Just over a century
ago, the novel Dracula was published, written by the Irish author
Bram Stoker. It created a widespread interest in vampirism and
depicted Eastern Europe as a rather macabre country. But was Stoker
inspired by Eastern Europe, or instead legends and sites of the
June 24, 1897, Midsummer’s day, the London publisher Arthur
Constable published Dracula, by Irish-born author Bram Stoker.
At the time, he was a relatively well-known author, with four
previous novels published. However, as his writing did not provide
an adequate source of income, he continued to work as the manager
of the Lyceum Theatre, in the heart of London, where he co-operated
with the famous actor Henry Irving, who also owned the theatre.
In 1897, few would realise that Dracula would become an all-time
classic in the history of literature and would set a…. vampire-like
tooth imprint on the horror genre. Dracula was a thriller that
featured vampires, creatures that feast on human blood. In an
era where the story is best known through a number of films, the
novel was actually written as a series of letters, sent between
the various characters. The sum of these letters was the story
of count Dracul, living in Transylvania, who desired to buy several
properties in and around London, for which he employed the services
of a London based business agency, who decide to send an employee,
Jonathan Harker, to Transylvania. Harker soon realises that the
count is not his average client and notices his rather “eccentric”
While he is away, his fiancée Mina is staying with her
rich friend Lucy Westenra, in the English coastal town of Whitby.
It is in that harbour that the count’s ship arrives and
a series of bizarre events are set into motion. Lucy becomes ill
and suffers from a remarkable amount of blood loss. It allows
for the protagonists to realise that the count is actually a vampire,
using human blood to attain – if not sustain – his
immortality. Fortunately, Harker and his friends are able to defeat
the count, thanks to the assistance of Dutch professor van Helsing.
Alas, to save Lucy from an eternal “undead”, a stake
is driven through her heart and her head is chopped off.
Though Transylvania has proudly
opened all sites of its “vampire trail” to tourism,
Stoker actually never visited the area and the sites that formed
the inspiration for Transylvania were actually all located in
his native Ireland and his adopted England. The only important
item that came from Romania and that was used in his book was
the story of count Dracul itself, which was based on Vlad Tepes
– Vlad III The Impaler. Born in 1431, he founded the city
of Budapest, the capital of Hungary, which was part of his empire.
He was a cruel man and there are legends that he forced mothers
to eat their own children. In a fight against the Turks, it is
claimed that he killed 20,000 of his enemies, displaying them
on pointed, oiled wooden posts.
Vlad III – like his father – was a member of the Order
of the Dragon, founded by Sigismund of Luxembourg. Like so many
chivalric orders, its purpose was to uphold Christianity and defend
the empire against the Ottoman Turks. As such, his father had
taken the name “Vlad II Dracul” and wore the emblem
of the order. As ruler of Wallachia, his coinage also bore the
The name Dracula means “Son of Dracul” and it is no
doubt while reading Romanian history – the story of Vlad
III – that Stoker came upon the name. In fact, once he came
upon this name, he decided not to use the name Count Wampyr for
his dark lord, no doubt deeming it to be a too obvious reference
to vampires, which at the time were already a popular topic, made
famous by the likes of Lord Byron in 1819 (“The Vampyre”)
and others before and after him.
the work therefore seems to have an Eastern European appeal, others
have considered it is nevertheless typically Irish. In fact, in
writing Dracula, Stoker may have drawn on stories about the sídhe
— some of which feature blood-drinking women.
In 1882, Stoker wrote “Under the Sunset”, which has
several references to Irish folklore themes, including the title
itself, referring to “Tir na nÓg’, the Otherworld.
Furthermore, the very name, Dracula, is not only the title of
Vlad II, it is also similar to the Irish droch-fhola (pronounced
drok’ola), meaning “bad blood”. Their legend
was also linked with a castle, Dún Dreach-Fhola, the “castle
of blood visage”, which was high up a lonely pass among
the Macgillycuddy’s Reeks. It is clear that this very similar
to the setting of the Count’s lair. However, the actual
inspiration for Dracula’s castle itself came from Scotland.
Stoker was staying in a hotel in Cruden Bay, Aberdeenshire, when
he heard of nearby Slains Castle, which became transformed in
the “castle of the dead”.
