Characters in Bram Stoker's Dracula

Seminar Paper, 2008

23 Pages, Grade: 1,7




1. Introduction

2. Techniques of Characterisation

3. Major Characters
3.1. Count Dracula
3.2. Jonathan Harker
3.3. Mina Murray
3.4. Lucy Westenra
3.5. Dr. John Seward
3.6. Arthur Holmwood
3.7. Quincey P.Morris
3.8. Dr. Abraham van Helsing

4. Minor Characters
4.1. R.M. Renfield
4.2. Other characters

5. Conclusion

6. Bibliography

1. Introduction

When Abraham «Bram» Stoker wrote his novel Dracula between 1890 and 1897, he chose his characters wisely. The horror novel contains eight main characters, only two of them female. The remaining six male figures all play a special role and fulfil a certain stereotype. It is the aim of this paper to display these roles and show how the characters stand in contrast or even resemble each other. Another factor to be analysed is how we get to know the characters in novel. Are they describing themselves? Do we learn about their traits through their actions? Or do other characters tell us how they usually behave?

2. Techniques of Characterisation

There are various techniques of characterisation. Characters may either be characterised implicitly or explicitely, either by the narrator himself (called authorial characterisation) or by other characters (called figural characterisation). The characters can even characterise themselves (called self-characterisation). Explicit characterisation, in general, takes place through descriptions or comments. Implicit characterisation, on the other hand, appears when the narrator tells the reader about the character’s actions, thoughts, appearance and so on. Implicit self-characterisation is displayed by the use of language, gestures, attitudes and traits. Implicit characterisation by other characters happens by describing the appearance and situations.[1] One more interesting aspect is the correspondence- and contrast relation among all characters. Some may share certain traits or attitudes and some can contrast.[2] Another way to characterise is to use a block characterisation, where we are informed about a character in a very compact and direct way.

3. Major Characters

3.1. Count Dracula

Presumably one of the most interesting characters in the novel, Dracula does not appear very often in his original form, except in the beginning and in the end of the novel. Nevertheless, he seems to be present in many chapters. He has a castle in the Carpathian Mountains and wants to move to London. In most cases, he is being characterised explicitly by other characters. Jonathan describes him as «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». (Stoker 1897: 25) It is unclear how old he is, we only know from Van Helsing «he can live for centuries». (319) Dracula speaks «excellent English, but with a strange intonation». (25) For Jonathan, Dracula’s handshake was more «of a dead than a living man». (25) As we get to know later, Dracula already appeared as the coachman as «a tall man, with a long brown beard and a great black hat, [...] a pair of very bright eyes, which seemed red in the lamplight, [...] with a hard-looking mouth, with very red lips and sharp-looking teeth, as white as ivory». (20) Jonathan writes he «caught my arm in a grip of steel; his strength must have been prodigious». (20)In this scene, Dracula also speaks excellent German. (20) Jonathan remarks once a again that Dracula’s hand «actually seemed like a steel vice that could have crushed mine if he had chosen». (24)In chapter two, Count Dracula appears officially, with a polite and courteous manner when welcoming Jonathan, who describes him with the means of a block characterisation. He has a «charming smile» and

His face was a strong - a very strong-aquiline, with high bridge of the thin nose and peculiarly arched nostrils; with lofty domed forehead, and hair growing scantily round the temples but profusely everywhere. His eyebrows were very massive, almost meeting over the nose, and with bushy hair that seemed to curl in its own profusion. The mouth, so far as I could see it under the heavy moustache, was fixed and rather cruel-looking, with peculiarly sharp white teeth; these protruded over the lips, whose remarkable ruddiness showed astonishing vitality in a man of his years. For the rest, his ears were pale, and at the tops extremely pointed; the chin was broad and strong, and the cheeks firm though thin. The general effect was one of extraordinary pallor. (27)

Dracula’s hands

[...] had seemed rather white and fine;[...] they were rather coarse - broad, with squat fingers. Strange to say, there were hairs in the center of the palm. The nails were long and fine, and cut to a sharp point. [...] His breath was rank.(27)

In a conservation, Jonathan once again notices the Count’s «long, sharp, canine teeth». (31 and 41)Dracula has different ways to smile, it can be grim or «malignant and saturnine». (33)

