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Dracula by Bram Stoker: the definitive vampire novel. Rebekah Send a noteboard - 23/01/2011 01:09:49 PM
Dracula by Bram Stoker - first edition coverLook around the SF/F section (or the young adult section, for that matter) of a bookshop at the moment and chances are you’ll see numerous books about vampires. Ever a popular topic for stories, the supernatural are currently enjoying a long showing in the spotlight. But over the years, vampire characteristics especially have been diluted from their violent, menacing beginnings in literature. So it was refreshing to reread Bram Stoker’s Dracula, for here there are no misunderstood pacifist bloodsuckers, supernatural heroes or sparkles. The vampire in what is arguably the most influential of Gothic novels is a creature entirely of darkness.

The story of Dracula is told in a series of letters, journals and newspaper clippings. We begin with Jonathan Harker’s diary. The young solicitor, acting for his boss, has been sent to Transylvania to meet with Count Dracula, a nobleman interested in buying property in England. Initially met with warmth and courtesy, Harker soon discovers that the Count is one of the Undead, and he is set on travelling to London to wreak havoc there. Dracula leaves Harker trapped in the castle, and makes his way to England, where his path crosses with Harker’s fiancée Mina and her friend Lucy. As Lucy’s health begins mysteriously to fade, Dutch professor Van Helsing is called in to help. This is just the beginning; soon a high-stakes game of cat and mouse is in play, pitting 19th century science against legend and superstition.

Stoker’s writing is excellent. The use of journals and letters to reveal the story in layers and from different viewpoints is very clever, and he works it perfectly with the addition of a couple of newspaper articles to fill in gaps. It’s also a good way to increase tension within in the story – quite often a journal will cut off at a highpoint in the action, and the storyline is then picked up by someone else’s journal, meaning you have to wait a bit to find out what’s happened. I like that; it gives the book a mystery feel.

I am, however, conflicted about the characters. On the one hand, they’re quite nice to read: upstanding, brave, loving men, and clever, courageous women. Dracula’s evil is quite chilling. But they’re also only one-sided. There’s no depth and no contrast to them. Either they’re fully good – all of the good guys – or they’re fully bad: Dracula and his brides. The one character with ambiguity and shade is madman Renfield; he’s rather fascinating, and I think that Stoker enjoyed writing him. I also got a little annoyed by the way Van Helsing speaks. At first it was quite nice because that is how many Dutch people speak English (I grew up with lots of them, being of Dutch extraction myself), but would all three journal writers (Mina, Johnathan and Dr Seward) really have taken down his words exactly as he said them, complete with the errors non-native speakers make? That doesn’t feel realistic.

Stoker’s novel draws on fears prevalent in the late Victorian era: in the age of colonialism and expansion, many Victorians were worried about the “invasion” of Others into their land. Dracula is from the east, he is from a barbaric family of warriors, and he is uncompromisingly evil. Harker’s journal records a rise in the prevalence of superstition the further into Eastern Europe he travels, which contrasts sharply with the scientific, rational characters we meet in England.

It can be difficult to get into a story that is told through letters, journal entries and the like, but I think Dracula is worth it. It’s a mystery and a jigsaw, and as the pieces fit together the cleverness of Stoker’s writing becomes evident. And it bears up well under a reread. This time around I found different scenes scary, and was struck by the way Stoker wrote Mina & Jonathan’s love story. (Yes, I’m a sap.) And I’m glad I reread, because I had fogotten some of the vampire characteristics Stoker used. There are almost all of the ones we are still familiar with: no reflection in the mirror, ability to turn into a bat, the nocturnal hours of activity. But Stoker’s vampires can go out in the sunlight. Their only limitation in daylight hours is that they cannot change shape. They are also unable to cross water except at low tide, and they are also able to turn into mist and control the elements to an extent. Stoker’s vampires are more powerful than those in modern literature.

