A reader’s literary comparison between Bram Stoker’s Gothic character Dracula and Wallachian Voivode Vlad the Impaler, aka Vlad Dracula.
I was reading through the notes Bram Stoker made prior to writing his gothic Dracula novel – the originals should be in Rosenbach Museum & Library of Philadelphia. Like many of you, I know that the opinions are divided between scholars and fans who believe that Stoker used Vlad the Impaler as his inspiration for Dracula, and those who do not.
If my scientific background taught me anything, is to research and draw my own conclusions. So here we go, looking at Bram Stoker’s notes and at how he portrayed his literary character Count Dracula and comparing them to what historical documents and sources tell us about Vlad the Impaler the man, aka Vlad Dracula, Vlad III, Voivode of Wallachia.
I hope it will be an enlightening and fun read for you.
How the literary character of Count Dracula took shape
Bram Stoker’s earliest dated Notes for his novel Dracula were written as far back as 8 March 1890 (Dracula was originally published on 26 May 1897). The common belief is that Bram Stoker took only two years to write his 418 pages, and approximately 161 000 words.
On Bram Stoker naming his Count Dracula character
Interesting to know is that Stoker’s Notes include three casts of characters. In the former list the characters were only identified by their occupation.
With regards to the main character, in the initial Notes Stoker simply named him Count: “Count’s servants”, “in power of Count,” while in his character lists Stoker named him “Count…” Only at some stage later did the name Count Wampyr appeared.
Yet Wampyr was too revealing, isn’t t? 🙂
Further, Bram Stoker followed the chilling wind that swept through 19th century Gothic literature and made his anti-hero a member of the European aristocracy.
It was 1890 when, during a rainy summer holiday spent with his wife and son in Whitby, Stoker discovered information on a Voivode Dracula and Transylvania in a public library. Stoker was already a few months into his first draft by now. It was now when Stoker read William Wilkinson’s An Account of the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia and made notes from it.
“Wallachia continued to pay it [tribute] until the year 1444; when Ladislas King of Hungary, preparing to make war against the Turks, engaged the Voivode Dracula to form an alliance with him. The Hungarian troops marched through the principality and were joined by four thousand Wallachians under the command of Dracula’s son.“William Wilkinson, An Account of the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia
On Vlad the Impaler being named Dracula
I have to say something about William Wilkinson book, so do take note.
In the text above Dracula should have been Dracul and here’s why.
In 1444 the Vovode of Wallachia was Vlad II, known as Vlad Dracul, who was Vlad the Impaler’s (Vlad Dracula’s) father.
Vlad II received his nickname Dracul being a member of the elite Order of the Dragon, fraternatis draconem, since 1431 (the year when his son Vlad III was born). The military Order of the Dragon was created in 1408 by Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund of Luxembourg to defend the cross and fight the enemies of Christianity, particularly the Ottoman Empire.
The membership of the Dragon Order was passed on from father to son, thus young Vlad III was also a member of the Order of the Dragon.
Thus, Vlad II was known as Vlad Dracul, or Drăculea (in Romanian), while his sons, especially Vlad III, Vlad the Impaler, was known as Son of Dracul, Dracul-a, Dracula.
(Spoken in Romanian, dragon or dracul can sound quite similar).
(Vlad’s elder bother, Mircea, was killed at the same time with their father, thus the membership of the Order was passed on to young Vlad III. Vlad III had two more brother who outlived him, Radu the Handsome and Vlad the Monk).
Below, we can see the symbol of the order and a medallion that Vlad II carried and was among the few relics he left to Vlad III, was a coiled dragon with a cross on top:
In Romanian folklore a dragon is the symbol of evil, even of the devil (dracul in Romanian) that always had to be defeated.
The Byzantines called Vlad II Dragulios or Dracules after he was invested with the Order of the Dragon.
This footnote from William Wilkinson’s book would have caught Bram Stoker’s eye too:
” * Dracula in the Wallachian language means Devil. The Wallachians were, at that time, as they are at present, used to give this as a surname to any person who rendered himself conspicuous either by courage, cruel actions, or cunning.”William Wilkinson, An Account of the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia
In Wilkinson’s book, the one Stoker consulted, these three mentions (shown above) are the only references to Voivode Dracula.
