Book review: Dracula by Bram Stoker (1897)
When Jonathan Harker visits Transylvania to help Count Dracula with the purchase of a London house, he makes a series of horrific discoveries about his client. Soon afterwards, various bizarre incidents unfold in England: an apparently unmanned ship is wrecked off the coast of Whitby; a young woman discovers strange puncture marks on her neck; and the inmate of a lunatic asylum raves about the ‘Master’ and his imminent arrival.
In Dracula, Bram Stoker created one of the great masterpieces of the horror genre, brilliantly evoking a nightmare world of vampires and vampire hunters and also illuminating the dark corners of Victorian sexuality and desire.
There are so many famous classics that I’ve never had the pleasure to read … yet. And a lot of them were published in the 1800s, the Victorian era. So when the Victorian Challenge came along, I thought it would be a good excuse to finally sink my teeth into them, such as Bram Stoker’s Dracula. After having read it, it feels like a shame I didn’t read it before Department 19, because I would have appreciated it more if I had.
Dracula is, to my surprise, written as a series of letters, diary entries and newspaper clippings (known as an “epistolary” novel, to use a posh word), telling the story of how a man, Jonathan Harker, travels to Transylvania in eastern Europe, to arrange some affairs for a Count Dracula, who it turns out is not just an eccentric old man, but in fact a vampire. A vampire with his sights set on London …
Back in Blighty, Harker’s fiancé Mina is worried about her friend Lucy, who seems to have come down with some sort of affliction. One of Lucy’s suitors, a doctor at a mental asylum, has a very peculiar patient. Could everything that’s going on possibly be related?
Another character that pops up is Professor van Helsing, but I kept getting an image of David Suchet as Hercule Poirot in my head whenever the man spoke. Not Hugh Jackman, at any rate! The way his voice came through on the page, it was foreign – yes, but why did he make some comments in German when he’s Dutch? And how come his English skills deteriorated as the book went along? From what I’ve found out, Bram Stoker saw himself as a bit of an expert as far as writing accents was concerned, and he does make use of accents quite a bit. For instance, there’s Cockney, although I really struggled to apply a Londoner dialect to what was being said. I definitely take that expertise with a pinch of salt.
There are lots of different people telling the story, and some of them feel very distinct so you can tell them apart easily, and others were so similar that only the topic would separate them. Jonathan Harker’s musings about the foreigners he encountered in eastern Europe were amusing, in all their … umm, xenophobia. At least Stoker didn’t go as far as Charlotte Brontë with voicing his dislike – Harker only seems delightfully old-school about the strange foreigners and their clothes (“how very quaint they all are over here!”) rather than the overt Catholic-bashing Lucy Snowe in Villette.
I liked Mina Harker as a character. Considering the time this was written, it’s surprising how capable and intelligent she was portrayed. Although, at times, she was also the Precious Damsel who had to be kept away from Distress and mollycoddled. Hey, she could hold her own! Lucy, on the other hand, oy, she had Victim™ written all over her. I actually facepalmed at times. See if you can resist doing the same here, paraphrased: “Oh, all that garlic you had placed all around her? Made the room terribly smelly, so I put them aside and opened the window to let some fresh air in.”
It’s great to finally have read the source of all the modern vampire stories, and to find out what the famed vampire Count Dracula was really about. He’s tall and thin and has an even thinner moustache, apparently! And it’s quite a trek to get to his castle from anywhere, but it totally looks like how I imagined it would be described.
Dracula was a really enjoyable read, and I’m glad to have finally read it. It flowed well, the different storytellers made for an ever-changing narrator so there was no time to get bored, and while I still don’t find vampires are particularly fascinating to read about, at least this is a heck of a lot better than Twilight. The only thing I thought was disappointing was a bit of the ending, because I expected it to be told from a different perspective, someone who was actually involved in the scene – not from someone looking at it through a pair of binoculars. Ho hum, never mind.
4.6 out of 5 earth-filled coffins.