Vampires: Myths and Metaphors of Enduring Evil

By Peter Day | Go to book overview

Getting to Know the Un-dead: Bram Stoker, Vampires,
and Dracula

Elizabeth Miller

Given that Count Dracula has proliferated in every aspect of western culture since his creation in 1897 to such an extent that his name is now synonymous with “vampire,” it is not surprising that considerable effort has been spent attempting to trace the sources of Bram Stoker's knowledge of vampires. Unfortunately, much of it has ignored significant primary material, with the result that there has been a proliferation of errors and misconceptions about the genesis and writing of Dracula.

A few points need to be clarified from the outset. First of all, Stoker did not get any information about vampires firsthand in Transylvania. He never went there; in fact, it was not even his original intention to have his vampire come from Transylvania. Secondly, he did not base his vampire story on legends connected with the historical Dracula, Vlad the Impaler. Not only, as we shall see, did Stoker know little about Vlad, there was (in spite of numerous outrageous claims to the contrary) never any association of Vlad with vampires, either during his own lifetime or in the intervening years between his death and the writing of Dracula. Nor is it possible to support the speculation that Stoker had Countess Elizabeth Bathory in mind when he wrote Dracula. As for the theory that Stoker's primary source of material about vampires (as well as Transylvania and Vlad the Impaler) was the Hungarian professor, Arminius Vambery, that, too, is without firm foundation.1

Let us look first at general information about vampires that would have been available in the late nineteenth century. The word “vampyre” entered the English language in 1732, its first appearance (in a London periodical) occasioned by a rash of vampire sightings documented in several parts of central and eastern Europe. These claims were so widespread that in some countries, government officials became directly involved. For example, Austria's Empress Maria Theresa intervened after a new outbreak of vampirism had been reported in Silesia, sending her chief physician, Gerard Van Swieten, in 1755 to investigate. His declaration that the claim was false led the Empress to pass decrees aimed at stopping the spread of the vampire hysteria, and to ensure that all investigations were thenceforth conducted by civil rather than religious authorities.

Several of the reports of sightings were collected and published in 1746 by French biblical scholar Dom Augustin Calmet. Here is his account of the famous Arnold Paul case:

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