Speaking of nicknames, the Turkish enemies of Vlad III, Vlad Dracula, called him Kaziklu Bey, the Impaler. Although impaling was a torture method largely used by Ottomans and Germans ahead of Vlad III.
On the novel’s title, Dracula
Surely, the fame and meaning carried by the name Dracula left a big impression on Stoker – eventually. For his novel’s original title was The Un-Dead, and it was with this title that the typescript was submitted to the publisher in the spring of 1897.
How could have Bram Stoker overlooked a title as charismatic as Dracula? Three syllables that roll down the tongue and open one’s mouth, Dra-cu-la, like three spells, exotic and potentially hazardous, yet irresistible, with puzzling consequences.
Back to Bram stoker and his novel Dracula. Was its character Count Dracula based on Wallachian Voivode Vlad III, Vlad the Impaler, Vlad Dracula?
Is there a physical resemblance between Vlad the Impaler and Bram Stoker’s Dracula?
In his historical paper De Bellis Gothorum written in 1472 Nicholas of Modruš, Croatian bishop, describes Vlad the Impaler thus: “He wasn’t particularly tall, but sturdy and muscular, with a harsh and fierce appearance. His nose aquiline, his nostrils flaring, his skin fine but ruddy, and he had very long eyelashes that framed large, green eyes. But his eyebrows, dark and thick, gave him a menacing look. His face was clean shaven, expect for his mustache. His prominent temporal ridges increased his head’s appearance and his neck, as thick as a bull’s, ended in broad, strong shoulders on which his dark, curly locks rested.”
Below, a 15th century portrait of Vlad III, Vlad the Impaler, Voivode of Wallachia, to be seen at Ambras, Innsbruck Austria
Max Schreck in Nosferatu, 1922, ranked as the best movie based on Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
One of the suggested etymologies for Nosferatu is that it is derived from the Romanian nesuferit , meaning “offensive” or “unbearable”
Based on Bram Stoker’s summary, here’s how the writer envisaged his character Dracula: “tall and thin… waxen… old (although, after feeding, he may appear to be younger)… Nose: “aquiline … high bridge … thin… peculiarly arched nostrils”… Hair: scanty around temples, profuse elsewhere… Eyebrows: very massive “almost meeting over the nose”… Eyes: red… Mustache: heavy, concealing much of the mouth… Mouth: “fixed and rather cruel-looking” with ruddy red lips… Teeth: “sharp white teeth [that] protruded over the lips”… Ears: pale, with “extremely pointed” tops… Hands: coarse, “broad, with squat fingers,” hairs in center of palm, long and sharp fingernails… Odor: fetid breath.”
In this video you can glimpse at Vlad the Impaler’s portrait hanging in the Portrait Gallery of Schloss Ambras, Innsbruck, Tirol, Austria (at minute 1:00)
On Count Dracula and Vlad the Impaler’s ancestries
Bram Stoker gave his Count Dracula a Székler origin. This was a subgroup of the Hungarians who lived in Transylvania starting with the middle ages.
Whenever he spoke of his house he always said ‘we,’ and spoke almost in the plural, like a king speaking… ‘We Szekelys have a right to be proud…’Dracula, from Dracula by Bram Stoker
Vlad the Impaler was of Romanian blood, from Wallachia after his father, Vlad’s paternal grandfather being Mircea the Elder, Prince of Wallachia from a long line of Vlachs. After his mother, Princess Eupraxia, Cneajna of Moldavia, Vlad the Impaler had the blood of the Romanians from the north-east, from the ruling line of Alexander I of Moldavia, aka Alexander the Good.
What about Bram Stoker’s reference to ‘Dracula’s race’?
