Dracula isn’t just a book, not anymore anyway. Dracula is a brand, it is a sweeping, broad, stereotyping name that conjures up characters with countless components and interpretations. So after writing a rather in-depth essay on the changing sexualization of vampires I was compelled to return to the beginning of the vampires literary journey, I therefore dived right back into Bram Stoker’s masterpiece so I could once again see how this famous character began.
Going back to Dracula after the deluge of modern vampire iterations is quite fascinating. For instance Dracula does not suffer burning pain from the sunlight as most modern vampires do. This does make reading Dracula difficult though as we have to throw most of our modern beliefs about the mythical creature out of the window, if we do not do so it can be difficult to engage with the novel.
It is also sad that the books big events, which would have been dramatic plot twists to readers of Stoker’s era, are easily predictable in the modern age, which of course diminishes their impact.
Yet being a predictable and already well known story does give the novel a sense of dramatic irony and adds to the underlying themes of ignored prophesies and that of a predetermined fate.
If you’ve never read Dracula before the novel contains enough details and plot points you’ll be unaware of thanks to the modern day changes to his character and story, this allows a first time reader to predict but still enjoy the subtle differences of the novel. They may know what’s to come in Jonathan Harker’s dreary approach to the castle but there’s also enough new elements to keep some mystery alive.
But enough about why it’s still worth checking out the original novel even if you already know the story, let’s get on with discussing the book itself.
Dracula opens with Jonathan Harker making his journey through Transylvania to Count Dracula’s castle. He is warned by locals again and again to avoid the Count, to flee and return to his own life, but of course he pays them no heed.
The build up to the first meeting with Dracula is tense and harrowing, perhaps more so because the modern audience already knows that the seemingly amiable host is anything but pleasant.
The first part of the book is devoted to the exploration of dread, Jonathan slowly realises that his host is a creature of utter evil. This part of the book is brimming with paranoia and a feeling of the unknowable. It is told entirely through Harker’s journal entries, this adds a new level of dread as we get to witness first hand the cracking of Jonathan’s psyche as he connects more and more of the castles terrors with the Count. This method of storytelling makes the reader a more active participant in the fear and paranoia voiced by Harker.
While the first part of the novel is designated for this emotional torment this does mean it lacks the action heavy punch the modern reader may expect from the genre. Yet Dracula’s emotional and psychological hold over the reader ensures it rarely becomes as slow and tedious as other books of the time are prone to do.
There are times, particularly in the middle, where Dracula does flag a little however. Stoker spends a lot of time on correspondence between our two female heroes Lucy Westenra and Mina Murray. These correspondence talk a lot about everyday Victorian life, and while it is done in beautifully curated prose, it’s also tedious in comparison to the novel’s opening. While you’re thinking about Jonathan and his fate, you are left to read about the countryside and English weather. Thankfully though it isn’t long before the novel begins in earnest.
When reading Dracula again it was interesting to note the manner in which it is told, the use of journal entries and letters creates a ‘found-footage’ vibe akin to modern day horror films like the Blair Witch Project or Cloverfield. This manner of narrative creates a unique form of foreboding and dread which makes Dracula an emotional and fearful read even for those already aware of the overarching plot-line.
Dracula’s use of letters and the personal words contained therein allow the reader to understand and empathise with characters more than traditional narrative devices would, we get to see and feel their inner thoughts as they struggle against this monster.
Each character in Dracula is well crafted and believable, they all have separate personalities and quirks which play out across the story in numerous ways.
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Vampires have enjoyed something of a renaissance in modern literature and one of the main reasons for that is the sexual nature of what is otherwise a monster from the depths of mankind’s nightmares
As for the story itself, well its heartbreaking, it’s full of emotion as the characters deal with life, love, death, horror, all of which are beautifully realised with Stoker’s prose.
There are many themes explored within these pages, with love, religion, and death being just a few. This book opens your mind with new questions in every chapter, and it leaves you thinking about its numerous themes for days after it’s gone back on the shelf.
Dracula is one of the first books to explore and bring to life the vampire, and it has gone on to spawn many an imitation, but it is still the best novel in the genre and Dracula is still the King of the vampires.
This is a must read for anyone, if you’ve never read it before I’d recommend you change that immediately.