Bram Stoker & Dracula (1897)

Literatura Irlandesa / LEM2055

Dr. Bruce Stewart
Reader Emeritus in English Literature
University of Ulster

Index of Resources
Classroom Readings
Critical Commentary
Some Further Texts
The Oxford Companion

A Bram Stoker Album


Bram Stoker (1847-1912) belongs to a tradition of Irish Gothic Writing which has its origins in the eighteenth-century genre which originated with Horace Walpole’s Castle of Otranto (1746) and Anne Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpo (1794). In keeping with the sub-title of Walpole’s novel, “A Gothic Tale”, was much concerned with torture, terror, death and betrayal in archaic settings redolent of human history in a cruel phase than the present time. As such it is essentially a literature of “revenants” - that is, returning spirits in both the ghost-story and the metaphorical sense of the term. It is also the fictional form in which writers find it possible to contemplate the theme of atavism - that is, the idea that we do not leave the past behind and constantly live in the shadow of our own antecedent: brutal, distorted and malevolent shades of the era of conquest and enslavement, abuse, abjection and exploitation. While all of these are supposed to have gone away with the advent of modernity, the evidence is to the contrary: in the form of gender-relations, human-trafficking, colonial exploitation, neo-imperialism, and so on, they are all very much here today, though disguised in reasonable form.

For afficionados of Gothic fiction, the tradition properly begins with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1823) - a novel which tells the story of the attempt to create a human being form the parts of dead bodies with the resultant horror of a being whose heart and mind are strenuously opposed to our own. He is our monster: he is also an allegory of the world that we have created by the intrusion of our “scientific” practices into the natural order. As such, it may be regarded more as a precursor of sci-fi than Gothic Fiction - but it has all the familar elements of the diary and the epistolary narrative, the bounding tale that visits strange and terrifying scenes, and the central crisis involving some perversion of proper human relations and the creation of a monstrous immoralism in the midst of ordinary life. A constant ingredient in Gothic fiction is, moreover, the struggle between Catholicism and Protestantism - or, rather, the demonisation of Catholicism by Protestant writers whose interest in the more mystical flavour of the older religion have led the genre to be described as “Protestant Magic”.

Several Anglo-Irish writers made this genre very much their own in the nineteenth century. The first of these, Charles Maturin (1782-1824), gave us Melmoth the Wanderer (1820), the story of a man who sells his soul to the Devil - and evades the outcome by becoming undead. The second, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu (1814-73), gave us Uncle Silas and The House by the Churchyard (1863), both of which hover between the uncanny and the supernatural in a fashion that prefigures the modern psychological novel. He also wrote a female vampire tale called Carmilla (1871-72) which clearly anticipate the plot of Dracula - but with a lesbian twist. And so, finally, we come to Bram Stoker (1847-1912) who created the most successful of all Gothic characters, the Transylvania vampire Count Dracula who feeds on the blood of young Englishmen and women and seems likely to import his ghastly brood to London where he will vampirise the entire British population - unless our heroes stop him! Chief of these is Van Helsing, a Dutch vampire specialist, and with him a team of “champions” from English, Scotland and America who succeed in pinning Dracula down in the only possible way: crucifix and garlic. In this respect, the novel is a drama of the Anglo-Saxon conquest of the forces of darkness in the modern world. Hurrah!

In seeking an explanation for the prevalence of Gothic novels among the Anglo-Irish writers - others like Regina Maria Roche George Croly and even Oscar Wilde could be mentioned also - critics have looked at a chronicle of colonisation in which the Protestant upper-class established their hold on the land of Ireland during the 17th century. According to this theory, a lasting effect of this great act of dispossession was a scar on the consciousess of the colonising class themselves in the form of a sense of guilt that returns in the manner of the Freudian “repressed” to haunt them in later generations. While this is difficult to maintain in relation to individual writers - who rarely felt like that about the deeds of their forebears - it is certainly the case that, in the later part of the nineteenth-century, they were “running out of land” as the Catholic masses increasingly gained control of the economic levers of Irish life. (It was the rise of British democracy as much as Irish political agitation which brought this about.) Although the end was not quite nigh, it was possible to feel that the easy superiority of the Protestants of Ireland over their Catholic neighbours was under threat from 1867 onwards - the date when the so-called Tithe (or “one-tenth”) paid as tax by Irish Catholics to support the Established (Anglican) Church in Ireland was abolished by the British Parliament - an event known as the Disestablishment of the Church.

Stoker was a brilliant student and public speaker at Trinity College, Dublin - he lectured on ‘Sensationalism in Fiction and Society’ in 1867 - and afterwards worked as an Inspector of Petty Courts in the Civil Service before becoming a theatrical manager for Henry Irving, the “tragedian” whose stage-craft and personality he so much admired. Stoker held the American poet Walt Whitman in similar esteem and it has been conjectured that one ingredient in the creation of Dracula was a repressed homosexual strain which locked on to those powerful icons of cultured masculinity in the Victorian world. His mother remembered (and retold) fearful scenes during the Great Irish Famine but he himself was an overt devotee of the idea of progress in the form of industrial development. He wrote, for instance, that "the days of Donnybrook Fair" are over - meaning the faction fights described by William Carleton; yet his most famous novel tends to tell a contrary tale insofar as it concerns an atavistic nightmare from which, it appears, we cannot escape. In this way he epitomised the form of Anglo-Irish consciousness, laden with historical memories which seemed to In so doing, however, he also managed to dovetail with the rising preoccupation with an issue called “degeneracy” in contemporary social writings. Spearheading this dangerous tendency of thought - which inevitably turned into Fascist eugenics - were the sociologists Cesare Lombroso (Criminal Man, 1874) and Max Nordau (Degeneracy, 1897) who have the special interest that they are actually cited in the text of Dracula.