Count Dracula speaks in Chapter III and most of what Bram Stoker knew about Vlad Ţepeş’s life, exploits and lineage is contained in this speech:
When was redeemed that great shame of my nation, the shame of Cassova [unclear reference, the 1389 Kosovo Battle or the 2nd Battle of Kosovo, 1448?], when the flags of the Wallach and the Magyar went down beneath the Crescent, who was it but one of my own race [Székler, although we established that Stoker was wrong about Vlad Dracula being of Székly ascendance] who as Voivode crossed the Danube and beat the Turk on his own ground? [Unclear, again. Perhaps Vlad the Impaler’s 1462 raids along Danube? OR maybe Hunyadi’s 1456 victory at the Siege of Belgrade, also on Danube] This was a Dracula indeed! Woe was it that his own unworthy brother, when he had fallen, sold his people to the Turk and brought the shame of slavery on them! Was it not this Dracula, indeed, who inspired that other of his race [Stoker might mean the Wallachians, who later fought the Turks many times over, but then he contradicts himself, as he first considers Vlad Dracula to be a Székly, now he is a Wallachian] who in a later age again and again brought his forces over the great river into Turkeyland; who, when he was beaten back, came again, and again, and again, though he had come alone from the bloody field where his troops being slaughtered, since he knew that he alone could ultimately triumph?Bram Stoker, Dracula (Chapter III)
I believe that, no matter how much history is condensed in this speech, it is vague. Indeed, Count Dracula might see himself as a descendant of the great Dracula lineage, due to their military prowess and bravery. Yet Bram Stoker does not even mention which Dracula, the father or the son, although he mentions a timeline including both….
OR Count Dracula sees himself as a Magyar descendant of such brave people? OR a descendant of Hunyadi, the White Knight, aka a Törökverő – The Turk Beater, and a Hungarian National Hero (of Romanian origin)?
Bram Stoker had made some basic notes on Romania’s history too: “Ancient Kingdom of Dacia = Wallachia, Moldavia, Transylvania and Temesvar – finally conquered by Romans” – a note he made after Wilkinson’s book, as well as other notes loosely following a timeline of Wallachia’s history. These notes did help prepare Count Dracula’s speech on his own ancestry (above).
If Stoker’s notes based on Wilkinson’s book were intent to draw a parallel between Count Dracula’s ancestry line and that of Vlad Dracula’s bloodline, is a loose thought, especially given the unclear speech Count Dracula gave upon his ancestors and the fact that no further reference to Vlad the Impaler is encountered later in the novel.
There is no further evidence in Stoker’s Notes showing that he researched the life of Voivode Vlad the Impaler at all, other than what he found in Wilkinson’s book (see above). His Notes do mention a few works about Eastern Europe written around the time he lived, but there is no evidence in his scrupulous notes that he got to read them.
Furthermore, in the novel Dracula, Arminius, the friend from Buda-Pesth, informs Professor Van Helsing that the Count has been “in life a most wonderful man” (chapter 23).
Since we’re at Arminius, Bram Stoker might have used this name as a nod to Ármin Vámbéry or Arminius Vámbéry, a Hungarian Turkologist and traveller Stoker was acquainted with. In his writings, Vámbéry mentions Vlad Dracul and medieval Romania.
I believe that Stoker used the knowledge he obtained from Vámbéry as it reflects in this passage about Wallachia’s past:
“In old days there were stirring times, when the Austrian and the Hungarian came up in hordes, and the patriots went out to meet them—men and women, the aged and the children too—and waited their coming on the rocks above the passes, that they might sweep destruction on them with their artificial avalanches. When the invader was triumphant he found but little, for whatever there was had been sheltered in the friendly soil.”Bram Stoker, Dracula (Chapter II)
In the above quote Dracula refers to the battle of Posada, November 1330, when a small Wallachian army led by Basarab I (cavalry, foot archers,and peasants), ambushed and defeat the 30 000-strong invading Hungarian army led by King Charles Robert of Anjou. Yet there is no further reference in Stoker’s notes to Vlad the Impaler.
And Dracula’s Castle? Is it based on Bran Castle?
To start with, the novel Dracula was originally set in Styria, Austria.
Bram Stoker gives a general, sketchy description of Dracula’s castle that could easily fit any Gothic castle. It could fit Bran Castle too, location-wise. As for the countless rooms – yes, it does feel like a labyrinth inside Bran, but Bran has more doors, windows, and balconies than Stoker describes below:
“The castle is on the very edge of a terrible precipice. A stone falling from the window would fall a thousand feet without touching anything! As far as the eye can reach is a sea of green tree tops… when I had seen the view I explored further; doors, doors, doors everywhere, and all locked and bolted. In no place save from the windows in the castle walls is there an available exit.Bram Stoker, Dracula, Chapter II
This is how Queen Marie of Romania described Bran Castle around 1930’s:
“Bran,’ the queen remembered, ‘meant a new field of work, the call to life of a new dream about beauty. With the help of a trustworthy, aged architect, but as spirited as me, I began to bring to life the dead walls, to give a soul to this old fortress that had never really lived. I awoke her from a long slumber, I turned a blind house into a home with many eyes open towards the world. Asleep, forgotten, lonely as she was, she proved herself to be no less than what was expected of her, allowing us to turn her into a peaceful and pleasant home.”Queen Marie of Romania on Bran Castle
Inside Bran Castle, Transylvania, Romania:
I feel that I should also mention Stoker placing his Dracula castle in Bukovina: “At three to-morrow the diligence will start for Bukovina; a place on it is kept for you. At the Borgo Pass my carriage will await you and will bring you to me.”
