The novel begins with the diary kept by Jonathan Harker, an English solicitor, or lawyer, as he travels through Central Europe on the business of his firm. He is on his way to the castle of Count Dracula, a Transylvanian nobleman, to conclude a deal in which the Count will purchase an English estate. We learn that he has just qualified to be a solicitor, this is his first assignment as a professional, and he is engaged to a young woman named Mina Murray.
Harker describes in detail the picturesque country and the exotic food at the inns, noting recipes that he plans to obtain for Mina. In the evening of the first day of his diary (May 3), he arrives in the town of Bistritz, and checks into a hotel recommended to him by Dracula. There, he finds a letter from the Count awaiting him, welcoming him to the Carpathian Mountain region, and informing him that he should take a coach to the Borgo Pass, where Dracula’s carriage will meet him and bring him the rest of the way to the castle.
The next day, as Harker prepares to leave, the innkeeper’s wife presses a crucifix on him and gives him incoherent warnings, saying that it is the eve of St. George’s Day, when “all the evil things in the world will have full sway,” and that he is going to a terrible place. He is discomfited by this, and his uneasiness increases when, as he gets aboard the coach, a crowd of peasants gathers around him, muttering various forms of the word “vampire” in their native language. As the coach departs, they make the sign of the cross en masse in his direction.
The journey to the Borgo Pass takes him through beautiful country, but his enjoyment is dampened by the other passengers, who give him gifts and treat him as a condemned man. As night falls, the coachman drives his horses to a gallop, and they arrive at the meeting place an hour early. The coachman urges Harker to continue on through the pass and return another day, but just then Dracula’s carriage pulls up; the driver rebukes the coachman for being so early, and he tells Harker that he will take him to the castle.
The rest of the ride is terrifying: Wolves howl all around them, and blue flames appear at intervals along the road. At each flame, the driver leaves the coach for a time, and the wolves surround it; at his return, however, they disperse. Finally, after a long ascent, they arrive at Castle Dracula. Commentary The first chapter depicts the gradual encroachment of supernatural terror on the rational, mundane world–in other words, a conventional beginning for a horror novel. Jonathan Harker’s journal reveals an organized, reasonable man with no discernable superstitions.
He is a “modern” (which in this case means Victorian) professional, on a business trip, without any inkling of the horrors that await him. His early entry conveys the attitudes of a typical tourist: He notes with curiosity the dress and customs of Eastern Europe, mentioning recipes that he finds interesting, and writing down places of interest that he might wish to discuss later with his fiancee. Being a sensible, educated man, he has even researched his trip ahead of time with a trip to the British Museum and the examination of an atlas showing the region in which Castle Dracula is located.
By portraying his first narrator as lucid and rational, Stoker makes the descriptions of the terrifying events that follow more believable. Although Harker will come to doubt his own sanity, the reader is never led to question it. From the beginning, despite the “normal” progress of the trip east, the journal foreshadows events to come. Discussing his research on the reason, Harker notes, “every known superstition in the world is gathered into the horseshoe of the Carpathians . . . my stay may be very interesting. ”
As he travels eastward (the conflict between the civilized west and superstitious east is one of the themes of the novel), he begins to suffer bad dreams, which he blames on the paprika he has eaten the night before. It is only with the warnings of the innkeeper and his companions in the coach that Harker begins to become uneasy, and although he dismisses them as superstition, the reader has the sense that his destination may not be pleasant.
The arrival of Dracula’s coach and the wild ride to the castle intensify the mounting fear that replaces the young Englishman’s enjoyment of his journey. “This was all so strange and uncanny,” he writes, “that a dreadful fear came upon me, and I was afraid to speak or move. ” In the course of three days, then, he has left the rational world of trains and timetables and tourists behind and entered the supernatural domain of Dracula.