This is a reference to the biblical story of Noah and the ark. Noah sent a dove out from the ark to determine whether the flood waters sent by God to cover the world had abated yet. The dove returned with an olive branch, showing Noah that the water was receding:
Also he sent forth a dove from him, to see if the waters were abated from off the face of the ground;
But the dove found no rest for the sole of her foot, and she returned unto him into the ark, for the waters were on the face of the whole earth: then he put forth his hand, and took her, and pulled her in unto him into the ark.
And he stayed yet other seven days; and again he sent forth the dove out of the ark;
And the dove came in to him in the evening; and, lo, in her mouth was an olive leaf pluckt off: so Noah knew that the waters were abated from off the earth. (Genesis 8:8-12)
In European folklore, vampires were often reported as sleeping in their coffins, with blood around their mouth and the left eye open. The vampire would often be wrapped in its funeral shroud, and its teeth, hair and nails may have grown, though the body is dead. Corpses suspected of being vampires were described as bloated and purplish in hue (appearing to be full of blood), with little or no decomposition and a healthier appearance in general than would be expected. The belief therefore arose that vampires hunted their prey at night and returned to their coffins to sleep during the day.
In reality, these fears may have arisen from a lack of understanding of the decomposition process. Decomposition can vary depending on temperature and soil composition, with some bodies appearing to decay quicker than others. Gases in the corpse cause the body to swell, and the increased pressure forces blood out from the nose and mouth, as well as giving the body a bloated and ruddy appearance.
Dracula himself does not return to his grave at daybreak, but seems instead to sleep in a substitute coffin; a long wooden box. Dracula’s sleeping habits may reflect an undead creature’s preference for a bed better suited to the dead. In some forms of the vampire myth these unholy creatures are burned or repelled by the light of day, which is why they need to seal themselves in coffins during daylight hours. This does not seem to be the case with Dracula, who is only weakened during the day. Dracula also sleeps in newly dug earth; as Van Helsing later explains, this is because vampires need to sleep on the soil of the consecrated ground (graveyard) in which they were buried. This seems odd, as other holy things repulse vampires, but perhaps the earth has been corrupted by the vampire's presence.
The use of coffins, connection to graveyard soil, and hatred of daylight are all vampire features that vary considerably in fiction. At extreme ends of the scale in recent fiction are the vampires of True Blood, who ignite in the sun and must sleep in dark, sealed places, and the vampires of Twilight, who simply avoid direct sunlight (it gives away their true nature) and never sleep.
The Weird Sisters, the three witches of Shakespeare's Macbeth, first appear in Holinshed's Chronicles (1577-87), where they are described as "goddesses of destiny".
This is a quote from Alexander Pope’s translation (1725/6) of Homer’s Odyssey, an ancient Greek epic recounting the adventures of the hero Odysseus as he struggles to return home after ten years at war. One of the main themes of the epic poem is the importance of showing proper hospitality towards one’s guests.
Judas was one of Jesus Christ’s disciples, best known for betraying him into the hands of the chief priests by identifying him with a kiss.
The name ‘Judas’ is now often used as a synonym for ‘traitor’ or ‘betrayer.’
The basilisk is a legendary monster that was said to have the power to kill with its stare. It is created from the egg of a snake or toad, hatched by a cockerel. This is the reverse of the cockatrice, which was said to be hatched from a cockerel’s egg, hatched by a snake or toad. It is usually depicted as a reptile with a cockerel’s crest or head.
The basilisk appears in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets as a giant serpent with a lethal stare.
And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years, and cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed a little season.
- Revelation 20:1-3
Back to th' infernal pit I drag thee chaind,
And Seale thee so, as henceforth not to scorne
The facil gates of hell too slightly barrd
- Lines 965-7, Book 4, Paradise Lost
Dante paints the ninth and last circle of Hell as a pit in which Satan is imprisoned, along with four rounds of traitors embedded in a lake of ice.
Stenography is the act of writing in Shorthand.
Shorthand employs symbols to enable the fastest possible speed of writing. Before audio recording devices became widespread, it was particularly important for the transcription of speech.
Female journalists were still a rarity in 1890s England, but times were starting to change. "Ladies' Pages" appeared in newspapers such as the Illustrated London News and the Pall Mall Gazette, providing space for women to write about fashion, society and home-making. Some strayed beyond these narrow bounds.
American women may have been ahead of their British counterparts in this respect, with journalists like Mary Clemmer Ames writing columns as early as the 1860s. Jane G. Swisshelm, the first female Washington correspondent, caused a stir in 1850 by demanding that she be allowed to sit in the Senate Press Gallery along with the male journalists. By 1879, at least twenty women had followed her example.
On both sides of the Atlantic early female journalists were often proponents of the Women's Suffrage movement.
The Woman's Signal was a weekly temperance and feminist magazine published between 1894 and 1899 - the time of Dracula's writing and publication. The magazine was edited by Florence Fenwick-Miller, a pioneer "lady journalist", Lady Isabella Somerset, and the novelist Annie Holdsworth.
Read an 1894 Woman's Signal interview with William Morris on the subject of "A Living Wage for Women".
In Victorian times, mentally ill people were placed into lunatic asylums, where they would be held, studied and sometimes experimented upon in the hopes of furthering scientific knowledge of the mind. The Victorian definition of insanity might include many illnesses, conditions and types of behaviour that today are better understood or treatable, such as post-natal depression or epilepsy. Antisocial or immoral behaviour might also sometimes be considered ‘insane.’
