Born in Dublin in 1847 to a privileged family, Bram Stoker was the third of seven children. Until the age of seven, the youngster was bedridden with a serious illness and this period of solitude may have contributed to his developing a fertile imagination. Stoker studied mathematics in Dublin. However, his interests in theatre led him to move to London, where he became the manager of the Lyceum Theatre in the West End. 


During his lifetime, Bram travelled widely and wrote thirteen novels. Dracula (1897), by far his most famous, tells of a vampire count who travels from his castle in Transylvania to England. There, he terrorises the seaside town of Whitby in North Yorkshire, while a group led by Dutch doctor Abraham Van Helsing tries to capture him.


The character of Dracula is thought to have been inspired by a real-life military governor called Vlad III, also known as Vlad the Impaler. Vlad was born in 1431 in Sighișoara (in present-day Romania) and was notorious for punishing his enemies by impaling them on stakes. After a battle in 1462, Vlad apparently left a field filled with thousands of his victims as a deterrent to Ottoman forces. A folk hero in his region, he gained a fearsome reputation across Europe and was named Dracula (meaning ‘son of the dragon’) by the Holy Roman Emperor in honour of his defence of Christian Europe.


Stoker was certainly aware of Vlad, and mentions him in his notes for his book. However, aside from the birthplace and the name, the two have little in common. To invent Dracula, Stoker drew on John Polidori’s 1819 short story The Vampyre, itself drawing on Eastern European folklore. Polidori introduced the idea of an aristocratic fiend. Stoker’s Dracula is hundreds of years old, can shape-shift into different forms, has hypnotic abilities, and can control nocturnal animals. He is uncommonly seductive. When he bites other people he turns them into vampires. Sunlight weakens him.