I first read Dracula when I was studying towards my A-Levels; I wrote a paper comparing certain aspects of Robert Browning’s poems, Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights and Bram Stoker’s Dracula. During this time, I did enjoy reading the prolific gothic novel, yet, as I was studying it, I felt as though I might not have appreciated it as much as I could have done. So, I decided that it was time for a reread.
A Bit of Context
Author: Bram Stoker.
Publication: 1897, Archibald Constable and Company.
My Edition: 2008, Oneworld Classics.
Length: 354 pages.
Genre: Classic, Horror.
Abraham “Bram” Stoker was an Irish writer born in the mid-nineteenth century. His life was not particularly noteworthy until he moved to London to take over the management of Henry Irving’s theatre. This brought him into the midst of a growing literary society, home to writers such as Oscar Wilde, Arthur Conan Doyle and Alfred, Lord Tennyson.
Stoker’s first novel, The Snake’s Pass, was published in 1890, yet this, along with his earlier works, which consisted of short stories and children’s fiction, was very unsuccessful. His next novel was Dracula, yet this, too, was unpopular when it was first published. Then, towards the end of Stoker’s lifetime, the novel resurfaced in the literary world and, finally, Stoker was awarded the success that he deserved.
Since then, Dracula has never once been out of print, and is responsible for countless adaptations. It is one of the forefathers of the gothic genre and, as well as providing significant insights into contemporary attitudes towards sex, religion and globalisation, it makes a fantastic story.
Dracula is an epistolary novel, which means that, rather than consisting of one, long narrative, it is told through various letters and diary entries. This also means that the narrator of the story is constantly changing, which helps to break up this rather long novel. The story follows the experiences of seven primary characters: Jonathan Harker, John Seward, Professor Van Helsing, Quincey Morris, Lord Godalming, Mina Harker and Lucy Westenra.
It begins with Jonathan Harker, a legal clerk who has been sent to visit a foreign Count who is planning on moving to England. This Count, Dracula, is a very mysterious man, but Harker does not suspect him of anything sinister until he realises that Dracula has locked him inside of the castle – he is a prisoner. The Count, meanwhile, is crawling up and down the building wearing Harker’s clothes and pretending to be him as he sends letters and makes himself known in town.
There is a poison in my blood, in my soul, which may destroy me; which must destroy me, unless some relief comes to us – Dracula.
From this point onwards, the story follows the mysterious story of Count Dracula. He moves to England, as he planned, and, once there, he produces pure chaos. Wolves escape from zoos and mysterious bite marks begin to appear on sleeping women. I don’t want to give too much more away here, because, if you haven’t already read Dracula, I strongly recommend that you do read it, even if you do not ordinarily like the classics. It has become a strong influence for many modern books, from vampire-based books such as Twilight to the Harry Potter series. What I will say, though, is that the band of characters who I mentioned earlier form a sort of defence team who work together as they attempt to vanquish the vampire.
*** THE NEXT SECTION OF THIS REVIEW MAY CONTAIN SOME SPOILERS. IF YOU’RE LOOKING FOR A SPOILER-FREE REVIEW, THEN I SUGGEST THAT YOU SKIP TO THE “MY CONCLUSION” SECTION OF THIS POST! ***
Going Deeper into the Novel…
In this section of my reviews, I like to choose a couple of themes from the book that I can discuss a little more thoroughly. This time, I would like to talk about women, and I would like to talk about life.
There are two female characters in Dracula: Mina and Lucy. They are friends, but are very different kinds of women. Mina is obedient and loyal, always thinking of ways in which she can aid her husband. Lucy, meanwhile, is much more flirtatious; she receives three marriage proposals in one day, suggesting that she has led each man on, two of them under false pretences. She holds this power over her suitors, which reflects contemporary fears regarding ‘the new woman’, a powerful, independent woman who was not reliant on men.
These allusions to ‘the new woman’ are emphasised when Lucy is given vampiric powers. With these powers, she attacks young children, which demonstrates a clear rejection of her maternal instincts and the only role that was traditionally considered suitable for women – childcare.
Interestingly, though, it is not only Lucy who demonstrates these characteristics. From early on in Dracula, it is revealed that Mina is a very intelligent woman. She knows the train tables off by heart and even knows shorthand. This is not a threat to masculinity until later on, when Professor Van Helsing suggests that she has a “man-brain”. Both Lucy and Mina thus reflect the growing contemporary fear of female power. Whether women reject their maternal instincts and abuse men, or whether they find a way to outwit men, this is a new kind of woman.
Dracula poses many questions about life, death and life after death. After all, we meet Renfield, one of the patients in Doctor Seward’s asylum, who is desperate to “consume” life. He begins by luring a large number of flies into his room, and then feeds them to his collection of spiders. He uses the spiders to tempt birds inside, and then he eats the birds (only because Seward refused him a cat).
It’s a brutal process that is repeated many times throughout the course of the novel. Yet it represents more than mere brutality; it represents the vampire race, and the idea of attacking people for their souls, blood or, in Renfield’s terms, “life”.
I don’t care for the pale people, I like them with lots of blood in them, and hers had all seemed to have run out. I didn’t think of it at the time, but when she went away I began to think, and it made me mad to know that He had been taking the life out of her – Dracula.
In contextual terms, this idea of stealing life relates both to science and religion. This is due to the links to euthanasia, which are emphasised when Mina asks the men if they will – if it comes to it – kill her. Science was progressing quite quickly during this period, and euthanasia had begun to be discussed more openly. It was a moral dilemma, and is one that is debated throughout Dracula. It must be said, though, that although Mina pleads for this action to be carried out, Stoker does seem to present euthanasia as a negative thing. After all, the Count causes his victims to want to be bitten, and perhaps to want to die, too. This may suggest that those seeking euthanasia can be easily manipulated. You see, we would not call Dracula’s actions euthanasia; we would call them murder.
I could not be happier with my decision to reread Dracula. I enjoyed the novel the first time around when I had to read it, but, this time, I enjoyed it even more. The characters are so distinct that, what with their layered narratives, this novel feels much longer than it actually is. I also need to mention Stoker’s incredible descriptions. Dracula’s castle was made so real to me through his language; it was easy to see how a nineteenth-century reader would be afraid of the Count.
Whilst I personally did not feel this fear, the novel did evoke some strong emotions in me. I became excited as the tension grew, and disappointed whenever the group fighting Dracula met a pitfall. More than anything else, though, I was intrigued. Stoker’s world is so mesmerising – so distinct. Perhaps the two most interesting aspects of it are (a) the way that Mina is able to see into the mind of Dracula, which reminded me pointedly of the way, in the Harry Potter books, that Harry is able to look into the mind of Lord Voldemort, and (b) the vampire women, who are both sensual and destructive.
I could honestly continue to talk about Dracula for hours, but I have already written an essay about it, so I’ll hold off. Truly though, I can’t hide how special this book is, and how desperate I am to recommend it to anyone and everyone. If I had one critique, it would be that the book does seem a little slow at times, but I never really felt that this stopped me from enjoying the story. If anything, it made me love it all the more!
Thank you so much for reading this review! This book was a part of my July 2018 reading challenge; if you have been wondering why I haven’t written any reviews for the books in this challenge (before this), it is because I am seriously behind with my reading. It has taken me a long time to finish Dracula, not because of the novel, but because of how busy I have been recently. Nevertheless, I hope to fit in a few more books before the end of the month, so stay tuned for more reviews!
You can click here for an A-Z list of all my reviews (so far)!