Both the setting and themes are therefore inspired more by Irish
folklore. Another example is given by Dr. Leatherdale, who has
stated that Dracula’s killing on November 6 is “one
specific instance of Irish lore discernible in Dracula”,
as it was the custom in Ireland for blood to be shed either on
St Martin’s Eve on November 11, or earlier, to propitiate
So Dracula is largely inspired
by Irish mythology, but set in Eastern Europe, no doubt to give
it a more mystical, otherworldly feel – most of his readers
were familiar with the hills of Scotland and Ireland and might
not have been able to imagine a bloodthirsty count roaming this
countryside. For this change of scenery, we have to thank Bram’s
brother George, who spent time in the Balkans in the 1870s and
returned home with stories about those countries, which in the
eyes of many experts, like Peter Haining and Peter Tremayne, was
the main reason why the story was eventually set in Transylvania,
rather than another relatively unknown – and hence mysterious
Stoker was nevertheless genuinely inspired by some Eastern European
folklore, as he read Emily de Laszowska Gerard’s “Transylvanian
Superstitions”, where she details that there are two types
of vampires (living and dead), and explains how to kill these
creatures: “In very obstinate cases, it is further recommended
to cut off the head and replace it in the coffin with the mouth
filled with garlic, or to extract the heart and burn it, strewing
the ashes over the grave.” It is clear that this was precisely
the material Stoker needed for his book.
thus wrote “Dracula, or The Undead”, using elements
of his own life and worked them in the story. Whitby, where Dracula
arrives in England, was the coastal town where Stoker spent his
holidays. The story of the boat was taken from newspaper reports,
such as that of August 11, 1890, which read that a Russian Schooner
from the Black Sea had run ashore in Whitby. It is clear that
Stoker rewrote these genuine newspaper reports in his novel.
After slaying a victim in the town, the count then moves south
to London; it was the voyage Stoker himself made upon his return
from his holidays. Stoker also moved in the mundane circles of
London and he used this in the novel too. For example: psychiatrist
Seward, a friend of Lucy, used morphine, as what seems to be nothing
more than a recreational drug – a sign of London customs
at the end of the 19th century.
Cemetery is believed by many to form the backdrop for the climax
of the novel. In the novel, friends of Westenra decide to stop
her suffering as an undead. Her only crime was to fall in love
with count Dracul, for which she paid with her life, and to spend
eternity as a vampire. Her friends thus convene in a pub, Jack
Straw’s Castle. The pub still exists. From there, the friends
decide to go to Lucy’s grave, to give her eternal rest.
Though believed to be in nearby Highgate Cemetery, it has been
shown that the voyage from Hampstead to Highgate does not correspond
with the descriptions given in the book. Lucy’s “real”
tomb was likely placed in Hendon, in the opposite direction. In
Hendon cemetery, there is indeed a strange mausoleum, which perfectly
fits the descriptions of Stoker’s novel. In reality, it
is the tomb of Philip Rundall, a prominent member of Hendon’s
community, who died in 1827. Furthermore, the cemetery was also
one of the favourite places of one of Stoker’s best friends,
so it is likely that he wanted to use this in his novel.
As mentioned, the legend of the
vampire predated Stoker, even though his novel would become the
billboard for the phenomenon. At the time when Stoker wrote his
book, the phenomenon was once again in vogue, as several newspapers
reported about “vampire-like creatures” seen in Britain.
They were mostly seen in and around churchyards and cemeteries.
It was a type of story that had been running on and off and Stoker
himself knew some of these tales: his mother had told him such
stories as a child and they had remained with him for the rest
of his life. Stoker popularised the notion, and thus created a
In London, Dracula tourism remains mostly focused on Highgate
Cemetery. The cemetery is a labyrinth of graves, largely in the
Victorian style. Vampire-mania struck here most prominently in
the early 1970s, with stories of a roaming vampire. The story
starts on December 21, 1969 – the Winter Solstice –
when David Farrant spent the night in the cemetery. He reported
that three days later, while passing the cemetery, he saw “a
grey figure”, which he felt was supernatural. In the local
newspaper, he asked whether other people had seen similar things,
and soon, several sightings were reported to the newspaper. Amongst
the respondents was one Seán Manchester, who stated that
he had seen what he believed to be a “King Vampire of the
Dead”, a “medieval nobleman who had practised black
magic in medieval Wallachia, had been brought to England in a
coffin in the early eighteenth century, by followers who bought
a house for him in the West End.” Sounds familiar? Manchester
added that this vampire was buried on the site that later became
Highgate Cemetery and added that modern Satanists had roused him.
