The Literature of Horror: The Use of Horror in Bram Stoker’s Dracula

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The traditional flourishing of the horror genre during America’s most straitened periods such as the Great Depression and the infamous 1970 oil crisis was not any coincidental. The new waves of innovative nightmare visions in films that were widely used during these dark times was a way of reflecting the human fears and desires that lurked beneath the surface.

 For instance, the fears of the freefalling economy were suggested in the skewed world of 1920 The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, which has been described by most commentaries as the “tales of a madman in a world gone mad.” Similarly, the uncertainty of the Depression and the world’s increasing moral chaos was well reflected in the shambling monster that rampaged through the adopted film Frankenstein. Better still, the fast decline of the traditional family values in the contemporary society was best reflected in the Night of the Living Dead, a horrific film where mothers were devoured by their own flesh and blood while heroes were destroyed in friendly fires. On the other hand, pervasive consumerism was best reflected in George Romeo’s Dawn of the Dead, a 1978 film in which four people tried the best they could to stave off man- eating zombies in a shopping mall.

Similarly, the increased use of horror is apparent in the literary world since the 18th century. The beginning of the literature of horror is linked to English authors who created characters such as monsters, ghosts, demons, mad scientists, zombies, werewolves, eternal wanderers, and vampires in their works, who became the archetypes for the genre of horror in the world of literature.

The use of horror in both film and literature in the contemporary society was without doubt, a way of tackling the human’s most ineffable fears and desires. The themes in horror literatures are more cater- cornered when compared to how themes are approached in other genres. This way the authors of the fright literary works got under the reader’s skin where even the most gravely contemporary issues fail to make a dent. The use of horror in literature transforms the highly relevant concerns in the contemporary society to a level that the reader can relate to and tries to explain how humans can thrive in uncanny situations. The use of horror is evident in Bram Stoker’s contemporary literary work Dracula that was written during the English Victorian Era and is comprehensively discussed in this paper.

The Literature of Horror

The use of horror in literature can be traced back to the 18th century, a period that Hurley (2002) describes as the “modernist era where perhaps the widely known gothic genre metamorphosed into horror.” Unlike fantasy and science fiction the definition of the genre of horror focusses on human emotions such as fear, anxiety, and horror that are evoked in the reader. Comparatively, the definition of science fiction and fantasy focus a lot on the structure of the various literary works.

Castle (2007) defines horror as a popular genre in literature that focusses on evoking emotions of fear, tension, and dread. The use of horror in contemporary works by writers has been achieved in some ways:

a. The creation of archetypal characters- horrific literary works can be characterized by their usual archetypal characters that include but are not limited to monsters, vampires, mad scientists, eternal wanderers, serial killers, demons, ghost, psychopaths, werewolves, and zombies. These archetypal characters keep evolving with time.

b. The creation of environments with a mysterious atmosphere- authors of horrific literary works evoke emotions of fear, dread and tension among readers and writers alike through the environment in which their story revolves around. These authors use locations that the reader is not accustomed to such as the graveyards, old houses, neglected massive castles or those in ruins, and gloomy forests. These places mostly own their own lives and are charged with mystery.

c. The vivid description of violence and brutality- emotions of fear, dread and tension are evoked by the openly described violence and brutality evident in contemporary works. Before the rise of contemporary literary works, violence and brutality could only be described by a few drops of blood in various scenes or ripped off pieces of clothes in the bushes, but the more vivid description of violence and brutality that is frequent in contemporary works gives the reader a sense of uneasiness and horror.

An overview of Bram Stoker’s Dracula

            The plot of this horrific English novel revolves around the life of a young lawyer called Johnathon Harker who travels from his home in London to Transylvania, to aid a noble rich man called Count Dracula with the legal details of purchasing an estate in England. Count Dracula intends to immigrate and stay in England. On his way to Dracula’s massive castle, the young man disregards the warnings of the town’s local people. On his arrival at the castle, Harker is impressed by Count Dracula’s politeness and general charming persona.

The massive castle lacks housekeepers, and servants and Harker observes Count Dracula’s strange abilities to communicate with werewolves. He also observes many other unnatural events while in the castle. Such observations make him realize that he may be trapped in the mysterious castle. His attempt to break from the Dracula by sneaking out of the mysterious castle in the wee hours of one night was made futile by interruptions from three vampires that were brides to the rich Count Dracula. When he finally escapes from the castle, he is struck by a severe case of brain fever that take him a long time to recover in a Hungarian covenant.