Patients were not considered to have the same rights as ‘sane’ people, and the asylums could be brutal, depressing places. Victorian lunatic asylums often feature in modern horror fiction. Find out more about lunatic asylums here.
Victorian gentlemen’s fashion involved dressing smartly: a long-sleeved shirt, waistcoat and long coat, trousers and a tall, silk top-hat. The height of the hat reflected the social standing, wealth and importance of the man (hence the famous towering hat of Abraham Lincoln). Cravats, pocket-watches, gloves and walking sticks added personal statements to the outfit.
Women’s clothes were designed to cover the whole body, as proper ladies were expected to be modest and demure. Dresses were long, covering neck, arms and ankles, with a cuirassed bodice or corset that provided a slim shape. A bustle (framework under the dress) could be used to give the skirt a wide, full shape. Big, colourful hats, gloves, fans and parasols were used to accessorise the outfit.
Desdemona is a character from Shakespeare’s tragedy Othello.
Desdemona, a Venetian beauty, falls in love with Othello, a Moor in service of the Venetian Republic, despite their racial differences and the prejudices of her society. In Act 1, Scene 3, Othello tells how he was called to recount his life story to Desdemona's father, in her hearing. After describing a multitude of hair-raising adventures...
she thank'd me,
And bade me, if I had a friend that loved her,
I should but teach him how to tell my story.
And that would woo her. Upon this hint I spake:
She loved me for the dangers I had pass'd,
And I loved her that she did pity them.
One theory has Quincey referring to the Parable of the Ten Virgins in Matthew 25:
Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom. And five of them were wise, and five were foolish. They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them: But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.
Except that, of course, he's got the number of women wrong - it should be either five or ten. Some argue that Stoker is deliberately painting Quincey as an ignorant American. Or possibly he is conflating the Matthew lamp parable with this prophecy from Isaiah 4:1, implying a scarcity of bridegrooms for women who wait too long:
And in that day seven women shall take hold of one man, saying, We will eat our own bread, and wear our own apparel: only let us be called by thy name, to take away our reproach.
An alternative theory is that the seven women with lamps are the Pleiades of Greek mythology, the seven daughters of Atlas. When Atlas was forced to carry the Heavens on his shoulders, he left his daughters vulnerable to the unwelcome attentions of the huntsman Orion. To save them, Zeus turned them into stars (lamps?). Orion will forever pursue them across the night sky - the ultimate runaway brides.
Dr. Seward is using hollow wax phonograph cylinders to record his diary.
Invented in 1877, the phonograph was the first device able to reproduce recorded sound. Although the technology advanced quickly, and gramophone discs were already in development, the concept of recorded sound would still have seemed remarkably new and almost magical to Bram Stoker at the time of writing.
Modern technology and discovery, such as the phonograph, telegraph, typewriter, guns, medical drugs, and blood transfusions, feature throughout the book. The Victorian age was one of rapid advancement and invention, bringing a new confidence in the abilities of man and in the conquering power of science. However, superstitious fears and beliefs were also prevalent, in an era famous for both Darwin and its mediums. Dracula plays on these ideas, showing characters from a world of science and invention thrown into supernatural peril. When modern technology fails, they must turn their hopes to weapons of faith and superstition instead.
“Ah, it is the fault of our science that it wants to explain all; and if it explain not, then it says there is nothing to explain.” – Van Helsing
"All Romans are venal", meaning everything in Rome is corrupt or for sale.
verb. sap. is an abbreviation for verbum sapienti sat est, meaning a word to the wise is enough.
The Marquesas are a group of islands in French Polynesia, located in the southern Pacific Ocean.
It is unclear why landing on them should have been perilous as the islands had been under French control since 1870. Could it be that Holmwood and Morris were up to no good?
Lake Titicaca is a large lake in South America, divided between Peru and Bolivia.
Nuremberg is a city in Bavaria, Germany.
It was a famous medieval town, but almost its entire historic centre was destroyed by systematic Allied bombing in 1945.
Whitby Abbey is a ruined abbey on the East Cliff of Whitby. It was founded in the 7th century, sacked in the 9th century by Viking invaders, re-founded in the 11th century, and was finally destroyed by Henry VIII during the 16th century Dissolution of the Monasteries, leaving only ruins.
The ruins are now preserved by English Heritage and open to the public as a tourist attraction, a striking landmark in a town that has inspired many more strange, spooky and gothic stories.
The poem includes the famous lines:
O, what a tangled web we weave
When first we practise to deceive
This continues to be a problem! The Daily Mail published an article in January 2013 with the headline:
Dracula church where it's raining bones! Debris from cliff-top graves falls on town after landslide
Deciphering Whitby dialect: ‘Feet-folks’ refers to tourists who walk rather than ride in carriages. ‘Fash masel’ means ‘fuss myself.’ ‘Creed aught’ means ‘believe anything.’ For more translations, refer to the Glossary.
Whitby is famous for its jet, a semi-precious black mineraloid formed from the fossilised remains of decaying wood. It has been mined and used to make jewellery since the Bronze Age, and was particularly popular in the 19th century after Queen Victoria used it for mourning jewellery. Jet continues to be sold in the town today.
Whitby's "Church Stairs", consisting of 199 stone steps, were built around 200 years ago to replace earlier wooden steps that dated back to the 1400s. Landings were included, where coffin bearers could rest.
The aurora borealis is a phenomena visible in the far north.
An aurora is a natural light display, best seen in the polar regions, caused by the collision of charged particles directed by Earth's magnetic field.
In the Northern latitudes this is called aurora borealis after the Roman goddess of the dawn, Aurora, and the Greek name for the North wind, Boreas. It is also known as the Northern Lights.