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Dracula | Study Guide

Bram Stoker

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Chapter 1

Stanley Stepanic, Professor of Slavic Languages & Literatures at the University of Virginia, explains Chapter 1 in Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula.

Dracula | Chapter 1 : Jonathan Harker's Journal | Summary



Harker's May 3rd entry describes his journey to Transylvania in the remote Carpathians. Harker adds notes from his studies of Transylvania and reports being plagued by odd dreams. After breakfast, he travels through beautiful countryside to the Golden Krone Hotel in Bistritz. A note from Dracula, with travel instructions to his castle, awaits him.

Harker's May 4th entry notes the landlord pretends not to understand Harker's German, apparently to avoid having to answer questions about Dracula. He and his wife cross themselves at the count's name. Before Harker leaves, the landlady urges him not to go to the castle because it is St. George's Day; at midnight, "all the evil things in the world" will become powerful. Since Harker won't let anything disrupt business, the woman offers him her crucifix. Feeling uneasy, he leaves.

Harker writes his May 5th entry from Castle Dracula to record strange happenings. Before he leaves, the driver and the landlady look sad and speak in hushed tones; Harker picks up words like ordog (Satan) and vrolok (werewolf or vampire) and resolves to ask Dracula about local superstitions. Harker, other passengers, and the driver board the coach and race toward Borgo Pass. Harker notices people have set up many crosses by the roadside. Even when the horses tire on steep roads, the driver will not rest them; it's not safe, he says, to walk the road because of ferocious dogs.

When they reach Borgo Pass, villagers press small gifts and blessings on Harker. The driver, not seeing Dracula's carriage, says Harker isn't meeting Dracula after all. But the horses become frantic and the people cry out as a carriage drawn by black horses arrives. The driver's face is hard to see, but his eyes seem to glow, and his red lips frame sharp white teeth. The remarkably strong driver whisks Harker's luggage from coach to carriage and easily pulls him on board. They race away from the village's comforting lights and into the forest. Harker and the horses react with fear when wolves begin to howl, but the driver is untroubled. He repeatedly stops and leaves the carriage to place stones around places where pale blue flames flicker—flames Harker can see even when the driver stands between him and them. Finally, the driver walks far from the carriage, and the wolves move in. As Harker yells and beats the carriage's side to scare them away from the screaming horses, the driver appears out of nowhere. He speaks in a commanding voice, scattering the wolves. Clouds hide the moon, and the carriage sweeps on through the night toward an old castle with dark windows.


Harker keeps his journal in shorthand and sometimes writes in incomplete sentences. The result is a feeling of immediacy and businesslike attention. The tone, as the novel begins, is realistic, even routine. Victorian readers were familiar with travel literature, a popular genre at the time, and the details about the pretty landscape and quaint people he sees along the way fit this genre. Details about Turkish influence on architecture, the people's customs, and the exotic food all contribute to an everyday atmosphere. Harker's journey includes enough real-world detail for readers to trace it on a map today with little trouble, though the spelling of some place names has changed slightly (Bistritz, for example, is modern-day Bistrita). All of these realistic, almost mundane details create a context in which the odd behaviors of the people in Bistritz and at Borgo Pass stand out by contrast and create suspense.

But Harker's first journal entries achieve more than setting the scene and creating a suspenseful tone. They also hint at contrasts that will shape the entire novel. They reveal, for instance, Western, Protestant, and particularly Victorian attitudes. Harker, for instance, reports, the women in the villages are pretty but "very clumsy about the waist." The small waist was a marker of Victorian beauty. The Slovaks he describes as charming with tall boots and dashing mustaches—but they are, Harker reports, "wanting in natural self-assertion," unlike Harker, who lets nothing interfere with his duties to his employer. Harker's landlady at the Golden Krone is nothing but helpful and concerned, yet he notes the bodice of her dress, "too tight for modesty," and is reluctant to accept the crucifix she gives him for protection, having been taught that all such objects are idolatrous. Eastern superstition and Western rationality jostle uncomfortably here and in many chapters.

Setting provides other contrasts and enhances mood. It's early May, a time symbolizing life and rebirth; Harker notes the fertility of the green valleys. He sees "everywhere a bewildering mass of fruit blossom—apple, plum, pear, cherry," waterfalls, and "swelling hills." Life bursts out all around him in the valleys, but in the mountains near Castle Dracula, the scenery becomes Gothic and intimidating. The trees and stone are "great masses of greyness" that create a "weird and solemn effect" and prompt grim ideas. When Harker and his driver enter the forest at night, the strangeness grows. In the snowy darkness, wolves howl, horses tremble, and "great frowning rocks" hem them in. The closer they draw to the castle, the deeper the darkness, and the greater Harker's fear. He passes, in this chapter, from the everyday business of traveling for work, through a picturesque land to the mysterious lair of Dracula. The diligent young English solicitor (lawyer) sits trembling outside the massive door, with no idea what is behind it. Most modern readers know, so what should be a straightforward journal of business travel becomes a set of remarkably suspenseful documents.

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