The Dracula manages to immigrate to London but keeps in a low profile. His arrival England is predicted by Dr. Seward’s patient, Renfield, who utters exasperated words such as “the master is coming soon, and he eats bugs and birds”. Strange things start to happen in town. Hawker’s fiancée, Mina confesses to her friend Lucy of her worries and concerns over Harker but Lucy does not heed her worries for all she did is think of her suitor. Suddenly, Lucy starts to act oddly and to lose a lot of blood in ways that are humanly unexplainable. Her fiancée, Lord Arthur Holmwood being worried sends Van Helsing, a doctor and scientist who believes in ancient superstitions and his companion Jack Seward to check on Lucy.  The knowledgeable Van Helsing links Lucy’s problem to vampires but is unable to save her from death. After her death and burial, the two me realizes that Lucy death may not be true but a transition into a vampire and therefore break into her tomb only to catch Lucy in her vampire self. Knowing how to kill vampires, Van Helsing and his companion stab Lucy and beheads her to ensure she is truly dead, saving the rest of the town from the wrath of a blood-thirsty new vampire on the loose.

Mia travels to Budapest to pick her fiancée Harker after hearing from him. The two get married in the same Hungarian convent Hawker had been treated with severe case of brain fever. They return to England, and Harker with the help of Helsing, Seward, and Morris embarks on a mission to kill Count Dracula. The hunt of the Dracula is filled with scenes that create fear, suspense, excitement and anguish to the reader. After a long struggle, loss of Morris’ life, and near death of Mina, the three vampire hunters manage to kill the Dracula in Transylvania.

The Use of Horror in Dracula

1. Creation of an archetypal character

Bram Stoker creates the strange and supernatural Count Dracula and places him in the story as a dark entity that establishes a sense of horror and uncertainty to the reader. Stoker terrorizes the reader by his vivid description of the vampire. His description of the evil vampire makes the narrators respond with revulsion.

“His eyes flamed red with devilish passion, his aquiline nose opened wide and quivered at the edge; and the sharp white teeth behind the full lips of the blood- dripping mouth, champed together like those of a wild beast.” (Stoker, 1998).

2. Mysterious Environments

Stoker uses an ancient castle as the main building in his story to enhance further the horrific features of his tale. Castles provide a mysterious atmosphere and hold a lot of history, a reason why they are commonly used in gothic and horrific novels.

Count Dracula’s ancient and sinister castle is dark and mysterious and separated from the rest of the town. Having been set on top of a mountain, the castle is without doubt separated from civilization. A claustrophobic feeling is evoked when the reader imagines how Harker roams down the castle’s corridors observing unexplainable events. The dark castle was like a prison keeping people both in or out, explaining why Harker had difficulties escaping. In his attempts break free from the mysterious Count Dracula and his castle Harker describes:

“Bell or knocker there was no sign; through these frowning walls and dark window opening it was not likely that my voice could penetrate.” (Stoker, 1998).

3. Vivid Description of Violence and Brutality

Stoker horrifies the reader more through his vivid description of violent and brutal scenes. The horror and blood- filled images created through his vivid description could stay in a reader’s mind forever. One of the horrifying scenes of violence and brutality in the novel is quoted below.

“Her white night dress was smeared with blood, and a thin stream trickled down the man’s bare breast, which was shown by his torn-open dress. The attitude of the two had a terrible resemblance to a child forcing a kitten’s nose into a saucer of milk to compel it to drink.” (Stoker, 1998).


Brawn Stoker’s novel Dracula is very intriguing, and the use of horror that is immensely evident throughout the novel made this piece of literary work more captivating to the reader. The setting of the novel takes place in England, particularly during the Victorian Era; a period when society was highly governed by standard methods of social conduct and morality. Stoker effectively uses horror to reflect and tackle the fear and uncertainty of a society that people follow strict codes and how such codes open the society to disaster.


Castle, M. (2007).  On Writing Horror. Cincinati: Writer’s Digest Books, ISBN 1-58297-420-9

Hurley, K. (2002) British Gothic fiction, 1885–1930. In: Hogle JE (ed). The Cambridge Companion to Gothic Fiction. Cambridge: New York, NY, pp 189–208.

Stoker, B. (1998) Dracula. Broadview: Orchard Park, NY.

December 12, 2023



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