Bukovina is a historical region located at the top north of Romania.
Bran Castle is 15 km from Borgo Pass (Bran Pass), but in the province of Țara Bârsei (Burzenland in German or Barcaság in Hungarian), approximately 400 km south of Bukovina.
But perhaps to Bram Stoker the castle’s exact location didn’t even matter, what mattered was the local color he painted around it, the dark grays, like rising shadows, the past’s shadows more exactly, reflected in people’s faith, fears and believes.
We are in Transylvania; and Transylvania is not England. Our ways are not your ways, and there shall be to you many strange things.Dracula, in Bram Stoker Dracula (Chapter II)
And also the mention (although off by a few weeks) of the Night of Saint George, 22nd / 23rd of April when it is believed that the flames of the treasures hidden underground ahead of the Ottoman invasions of Wallachia (especially eastward, at Brăila) show themselves.
I asked him of some of the strange things of the preceding night, as, for instance, why the coachman went to the places where he had seen the blue flames. He then explained to me that it was commonly believed that on a certain night of the year—last night, in fact, when all evil spirits are supposed to have unchecked sway—a blue flame is seen over any place where treasure has been concealed. “That treasure has been hidden,” he went on, “in the region through which you came last night, there can be but little doubt; for it was the ground fought over for centuries by the Wallachian, the Saxon, and the Turk. Why, there is hardly a foot of soil in all this region that has not been enriched by the blood of men, patriots or invaders.Bram Stoker Dracula (Chapter II)
It is known that Stoker took meticulous notes, and kept all of them.
If he would have used the historical character Vlad the Impaler, Vlad Dracula, as his source of inspiration I believe that he would have researched it further, made extra notes involving the many stories told about Vlad the Impaler, and even include some of them in his novel. Yet his novel does not include any further references to Vlad Dracula’s personal, tumultuous history, nor does Bram Stoker refers to his character Dracula as Vlad or the Impaler.
Furthermore, it is my humble opinion that it is unlikely that Bram Stoker fashioned his character Dracula after Vlad the Impaler’s persona. Stoker’s Notes show no proof that, while researching or writing his novel, he even came across a portrait or a description of Voivode Vlad the Impler.
Yet, much like the historical immortality of Vlad the Impaler, Vlad Dracula, Stoker’s character stood the test of time, and although it does not scare anymore, it can still stir heated debates. And while Vlad the Impaler remained a national and historical hero, Bram Stoker’s Dracula rose to the standard of a modern myth.
Perhaps the connection between Bram Stoker’s Cont Dracula and the historical character of Vlad the Impaler sipped into many reader’s minds due to Ford Coppola’s 1992 production of Dracula (when Dracula is portrayed as Vlad the Impaler, Vlad Dracula).
OR the 1953 Turkish production of the same novel, Drakula İstanbul‘da (Dracula in Istanbul) – based on the 1928 loose translation into Turkish of Stoker’s Dracula, Kazıklı Voyvoda (Impaler Voivode) by Ali Riza Seyfi; here, the Count’s ancestor is Vlad the Impaler.
OR Gary Shore’s directorial debut Dracula Untold…
OR the work of some 20th century scholars (McNally and Florescu, and other editors before them) who interpreted Bram Stoker’s Notes forcefully believing that he did, in fact, based his Count Dracula character on Vlad the Impaler.
Christopher Frayling, Vampyres: Lord Byron to Count Dracula, 1991
Robert Eighteen-Bisang, Elizabeth Miller, Bram Stoker Notes on Dracula, 2008
Neagu Djuvara, De la Vlad Tepes la Dracula Vampirul, 2003
Nicolae Stoicescu, Vlad Tepes, 1976
Bram Stoker, Dracula, 2003
William Wilkinson, An Account of the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia