T. K. Elliott (Tiffany)'s Reviews > Dracula

Dracula by Bram Stoker
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really liked it
bookshelves: horror, gothic, reviewed

This was one of those books that I've vaguely felt I "ought to read" for years. Finally, I got around to it (i.e., stopped putting it off) and I'm glad I did.

It was written in 1897, and one should really bear that in mind when reading it. I always think it's unfair to judge a book solely by today's standards when the author is of a different time: social attitudes, writing styles, and scientific knowledge have all changed, and all of those impact one's reading experience. So you have a sort of divided reading experience - one half reading the book with 21st-century eyes, and the other trying to read it with 19th-century eyes.

This is regarded as the seminal vampire novel, although it was not the first - and the vampire legend had certainly been around for a long time. It's not until much later (Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire, or so I've heard it said) that the vampire becomes a sympathetic, tragic-hero type character. In Dracula vampires are still uncompromisingly and necessarily evil - to be turned into one is a fate worse than death. As the main characters are all 19th-century Christians, they have a very different attitude to such matters than I do. This element of imperilled souls would probably have heightened the tension for the 19th-century audience.

The story follows the main characters - Jonathan and Mina Harker, Quincey Morris, John Seward, Abraham van Helsing, and Arthur Holmwood - in their attempt to destroy Count Dracula. Early on, there is also some contribution to the story by Mina's friend Lucy Westenra. This having been written in the 19th century, Mina doesn't get to do any of the active stuff, but she does contribute to the hunt for Dracula in other ways - rather than simply looking pretty and delicate in the background. Even so, there's an interesting look at the 19th century attitude to women: the attempt to exclude Mina from everything to do with the hunt for Dracula in case her poor little feminine mind can’t cope with the horror (despite the evidence that she has coped very well so far, thank you), and the placing of her on a pedestal as embodying everything that is pure, good and moral. One reads about this in history books, but it’s interesting to see it in operation; Stoker wasn’t writing great literature at the time - he was writing pulp fiction, an exciting novel for the masses. His characters therefore act like the characters in today’s thrillers - if not quite realistically, then at least how contemporary society thinks people ought to act in those situations.

Dracula is written in the epistolary style - as a series of letters and diary entries - from the main characters. It was a fairly popular style at the time, although much-less-used nowadays. I can see where it has its advantages: it enabled Stoker to move between first-person points of view fairly easily, and also to play with the literary device that the reader is actually reading the documents. I suppose the disadvantage, for me, of the epistolary style compared to the usual sort of first-person narrative is that since the narrative was in the form of letters and diary entries, this meant that by the time I "heard" about the action, it was already over, and the letter-writer was sitting down with tea and crumpets to carefully chronicle events. This tended to reduce the suspense and slow the action somewhat.

Dracula wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be (part of the reason I’d been putting it off), and I put this down to the difference between the nineteenth-century novel and today’s more violent, faster-paced thrillers. Most of my enjoyment, I think, came from reading it as a window into a nineteenth-century reader’s bookshelf.

Will I read it again? I don’t know. But I think it has changed my understanding of the literary vampire mythos, and for that, I’m glad.
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Reading Progress

May 1, 2016 – Started Reading
May 1, 2016 – Shelved
May 1, 2016 – Shelved as: horror
May 1, 2016 – Shelved as: gothic
May 13, 2016 –
21.0%
May 23, 2016 – Shelved as: reviewed
May 23, 2016 – Finished Reading

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