Dracula Bram Stoker
(Full name Abraham Stoker) Irish novelist, short story writer, and essayist.
The following entry presents criticism on Stoker's novel Dracula (1897).
Dracula is one of the most famous horror novels of all time. Published in 1897, the book garnered much critical and popular attention at the time of its publication and through the years has spawned countless stories and novels by other authors, as well as numerous theatrical and cinematic adaptations. In fact, Dracula has never gone out of print since its first publication. Many critics regard the novel as the best-known and most enduring Gothic vampire story ever published.
Plot and Major Characters
Dracula is an epistolary novel, comprised of journal entries, letters, newspaper clippings, a ship's log, and phonograph recordings. In the first part of the novel, a young English solicitor, Jonathan Harker, is sent to Transylvania to counsel a wealthy client, Count Dracula. During Harker's two-month stay at Dracula's castle, he becomes disconcerted by Dracula's odd appearance, eccentricities, and predatory behavior; he begins to fear for his safety. After some investigation, Harker discovers that Dracula sleeps in a coffin in a crypt beneath the castle during the day and spends his nights stealing babies from the nearby town. He attempts to escape the castle, where he has become a hostage. In the next part of the novel, the scene shifts to England and the friendship between Harker's fiancée, Mina Murray, and a young lady named Lucy. After being courted by three worthy suitors, Lucy has accepted the marriage proposal of Arthur Holmwood, the future Lord Godalming. While on vacation in Whitby with Lucy and her mother, Mina chronicles in her diary the mysterious arrival of a Russian schooner, containing fifty boxes of earth, the corpses of the ship's crew, and a large black dog, which quickly disappears after landing. Lucy begins acting strangely, and Mina finds two tiny holes in Lucy's neck. Abruptly, Mina is called to Budapest to tend to Jonathan, who has escaped Dracula's castle and is suffering from brain fever. When he is sufficiently recovered, the two marry. Meanwhile, Lucy's condition deteriorates, and she gets weaker and paler. Holmwood appeals to his friend and former rival for Lucy's affections, the doctor Seward, to assess her condition. He also calls in a specialist, Dr. Van Helsing. Despite various treatments, Lucy dies.
After Harker and Mina return to London, Harker sees Dracula on the street but begins to doubt his own sanity. Reports in the newspaper detail the abduction of several small children near the cemetery where Lucy was buried. Harker describes his experiences in Dracula's castle to Van Helsing, who connects Dracula with Lucy; he realizes that Lucy has become a vampire and is abducting and biting local children. Van Helsing, Seward, Holmwood, and another of Lucy's former suitors, Morris, trap Lucy, drive a stake through her heart, and cut off her head. Then they place holy wafers in several of the boxes of earth found on the Russian schooner, thereby rendering the coffins uninhabitable for vampires. Meanwhile, Dracula has chosen Mina for his next victim and begins to turn her into a vampire. Van Helsing and his crew try to save her, but realize they have to kill Dracula to do it. They track Dracula to his London home, yet he manages to escape. They follow him to Europe, and after a struggle, they drive a knife through his heart and cut off his head. As Dracula's body disintegrates, Mina is saved.
Initially, Dracula was interpreted as a straightforward horror novel. Yet later critics began to explore the theme of repressed sexuality within the story. Commentators asserted that the transformation of Dracula's female victims, Lucy and Mina, from chaste to sexually aggressive should be considered a commentary on the attitude toward female sexuality in Victorian society. Homoerotic elements in the relationship between Dracula and Harker have also been detected. Moreover, the drinking of blood has been regarded as a metaphor for sexual intercourse, and the stakes that kill Lucy and three other vampire women have been discussed as phallic symbols. Critics have since tended to view Dracula from a Freudian psychosexual standpoint; however, the novel has also been interpreted from folkloric, political, feminist, and religious points of view. Other commentators have identified themes of parricide, infanticide, and gender reversal in Dracula. Autobiographical aspects of the novel have also been a topic of critical discussion, as a few commentators maintain that the novel is based on Stoker's traumatic experiences with doctors—and particularly the procedure of blood-letting—as a sickly child. The literary origins of Dracula have been investigated, such as Dr. William Polidori's The Vampyre, Thomas Prest's Varney the Vampyre, J. S. Le Fanu's Carmilla, and Guy de Maupassant's “Le Horla.”
Early critical reaction to Dracula was mixed. Some early reviewers noted the “unnecessary number of hideous incidents” which could “shock and disgust” readers. One critic even advised keeping the novel away from children and nervous adults. Today the name of Dracula is familiar to many people who may be wholly unaware of Stoker's identity, though the popularly held image of the vampire bears little resemblance to the demonic being that Stoker depicted. Adaptations of Dracula in plays and films have taken enormous liberties with Stoker's characterization. A resurgence of interest in traditional folklore has revealed that Stoker himself did not conform to established vampire legend. Yet Dracula has had tremendous impact on readers since its publication. Whether Stoker evoked a universal fear, or as some modern critics would have it, gave form to a universal fantasy, he created a powerful and lasting image that has become a part of popular culture.
