unconsciousness.
Harker wakes up in his own bed, unsure whether the previous night’s experience was a dream or reality. Several days later, Dracula asks Harker to write three letters to his fiancée and employer, and to date them June
Meanwhile, a party of Gypsies has come to the castle, and Harker, hoping for a chance to escape, resolves to ask them to send a letter to Mina. Harker passes his secret correspondence to a Gypsy through the bars of his window. Later that evening, Dracula appears with the letter in hand, declaring that it is a vile outrage upon his friendship and hospitality, and burns it.
Weeks pass. It is now mid-June, and Harker remains a prisoner. More Gypsies arrive at the castle, and Harker sees them unloading large wooden boxes from a wagon. One day, having discovered that several articles of his clothing have disappeared for some “new scheme of villainy,” Harker witnesses the count slithering down the castle wall wearing Harker’s suit. Dracula carries a bundle much like the one earlier devoured by the three terrible women, which convinces Harker that his host is using the disguise to commit unspeakable deeds.
Later that day, a distraught woman appears at the castle gate, wailing for her child. A pack of wolves emerges from the courtyard and devours her. Desperate, Harker resolves to scale a portion of the castle wall in order to reach Dracula’s room during the day. He manages the feat and finds the count’s room empty except for a heap of gold. Discovering a dark, winding stairway, Harker follows it and encounters fifty boxes of earth in a tunnel-like passage. Harker opens several of the boxes and discovers the count in one of them, either dead or asleep. Terrified, Harker flees back to his room.
In the morning, Harker wakes early and climbs down to the count’s room again. Dracula is asleep as before, but looks younger and sleeker, and Harker notices blood trickling down from the corners of his mouth. Harker takes up a shovel, meaning to kill the vampire, but the blow glances harmlessly off the count’s forehead. Harker resolves to take some of Dracula’s gold and attempt to escape by descending the castle wall. His entry ends with a desperate, “Good-bye, all! Mina!”
The Author’s Note with which Dracula begins reflects a popular conceit in eighteenth-century fiction. Rather than constructing a narrative from the perspective of an omniscient third-person narrator, Stoker presents the story through transcribed journals. In effect, the novel masquerades as a real diary. Were the story told as a first-person reflection, we would be sure of the fate of the protagonist: because he is telling his tale, he must have lived through it. However, because the author of the diary writes directly as events happen, he may be tragically unaware of the danger of his surroundings. Harker has no time to reflect on his experiences and no way of knowing if he is placing himself in danger.
This real-time technique is popular within the horror genre: since the narrator has no way of knowing how the story will end, neither does the audience. The
Because contemporary readers are so familiar with the vampire legend—whether in the form of The Lost Boys, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Salem’s Lot, or countless other incarnations—it is difficult to appreciate the magnitude of shock and dread that Stoker’s contemporaries felt upon reading his novel. For us, the suspense more likely comes from watching the characters piece together the count’s puzzle.
Chapter III contains one of the most discussed scenes in the novel. Drifting in and out of consciousness, Harker is visited by the three female vampires, who dance seductively before the angry count drives them away. The women’s appearance in the room where Harker is sleeping is undeniably sexual, as the Englishman’s characteristically staid language becomes suddenly ornate. Harker notes “the ruby of their voluptuous lips” and feels “a wicked, burning desire that they would kiss me.” As he stretches beneath the advancing women “in an agony of delightful anticipation,” his position suggests, not at all subtly, an act of oral sex.
Harker is simultaneously confronting a vampire and another creature equally terrifying to Victorian England: an unabashedly sexual woman. The women’s voluptuousness puts them at odds with the two English heroines, Lucy Westenra and Mina Murray, whom we see later in the novel. The fact that the vampire women prey on a defenseless child perverts any notion of maternity, further distinguishing them from their Victorian counterparts. These “weird sisters,” as Van Helsing later calls them, stand as a reminder of what is perhaps Dracula’s greatest threat to society: the transformation of prim, proper, and essentially sexless English ladies into uncontrollable, lustful animals.
Harker spends a lot of time wondering whether this vision of repulsion and delight is real. He is unsure whether the women actually bend closer and closer to him, or if he merely dreams of their approach. If the women are real, they threaten to drink Harker’s blood, fortifying themselves by depleting his strength. If they are merely part of a fantastic dream , as Harker suspects, they nonetheless threaten to drain him of another vital fluid—semen. Critic C.F. Bentley believes that the passage in which Harker lies “in -languorous ecstasy and wait[s]—wait[s] with beating heart” suggests a nocturnal emission. Either way, Harker stands to be drained of a vital fluid, which to the Victorian male imagination represents an overturning of the male-dominated social structure.