Dracula Historical Context

‘Dracula’ has gone on to be the greatest vampire book of all time, but it drew on books before it.

Dracula Historical Context

Dracula

Bram Stoker

‘Dracula’ is a product of its time. The book was built from earlier fictional works about vampires and also incorporated extended research into Scandinavian superstitions. It also reflects the sensibilities of the Victorian era in which Stoker lived. It was published to favourable reviews but only rose to public consciousness and high cultural sensation after Stoker’s death and with its film and drama adaptations.

Dracula Historical Context


Historical and Cultural Context

Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula‘ belongs firmly within the 19ty century Gothic fiction’s flourishing in Western Europe. The combination of old-fashioned romance with its penchant for the mysterious and supernatural with the realistic portrayal of events that defined English literature in the 18th and 19th centuries created the Gothic genre within which backdrop Stoker conceived ‘Dracula’. 

Stoker was influenced by the popular Vampire stories of his time, but the novel also reflected his attitude towards or awareness of contemporary issues occupying Victorian England. ‘Dracula‘ was written at a time when stories about the supernatural flourished in Britain. For a long time stories about the supernatural were confined to children’s stories, with serious literature devoted entirely to a realistic portrayal of the world. 

By 1764 Horace Walpole succeeded in reintroducing the supernatural into serious literature with ‘The Castle of Otranto‘ which featured elements like haunted castles, hidden dungeons, and scary monsters that would later characterize the gothic genre. This paved the way for the flourishing of English gothic literature in the 18th and 19th centuries. The first appearance of the Vampire in English literature was in John Polidori’s ‘The Vampyre‘ which was published in 1819. 

The ‘The Vampyre’s‘ Lord Ruthven was a horrific creature that inspired several Vampire stories by Victorian authors such as the anonymously written ‘Varney the Vampire: Or, The Feast of Blood‘ in 1847 and Sheridan Le Fanu’s ‘Carmilla’ in 1872. It is from Polidori’s Ruthven that Stoker conceived the idea of making his own Vampire attractive and mesmerizing, rather than a repellant monster as was common within previous vampire stories. In ‘Varney the Vampire‘, Stoker incorporated the religious overtones, the Black and clammy aesthetics associated with the undead, and the significance of the stake, among others. 

 The long association between Vampires and Transylvania originated from Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula‘, and this was in turn furnished by Stoker’s research into the customs, traditions, and superstitions of the Transylvanian people. 

Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula‘ is situated within the historical context of Britain’s imperialism and imperialist sentiments. With Britishmen feeling a sense of racial superiority which has heightened the distinction between the superior, clean British person or his close European neighbors, and that of the Other, the people within the fringes of the British Empire, of inferior stock, strange predilections and who above all inspire fear of racial contamination and invasion within Britishers. Analysts have found that this fear of racial contamination was a chief motivator in Stoker’s ‘Dracula‘, with the character, Count Dracula’s arrival in England and the threat of turning regular Britishmen into Vampires and up turning Social order and regular conceptions of morality and decency being representative of Victorian anxieties which Stoker taps into. 

Publication History

Having garnered materials for his book from his research about Transylvanian geography, customs, and superstitions, coupled with access to earlier gothic vampire tales from which he conceived count Dracula, Bram Stoker began work on the novel at a date that analysts haven’t been able to find consensus on. Initially, it was believed that Stoker started the book between 1895-1896, but the rediscovery of Stoker’s notes in 1972 led to the revision of this date towards 1895-1897. Following an extensive study of these notes, it has been suggested that the Stoker could have commenced writing as early as 1890

Whatever the case may be, by at least Nay 1897, ‘Dracula‘ had been completed and was published by Archibald Constable and Company for 6 Shillings. Stoker’s publishing contract ensured he earned no royalties from the first thousand sales of the book. By 1899, Doubleday & McClure published an American edition 1899. In the 1930s the novel entered the public domain after it was discovered that Stoker had not properly complied with the US copyright law. Although ‘Dracula‘ was critically acclaimed, it did not make Stoker much money and would not achieve true widespread acclaim until after Stoker’s death. Remarkably, since ‘Dracula‘ first went into print, it has always been in demand.   

‘Dracula‘ was translated into Icelandic in 1901 by Valdimar Ásmundsson under the title ‘Makt Myrkranna‘ (Powers of Darkness) with a preface written by Stoker. This version contained slight changes, with Stoker alleging that the events in the novel were true.  The character names were changed, and it was more explicitly sexual. 

Legacy

‘Dracula‘ is undoubtedly the most popular and enduring Vampire novel, featuring also the most recurrent and entrenched Vampire characters. Count Dracula and his nemesis, Van Helsing, have been etched into public consciousness and have been reprised in several other vampire books over time, leaping out from Stoker’s book and becoming removable legends within the vampire tradition. Several conventions or tropes that we have come to associate with vampire novels have their origin in Stoker’s narrative. The association of Transylvania to vampires, the vampire’s traditional hatred of garlic sunlight, and crucifixes, the ability of the vampire to transform, the association with bats, the capacity to control the weather, and many other characteristics, including the vampire’s physical appearance owed much to or we’re deepened by Stoker’s book. 

The novel has spawned several movie adaptations over the years, including F. W. Murnau’s ‘Nosferatu‘, and Francis Ford Coppola’s ‘Bram Stoker’s Dracula‘. 

FAQs

Is Dracula based on real events?

Although it has been speculated that Stoker drew inspiration for the titular character of his work from characters with bloodlust such as Vlad the Impaler and Elizabeth Bathory, Dracula itself was not based on any real events. It is wholly fictional

What was the setting of Dracula?

Dracula was set in both Transylvania and Victorian England

Why is Dracula so popular?

Dracula’s popularity is caused in large part by its movie adaptations. Films like Nosferatu dramatized and entrenched into public consciousness the image of the scariest vampire

Dracula Historical Context 🧛
About Israel Njoku
Israel has a Bachelor's degree in Mass Communication. He loves entertainment, pop-culture and the arts and tries to extract themes with wider reaching implications from them through rigorous analysis.
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