Saturday, September 29, 2018

Bram Stoker's Dracula

"...the world seems full of good men--even if there are monsters in it."
Maybe I shouldn't have been, but what did surprise me was how good a read this is. Why, I don't's not only a classic, but it's been a major hit for more than a century. That was kind of the only thing that did surprise me since, of course, I knew practically everything in the book.

How do I know the story? I couldn't even tell you. I'm not much of a horror person, and movies less than books, but somehow this book is such a force we all know what's in it.

The story is told in the form of interlocking narratives from the major participants, though not Dracula himself. Mostly diaries--everybody in this book is a diarist--but also lawyer's letters, newspaper accounts, and a ship's log. I suppose Stoker got the idea from Wilkie Collins, though I don't think he does it as well as Wilkie Collins: his diarists all sound alike, except for the bit where Van Helsing speaks his improbable Dutch accent into an early recording machine and calls it a diary. But it's still successful in delineating the different characters, and in creating suspense.

And, oh, the suspense! It's still there, even though we know SOMEBODY is going to end up with a stake through his heart. I especially liked the early part of the book where Jonathan Harker, young lawyer, is first traveling to Romania and Dracula's castle on what seems an exotic, but perfectly possible, business trip. The ominous warnings he receives from the locals, the strange portents, the schedule that puts him at his destination at midnight--it all works very well. Later, the fact that the various characters seemed occasionally to forget they were dealing with a vampire was a little harder to overlook. Of course it is improbable that there's a vampire. But for us, now, reading a book, or watching a movie, vampires aren't any longer as improbable as all that. In fact, it seems like they're everywhere...

The only other thing to note is this Penguin edition, pictured above. The photo is great. It's the Victorian/Edwardian actor Henry Irving as Mephistopheles, not actually as Dracula, but it looks right. And it's appropriate because Bram Stoker worked as the business manager for Irving's theater company. I got that from the introduction, by Maurice Hindle. But mostly I disliked the introduction which comes down, far too heavily I thought and a bit incoherently, on the psycho-sexual interpretation of Dracula. That's hardly wrong, or unthought-of. But it was a bit obvious and not well done. Also the notes explained more things than I needed and not some of the ones I wanted.

So, how about a feminist interpretation? No need to wait for Buffy. Our four strong and good men, and their leader Van Helsing, are the vampire-hunters, but every time they decide to hide the facts from the ever-competent Mina, something bad happens.
"...the very first thing we decided was that Mina should be in full confidence;"
If only they'd listened to their own advice...

Read for a whole bunch of challenges!

Though since I finished it before the Classics Club October Dare, I'm now dreaming of a (first) visit to Manderley...


  1. I was so impressed by this you said "how good it is!"
    No gory details...but the dread was palpable.

    1. That's exactly it, isn't it? The dread is so well-handled, but it's done without gore. (Thank goodness!)

  2. I remember parts of this book were actually terrifying. The part where Jonathan looks out the window and sees Dracula. . . I'll say no more, but I got the shivers. I was listening to the audio and that was pretty scary.

    1. I'll bet an audio version would be a completely different experience, even more than most books. That whole part, getting to the castle, and then in the castle. Yikes!

  3. I just read this for the first time, and really enjoyed it. It must have been really fascinating to early readers who had not already been exposed to vampire legend to the extent we are today.