Dracula
Bram Stoker
Contributed by Eleanor Sherer
Chapter 1
Summary

Dracula opens with passages from a diary kept by Jonathan Harker, an English lawyer, specifically a solicitor. The diary records his time traveling from England to Eastern Europe. He is going on this journey because it is required for his first professional assignment. He must go to the castle of a Transylvanian nobleman called Count Dracula. Harker is eager to wrap up a real estate transaction in which he will sell a residence in London to the count. He wants to take plenty of notes during his journey so that he will be able to share the story of his adventures with Mina Murray, his fiancée.

Harker’s first diary entry is dated May 3. In it, he provides a description of Eastern Europe’s picturesque countryside, as well as the different kinds of food he has eaten at roadside inns. He makes note of some recipes that he wants to get for Mina. Harker gets to Bistritz, a northern Romanian town, and he decides to stay in a hotel that the count has recommended. The innkeeper hands him a letter from Count Dracula. It welcomes Harker to the stunning Carpathian Mountains and suggests that he take the coach the following day to the Borgo Pass. He is told that a carriage will meet him when he gets there, and then he will be brought the remainder of the way to Castle Dracula.

Harker gets ready to leave the following morning. As he does so, he is given an ominous warning by the innkeeper’s wife. She tells Harker that the current day is the eve of St. George’s Day. This is described as the time when “all the evil things in the world will have full sway.” The innkeeper’s wife places a crucifix around Harker’s neck. Harker accepts the crucifix politely, even though he is an Anglican and thinks Catholic paraphernalia is rather idolatrous. The exchange makes him feel rather uneasy, and this feeling becomes more intense when numerous peasants appear around the inn as he is boarding the coach. They say “queer words” in Harker’s direction. He uses his dictionary to discover that they translate to “vampire” or “were-wolf.” The peasants make the sign of the cross towards him as the coach leaves. A fellow passenger explains to him that this is intended to give him protection from the “evil eye.”

Harker travels through wonderfully beautiful countryside during the journey to Borgo Pass. He sees quaintly dressed peasants on their knees at prayer before roadside shrines at dusk. His fellow passengers grow restless as darkness falls. They pressure the coachmen to increase their speed. The coach starts traveling at a much greater speed along the mountain road after the driver whips the horses, sending them into a frenzy. The other passengers start offering Harker small tokens and gifts. He assumes that this is intended to ward off the evil eye.

The coach reaches the Borgo Pass soon after this. However, Harker does not find a carriage there waiting to bring him to his final destination. The driver says he can return Harker to the pass the next day. At that point, though, a small horse-drawn carriage appears. Harker gets into the carriage and continues on the way towards the castle. It seems to him that the carriage is somehow traveling over the same ground over and over again. His sense of fear and apprehension grows as the ride continues. The sound of wolves howling spooks him on a number of occasions.

After a while, Harker looks outside the carriage. In the distance, he sees the flickering of a blue flame. Without any explanation, the driver pulls over. He looks at the flame and then comes back to the carriage to continue the journey. Harker describes the driver stopping several more times to inspect flames of the same appearance. He says that at one point he sees the driver put a few stones around one of the blue flames. When this happens, Harker seems to gain the ability to perceive the flame even when the driver’s body is blocking it. In other words, he can see through his body. By the time Harker arrives at the ruined and terribly dark castle, he is overcome with fear.

Analysis

While the Gothic novel’s heyday was from around 1760 to 1820 and Stoker wrote Dracula long after that, the novel uses many of the genre’s conventions. This is especially clear in the opening chapters. Gothic novels are usually conceived as bloodcurdling horror stories. Gothic novels generally feature prominent supernatural elements with a well-known backdrop featuring elements such as: ruined castles boasting secret passages; dark and stormy nights; unlikely forces for good in conflict with ones of unimaginable evil. In the first chapter of Dracula, we see Stocker echoing these conventions. For example, there are the Carpathian peasants’ frantic superstitions; the disorienting and frightening ride Harker experiences to the castle; and the cold and lonely mountain pass. These elements come together to create a mood of dread and doom.

You might find the novel’s setting is vaguely reminiscent of Halloween. However, the author’s descriptions reveal quite a bit about the stereotypes of Eastern Europe that were prevalent in nineteenth-century Britain. In the passage in which Harker is approaching Dracula’s castle, he sys that his journey has been “so strange and uncanny that a dreadful fear came upon [him.” The sense of dread that Harker feels reveals the fact that he is unable to understand the superstitions held by the Carpathian peasants.

Harker’s decision to “visit the British Museum” in his quest to understand Transylvania’s lands and customs helps portray him as a model of Victorian reason. His education, in addition to his Western sense of propriety and progress, stops him from being able to make sense of rustic believes such as that of “the evil eye.” It is because of Harker’s education and position that he perceives the interesting sights he sees while on his way to the castle as being like dreams or rare curiosities. He already starts to doubt that what he is experiencing is real. He says, “I think I must have fallen asleep and kept dreaming….” The fact that he is unable to accept the unknown, unprovable, and irrational is echoed by his American and English compatriots that appear later in the story. The foundations of Western civilization are reason, economic domination, and scientific advancement. These are threatened by the alternative knowledge that Western civilization assumes it has surpassed. It is the fact that Western empirical knowledge has summarily cast aside foreign approaches to ideas that has made it vulnerable. It has failed to see there is power in alternative ways of thinking.

Harker describes the ascent to the castle as being “uncanny.” This foreshadows the novel’s psychological horror. In 1919, many years after this novel was published, an essay titled “The Uncanny” was published by Sigmund Freud. It presented an analysis of the implications of sensations and feelings that cause “dread and horror” to arise. The essays concludes that there are two times at which uncanny experiences can occur. Freud says they can happen when there seems to be sudden validation or confirmation of supposedly disproved beliefs. Another kind of circumstance in which the uncanny can arise is when infantile complexes that have been repressed are revived. Psychoanalytic theory is used in most academic criticism of Dracula. It is argued that the novel can be viewed as a case study of the re-emergence of repressed instincts. In fact, this kind of reading appears inevitable if we think about Freud’s model of psychosexual development, which connects the oral stage—the first stage of this development—with the urge to destroy that which is living—the death instinct. The vampire causes death with his mouth. This certainly serves as an encapsulation of Freud’s abstract psychological theory. It also lets Stoker explore the concepts of Victorian sexuality, including repression.

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