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Author Biography

Stanley Stepanic, Professor of Slavic Languages & Literatures at the University of Virginia, talks about the life of Bram Stoker and how he came to write Dracula.

Bram Stoker | Biography

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Bram (Abraham) Stoker was born in Dublin, Ireland, on November 8, 1847. A sickly child, Stoker was bedridden for the first seven years of his life. During this period, his mother told him stories from Irish myth and legend to help him pass time during his illnesses, and he grew into a robust young man who studied at Trinity College in Dublin and participated in athletics. He took a position with the Irish civil service and began writing short nonfiction articles such as theater reviews. After Stoker reviewed a play featuring the renowned Shakespearean actor Henry Irving, the men met and became acquaintances. In 1878 Stoker married a famous beauty, Florence Balcombe. That same year, Irving offered him the job of managing Irving's Lyceum Theatre in London. Stoker's organizational ability, a trait he shares with Mina Murray Harker, a character in Dracula, enabled him to excel in this position and exposed him to many literary and stage celebrities both in England and in the United States, where he traveled for business. On his voyages to the United States, he met several important American writers such as poet Walt Whitman and author Mark Twain.

Stoker continued to write nonfiction and began to write short horror stories, publishing a collection, Under the Sunset, in 1881. But he initially found it difficult to make a name in the market. His early publications are hardly remembered today. In about 1890 he began extensive research for a novel called, at one point, The Un-Dead, which was published as Dracula in 1897. Stoker also arranged a reading of an adaptation at the Lyceum, just before the publication date, to establish firm copyright over his creation.

Today Dracula is a household name, and Dracula's literary descendants are the antagonists and, recently, protagonists in movies, television series, hundreds of novels and stories, anime productions, and even children's shows. But the novel did not make Stoker's fortune in his lifetime, or bring him immediate literary fame. Regarded as an entertaining novel—something like a beach read today—Dracula received praise for its imaginative settings and thrilling scenes of vampirism. Like popular fiction today, the novel faced criticism for a number of reasons, including "the want of skill and fancy," as one critic stated, though it did receive positive reviews as well. For example, a July 1897 review in The Spectator criticized Dracula as a member of "the flesh-creeping school" of writing. The Spectator was an influential weekly magazine of news and opinion published in London. Some reviewers complained the compelling title character disappeared for much of the novel, but others appreciated the emphasis on the brave and intelligent band of heroes who hunt down and destroy Dracula.

Gradually, critical acclaim built but still did not translate into financial success. For Stoker, neither Dracula nor his other novels brought him financial security. Ironically, the novel's fame began its steady growth because, in 1922, after Stoker's death, German filmmaker F.W. Murnau released Nosferatu, a film that drew heavily on Dracula. Florence Balcombe Stoker, Bram's widow, engaged in a battle over copyrights that brought Dracula to the attention of many readers—and of Hollywood. With the production of Tod Browning's 1931 Dracula, starring Bela Lugosi in the title role, the count's reputation was finally established.

A year after Dracula's publication, a fire destroyed much of the Lyceum's stage stock, and shortly afterward, Irving sold the theater. For Stoker, these changes resulted in less access to the literary world. However, he continued to write fiction, producing six more novels, some of which were later adapted as movies, and nonfiction works. He published his last novel, The Lair of the White Worm, in 1911, and died on April 20, 1912.

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