Bram Stoker’s Dracula

The tomb in the day-time, and when wreathed with fresh flowers, had looked grim and gruesome enough; but now, some days afterwards, when the flowers hung lank and dead, their whites turning to rust and their greens to browns; when the spider and  the beetle had resumed their accustomed dominance; when time-discoloured stone, and dust-encrusted mortar, and rusty, dank iron, and tarnished brass, and clouded silverplating gave back the feeble glimmer of a candle, the effect was more miserable and sordid than could have been imagined. It conveyed irresistibly the idea that life – and animal life – was not the only thing which could pass away.

The daddy of them all, the originator of a whole genre, a new kind of villain, to challenge even the most steadfast of heroes. I had finally got round to reading a classic. I tend to avoid them, I almost feel like I’m expected to like them, couldn’t possibly argue against the tide of history and longevity, or I’ve already seen the film, and film is almost always the poorer cousin to a good novel, and I feel that I would just be reading it just because it’s a classic, not because I wanted to read it.

But this was a gift, and I haven’t seen the movie so I stocked up on garlic and jumped in.
During Elizabeth Kostova’s introduction I learnt that the novel is told entirely in diary entries, telegrams and letters between the main characters, and I was intrigued to see how this would build up the tension and affect the flow of the story.

It started almost like a travel book, as Jonathan Harker travels out to Transylvania to meet the Count, who is purchasing a house in England.  The descriptions of the journey, along with his observations of local superstitions would read equally well as a travel narrative today. However, as he draws closer to the castle, his diary slowly winds up the tension and I would have loved to have been able to read this when it first came out, as I think Stoker excellently builds the dread of Dracula, which is slightly lost today as you already know the count for what he is. All is not lost though, you feel for Harker, and his discovery of the counts secret and the female vampires still conjures genuine horror.

The switch to the letters between Lucy Westenra and Mina Murray switches the narrative away and allows the scene to be set back in England, however it seems a little slow going after the tension of the diary, although by switching back in time you can see Mina’s concern that her fiancé (Harker) has stopped writing to her and she worries for his safety.
The introduction of the main characters, mostly done through Lucy includes Dr Seward, whose patient Renfield, becomes a key link to Dracula and is brilliant manipulated by the Count.

When Dracula arrives in England, in mysterious circumstances he slowly begins to infect the lives of this small band of people and eventually Dr Seward brings in Professor Van Helsing to help unravel the mystery.
Van Helsing is the ultimate match for the Diabolical Count. An older head against Dracula’s young and unformed mind, not letting science discard the irrevocable truth in front of his face. Slowly, after the fate of Lucy is sealed, the small band piece together the terrible story and realise the horror of what they must face. As the very fate of Mina hangs in the balance Van Helsing leads them on a race against time to put an end to the Count once and for all.

In the end I enjoyed Dracula, the use of the diaries and letters allowed Stoker to wind up the tension, sometimes you knew more than the characters, and were screaming for them to let on what they knew or suspected, and at other times you were as blind as they were. Although I think much of the beginning of the book is lost because you already know what Dracula is, once the characters discover and realise what it is they are facing, Stoker does an excellent job on rolling the narrative along in what is, a classic good vs evil story.

I suppose that nature works on such a hopeful basis that we believe against ourselves that things will be as they ought to be, not as we should know that they will be. Transcendentalism is a beacon to the angels, even if it be a will-o-the-wisp to man.

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