‘I am Dracula, and I bid you welcome, Mr Harker, to my house.’
Dracula is my book for February’s Pretty Books, 2016 Classics Challenge
Vampires have always held a fascination for readers, filmgoers and television viewers alike. Though not the first of his kind, the most famous of the species is the one featured in Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel, Dracula.
This gothic tale is told through a series of diary entries, letters and newspaper articles.
The story begins in Transylvania, where a young solicitor from England, Jonathan Harker, has journeyed, on a matter of business. Here in this strange land, he finds himself at the mercy of the unique hospitality of his new client, Count Dracula.
The story then moves to England, where correspondences between Jonathan’s fiancé Mina Murray, and her good friend Lucy Westerna, introduce us to Dr John Seward, Arthur Holmwood and the American, Quincey P. Morris. It is during Mina’s stay with Lucy, in Whitby, that a series of disturbing incidents occur. When Lucy becomes sick, Dr John Seward, turns to his old professor Dr Van Helsing, of Amsterdam for help.
Stoker’s use of multiple point of views, places the reader right in the midst of the ongoing action. We are the captain who ties himself to his ship’s wheel, in order to save our soul. We are standing next to Dr Seward, as his patient Renfield, from the lunatic asylum, lies dying in his arms. We are Arthur Holmwood, unaware of the hidden danger, as we too are tempted to give Lucy, one last goodbye kiss.
Unlike many modern takes on such a creature, Bram Stoker’s portrayal of the vampire does not elicit the reader’s sympathy. The Count is regarded as something rather repulsive, instead of attractive.
‘As the Count leaned over me and his hands touched me, I could not repress a shudder. It may have been that his breath was rank, but a horrible feeling of nausea came over me, which, do what I would I could not conceal.’
He is a creature concerned only with satisfying his lust for blood.
‘The nosferatu do not die like the bee when he sting once. He is only stronger, and being stronger, have yet more power to work evil.’
I found one of the most interesting aspects of the novel is Stoker’s portrayal of his female characters. For example, Lucy is at first depicted as someone beautiful and popular, but these personality traits are corrupted into something much more sinister, after she falls victim to the Count.
Meanwhile, the other female undead are presented as wanton, voluptuous temptresses.
‘All three had brilliant white teeth that shone like pearls against the ruby of their voluptuous lips. There was something about them that made me uneasy, some longing and at the same time some deadly fear. I felt in my heart a wicked, burning desire that they would kiss me with those red lips.’
In Mina Harker, Stoker attempts to provide a more balanced view of femininity. He makes her bright and intelligent, though cannot resist to show her willingness to take on the roles of wife, mother and sister to the men she encounters. All suitable types of behaviour for a virtuous woman.
However, when Mina is targeted by the Count, through no fault of her own, Stoker, choses to visibly stigmatise her. It as if the author regards freeing the constraints of female sexuality as something dangerous and perhaps to be punished.
‘Unclean, Unclean! Even the Almighty shuns my polluted flesh! I must bear this mark of shame upon my forehead until the Judgement Day.”
Nevertheless, though such undercurrents exist, it never damps my enthusiasm for the novel. I have re-read it many times and always relish hearing the voices of its ensemble of characters. If you are a fan of the gothic and of vampires, then why not introduce yourself to the daddy of them all, Count Dracula.
All text © BH 2016