Below you will find five outstanding thesis statements for Dracula by Bram Stoker that can be used as essay starters or paper topics. All five incorporate at least one of the themes found in the text and are broad enough so that it will be easy to find textual support, yet narrow enough to provide a focused clear thesis statement. These thesis statements offer a short summary of Dracula in terms of different elements that could be important in an essay. You are, of course, free to add your own analysis and understanding of the plot or themes to them for your essay. Using the essay topics below in conjunction with the list of important quotes from Dracula by Bram Stoker at the bottom of the page, you should have no trouble connecting with the text and writing an excellent essay.Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #1: Dracula as a Gothic Novel
Bram Stoker’s Dracula has all of the classic elements of a Gothic novel. The setting of the novel is a dark crumbling castle, the tone is mysterious, there is a villainous character, and there is the sense that the hero is struggling against an inescapable fate. Write an essay in which you identify these and other Gothic characteristics and examine their significance. Argue that Dracula is a particularly excellent example of the Gothic genre by relying heavily upon textual support. You may wish to incorporate an intertextual analysis into this essay, in which you compare and contrast Dracula with other Gothic novels.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #2: Sexuality
One of the many taboos that is explored in Dracula is related to sexuality. Stoker seems to be contesting Victorian sensibilities and ideas about the solely procreative function of sex. Consider, for example, the fourth quote in the section below and examine whether sexuality in Dracula is transgressive. Explain why the novel presents such an exaggerated kind of sexual energy—with one being literally devouring another—in order to develop a response to traditional Victorian sexuality.Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #3: The Role of Religion in Dracula
Another idea/institution that is important in Dracula is that of religion. Note that the symbols of religion—crucifixes, rosaries, and the like—become the tools that are used to ward off the evil and danger the vampire intends to perpetrate. Considering these and other latent symbols and references to religion in Dracula, write an essay in which you develop an argument about Stoker’s religious position. Alternately, you may wish to develop an argumentative essay in which you defend or contest the idea that religion in Dracula is diametrically opposed to the conventions and content of the Gothic genre.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #4: The Use Secondary Sources in Dracula by Bram Stoker
The narrator develops the story of Dracula by relying upon secondary sources: journal entries, letters, newspaper articles. Explain how these secondary sources either enhance or challenge the narrator’s credibility and reliability. Consider, for instance, that in this otherwise fantastic, Gothic story with a wholly unbelievable character—a vampire—the use of secondary sources, especially multiple sources, can be utilized for the purpose of convincing the reader of the veracity, or at least the possibility, of the events as he tells them.
Thesis Statement/Essay Topic #5: The Role of Science in the Gothic Novel
The Gothic genre was reaching its height during the age of scientific reasoning, and it was no coincidence that many seminal Gothic texts, including Dracula, include active, direct references to the scientific zeitgeist of the age. Consider quote #7 below and write an essay in which you explain Stoker’s position on the scientific enterprise. In this argumentative essay on Dracula, be sure to address whether the characters in the novel support or challenge the position that the author ultimately wants to convey.
* For an excellent freely accessible essay on Dracula as well as others on similar literary topics, visit the Literature Archives at Article Myriad *
This list of important quotations from Dracula by Bram Stoker will help you work with the essay topics and thesis statements above by allowing you to support your claims. All of the important quotes from Dracula listed here correspond, at least in some way, to the paper topics above and by themselves can give you great ideas for an essay by offering quotes and explanations about other themes, symbols, imagery, and motifs than those already mentioned and explained. Aside from the thesis statements above, these quotes alone can act as essay questions or study questions as they are all relevant to the text in an important way. All quotes contain page numbers as well. Look at the bottom of the page to identify which edition of Dracula they are referring to.
“I read that every known superstition in the world is gathered into the horseshoe of the Carpathians, as if it were the centre of some sort of imaginative whirlpool; if so my stay may be very interesting.” (8)
“As the Count leaned over me and his hands touched me… a horrible feeling of nausea came over me, which, do what I would, I could not conceal.” (27)
“When the Count saw my face, his eyes blazed with a sort of demonaic fury, and he suddenly made a grab at my throat. I drew away, and his hand touched the string of beads which held the crucifix. It made an instant change in him, for the fury passed so quickly that I could hardly believe that it was ever there.” (36)
“The fair girl went on her knees and bent over me, fairly gloating. There was a deliberate voluptuousness which was both thrilling and repulsive, and as she arched her neck she actually licked her lips like an animal… I could feel the soft, shivering touch of the lips on the supersensitive skin of my throat, and the hard dents of two sharp teeth, just touching and pausing there.” (51)
“…[T]here, on our favourite seat, the silver light of the moon struck a half-reclining figure, snowy white… [S]omething dark stood behind the seat where the white figure shone, and bent over it. What it was, whether man or beast, I could not tell.” (112)
“No man knows till he experiences it, what it is like to feel his own life-blood drawn away into the woman he loves.” (156)
“The blood is the life!” (171)
“Ah, it is the fault of our science that it wants to explain all; and if it explain not, then it says there is nothing to explain. But yet we see around us every day the growth of new beliefs, which think themselves new; and which are yet but the old, which pretend to be young. . . ." (229)
“My revenge has just begun! I spread it over centuries and time is on my side.” (366)
“I on my part give up the certainty of eternal rest and go out into the dark where may be the blackest things that the world or the nether world holds!” (394)
Reference: Stoker, Bram. Dracula. New York: Pocket Books, 2003.