See some of Bram Stoker’s opinions - infra.

[ Note: All files listed on this page are downloadable MS Word documents which can be read and saved on your own hard-drive. ]

Primary Texts

Classroom Readings

From Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897)

Dracula (1897) -“Nailing the Vampir(ess)” [Chaps. XV-XVI]
Dracula (1897) -“Van Helsing’s Explanation” [extracts]
Some Remarks of Stoker’s on life and letters.

From J. S Le Fanu's Carmilla (1871)

Carmilla by Joseph S. Le Fanu (extracts)
Carmilla by Joseph S. Le Fanu (full text)

[ A full copy of Dracula can be reached in RICORSO > Library > “Irish Classics” - as a web-page or else as a download.]

Some Further Texts
Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897) - full text

Copies of the following works by Le Fanu can be found in RICORSO > Library > “Irish Classics”:
Go direct ...
Carmilla (1857)
Uncle Silas (1864)
“Madam Crowl’s Ghost” (1870)
“Green Tea” (1871)

... or via index

Secondary Texts

Scholarly Commentaries

Elizabeth Bowen and W. J. McCormack on the Irish Background of Le Fanu’s Silas Marner and other works
Christopher Craft, ‘“Kiss Me with Those Red Lips”: Gender and Inversion in Bram Stoker’s Dracula’ (1989)
Recent Irish commentaries on Dracula: Andrew Parkin, Seamus Deane and Terry Eagleton (1988-97)
Roy Foster on ‘Protestant Magic in Irish Literary and Society’, in Yeats’s Political Identities, ed. Jonathan Allison (1996)
Dawn Boreham, “The Revenant in Contemporary Fiction” (Undergraduate Dissertation / Univ. of Ulster 2006)
Maeve Davey, “Notes on Gothic Fiction”: A Thesis Proposal on the Postcolonial Writers of Northern Ireland (Ulster 2007) download
Bruce Stewart, ‘Bram Stoker’s Dracula: Possessed by the Spirit of the Nation?’ (1998)

The Oxford Companion to Irish Literature (1996)
ed. Robert Welch; asst. ed. Bruce Stewart
On Bram Stoker - The Snake's Pass (1890) - Dracula (1897)
On J. S. Le Fanu - House by the Churchyard (1863) - Uncle Silas (1864) .. &c.

[ You can greatly extend your knowledge of this writer by browsing in RICORSO - online. ]

[ top ]

Some of Bram Stoker’s Opinions

Ireland - past & future: ‘The days of Donnybrook Fair and all it meant, the days of the stage Irishman and the stagey Irish play, of Fenianism and landlordism are rapidly passing away, if they have not even now [come] to an end [to be replaced by] a strenuous, industrious spirit, spreading its revivifying influence so rapidly over the old country as to be worth more than historical bitterness and sentimental joys’. ‘The Great White Fair in Dublin [...]’, in The World’s Work: An Illustrated Magazine of Efficiency and Progress, Vol. 9 (1907), p.570-1; quoted in William Hughes, ‘“For Ireland’s Good”, The Reconstruction of Rural Ireland in Bram Stoker’s The Snake’s Pass’, in Irish Studies Review, Autumn 1995, pp.17-21; p.21.)

Letter to W. H. Gladstone (Prime Minister): ‘I deem it a high privilege to be able to address you in the first person and to be able to put before you a book of my own, though it be only an atom in the intellectual Kingdom where you have so long held sway. [...] It is a story of a vampire ] the old medieval vampire but recrudescent today [...] the book is necessarily full of horrors and terrors but I trust that these are calculated to cleanse the mind by pity & terror. At any rate there is nothing base in the book, and though superstition is fought in it with the weapons of superstition, I hope it is not irreverent.’ (Quoted in Barbara Belford, Bram Stoker: A Biography of Bram Stoker, NY: Knopf, 1996, p.274-75.)

Simply killing!: ‘Never before did I understand the pleasure of killing a man. Since then, it makes me shudder when I think of how so potent a passion, or so keen a pleasure, can rest latent in the heart of a righteous man. It may have been that between the man and myself was all the antagonism that came from race, and fear, and wrongdoing; but the act of his killing was to me a joy unspeakable. It will rest with me as a wild pleasure till I die.’ (The Mystery of the Sea, 1902 - Chapter LI: “The Sea Fog”; rep. edn. Sutton 1997, p. 260; quoted in Andrew Smith, ‘Bram Stoker’s The Mystery of the Sea: Ireland and the Spanish-Cuban-American War’, in Irish Studies Review, Vol. 6, No. 2, August 1988, pp.131-38, p.137.)

On Censorship: ‘A close analysis will show that the only emotions which in the long run harm are those arising from sex impulses and when we have realised this we have put a finger on the actual point of danger.’ (‘The Censorship of Fiction’, The Nineeteeth Century & After, [1906]; quoted in Belford, op. cit., 1996, p.312.)

See also ...

“The Dead Travel Fast”: Deadly Transports in Bürger’s “Lenore” and Stoker’s Dracula
A Quizzicality by Bruce Stewart (2017)

[ back ]
[ top ]