I bought Dracula in my favorite used book store for two euros a few months ago. It wasn’t on my radar but I was browsing through piles of unclassified paperbacks and when I saw it I remember thinking: “This book created one of the world’s most iconic monsters. For that price I could give it a go”. It was an impulsive buy – primarily because I’m a cheap whore – and, whilst I did have some curiosity, I wasn’t really eager to read it; I figured I’d eventually get to it when the right mood strikes. How dearly I paid for such foolishness!
The worst part is that price tag and iconic status aside, Dracula also ticked the nostalgia factor. One of my earliest Dracula memories is an excerpt from one my school books (taken from the May 4th entry in Jonathan Harker’s journal to be precise) and the line in it that said “It is the Eve of Saint Georges Day. Do you not know that tonight, when the clock strikes midnight, all the evil things in the world will have full sway?” The idea of the most evil night really scared and fascinated me and I’ve always remembered that line.
However, my fondest Dracula memory has to be reading the full run of The Tomb of Dracula by Gene Colan and Marv Wolfman. This comic book series is an absolute master piece in storytelling and one of the best adaptations– if not the best – that Marvel did of the classic monsters. (Editorial note: For this review I’ll skip all references to movies and TV shows with the exception of Bram Stoker’s Dracula by Francis Ford Coppola)
I began Dracula on the 3rd of May, on the exact same day of the first journal entry in the book – even if I didn’t like the novel that’s a pretty cool coincidence –. The book is structured using different journal and diary entries, letters and telegrams from the main characters in the story. I’ve seen this structuring method used very effectively on R.L. Stevenson’s Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde to gradually give the reader the necessary bits of information to develop the story whilst keeping the momentum going, but unfortunately I did not find this approach as effective in Dracula. The story moves at a snail’s pace and I could have used some trimmings. The main section that I’d edit is Lucy’s slow turn into a vampire because Stoker’s change of POV between characters leads to repetition on the same events from a slightly different perspective and halts the story.
To be absolutely fair I already knew the sequence of events. I may be saying “Get on with it” in 2017 but this story could be nail-biting for the 1897 reader. I’m also aware that Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hide is a shorter book than Dracula but, taking into account that both stories deal with monsters and are from the same time period (Jeckyl is from 1887) I think it is a fair comparison.
There are moments when Stoker’s prose works to create an eerie atmosphere, such as Lucy’s sleepwalking (the first time) and the events that unfold once she turns into a vampire – I couldn’t help thinking about Lovecraft’s The Tomb when I read those passages – or Dr. Seward’s interaction with Renfield (a patient suffering from fits of lunacy and rage caused by Dracula), but unfortunately those felt few and far away. I also enjoyed Stoker’s approach to his own story from a medical perspective: from the previously mentioned character Renfield and psychiatry to Dracula himself and vampirism (one is treated as a physical threat and the other as a disease).
The paperback I bought has a quote from Sarah Waters describing the book as “An exercise in masculine anxiety and nationalist paranoia”. I felt that these two themes were present on the margins of the story and I’d go to the point of editing out the word “masculine”, especially when you have such a strong female character in Mina Harker being equally or even more resolute on destroying Dracula than the rest of the characters despite the events that unfold. I agree with the nationalist paranoia angle if you look at the novel with a 1987 lens that could picture Dracula as the outsider from distant lands threatening the Victorian society, but from a current perspective I did not feel that it was an angle that shaped the story. If I had to describe Dracula I’d say it is “A novel that embodies the fear of disease and loss and the lengths of human determination to fight it” but even I can see some holes in that sentence.
I finished reading Dracula on the 6th of August. Even if I didn’t like it – I didn’t hate it is just that it didn’t grab me – I’m glad I finished it because I feel this is the best book review (most analytical) I’ve written so far.
Bonus Round: I have avoided talking about TV Shows and movies dealing with Dracula because this post would get too big to handle and I wanted to keep my focus on the novel.
That. Being. Said.
Having read the book, I have some issues with Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula as I find the title of the movie completely misleading. One of the main threads of the movie is the romance between Mina and Dracula, which is completely missing from the book! Whilst I appreciate that adapting a novel is always difficult, if you call it Bram Stoker’s Dracula I expect a direct adaptation on the novel without big deviations. The title could have been “Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula” or, if you want to be very specific, “Francis Ford Coppola’s take on the novel Dracula by Bram Stoker with some major deviations in both plot and characters”. I’m sure a talented marketing department could make it work, right?
P.S: No “I couldn’t wait to sink my teeth in it” jokes. What the hell happened?