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The Origins of Dracula and the Modern Vampire; Part 1

Updated on December 12, 2017

Vlad Dracula

Dracula and Vampire History 1

What is it about vampires that has both frightened and fascinated the American public for the past century? What qualities does the vampire possess that keeps audiences in their seats and readers in their chairs? Bram Stoker published his iconic novel Dracula in 1897. His main character and iconic antihero, Count Dracula, the undead Transylvanian boyar, has forever changed the public’s perception of vampires. Through film, television, video games, and various types of literature Count Dracula has earned the distinction of being truly immortal. There are several factors that made Stoker’s monster so attractive and fascinating to its audiences; his history, his attributes, his desires, his strengths and weaknesses. This one character provided the necessary setting, characters, plot, and theme of Stoker’s novel. Where did Stoker get the inspiration to manifest such an essential and iconic villain?

Stoker penned his vampire with specific intentions. Over the years, several researchers have proposed a variety of theories that have claimed to trace Stoker’s inspiration for his novel and transcending antihero, Count Dracula. These theories range from Freudian ­­­­­projections of sexual anxieties to social and political allegory in Stoker’s home country of Ireland in the late nineteenth- century.[1] Any of these theories could indeed be true. To argue against these types of ideas is difficult, since it’s impossible to prove Stoker’s ultimate intentions with his novel without reading his mind. However, the many references to Slavic and Eastern European history, myth, and folklore within the novel and their undeniable importance to the novel’s setting, plot, theme, and the essence of its antihero are undeniable. These Slavic and Eastern European influences have been significant not only to Stoker’s creation, but also to all subsequent representations of vampires in literature, in film, on stage, and in the perception of their audiences.

Upon a thorough examination of the novel’s text, the only traceable influences of Stoker’s creation came from Slavic and Eastern European history, myth, and folklore. Historical figures such as Vlad III Dracula, a Wallachian prince from the late fifteenth- century, provided the bulk of the necessary ingredients required to build Stoker’s Dracula. Stoker borrowed his name and much of his history.[2] Vlad Dracula’s cruelty was legendary, even in his own time. Both Germans and Turks were terrified of his demented methods of torture, his favorite being impalement.[3] Hungarian noblewoman, Countess Elizabeth Bathory, 1560- 1624, murdered more than 600 peasant girls within the walls of Chachtice Castle, located in what is now Slovakia. She not only murdered these girls one at a time, she bathed in and drank their blood in an attempt to restore her own youthful appearance, which may have provided Stoker with the concept of Dracula’s immortality obtained through the drinking of human blood.[4]

In addition to these two ominous figures of history, Transylvanian and Slavic folklore provided Stoker the essence of his hybrid antihero, Count Dracula. It is from these myths and legends that Dracula acquires his many abilities and vulnerabilities; his ability to influence weather, his tendency to torment mentally as well as inflicting physical harm or death, his vulnerability to Holy relics, and the methods used to destroy such a creature. The influence that Eastern European history and folklore had on Stoker’s character, and novel, Dracula was immense. The use of these two elements was vital to the creation of the entire work, and subsequent works of the same genre.

Though Stoker’s vampire set the standard for all vampires that would follow, his work was not the first literary appearance of such a monster. The many works, both fictional and scholarly, that preceded Dracula obviously had some influence on Stoker’s novel; as early as the 1730s books were published on the subject of vampires, especially in Germany.[5] One reason for the popularity of vampires in literature at this time was the Treaty of Passarowitz in 1718. This treaty gave parts of modern Serbia and Wallachia to Austria. The occupying force, which remained there until 1739, began to notice, and file official reports on the local practice of the exhuming the bodies of suspected vampires and destroying them. Literate outsiders began to attend some of these exhumations and write detailed accounts of what they saw. This vampire craze set off an early media event, in which educated Europeans became aware of such practices, practices that were by no means of recent origin.[6]

In the early 1730s, a group of Austrian medical officers were sent to the Serbian village of Medvegia to investigate some of these accounts. Several members of the village had died recently, and they blamed these deaths on vampires. The first of these vampires, and also one of the most famous “real” vampires, was Arnold Paole. He had died some years before by falling off a hay wagon and was believed by the villagers to have come back in the form of a vampire to haunt the living.[7] On January 7, 1732, Austrian Army Surgeon Johann Fluckinger wrote his now famous official report on the vampire epidemic in Austrian occupied Serbia:

. . . The Foregoing unanimously declare that Heyducke called Arnold Paole (Pavle?) fell from a hay wagon and broke his neck. During his life this mad frequently let it be said that he had been tormented by a vampire (vampyr) near Cassova in Turkish Serbia. It was for that reason that he ate some of the earth from the vampire’s grave and smeared himself with its blood in order to be rid of the abominable torment. Twenty to thirty days after his death several people complained that the aforesaid Arnold Paole had tormented them, and four were actually killed by him. In order to rid themselves of this evil, at the councel of their Hadnack (who had been previously up against such a thing), they exhumed this Arnold Paole forty days after his death and found that he was whole and intact with fresh blood flowing from his eyes, nose, mouth, and ears. His shirt, shroud and coffin were blood soaked. The old nails on his hands and feet had fallen out, and new ones had grown in their place. They could now see that he was really a vampire. When they followed their custom and drove a stake through his heart, he let out a fierce shriek, and blood gushed forth from him. Then on that very day they cremated him and threw his ashes into the grave. The people also assert that all those who have been killed by vampires must in turn become the same thing. For that reason the four people mentioned above were treated in a similar manner. Add to this the fact that this Arnold Paole attacked not only people, but also livestock, and he drained their blood. Since people fed on the meat from this livestock, several vampires again appeared among them. In the course three months seven young and old people passed away, among whom several died without any previous illness in two or at most three days. Heyducke Jehovitza reports that his daughter-in-law Stanicka fifteen days earlier went to bed fresh and healthy. At midnight, however, she started from sleep with a frightful shriek, fear and trembling and complained that Milove, son of the Heyducke, who had died nine weeks earlier, had choked her, whereupon she experienced several chest pains and grew worse from hour to hour, until she finally died on the third day . . .[8]