While staying in Dracula’s castle, Jonathan witnesses some strange things. He sees that Dracula has no reflection in the mirror. When Dracula saw the blood of Jonathan’s cut «his eyes blazed with a sort of demoniac fury». (34-35) Dracula’s way to speak is «smooth, resistless and gruesome». (41-42) He characterises himself and tells that he is of an old family and loves «the shade and the shadow». (33)When he talks about his origin, he speaks like a king, which is most fascinating for Jonathan. (37) He says «We Szekelys have a right to be proud, for in our veins flows the blood of many brave races who fought as the lion fights, for lordship». (37)

During Jonathan’s bondage, more strange things happen. When the female vampire tries to bite Jonathan, Dracula draws her back «with giant’s power» and «the blue eyes transformed with fury [...] his face was deathly pale, and the lines of it were hard like drawn wires». (47)One vampire says to Dracula «You yourself never loved; you never love». (47)The Count characterises himself by saying «Yes, I too can love». (47) Although the Count is keeping Jonathan, he always stays friendly when talking to him. ««Your pardon, my friend, that unknowingly I did break the seal.» Here we find partly an implicit self-characterisation.Jonathan adds « He was very courteous and very cheery in his manner». (51)

Later, Jonathan discovers that the Count sleeps in a box with dug earth. (57) He observes that the Count looked younger, his

white hair and moustache were changed to dark iron-grey; the cheeks were fuller, and the white skin seemed ruby-red underneath; the mouth was redder than ever, for on the lips were gouts of fresh blood, which trickled from the corners of the mouth and ran over the chin and neck. Even the deep, burning eyes seemed set amongst swollen flesh, for the lids and pouches underneath were bloated. It seemed as if the whole awful creature were simply gorged with blood. He lay like a filthy leech, exhausted with his repletion. (60)

When Dracula attacks Lucy for the first time, Mina describes his appearance as long and black, with a «white face and red, gleaming eyes». (101) We get to know implicitly that Dracula can change is shape. In chapter 8, he appears as a great bat (104) and later, Dracula comes into Lucy’s room as a «great, gaunt grey wolf». (151) To Mina and Renfield, he arrives as white mist, coming through the tiniest crack. (263 and 286)

After Mina first saw Dracula, she describes him as «a tall, thin man, with a beaky nose. [...] His face was not a good face; it was hard, and cruel and sensual» (179)and calls him a monster. (193) Interestingly, she calls his nose ‘beaky’, in contrast to Jonathan, who always called it ‘aquiline’. Before the big quest for Dracula, we are told about him in detail through a block characterisation by Van Helsing. He knows from Jonathan that Dracula is cunning. (209)In the first meeting, Van Helsing explains all characteristics Dracula has.

The vampire which is amongst us is of himself so strong in person as twenty men; he is of cunning more than mortal, for his cunning be the growth of ages; he have still the aids of necromancy, which is, as his etymology imply, the divination by the dead, and all the dead that he can come nigh to are for him at command; he is brute, and more than brute; he is devil in callous, and the heart of him is not; he can, within limitations, appear at will when, and where, and in any of the forms that are to him; he can, within his range, direct the elements; the storm, the fog, the thunder; he can command all the meaner things: the rat, and the owl, and the bat - the moth, and the fox, and the wolf; he can grow and become small; and he can at times canish and come unknown. (243)

He can even grow younger; that his vital faculties grow strenuous, and seem as though they refresh themselves when his special pabulum is plenty. But he cannot flourish without this diet; he eat not as others. Even friend Jonathan, who lived with him for weeks, did never see him to eat, never! He throws no shadow; he make in the mirror no reflect, as again Jonathan observe. He has the strength of many of his hand - witness against Jonathan when he shut the door against the wolfs, and when he help him from the diligence too. He can transform himself to wolf, as we gather from the ship arrival in Whitby, when he tear open the dog; he can be as a bat, [...] He can come in mist which he create, [...] the distance he can make this mist is limited, and it can only be round himself. He come on moonlight rays as elemental dust. [...] He become so small. [...] He can, when once he find his way, come out from anything or into anything, no matter how close it be bound or even fused up with fire - solder you call it. He can see in the dark - no small power this, in a world which one half shut from the light. [...] He can do all these things, yet he is not free. Nay; he is even more prisoner than the slave of the galley, than the madman in his cell. He cannot go where he lists; he who is not of nature has yet to obey some of nature’s laws - why we know not. He may not enter anywhere at the first, unless there be some one of the household who bid him to come; though afterwards he can come as he please. His power ceases, as does that of all evil things, at the coming of the day. Only a certain time can he have limited freedom. If he be not at the place whither he is bound, he can only change himself at noon or at exact sunrise or sunset. [...] He can only pass running water at the slack or the flood of the tide. (245-246)

