Little reviews on little (and big!) books

Dracula by Bram Stoker

on August 7, 2014

Pick up this novel and prepare to have chills! Never have I been more terrified reading a book! I see this as part of Stoker’s genius. We’re all aware of the character of Dracula – we’ve all seen him depicted in various ways in film and television. Here we have the original, and he’s just as scary! Published towards the end of the nineteenth century in 1897, the tale of the un-dead Count and those who fought against him was unsettling for Victorian society but equally gripping and popular. Its writing style reminded me of Wilkie Collins’s The Woman in White where multiple narrators are used when they are in the best position to tell the story. Similarly, Stoker uses diary entries, letters, phonograph transcriptions and fictional newspaper cuttings in order to construct his novel. In some ways then, we are reading of a story that has already concluded, instead being recounted to us by those who experienced it. In Stoker’s novel, we meet the famous characters that we continue to be familiar with until this day: Jonathan Harker, Count Dracula, Mina Harker, Van Helsing, Lucy Westenra. However, there are characters within the book which film and television has omitted over the years. I’m sure the names of Quincey Morris, Arthur Holmwood, Doctor Seward, and Renfield are perhaps not as well known. Nonetheless, they all played a massive role in the novel which really should not be forgotten.

What can I say about Dracula that hasn’t already been said? We all know who and what he is. What I can talk about is how much I enjoyed the novel 🙂 The sense of evil throughout the tale kept me tense, especially when it reached the gory bits! What amused me the most was Dracula’s gentlemanly nature – he seemed genuinely civil in his attempts to make Jonathan Harker feel at home during his stay at the Count’s home. It appears in some way that Dracula is manipulating the situation in order to try and show that those set upon destroying him are the monsters, not him. Anyway, I better run through a bit of the plot to try and encourage you to read this classic 🙂

The novel begins with Jonathan Harker’s journal entries about his stay in Castle Dracula, situated ‘just on the borders of three states, Transylvania, Moldavia, and Bukovina, in the midst of the Carpathian mountains.’ Quickly, Harker discovers that something is amiss with his trip. People cross themselves when they speak of the Count and daren’t venture out after nightfall. Why on earth he still went to stay there is beyond me! I would have quickly turned in the opposite direction! During his stay, we learn of some of Harker’s strange experiences. Whilst shaving one day, the Count enters the room. Jonathan writes, ‘I could see him over my shoulder. But there was no reflection of him in the mirror!’ For a twenty-first century reader, this is a feature of vampires that we know very well so would have instantly alerted us to what Dracula was. For a Victorian reader, it would take slightly more convincing. I’ll not spoil everything that happens at Castle Dracula, but we do meet his brides, see him crawling up the side of his building, and observe an ability to call upon wolves to savagely attack a woman. The Count can stay up all night, but seemingly disappears during the day, causing Harker to believe that he is a prisoner in the castle.

Eventually, Harker does a bit more investigating of his surroundings and discovers the truth about his host. He finds a box (I saw it as a coffin) with the lid off, in which lay the Count himself. Jonathan describes the sight that greets him:

‘There lay the Count, but looking as if his youth had been half-renewed, for the white hair and moustache were changed to dark iron-grey; the cheeks were fuller, and the white skin seemed ruby-red underneath; the mouth was redder than ever, for on the lips were gouts of fresh blood, which trickled from the corners of the mouth and ran over the chin and neck. Even the deep, burning eyes seemed set amongst swollen flesh, for the lids and pouches underneath were bloated. It seemed as if the whole awful creature were simply gorged with blood; he lay like a filthy leech, exhausted with his repletion.’

What a sight! After this revelation, we switch to Mina Harker’s letters to her close friend Lucy Westenra, telling of how much she misses her Jonathan. Lucy has many suitors, and in these letters we first hear of Arthur Holmwood (who eventually becomes Lucy’s fiancée), and Quincey Morris from Texas. The perspective then switches to Mina’s journal entries in Chapter 6 where Lucy has arrived at Whitby to visit Mina. Mixed in with these chapters are excerpts of Dr. Seward’s diary who is treating men in an asylum. He speaks of Renfield, a patient who he describes as ‘a zoophagous (life-eating) maniac; what he desires is to absorb as many lives as he can.’ I deemed this to be pretty similar to Dracula. However, as the novel progresses, it seems as if Renfield is visited on several occasions by the Count himself, but I’ll let you find out all about that for yourselves 🙂

Anyway, to Lucy and Mina… One night, Lucy sleepwalks and Mina finds her out on her own in the middle of the night. Strangely, Mina notices that the skin of Lucy’s throat is pierced. Thinking it is just a wound from a safety pin, Mina dismisses it but of course, the marks on her neck are far more sinister. Dr. Seward is called to check up on Lucy as she falls more ill during the next few chapters, and admits that ‘I could easily see that she is somewhat bloodless, but I could not see the usual anaemic signs.’ As a consequence, Seward contacts his friend Professor Van Helsing to attend and consult Lucy. On a later visit from Van Helsing, Lucy has taken a turn for the worse and Van Helsing instantly prescribes a blood transfusion to save her life. Medical advances during the Victorian period meant that this was still a relatively new procedure so came with it own dangers. It was so new during the nineteenth century that it was shunned by many in the medical profession as being unnecessarily risky. Some readers in the 1800s may never have even heard of such a thing whereas it is commonplace for us. Perhaps Stoker has a foreign doctor suggest such a thing as he perhaps knows that a British doctor would never even have contemplated it (or maybe I read too much into things!)