This report caused an uproar in the German speaking world. In the following year there appeared twelve articles and four treatises on vampires, each of these attempted to explain the vampire phenomenon from scientific and religious positions.[9] This early eighteenth- century vampire “epidemic” in Europe is almost solely responsible for the birth of vampire literature.

Thirteen years later French theologian Dom Augustin Calmet published his now famous study of vampirism.[10] Calmet’s treatise is the first comprehensive study of the Slavic vampire. Much of the information on Slavic vampire beliefs that Calmet recorded in his pioneering treatise made its way into Bram Stoker’s Gothic masterpiece Dracula. These influences will be discussed in detail later in this study.

Calmet was drawn to this subject not by interest in the Slavs or in vampires, but rather by the outbreak of vampirism that had occurred in Slavic lands in the 1730s.[11] Calmet was a secluded scholar throughout his life who left a vast library of theological and historical thought. His treatise on Slavic apparitions and vampires spans two volumes of arguments for and against the principles of apparitions and the existence of vampires, sorcerers, and possessions by the devil. This treatise was not translated into English until 1850 under the title The Phantom World: or, The Philosophy of Spirits and Apparitions.[12] Though Calmet came to the unwavering conclusion that vampires could not have existed, one passage of his work is convincing to the contrary:

In this century, a new scene has been presented to our view, for about sixty years past, in Hungary, Moravia, Silesia, and Poland. It is common, we are told, to see men, who have been dead several years, or, at least, several months, come again, walk about, infest villages, torment men and cattle, suck the blood of their relations, throw them into disorders, and, at last, occasion their death: and there is no way, it seems, to get rid of these troublesome visitants but by digging them out of their graves, impaling them, cutting off their heads, taking out their hearts, and burning their bodies. The name by which they are known, is that of Oupires, or Vampires; and the stories about them are related with such a minute particularity and probability of circumstances, and confirmed by so many solemn attestations upon oath, that one can scarce reject the opinion which revails [sic] in those countries, that these ghosts seem really to come out of their graves, and produce the effects which are related to them.[13]

Despite Calmet’s conclusion that vampires did not exist, this passage is proof that the belief in vampires in the Slavic parts of Europe was very real. Over one hundred years after the recording of the Arnold Paole incident, state efforts to control the eradication of suspected vampires in Serbia continued.[14]

[1] Raphael Ingelbien, “Gothic Genealogies: ‘Dracula’, ‘Bowen’s Court’, and Anglo-Irish Psychology” ELH 70, no.4 (Winter 2003): 1089.

[2] Robert Eighteen- Bisang and Elizabeth Miller, eds., Bram Stoker’s Notes for Dracula: A Facsimile Edition (London: McFarland & Company, 2008), 245.

[3] Kurt W. Treplow, Vlad III Dracula: The Life and Times of the Historical Dracula (Oxford: The Center for Romanian Studies, 2000), 134.

[4] Simon Bacon, “Binging: Excess, Aging and Identity in the Female Vampire,” MP: An Online Feminist Journal 3, no. 3 (Winter 2010): 27.

[5] Paul Barber, “The Real Vampire,” Natural History 99, no. 10 (October 1990): 74.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid., 74- 5

[8] Jan L. Perkowski, The Darkling: A treatise on Slavic Vampirism (Columbus: Slavica Publishers, 1989), 29- 30.

[9] Ibid., 41.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Jan L. Perkowski, ed., Vampires of the Slavs (Cambridge: Slavica Publishers, 1976), 9- 10.

[12] Clive Leatherdale ed., The Origins of Dracula: The Background to Bram Stoker’s Gothic Masterpiece (Essex, UK: Desert Island Books, 1995), 75- 6.

[13] Dom Augustine Clamet, “Vampires of Hungary, Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia,” in Vampires of the Slavs, ed. Jan L. Perkowski (Cambridge; Slavica Publishers, 1976): 80.

[14] John V. A. Fine Jr., “In Defense of Vampires: Church/ State Efforts to Stop Vigilante Action against Vampires in Serbia during the First Reign of Milos Obrenovic,” East European Quarterly 21, no. 1 (March 1987): 15.

© 2012 TheBudness


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    • TheBudness profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Appalachia

      Part 2 is up

    • TheBudness profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Appalachia

      I will post it on this site soon. The rest is done, I just haven't created the part 2 hub yet. Thanks for reading!

    • Rod Rainey profile image

      RodneyBlaec Rainey 

      5 years ago from Louisville, KY

      Great Hub! I was bummed to find there was no follow up. Please tell me you're still writing and where I can see your work.


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