Sunday, October 31, 2010

Dracula ~ Bram Stoker

So I did manage to read more of Dracula at the football game today.  Okay, technically it was during the pregame warm-ups but I got through a whole chapter, despite the weird looks I was getting, and I consider that quite an accomplishment.  I haven’t quite finished it though (I have fifty pages to go) but I want to get this post up today and I think I’ve read enough for a quick review.

I must say, I do enjoy it.  Bram Stoker does not romanticize vampires.  Vampires are evil, people.  They suck your blood and destroy your soul.  Edward and his buddies may choose animals but a) that’s still murder and b) sometimes they eat people too.  That said, Stoker does sexualize his vampires.  Lucy, Dracula’s first victim in the novel, becomes voluptuous in tone and increasingly beautiful after death.  The vampires also seem to obey the heterosexual rules of Victorian England – men eat women, and vice versa.  Yet despite the sexual qualities of his vampires, Stoker does not ever represent them as desirable.  This is how it should be.

Dracula is written as a series of first-person accounts, in the form of diary entries, letters, and newspaper articles.  Stoker seems to have the same issue with the first-person as I do – a desire to explain why the writer is bothering to write.  While this is generally obvious with all these forms, he seems to take it even further than I do with an insistence on explaining the initial motivations of the diarists – Jonathan Harker is recording his journey, Mina is practicing shorthand, Dr. Seward is recording the actions of his patient, and Lucy is imitating Mina.  Stoker takes it even further still and explains why these accounts have all been compiled and put in order.  I’m not sure if any of these explanations actually strengthen the story, but they certainly do settle those like me who get anxious at the narrative “I.”

As for voices of his characters: my one complaint is that they’re not quite distinct enough.  Quoted characters have many idiosyncrasies – dialects, slang, cursing – but the main voices tend to be the same.  One character that only actually has one entry but is quoted often, Dr. Van Helsing, is Dutch with imperfect (and often confusing) English.  Occasionally this seems to be echoed in the voices of the narrators, which is a bit off-putting.

As for Van Helsing, I have some suspicions about him.  He’s quite a wealth of vampiric knowledge and has many unexplained absences towards the beginning of the novel.  He also withholds information, often seemingly without reason (in a very Dumbledorian way) and often with catastrophic and foreseeable consequences.  This may just be to provide fodder for the novel, though I wouldn’t be surprised to learn of darker motivations in the last fifty pages.

As to what you know you’re all waiting for – the rules for the vampires that Stoker sets – these are sometimes a bit confusing and seemingly contradictory, as they are delivered in Van Helsing’s imperfect English.  However, I’ll try to list them here as best I can: garlic, crucifixes, and the Catholic Host repel vampires; the wild rose prohibits movement; vampires can only rest in holy ground, which is transportable, and can be sterilized by making it even more holy, through the addition of a Host; a stake through the heart kills a vampire, and beheading and a mouth full of garlic prevent mistakes; vampires can shift forms to anything from a bat to a cloud of fog but only at night – they can move around during the day but are stuck in human form; being bitten does not ensure instant death or instant transformation – this can take days or weeks and you can see the human transforming into the monster; the vampire can control the mind of his victims; and the vampire has the strength of twenty men.

Though I do have a few complaints about the novel, it’s quite a fun read.  It’s difficult to put down and fun to yell at the characters for sometimes being incredibly dense (because obviously vampires exist…come on now).  Plus, it’s a bit of an adventure and a mystery, which is a nice change of page from my normal literary choices.  I just wish that I had read more of the novel late at night in semi-darkness, because I never really had the good scare that I was hoping for.  I honestly am not sure how it will end – Stoker doesn’t seem like the typical happy ending-writer of the nineteenth century, as he’s already made victims of two female main characters and a whole bunch of children, so I’m really curious to see if he will allow Count Dracula to be destroyed.  Either way would be satisfying, though for different reasons, so I think that I will be pleased at the end.

Happy Halloween!

2 comments:

  1. What about the handsomeness? DID HE MENTION THE HANDSOMENESS?!

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  2. Wonderful review, Jennifer! I haven't read anyone commenting on the journal-nature of 'Dracula' before - it was the first novel I read which was in diary form and I found it quite interesting and innovative when I read it. I read it while it was dark and raining and it was quite scary :) Hope you enjoyed the last 50 pages of the book, with its interesting twists and turns. I would love to know whether you were able to predict the ending :)

    I read a vampire novel recently which was quite different from regular vampire novels. It is called 'I am Legend' by Richard Matheson. This novel tries to give logical reasons for why vampires don't like garlic and crucifixes. I think you might find that interesting. Have you also read 'The Historian' by Elizabeth Kostova? It gives another interpretation of the Dracula story.

    On Stoker sexualizing his vampires, I didn't think about it that way when I read it. But I can see it from that perspective now. I remember watching a version of 'Dracula' directed by Francis Ford Coppola and I think it fit that description quite well.

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