Bram Stoker’s Gothic horror novel, Dracula, was published in London on May 26, 1897. Stoker was the business manager for the Lyceum Theatre but he also wrote horror and supernatural books on the side. Dracula came out of his long interest in folktales about vampires in Eastern Europe.
Stoker researched accounts of vampires and shapeshifters, mostly from Romanian folk beliefs, and incorporated many of these stories into the book. He originally titled his book, The Dead Un-Dead, then simply The Un-Dead, before settling on Dracula just weeks before publication.
There had been a historical figure, Vlad III or Vlad the Impaler, who ruled Wallachia in the 15th century and was known as Dracula. Dracul in Romanian means dragon, and that had been Vlad’s father’s epithet, so Vlad became Dracula or “Son of the Dragon.” But, Stoker seems not to have had Vlad specifically in mind when he wrote the book, more likely he simply found the name to have an ominous sound.
One person who Stoker admitted to basing Dracula on was the actor Sir Henry Irving, the most popular actor of his day and the artistic director and owner of the Lyceum where Stoker worked as his right hand man for 27 years. He used Irving’s theatrical flourishes and grand gestures along with his exaggerated politeness and courteous manners. Stoker even planned to turn Dracula into a stage play and hoped that Irving would star, but it never happened.
Dracula received glowing reviews when it was published but sales were slow. Stoker, who died in 1912, didn’t live long enough to see his book receive both critical and commercial success after it was turned into a popular stage play in London and then a Hollywood movie starring Bela Lugosi in 1931 and its many sequels and remakes since.
The novel and the movies have done as much in our modern time to shape our ideas of what vampires look like and can do than folklore did in its time. Ask anyone to picture a vampire today and they will likely come up with Stoker’s version. Dracula has been continually in print in countless editions for a century, so in a sense Stoker’s book really is itself The Un-Dead.