#CoverStories: Bram Stoker’s Dracula

#CoverStories: Bram Stoker’s Dracula

Giovanni Blandino Published on 5/8/2024

In the long, cold winter of 1897, a strange yellow book began appearing on the shelves of London’s bookshops. Devoid of illustration, its cover simply carried large red lettering announcing the author’s name, Bram Stoker, and the title: Dracula.

And so the world first set eyes on the best-selling horror novel of all time: the spine-chilling supernatural story of a Transylvanian nobleman and his mysterious arrival on the shores of England. Masterfully told through a series of gripping diary entries, letters and newspaper articles, the tale instantly caught the imagination of readers. It fuelled an appetite for the macabre and soon established Dracula as the archetypal vampire in popular culture.

Over the years, the undead aristocrat has undergone many a reincarnation in adaptations for films, plays, musicals and comics, and spawned all manner of sequels, mash-ups and spin-offs. Yet the powerful pull of the original novel endures, so much so that, since it was first published over a century ago, the thriller has never gone out of print.

Today, we’re telling the stories behind a selection of the most memorable and original covers to have graced Bram Stoker’s masterpiece over the years.

Welcome to Castle Dracula!

The first edition’s cover: a warning to readers

Dracula was written by Irishman Bram Stoker and first published in 1897 by Archibald Constable and Company in London, England, the author’s adopted home. The first edition was priced at six shillings and bound in an all-yellow cover which simply featured, in large red letters, the title and author.

The cover for the first edition of Dracula

As we saw in our article on Alice in Wonderland, book covers in the late Victorian era weren’t always terribly creative: publishing houses tended to use the same colour for all their titles to ensure that their books were immediately recognisable and, importantly, deemed respectable for the middle classes to read. However, a yellow cover carried a particular connotation at the time: that a book was considered risqué, licentious or erotic in some way.

But Bram Stoker was never happy with this association, and yellow covers were eventually abandoned for the book.

Two more fascinating facts: Stoker changed the title of his novel at the last minute – it was originally called “The Un-Dead” – and signed the publishing contract just six days before publication!

1899: the first American edition

The many mysteries surrounding Dracula’s publication rival those contained in the book itself. A few years after the novel was first published in London, two strange translations of Stoker’s masterpiece surfaced in the most unexpected of places: Iceland and Hungary. Scholars are still not sure how the book came to be published so quickly in two such far flung and unusual markets, or whether the translators had any contact with the author.

The cover of the first American edition depicting the iconic castle. Doubleday & McClure, New York, 1899.

While the story behind these unofficial first foreign editions remains a riddle, what we can say for certain is that the first official publication outside Europe was the 1899 American edition, published in New York by Doubleday & McClure. Bound in an elegant blue and yellow cloth cover, it features an illustration of Dracula’s mountain-top castle looming ominously over a forest below.

It would, however, be a few more years until the count himself appeared on the cover… at least of official versions. If you’d like to see it for yourself, the first American edition has been fully digitised by the Smithsonian Institute and is free to view online.

Count Dracula makes his cover debut

Today, Dracula’s silhouette is part of our collective imagination: long claw-like fingers, pronounced canines and a flowing cloak. But how did readers picture him when the book first hit the shelves at the end of the 19th century?

Bram Stoker drew upon well-established vampire tropes to describe his blood-sucking creation, but the first known published illustration of Count Dracula appeared on the cover of what is believed to have been the first Hungarian edition, published in 1898.

From left to right: the cover of what is thought to be the first Hungarian edition, published in 1898; the cover of the first paperback edition, published in 1901; the cover of the 1919 edition illustrated by Alfred Holloway. Images: lasecondacosa.blogspot.com; jwkbooks.com; commons.wikimedia.org

In the foreground, we see the vampire’s uncharacteristically bearded face, while in the background, we can just about make out his dark cloak, like a pair of bat’s wings. The cloak, which would become a key element of Dracula imagery, is more prominent in subsequent versions.

A prime example is the cover for the first paperback edition, published in England by Archibald Constable & Company in 1901: it features an exquisite black and white print that depicts the count scaling the wall of a Gothic castle in an unsettling, animal-like fashion. The same image was used on the cover of the thirteenth London edition published by Rider in 1919. It was drawn by Edgar Alfred Holloway, a prolific illustrator of children’s book at the time.

A la izquierda: la portada de la edición de 1932, publicada por Modern Library: un Drácula con sombrero de copa. A la derecha: la portada ilustrada por el artista de Marvel Jae Lee.

There’s a Dracula for every era: to see the count as imagined in the interwar period, look no further than the cover illustration for the 1932 Modern Library edition, which portrays the vampire as a member of high society. And for a more modern take, check out the 2006 edition illustrated by Marvel artist Jae Lee.

The iconic bedroom scene

The popularity of Bram Stoker’s novel reached new heights thanks to the cinema, and the earliest film adaptations remain classics to this day: the expressionist masterpiece Nosferatu, released by German director F. W. Murnau in 1922, and the eponymous first Hollywood version in 1931, which saw Bela Lugosi give the definitive performance as Dracula. These movies helped to cement Stoker’s creation in popular culture. And one scene in particular was made iconic by the big screen: the vampire’s furtive entry into the young maiden’s room.

Left: the Permabooks American paperback edition from 1957. Right: the cover of the first stage-play edition from 1927. Images: www.abebooks.it; comics.ha.com

The scene subsequently featured on some of the most eye-catching and spine-tingling covers of the novel. They work so well because Dracula is never fully revealed, but alluded to through little details. On the cover of the 1927-1928 stage-play edition, published by Doubleday following the smash-hit Broadway adaptation, huge red vampire eyes peer down at sleeping damsel to terrifying effect!

Another classic is the camped-up cover for the 1947 edition published by New York-based Pocket Book: it shows a leering, luminescent Dracula poised to strike a post-war pin-up girl as she sleeps.

Front and back cover of the 1947 edition of Dracula published by New York-based Pocket Books. Image: salmongutter.blogspot.com

Dracula around the world: covers from East Germany, Russia and the Netherlands.

Dracula was, and still is, a global phenomenon. Among the countless international editions, there are all sorts of weird and wonderful covers, like this frankly horrifying cover art for the 1993 Ukrainian edition.

The cover of a 1993 Ukrainian edition. Image: vaultofevil.proboards.com

This, on the other hand, is the somewhat less petrifying cover for the East German edition published in 1989 – just before the Berlin Wall fell – by Das Neue Berlin. It was illustrated by Volker Pfüller, an artist with an impressive mastery of printing techniques and well known in the DDR for his poster designs.

The cover of a 1989 East German edition of Dracula. Image: vaultofevil.proboards.com

And here’s a more childlike Dutch cover from the seventies.

The cover of the 1973 Dutch edition published by AW Bruna. Image: vaultofevil.proboards.com

Bram Stoker’s vampire has been thrilling readers for generations – and not just adults, but children, too. Fittingly, our final Dracula cover is from a deluxe version created by Edward Gorey, an American children’s author and illustrator renowned for his sinister sense of humour.

Released in 2006, this collector’s edition also includes the set designs Gorey created for a Broadway adaptation of the novel.

Images from the 2006 book ‘Dracula’ illustrated by Edward Gorey’.

What about you? Do you have a favourite Dracula cover?