The local newspaper headlined this as “Does a Vampyr walk
In echoes of the latter cattle mutilations that made headline
news in the United States, Farrant next claimed that he had seen
dead foxes in the cemetery, “and the odd thing was there
was no outward sign of how they died”. Later, he argued
that other dead foxes were found with throat wounds and drained
The result of all of this publicity was that Manchester organised
a vampire hunt on Friday, March 13, 1970 – of all days.
The hunt became both a media and public spectacle. It marked the
beginning of several months in which both Manchester and Farrant
were often spotted in or near the cemetery, both assuming the
role of Van Helsing, trying to kill the vampire that they believed
haunted the cemetery. Years later, Manchester would claim that
he indeed discovered the corpse of a vampire, in the cellar of
an empty house near the cemetery. He staked it and burned it.
Still, the vampire is in the detail, and it is much more likely
that both Farrant and Manchester invented a sighting, to give
“the masses” some bloody entertainment.
not only inspired a rage, it also inspired a new obsession: some
people wanted to become a vampire. It resulted in people hoping
to feed solely on human blood – or if difficult to obtain,
any type of animal blood. More often, it resulted in trying to
roleplay the various rituals that the count practiced in the novel.
As a result, some people know believe that they are only able
to survive on human blood – the sole contents of their diet.
Despite this bizarre belief, they tend to live an otherwise normal
life and do not go about sacrificing humans.
Cemetery (left) has always been the preferred location for the
setting of Dracula,
but it seems that Hendon Cemetery (right) is a more likely and
Dracula is a remarkable work,
though Stoker himself seems to have been a very ordinary individual.
Still, some have claimed that he was a member of a secret society,
the Order of the Golden Dawn and – like Skull & Bones
– various tall tales (all of them unsubstantiated) have
been told about this organisation. Still, the group is claimed
to have been a hotbed of strange sexual activity and rituals,
which might explain some of the rather luscious scenes of what
transpires inside the Count’s castle. There is, however,
no solid evidence that proves that Stoker was a member of this
organisation. But it is largely irrelevant whether he was or wasn’t;
he was a member of London society and may have heard about these
and/or other organisations’ bizarre rites – if not
sexual exploits. And for a novelist, often hearsay sets the imagination
racing more than any hard fact or personal experience.
Dracula was not the only Stoker
book that would inspire a rage, though it is Stoker’s signature
novel. His truly innovative trend might have gone more unnoticed,
yet lies at the origin of the obsession with mummies, and especially
those of the ilk of The Mummy. Just like Count Dracul has an eternal
life while feeding on blood, The Mummy has an eternal life –
and condemnation – through various magical rites –
a theme that may have received some inspiration from such orders
as the Golden Dawn too.
The novel which created this interest was “The Jewel of
the Seven Stars” and it would create not only the Egyptian
mummy horror stories, but to some extent also lay at the basis
of the “mummy’s curse” stories, which circulated
across Europe at the time of the discovery of Tutankhamun’s
tomb, in the early 1920s.
In this instance, it was the Wilde family, who, between 1870 and
1876, acted as substitute parents for Stoker. Noting the couple
had extensive interest in Irish folklore – Sir William publishing
such books as “Irish Popular Superstition” and other
titles on the subject – it is clear that once again Irish
mythology had an important influence over the mind of Stoker.
But Sir William, specifically had an interest in Egyptian archaeology,
and it is no doubt that which contributed to “The Jewel
of the Seven Stars”.
Stoker’s Dracula was a hundred years old in 1997, many remembered
this momentous novel. But when The Jewel of the Seven Stars reached
its centenary in 2003, no-one noticed… Equally, Transylvania
remains the focus of the Dracula obsession, but in truth, the
“horror” was seen much closer to home. Hence, no doubt,
why some people remain afraid of the dark and avoid walking too
close to cemeteries. You never know, do you?
article originally appeared in Frontier Magazine 3.6 (1997) and
was adapted for publication in Paranoia Magazine, issue 51 (Fall