Bram Stoker had already written two novels, and was working on a play based Austria, when he arrived for a holiday in Whitby in 1890. During his holiday the dramatic seascape and atmospheric streets of Whitby provided inspiration for his new work. In particular, the 199 steps, which wind their way up St Mary’s Church and graveyard, framed by the soaring remains of the Abbey behind, left a deep impression on Stoker. The play which Stoker was working on became a novel, and began not in Austria, but in Transylvania. That novel, Dracula, was published in 1897 and is one of the biggest selling novels of all time. Many of the key scenes of the novel are set in Whitby, including Dracula’s dramatic arrival from Transylvania, on board the Demeter, from which he leaps in the form of a black hound, and bounds up the 199 steps towards the Abbey.
Stoker was not alone in writing this style of fiction, the Victorians were fascinated with the gothic, with many other plays and novels featuring haunted houses, eerie castles, ghosts and monsters, and darkly mysterious foreign lands. The windswept headland on which Whitby Abbey sits, the eerie graveyard of St Marys and the dark gothic remains of the Abbey are a classic Victorian Gothic location.
The town of Whitby and Whitby Abbey have come become popular with fans of Dracula and other Victorian Gothic literature. Mina Murray, one of the key characters in Dracula, records in her diary. “Right over the town is the ruin of Whitby Abbey, which was sacked by the Danes ... It is a most noble ruin, of immense size, and full of beautiful and romantic bits; there is a legend that a white lady is seen in one of the windows.”