Author: Bram Stoker
Published: Penguin Classics, 2003
Blurb: When Jonathan Harker visits Transylvania to help Count Dracula purchase a London house, he makes horrifying discoveries in his client’s castle. Soon afterwards, disturbing incidents unfold in England: an unmanned ship is wrecked; strange puncture marks appear on a young woman’s neck; and a lunatic asylum inmate raves about the imminent arrival of his ‘Master’. In the ensuing battle of wits between the sinister Count and a determined group of adversaries, Bram Stoker created a masterpiece of the horror genre, probing into questions of identity, sanity and the dark corners of Victorian sexuality and desire.
How I came to own it: A charity shop find, shortly after the book was recommended to me by my boyfriend, now husband.
What I thought: This was exciting and fun to read. The pace was skilfully managed, and the tension built up well. I actually enjoyed the excess, the melodrama, even the constant barrage of sentimentality – these were ineffective, in terms of emotion, for me, at least, but they were entertaining! I didn’t feel particularly emotionally involved with the characters – I liked the idea of Van Helsing but, like all of them, he could have been better developed – and yet the plot itself was framed and executed well enough to keep me reading. The narrative was chronological: diary excerpts of all the characters (perhaps a slightly lazy method of characterisation), interspersed with the odd telegram or news report. This worked quite well as it gave one the feeling of solving a mystery, or looking over a previous factual account, a feeling of being involved and an authenticity. The profundity suggested in the blurb didn’t really manifest, other than Van Helsing spouted a bit of his very learned wisdom, and there was a bit of can-we-trust-our-senses-isn’t-madness-scary. The kooky sexuality was all over the place, a bit disturbing, and the attitude to women throughout was equally quite bizarre. It may well have seemed less bizarre to a contemporary reader, but, however common it may be or have been, the categorising of every woman as either Mary or Eve is equally tiring and unsettling. Stoker obviously had half an eye on the gothic novels of a hundred years previous, and he does the genre credit, actually. His descriptions of scenery are atmospheric and not too long: with Dickens, for example, I sometimes lose patience whilst waiting for something to happen. Stoker’s interest in the literary movements of the preceding century are confirmed in this edition’s excellent appendices: his correspondence with Walt Whitman (which reveals his identification with Romanticism), his mother’s account of a cholera outbreak, an article ‘The Censorship of Fiction’ and an interview with Winston Churchill. These place Stoker, and thus Dracula, very much in context and inform the reading of the novel, as all good appendices should.
Dracula has been, in my mind, always twinned with Frankenstein, that other great monster novel. Now I have read both I would declare Dracula more readable and probably more enjoyable, but Frankenstein of far greater moral and philosophical significance. The other comparison I found myself making as I read Dracula was with Max Brooks’ recent zombie horror novel, World War Z. That was also constructed of snippets of text – this time, interviews – and took the same care to outline the ‘rules’ of what the monster can and cannot do, its advantages and disadvantages when pitted against humans. Vampires and zombies are also practically the same thing. World War Z was better written, to my great surprise.
Reading back, I have criticised Dracula more than I thought I would. I actually immensely enjoyed it: it was one of those very addictive books that I end up reading more or less in one sitting.
How I’m doing: 42 books to go!