Bram Stoker’s 1897 Gothic shocker introduced Count Dracula to the world, an ancient creature bent on bringing his contagion to London, the very heart of the British Empire. Only a handful of men and women stand between Dracula and his long-cherished goal, but they are vulnerable and weak against the cunning and supernatural powers of the Count and his legions. As the horrifying story unfolds in the diaries and letters of young Jonathan Harker, Lucy, Mina, and Dr Seward, Dracula will be victorious unless his nemesis Professor Van Helsing can persuade them that monsters still lurk in the era of electric light. Here, in one of Jonathan Harker’s diary entries, he meets Dracula for the first time…
Just as I had come to this conclusion I heard a heavy step approaching behind the great door, and saw through the chinks the gleam of a coming light. Then there was the sound of rattling chains and the clanking of massive bolts drawn back. A key was turned with the loud grating noise of long disuse, and the great door swung back.
Within, stood a tall old man, clean-shaven save for a long white moustache, and clad in black from head to foot, without a single speck of colour about him anywhere. He held in his hand an antique silver lamp, in which the flame burned without chimney or globe of any kind, throwing long, quivering shadows as it flickered in the draught of the open door. The old man motioned me in with his right hand with a courtly gesture, saying in excellent English, but with a strange intonation: —
‘Welcome to my house! Enter freely and of your own will!’ He made no motion of stepping to meet me, but stood like a statue, as though his gesture of welcome had fixed him into stone. The instant, however, that I had stepped over the threshold, he moved impulsively forward, and holding out his hand grasped mine with a strength which made me wince, an effect which was not lessened by the fact that it seemed as cold as ice — more like the hand of a dead than a living man. Again he said: —
‘Welcome to my house. Come freely. Go safely. And leave something of the happiness you bring!’ The strength of the handshake was so much akin to that which I had noticed in the driver, whose face I had not seen, that for a moment I doubted if it were not the same person to whom I was speaking; so, to make sure, I said interrogatively:—
‘Count Dracula?’ He bowed in a courtly way as he replied:—
‘I am Dracula. And I bid you welcome, Mr Harker, to my house. Come in; the night air is chill, and you must need to eat and rest.’ As he was speaking he put the lamp on a bracket on the wall, and stepping out, took my luggage; he had carried it in before I could forestall him. I protested, but he insisted: –
‘Nay, sir, you are my guest. It is late, and my people are not available. Let me see to your comfort myself.’ He insisted on carrying my traps along the passage, and then up a great winding stair, and along another great passage, on whose stone floor our steps rang heavily. At the end of this he threw open a heavy door, and I rejoiced to see within a well-lit room in which a table was spread for supper, and on whose mighty hearth a great fire of logs flamed and flared.
The Count halted, putting down my bags, closed the door, and crossing the room, opened another door, which led into a small octagonal room lit by a single lamp, and seemingly without a window of any sort. Passing through this, he opened another door, and motioned me to enter. It was a welcome sight; for here was a great bedroom well lighted and warmed with another log fire, which sent a hollow roar up the wide chimney. The Count himself left my luggage inside and withdrew, saying, before he closed the door: –
‘You will need, after your journey, to refresh yourself by making your toilet. I trust you will find all you wish. When you are ready come into the other room, where you will find your supper prepared.’
The most famous of all vampire stories, Dracula remains a compelling read, rattling along at break-neck speed, a true page-turner. Here is a new edition of one of the great horror stories in English literature, the novel that spawned a myth and a proliferation of vampire tales in film, television, graphic novels, cartoons, and teen fiction, including the current craze revolving around the Twilight and True Blood series. The volume includes a lively and fascinating introduction by Roger Luckhurst that considers the Gothic genre and vampire legend, discusses the vampire tale as sexual allegory, and outlines the social and cultural contexts that feed into the novel, including the New Woman, new technology, race, immigration, and religion. Roger Luckhurst is Professor of Modern Literature at Birkbeck College, University of London and editor of this new Oxford World Classics edition of Dracula. Read his blog post: “100 years ago today: the death of Bram Stoker.”