Arthur Holmwood offers his blood to use and they succeed in saving Lucy. Garlic is placed in Lucy’s room – clearly Van Helsing knows far more than he lets on to the others at this point! Over time, Lucy is in need of another transfusion, but Dr. Seward also notices that ‘by some trick of the light, the canine teeth looked longer and sharper than the rest.’ Eventually, Lucy unfortunately dies, but Van Helsing knows that there is far more to be done. Van Helsing takes Seward to see inside Lucy’s coffin, but there is no body there, proving Van Helsing right in his suspicions. They check the coffin the next day, only to find her lying there, looking ‘if possible, more radiantly beautiful than ever… The lips were red, nay redder than before,’ and it seems as if her canine teeth are sharper than ever. At this point, Van Helsing voices what he has been keeping secret. He states: ‘She was bitten by the vampire when she was in a trance, sleep-walking… and in trance could he best come to take more blood. In trance she died, and in trance she is Un-Dead too.’ When asked what the next step will be, he replies that he will ‘cut off her head and fill her mouth with garlic, and I shall drive a stake through her body.’ How lovely! 😛 I’ll leave you to read the section where this is carried out – it’s very gory and graphic.

Seward, Van Helsing, Morris, Harker, and Holmwood band together to defeat the evil that is the Count, referring to themselves as the Crew of Light. The men believe that they are ‘ministers of God’s own wish: that the world… will not be given over to monsters.’ They succeed in tracking him down in London, but Dracula eventually sets his sights on infiltrating the group and he does this by getting to Mina. By making Mina drink his blood, Dracula compels the rock and the informant of the group, the idea of woman that the men are all working to save. Luckily, Mina retains her allegiance to her husband and friends but is now in the position to effectively track Dracula’s whereabouts, almost like a sonar device. She can pinpoint his position which is a great help to the crew. It really is a battle against the clock – kill Dracula before Mina turns. She sees Dracula being able to get to her as a criminal violation, and the men set out to avenge her honour. The crew each seem to be a defender of the British Empire, and the close of the novel shows the removal of the outsider from their domain. They drive Dracula from London, and with Mina’s help, they find him heading back to his castle. There they wait to complete their mission.

Mina is very concise and is the opposite of the Victorian domesticated ideal of woman. She is one of the strongest female characters I have come across in fiction as she does not seem to swoon when faced with gruesome sights such as the defeat of Dracula at the end of the novel. She writes in her journal:

‘But, on the instant, came the sweep and flash of Jonathan’s great knife. I shrieked as I saw it shear through the throat; whilst at the same moment Mr Morris’s bowie knife plunged into the heart. It was like a miracle; but before our very eyes, and almost in the drawing of a breath, the whole body crumbled into dust and passed from our sight.’

She is the main reason that the Crew of Light assemble, but she is fiercely loyal to her husband and in this way retains some of the passivity expected of her. The closing lines of the novel delivered by Van Helsing to Mina and Jonathan’s son are very poignant. In a note by Jonathan, we read that the professor claims:

‘We want no proofs; we ask none to believe us! This boy will some day know what a brave and gallant woman his mother is. Already he knows her sweetness and loving care; later on he will understand how some men so loved her, that they did dare much for her sake.’

A pretty apt statement for the novel, I’m sure you’ll agree 🙂 Their son’s name is Quincey, so make of that what you will – you’ll have to read the book to find out why!

All in all, I’d have to say Dracula is one of my favourite books. It’s thrilling, full of suspense, and you feel a real affinity to the characters – you really care what happens to them when faced with such a dangerous mission. Please read this novel 🙂 It’s fantastic! If you have already read it, I’d love to hear your thoughts.


10 responses to “Dracula by Bram Stoker

  1. Heidi'sbooks says:

    I have got to read this. I read The Historian and liked it, but I’ve never read the original Dracula.

  2. I think everyone who dismisses Dracula as a Hammer Horror cliche should be made to read the book – it’s so gripping, particularly at the end!

    • emma says:

      I completely agree! The films have really hammed it up over the years to the point where Dracula seems ridiculous! This guy is the original and the best 🙂 I couldn’t put it down when it was nearing the end – what a great book 🙂

  3. alexraphael says:

    Read this about seven years ago. Really liked it. Wonderfully unsettling throughout.

  4. FictionFan says:

    Fantastic review! It’s years since I read this but it all came flooding back – a great book, and so influential.

  5. This is definitely one of my top 3 books I would love to re-read if I had the time. It’s excellent. An earlier commenter recommended The Historian. I read this when it first came out–I remember enjoying it. Nothing compares to Dracula, but I believe it’s a cut above the rest of vampire lit. You might also like an even earlier story called “Viy” by Gogol from 1835.

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