Dracula – Bram Stoker
Aerie Books Ltd., 1988
Originally published 1897
While stories of the restless dead are much, much older than Dracula, Stoker’s novel is something of a cultural centre-point for modern vampire mythology. I sort of knew the story in the way you absorb classics, but I’ve read so many recent versions of the vampire legend that I wanted to see what Stoker’s original was like. And turns out, I did not know the story quite so well as I thought.
Dispatched abroad to attend an eccentric aristocrat in his isolated home, freshly qualified solicitor Jonathan Harker is too eager to make a success of the trip to pay any heed to the local superstitions. Though unsettled by odd happenings on the road, it is not until he arrives at the ancient Castle Dracula that fear really settles in. As his host’s business is settled and still the days of his stay drag on, he realises he may never be allowed to leave…
Stoker draws on a great many stories and superstitions from all over the world for Dracula and takes a very religious perspective which casts the very existence of vampires as at least semi-demonic. This is not a nuanced book. Classism and sexism are rampant, there’s a noticeable anti-Romany sentiment and the portrayal of mental illness is frankly bizarre. While these things are not surprising for Stoker’s time, they made the book harder for me to read. On a literary level, his dialogue tends to be repetitive, the characters are not well-rounded (the women are particularly unconvincing), and the plot – though it has an interesting multi-viewpoint epistolary structure – is very slow-moving. It’s such a shame because there are some clever and surprising twists, and occasional bursts of genuine personality that made me want to like these characters a lot more than I actually did. I think these flashes of depth are part of what’s made this story last so long, together with the rich assortment of ideas Stoker assembled.