On the Trail of Dracula

The Threat of a Mysterious Foreign Menace

When Stoker's Dracula arrived in 1897, Londoners were already scared. Earlier in the decade Jack the Ripper had killed numerous prostitutes and left their dismembered bodies on the streets. There were fears of tuberculosis and concern about a growing number of Eastern European immigrants.

"Stoker chose perhaps the most mysterious spot in all of Europe for his readership to think about a creature who could come out of this complete otherness and yet make it to England," said Kostova.

Barsanti agrees that this "otherness" is integral to Stoker's character.

"That is a really important part of the atmosphere of Dracula and this sense of a threat, a violent threat not just from without but from within … a kind of fear about different kinds of nationalities and cultures immigrating into Western Europe, and into London specifically," he said.

It may be that Stoker was playing on public fears that Eastern Europeans carried the scourge of disease.

"I think there's a lot to that. It's significant that Dracula doesn't come from Paris," Barsanti said. Rather Stoker placed his Dracula in Transylvania, a place in far Eastern Europe that Londoners would be intimidated by.

An Emblem of Undying Evil

In "The Historian," Dracula has evolved yet again. He is now an emblem of past horrors.

To be sure, Vlad has his defenders and historians point out that many rulers acted with extreme brutality toward their enemies. "I don't think you'll find too many benevolent tyrants in the 15th century. The kings of England were known for atrocities. Then you have people like Ivan the Terrible of course who were even worse than Vlad," said Miller.

Kostova says she sees the Dracula legend as a metaphor for all the undead evils in history. Whether or not you believe in vampires, there is evil at the core of the story.

Kostova, like authors before her, finds Dracula to be a figure so rich with meaning and metaphor she said he's likely to come back yet again. "Probably in the 22nd century we'll see a new Dracula, a Dracula we can't even imagine or recognize today."

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