I love this book. It’s scary, it’s moving, it’s well-written, and it’s fascinating glimpse into scientific thought of the 19th century. Physiognomy and phrenology were huge in this era, and they play a large part in the sketching of various characters, as does the rapidly developing discipline of psychology. Interesting too are the references to the new technologies of the age: typewriters (that surprised me), phonographs and the like. Published in 1897, Dracula is a fin de siècle novel; that is, an end of the century book, and it certainly has that feel. The new technologies, new scientific though and advancement, and the uneasiness of the Victorians in their wider world all contribute to the mood of the novel: it is a time of change, where society’s balance can be overturned by the smallest of events. Dracula himself is a symbol of this threat. Understanding this context is key, I think, to enjoyment of the book, especially given the number of adaptations over the years. But Dracula remains for me the best, scariest imagining of the vampire, and it’s a book I will reread many times.

(I read this as part of the Genre Challenge. This is my Horror book. However, I might choose another later. We’ll see.)

Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read. - Groucho Marx
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Dracula by Bram Stoker: the definitive vampire novel. - 23/01/2011 01:09:49 PM 7885 Views
And a wee apology: - 23/01/2011 01:11:12 PM 1410 Views
Re: And a wee apology: - 23/01/2011 01:14:03 PM 1362 Views
Re: And a wee apology: - 23/01/2011 01:16:01 PM 1444 Views
Re: And a wee apology: - 23/01/2011 01:23:27 PM 1367 Views
I'm with Camilla, that was a very good review. *NM* - 23/01/2011 01:42:13 PM 760 Views
Okay. I'll have to pick this up. - 23/01/2011 01:14:01 PM 1423 Views
I had one bad night the first time I read it. - 23/01/2011 01:15:22 PM 1324 Views
I've been wanting to read Dracula for a while. - 23/01/2011 01:18:49 PM 1325 Views
Re: I've been wanting to read Dracula for a while. - 23/01/2011 01:21:38 PM 1412 Views
Re: I've been wanting to read Dracula for a while. - 23/01/2011 01:28:57 PM 1349 Views
It's pretty tame by modern standards. *NM* - 23/01/2011 05:17:03 PM 711 Views
It has been a while since I read it (should probably do something about that), but I think I agree. - 23/01/2011 01:23:10 PM 1510 Views
I have a copy here if you want to borrow. (I read it on my Kindle this time.) - 23/01/2011 01:32:59 PM 1460 Views
Yes please - 23/01/2011 01:54:40 PM 1461 Views
Since Camilla mentioned the topic of where one reads books... - 23/01/2011 01:58:41 PM 1404 Views
Heh. - 23/01/2011 02:01:32 PM 1589 Views
THEY WERE NEVER BRITISH!!! THEY STILL AREN'T; 36+6+1!!!!!! - 23/01/2011 05:06:42 PM 1442 Views
Re: THEY WERE NEVER BRITISH!!! THEY STILL AREN'T; 36+6+1!!!!!! - 23/01/2011 05:23:30 PM 1480 Views
Character wise, not geographically. - 23/01/2011 05:46:49 PM 1298 Views
Always nice to see someone advocating terrorism. - 25/01/2011 04:52:09 PM 1506 Views
Terrorism is a point of view. - 03/02/2011 04:30:39 PM 1460 Views
You know, I have to agree with Cannoli, though without the all caps and the queen-fucking. - 23/01/2011 10:48:36 PM 1483 Views
Of course. - 23/01/2011 10:54:41 PM 1368 Views
I won't be as mad as Cannoli, or pedantic as Tom but it is an Irish novel - 23/01/2011 11:11:05 PM 1446 Views
Having an Irish writer does not an Irish novel make. - 23/01/2011 11:15:02 PM 1396 Views
yes, but - 23/01/2011 11:15:55 PM 1313 Views
Ha, that's always the problem I have with epistolary novels - 23/01/2011 05:15:58 PM 1305 Views

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