Dracula: Chapter 1

Note: Page numbers refer to the text of Stoker’s novel as presented in Leonard Wolf, ed., The Essential Dracula (1975; New York: ibooks, 2004).
Chapter 1

Summary: Jonathan Harker, a newly minted English solicitor (i.e., lawyer), travels to Transylvania in order to consult with an aristocratic client, Count Dracula, regarding the nobleman’s recent purchase of an English estate. At various stages along his journey, the people he encounters regard him with a mixture of fear and sympathy somehow connected to his ultimate destination, Dracula’s castle: for instance, the landlord’s wife at the hotel where Harker stays  in Bistritz (a town in eastern Hungary on the main rail line from Vienna and Budapest) presses him to take a crucifix and rosary; and his fellow passengers on the horse-drawn coach from Bistritz to the Borgo Pass of the Carpathian Mountains (in which Harker expects to rendezvous with a tall, seemingly unusually strong driver who will take him to Castle Dracula) look on him with pity while uttering such dark words as “Satan,” “hell,” “witch” and “werewolf”—the latter may also be translated “vampire.” In the Borgo Pass, around midnight, a carriage driven by a tall, mysterious man appears. Harker boards the carriage. As the carriage makes its way to its destination, Harker notices blue flames occasionally flickering over the ground; the driver stops to do something at those locations, and Harker notes that he can still see the flame through the driver’s figure. At length, the dream-like, even nightmarish, trip ends. Harker is now at Castle Dracula, “from whose tall black windows came no ray of light, and whose broken battlements showed a jagged line against the moonlit sky.”

Analysis: As the dedicatory note (“To my dear friend Hommy-Beg,” a nickname for Stoker’s friend, novelist Hall Caine) makes clear, Stoker crafts his tale as an epistolary novel, a “novel told through the medium of letters written by one or more of the characters… [T]he epistolary novel was one of the earliest forms of novel to be developed. It remained one of the most popular up to the 19th century. The epistolary novel’s reliance on subjective points of view makes it the forerunner of the modern psychological novel. The advantages of the novel in letter form are that it presents an intimate view of the character’s thoughts and feelings without interference from the author and that it conveys the shape of events to come with dramatic immediacy. Also, the presentation of events from several points of view lends the story dimension and verisimilitude” (Encyclopedia of Literature, Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, 1995; p. 384).
The first (and in this chapter the only) character whose point of view we encounter is Jonathan Harker. His journal (kept in shorthand, a recent development in Stoker’s day) describes in great detail his long, winding journey, by train, coach, and carriage, from Munich to Castle Dracula. Harker describes his physical surroundings with accuracy, includes much historical and sociological information about the inhabitants of the Carpathians, and even makes notes of what he has eaten, twice reminding himself to obtain recipies “for Mina” (p. 2)—a character whom we have yet to encounter, but who is Harker’s fiancé, Miss Wilhelmina Murray. Although the driver who meets Harker at the Borgo Pass claims to be sent from his “master the Count” (p. 16), the text offers reasons to suspect (suspicions that will later be proven correct) that the driver is Count Dracula himself. His reference to his swift horses provokes one of Harker’s fellow passengers to quote a line from a poem—“For the dead travel fast”—and the driver smiles in reply, as if to acknowledge that the words truly describe him: not only as as swift, but as dead! Additionally, the driver seems to exercise a strange control over wild beasts: he turns aside the ring of howling wolves that, at one point, obstructs the carriage’s path. Editor Leonard Wolf notes, “Dracula’s true nature, as in atavism, dominating the horses and terrifying the dogs, begins to emerge. His close kinship to the brute creation will continue to be developed” (p. 17, n. 60).
Chronology and calendar play a large role in Stoker’s novel, not only because of its epistolary format but also because of various symbolic associations. In this chapter, the most notable instance of Stoker’s preoccupation with time is the setting of Harker’s journey to Castle Dracula on Saint George’s Eve (May 4). Saint George is the mythical dragon-slayer of lore; but on the night before his feast day, which commemorates his victory over forces of evil and chaos, “when the clock strikes midnight, all the evil things in the world will have full sway” (p. 8). Readers are thus alerted that Harker is, literally and symbolically, beginning a descent into darkness by taking his trip when he does, where he does.