Sunday, November 7, 2010

Dracula by Bram Stoker

Dracula, written by Irish author Bram Stoker, was first published in 1897.  This is the novel that I believe we have to thank or curse for the original inspiration behind the modern wave of vampire fiction.

I really enjoyed this novel.  It loses some momentum about two thirds of the way through and becomes a bit tedious and repetitive but overall it is a well spun tale of good versus evil.

Basically the story is about how a band of friends have to defeat the evil  Count Dracula to save the soul of a woman they all in different ways love. 

There is some wonderful imagery in the novel especially at the beginning when solicitor Jonathan Harker is on his way to first meet the mysterious Count Dracula at his remote castle in the creepy Carpathian mountains of Transylvania.

The story is told from multiple perspectives entirely through the writings (letters and journal entries) of the main characters.  I think this type of narrative device can be difficult to pull off but Stoker combines the different perspectives seamlessly and the narrative continues to flow.  The action moves from the Transylvania mountains to Whitby in Yorkshire to London and then back to Transylvania as Jonathan Harker ably assisted by vampire expert Van Helsing and other friends chase count Dracula to ground.  And as we all know these vampires are well and truly difficult to kill:

The nosferatu do not die like the bee when he sting once.  He is only stronger; and being stronger have only more power to work evil.  p. 223 (Mina Harker's journal)

I can imagine this novel would have been seen as quite shocking and ground breaking at the time.  Now it seems quite restrained.  It does seem to take an interminable number of pages (at least half the book) before the characters are prepared to openly acknowledge to each other that they might in fact be dealing with the supernatural.

Dracula has everything you would hope for in a book about the Un-Dead.  Dracula himself is mercurial and strangely arresting.  He is also ably assisted in his evil making by a team of voluptuous and beguiling female vampires.  Dracula and his vamps can take multiple forms, from wolves to bats to tiny specks of dust in the moonlight.  I now know everything I could ever want to know about vampires and how to protect myself from them.

I suspect that some devotees of the modern Vampire stories might be a little disappointed with the original.  And perhaps I am also voicing my own disappointment here when I say there is a very patronising tone to the treatment of the female characters.  Not the female vampires for they have real flair and are truly fabulous.  The fallen women always seem to have more fun don't they?   It is more the damsels in distress approach to Lucy and Mina.  Chivalry is certainly not dead in this book, and actually becomes one of the major themes of the story.  It grated on me a tad. But I suspect Stoker is trying to say something about the role of women and how female sexuality was viewed in Victorian society.  It is just a bit frustrating, but on reflection interesting on a social commentary level.  If one wants to explore the social commentary aspects of a vampire novel that is.

Dracula takes some getting through but I do recommend it because while entertaining in its own right, it also provides some interesting context and insight into readers' seemingly endless fascination with Gothic themes and the supernatural.  I will give Professor Van Helsing the last word:

Do you not think that there are things which you can not understand, and yet which are: that some people see things that others can not?......Ah it is the fault of our science that it wants to explain all; and if it explain not, then it says there is nothing to explain.  p. 182

6 comments:

  1. I read this recently too. I enjoyed it, but I agree that it got a bit boring towards the end. The opening chapters were great, though...very atmospheric!

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  2. I remember being very disappointed at the end of the novel that Dracula was so easily overcome. Did you have a similar reaction?
    -Jay

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  3. Hi Jay

    I did have a very similar reaction. To me it just seemed to end with a bit of a whimper - and after so many pages....

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting :)

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  4. This one is on my TBR pile but has been there for a long time. I did start it once but wasn't in the right mood.

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  5. I loved Dracula. The first half was definitely better than the second. At some points I wondered if i would be able to keep reading, but in the end I did and it was worth it!

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Comments are very welcome.