Page 252. " the aids of necromancy "
by hector

Necromancy is not as bad as it sounds.  It is magic involving the dead, usually to divine the future or discover hidden truths.  It therefore covers all those practices in which a medium summons the spirit of a deceased person or a priest calls upon a long dead prophet to provide guidance and wisdom.

However some definitions of the word paint it in blacker terms, as witchcraft involving the raising of dead bodies.  Professor Van Helsing no doubt considers it rather more serious than getting out the Ouija board.

Page 254. " our scientific, matter-of-fact nineteenth century "
by hector

The 19th century was indeed characterised by a plethora of scientific advances.  The electric motor, natural selection, the periodic table, vaccines, the telephone, genetics, radio and the light bulb were all 19th century discoveries.  Older technologies, including steam-powered rail transport, the internal combustion engine and steelmaking were refined and much more widely applied in the 19th century.

Liberty Leading the People (1830), a classic of the Romantic school
Public DomainLiberty Leading the People (1830), a classic of the Romantic school - Credit: Eugène Delacroix

However whether the 19th century was particularly "matter-of-fact" is debatable.  The Age of Enlightenment, which saw reason and scientific knowledge triumph over faith and superstition, had its roots in the late 17th century, and was more or less over by the end of the 18th century.  The murderous terror of the French Revolution, widely seen as a product of the Enlightenment, led many to turn against it.  In its place, a new Romantic movement sought to balance the dominance of rationality with a celebration of the intuitive, emotional and spiritual.  Artists, writers and composers created works founded in feeling, passion and untamed nature.

By the time of Dracula, the Romantic era was long over, sunk beneath the remorseless advance of the Industrial Age.  And yet the book itself, in its portrayal of primeval horror and superstition, is itself very much a product of Romanticism.

Page 255. " He may not enter anywhere at the first, unless there be some one of the household who bid him to come "

Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeWelcome - Credit: Photofinish 2009
Though this may sound reassuring to us, a well-to-do Victorian household was full of servants and regular visitors (food deliveries, coal deliveries, etc), and the chances of unwittingly inviting a vampire in would have been much higher.

Though most later fiction tends to ignore this aspect of vampirism, some have played with it effectively; e.g. in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a reverse spell can be performed in order to ‘change the locks.’

Page 256. " a sacred bullet fired into the coffin kill him so that he be true dead "
Creative Commons AttributionBullet - Credit: An Nguyen/Wikimedia Commons

In Romania, the precautionary measure of shooting a bullet through the coffin of the recently deceased might be taken. Presumably a sacred bullet is one that has been blessed by a clergyman.

The use of bullets (specifically silver ones) is more common in werewolf fiction.

Page 256. " my friend Arminius, of Buda-Pesth University "
by hector
Ármin Vámbéry
Public DomainÁrmin Vámbéry - Credit: Mihály Kovács

 Ármin Vámbéry (1832-1913), a Hungarian scholar and traveller, is thought by some to have been the model for Van Helsing.  Vámbéry, who spoke multiple languages, made a detailed study of the Ottoman Empire, and compiled a German-Turkish dictionary.  He travelled for some years around Central Asia disguised as a dervish.  On his return to Hungary, he was appointed Professor of Oriental Languages at the University of Budapest.

In 2005 it was revealed that Vámbéry had been employed as a spy by the British Government, working against Russia in the Great Game.

Vámbéry met Bram Stoker in London in 1890, although the extent to which he influenced the author is much disputed by Dracula scholars.

Page 256. " over the great river on the very frontier of Turkey-land "
by hector


The Danube is one of the longest rivers in Europe, stretching 1,785 miles from the Black Forest (Germany) to the Black Sea.  It forms the majority of the border between Romania and Bulgaria, which had languished under Ottoman rule for five hundred years. Hence, for centuries the Danube had indeed been the "frontier of Turkey-land", although Ottoman control and influence frequently extended north of it.

By the time of Dracula, things were starting to change south of the river.  The Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78 had led to the liberation of part of Bulgaria.  The Principality of Bulgaria, though nominally a vassal state of the Ottoman Empire, was now effectively independent.  The restored and enlarged nation finally declared full independence in 1908, pushing the decrepit empire back close to the border of modern Turkey.


Google Map
Page 256. " the bravest of the sons of the ‘land beyond the forest "
by hector
The Austrian Empire in 1850, showing Transylvania in yellow
Public DomainThe Austrian Empire in 1850, showing Transylvania in yellow - Credit: S. A. Mitchell

Transylvania means ‘land beyond the forest.’ 

At one point a vassal state of the Ottoman Empire, Transylvania came under Austrian control in 1683 as part of the Habsburg Empire.  In 1867, it was incorporated into Hungary, within the Austro-Hungarian Empire, although the majority of its people were Romanians.



Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeTransylvania - Credit: Albertistvan
Page 256. " They learned his secrets in the Scholomance "
Scholomance was said to be a castle on a lake
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeScholomance was said to be a castle on a lake - Credit: Stuart Yeates at Flickr

The Scholomance was a legendary school of black magic in Transylvania. It was said to be run by the devil himself. An extract from Emily Gerard’s article ‘Transylvanian Superstitions’ describes the Scholomance:


As I am on the subject of thunderstorms, I may as well here mention the Scholomance, or school supposed to exist somewhere in the heart of the mountains, and where all the secrets of nature, the language of animals, and all imaginable magic spells and charms are taught by the devil in person. Only ten scholars are admitted at a time, and when the course of learning has expired and nine of them are released to return to their homes, the tenth scholar is detained by the devil as payment, and mounted upon an Ismeju (dragon) he becomes henceforward the devil's aide-de-camp, and assists him in 'making the weather,' that is, in preparing thunderbolts.

Page 259. " a burnt rum punch, much patronized on Derby night "
by hector
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeFeuerzangenbowle - Credit: Kore Nordmann

This is Feuerzangenbowle (fire-tongs punch), a traditional German concoction made by setting light to rum-soaked sugar and letting it drip into mulled wine.

Derby Night follows the Epsom Derby, one of the classic British horse races.  It is a flat horse race over the Epsom Downs that takes place in June each year.  The name Derby has now been adopted for prestigious horse races around the world.


Derby Day, 1850s
Public DomainDerby Day, 1850s - Credit: William Powell Frith

Page 259. " Its reception into the Union "
by hector

Texas was formerly part of New Spain, and then the newly independent Mexico.  When in 1835 the Mexican President abolished the Constitution, several states revolted.  Texas joined them in October 1835, at first demanding the reinstatement of the Constitution.  By the following year, the objective had changed, and on 2 March 1836  – with the siege of the Alamo still in progress  – the Republic of Texas declared independence.

The next few years were dogged by war with Native American Comanches, and then by invasions by Mexico, which refused to accept the state's independence.  Texan politicians were divided as to whether they wished to remain independent or join the United States.  In 1845, the US Congress authorised the annexation of Texas, and it became a US state on 29 December 1845.  This led to the Mexican-American War of 1846-48, which ended in victory for the United States and further territorial gains, including California.

Page 259. " when the Monroe doctrine takes its true place as a political fable "
Newspaper cartoon from 1912 about the Monroe Doctrine
Public DomainNewspaper cartoon from 1912 about the Monroe Doctrine - Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The Monroe Doctrine is a United States policy introduced on December 2, 1823, which states that any efforts by European countries to colonize land or interfere with states in the Americas would be viewed as acts of aggression requiring U.S. intervention.

The doctrine was issued by President James Monroe at a time when many Latin American countries were on the verge of becoming independent from the Spanish Empire. Aiming to prevent European powers from taking over Spain’s colonies, the Monroe Doctrine prohibited further colonization of the Americas by European countries with the promise that the United States would refrain from interfering with existing European colonies or the internal concerns of European countries.

A defining moment in U.S. foreign policy, the Monroe Doctrine would be invoked by many of the nation’s statesmen and several presidents in the years to come, including Theodore Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and others.

Page 266. " In manus tuas, Domine "
Alfred Lord Tennyson, 1869
Public DomainAlfred Lord Tennyson, 1869 - Credit: wikimedia commons

‘Into they hands, O Lord!’ (Latin).


In Luke 23:46 (New Testament), Jesus cries out, “Father, into they hands I commend my spirit” before he dies.


“Into Thy hands, O Lord! into Thy hands” are also the last words of the play Becket (1884) by Tennyson. This was adapted by Irving in 1892 and performed repeatedly by him with great success.

Page 269. " rushed at his natural enemies "
by hector


Jack Russell Terrier
Creative Commons AttributionJack Russell Terrier - Credit: Emery Way

Terriers are small but plucky dogs, bred in Britain to hunt and kill rodents, rabbits, foxes and otters.  Many are adept at hunting underground in burrows, hence their name (from the Latin terra, meaning earth).  Rat-catching breeds include the Jack Russell, the Border and the Yorkshire Terrier.  Other breeds, such as the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, were developed for pit fighting.  

As a largely nineteenth century invention, with most breeds being established in the latter part of the century, the terrier can be seen here as another of the recent technological innovations with which Stoker arms his heroes in their fight against the ancient forces of Dracula.


Border Terrier
Creative Commons AttributionBorder Terrier - Credit: Samuel Cockman
Page 275. " a pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night "
A Pillar of Cloud
Creative Commons AttributionA Pillar of Cloud - Credit: Schristia at Flickr

In the Bible, God appears to the Israelites as a pillar of cloud by day and as a pillar of fire by night, to guide them on their journey to the Promised Land. Exodus 13:21-22