Van Helsing explains further that Dracula has no power when being near garlic or a crucifix. A branch of roses holds him in his coffin and «a sacred bullet fired into the coffin kill him». (246) A stake through him or cutting off his head, will kill him as well. (246) In former times, he has been Voivode Dracula, who won against the Turks. He was one of the «cleverest and the most cunning, as well as the bravest of the sons of the ‘land beyond the forest’». He has «mighty brain and that iron resolution» and comes from a «great and noble race». (246)

When Mina is being found, sucking at Dracula’s breast, Dracula had a hellish look.

His eyes flamed red with devilish passion; the great nostrils of the white aquiline nose opened wide and quivered at the edge; and the white sharp teeth, behind the full lips of the blood-dripping mouth, clamped together like those of a wild beast. (288)

We get to know from Van Helsing that Dracula is also able to put people in a stupor, like he did with Jonathan. (289) After this event he got «a red scar on his forehead where Jonathan had struck him». (293)

Later in the novel, when all four men attack Dracula, he has a face of «hate and baffled malignity - of anger and hellish rage [...] his waxen hue became greenish-yellow by the contrast of his burning eyes, and the red scar on the forehead showed on the pallid skin like a palpitating wound». (311-312) He says

My revenge is just begun! I spread it over centuries, and time is on my side. Your girls that you all love are mine already; and through them you and others shall yet be mine - my creatures, to do my bidding and to be my jackals when I want to feed. Bah!. (312)

In chapter 25, Mina tells «The Count is a criminal and of criminal type [...] then as he is criminal he is selfish; and as his intellect is small and his action is based on selfishness, he confines himself to one purpose». (346-347)Dracula, in turn, describes Mina shortly before his encounter with all four men, as follows: «She was looking thin and pale and weak; but her eyes were pure and glowed with fervour. I was glad to see her paleness and her illness, for my mind was full of the fresh horror of that ruddy vampire sleep». (375)Seconds before his death, he

was deathly pale, just like a waxen image, and the red eyes glared with the horrible vindictive look. [...]the eyes saw the sinking sun and the look of hate in them turned to triumph [...] in that moment of final dissolution, there was in the face a look of peace, such as I never could have imagined might have rested there. (380)

And he finally dies when his «body crumbled into dust». (380)

All in all, Dracula units many things. He is a monster with supernatural powers and at the same time he has uncommon human features like his courtesy.

3.2. Jonathan Harker

Jonathan is the first person who appears in the novel. As chapter one to four only contain his journals, he can either be characterised by himself or by the narrator.

On the first pages he is characterising himself. He is a solicitor from London, who had just passed his exams successfully. (25) Already in chapter one, the reader notices that Jonathan is not very superspicious. He is on his way to Castle Dracula to conclude a real estate transaction with Count Dracula. When a woman tells him what day it is, he thinks «it was all very ridiculous but I did not feel comfortable». (15)As an English Churchman, he learnt to be graciuous and does not refuse the old woman’s rosary. (15) He explains, « Count Dracula had directed me to go to the Golden Krone Hotel, which I found, to my great delight, to be thoroughly old-fashioned, for of course I wanted to see all I could of the ways of the country». (13)From this, one might reason that he likes old-fashioned things and is interested in countries. During his journey in the carriage Jonathan «felt a little strangely, and not a little frightened». (20) When the dogs appear in the forest, Jonathan «grew dreadfully afraid» and he «felt a sort of paralysis of fear» because this «was all so strange and uncanny». (22-23) Although he notices that the carriage was going always the same way and although he saw the blue flames, he explained it by saying «my eyes deceived me straining through the darkness». (22)When arriving at Dracula’s castle he seems to be a little bit helpless and intimidated: «I stood in silence where I was, for I did not know what to do. [...] The time I waited seemed endless, and I felt doubts and fears crowding upon me». (24) In chapter two, Jonathan is characterized explicitly by Mr. Peter Hawkins, his employer. In a letter to Dracula, Hawkins writes «He is a young man, full of energy and talent in his own way, and of a very faithful disposition. He is discreet and silent, and has grown into manhood in my service». (27)


[1] 30.09.2006

[2] Pfister 2001: 225

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Characters in Bram Stoker's Dracula
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