Draculaby Bram Stoker, Nina Auerbach, David J. Skal Published 12 May 1986
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A rich selection of background and source materials is provided in three areas: Contexts includes probable inspirations for Dracula in the earlier works of James Malcolm Rymer and Emily Gerard. Also included are a discussion of Stoker's working notes for the novel and "Dracula's Guest," the original opening chapter to Dracula. Reviews and Reactions reprints five early reviews of the novel. "Dramatic and Film Variations" focuses on theater and film adaptations of Dracula, two indications of the novel's unwavering appeal. David J. Skal, Gregory A. Waller, and Nina Auerbach offer their varied perspectives. Checklists of both dramatic and film adaptations are included.
Criticism collects seven theoretical interpretations of Dracula by Phyllis A. Roth, Carol A. Senf, Franco Moretti, Christopher Craft, Bram Dijkstra, Stephen D. Arata, and Talia Schaffer.
A Chronology and a Selected Bibliography are included.
Dracula: the very name instantly brings to mind visions of vampires, stakes, garlic and crucifixes. But when one bothers to read the novel they may realise how twisted modern vampire fiction has become.
Vampires are not meant to exist as heroes. Go back a few hundred years and men believed truly that the vampire was a real immortal, cursed to quench his undying thirst with a living mortal’s blood. The very idea of a blood drinker inspires the very image of a villain to the mind. And that is what the titular character of this novel is.
The word novel is not used lightly, but one could also write that this is a collaboration of journals, letters and papers. For that is how Bram Stoker chose to fashion his famous novel (in epistolary form). And the different viewpoints through each journal serve to create suspense which suits the gothic tone of the novel perfectly.
In all it is a macabre novel that serves to make the reader reflect upon good and evil. The vampire to me is nothing more than an indication of man’s own cursed nature and that unless he is delivered he must suck life from others around him. Ultimately only the righteous can destroy the darkness that serves to drain life.
The Rest of this Review has been moved to my new site: The Write Stuff. Visit my site to read the remainder of the review and any new reviews.
I find Victorian horror so interesting because it’s a clear reaction to social norms of the time, to the buttoned-down and repressed social climate of the time, to the “new moral standards” of the church and the new questions brought up and hidden away by scientific thought. But under the fabric of late Victorian society lay wide ranges of change; the increased marriage rate and idea of the domestic sphere for women giving way to the New Woman, the upper class vs. lower class divide giving way to a new middle class. With the growth of the economy came new ideas of English excellence; with the growth of scientific thought, scientific racism.
Literature, as is usual, struggles to react. With a growing counterculture in literature came the reaction to such; at the trial of author Oscar Wilde, passages from his only novel were read to prove that he liked men. Soon after, Bram Stoker, formerly his acquaintance, began writing Dracula.
So the result is that this book is SO fucking weird because if you look at the subtext for more than a second it’s Bram Stoker’s internalized homophobia playing out, but then he accidentally makes every single one of his characters read as deeply bisexual.
We’ll get into this in a second, as I did promise I was going to weave in excerpts from my essay on queercoding in this novel (“my favorite paper you have written for my classes” -english teacher who has had me for a year). But first, I want to promo this book to you:
✔I absolutely loved the very wide cast of characters. Jonathan is such a good man and I’d honestly trust him with my life. Mina is absolutely iconic on every way. Also, this bechdel test passes, although just barely, as Mina and Lucy talk about men a lot more than their very lesbian natures would imply. Lucy is a fantastic character as well - she’s just trying to live her life and date three men and one woman at the same time, and becomes a demon for her struggles. She was too iconic for Victorian literature, clearly. Even side characters like Quentin are endearing - oh, by the way, Quentin is an actual unironic parody of Americans, and I find that hilarious.
✔And the other thing about this book is that it’s really creepy. The atmosphere is absolutely spellbinding, the epistolatory narrative perfect to create a sense of tension and foreboding. While all of the characters have some amount of common sense, we are given information they often are not - we see the dark side in otherwise innocuous details. Lucy’s section is honestly the most terrifying of the entire book in the best way.
So let’s talk about queercoding, because that is what I ended up analyzing about this novel. I just want to introduce that with this actual quote from Jonathan Harker’s point of view, referring to Dracula:
“How dare you touch him, any of you? How dare you cast eyes on him when I had forbidden it? Back, I tell you all! This man belongs to me! Beware how you meddle with him, or you’ll have to deal with me.”
The fair girl, with a laugh of ribald coquetry, turned to answer him: —
“You yourself never loved, you never love!” Then the count turned, after looking at my face attentively, and said in a soft whisper: —
“Yes, I too can love; you yourselves can tell it from the past. Well, now I promise you that when I am done with him you shall kiss him at your will. Now go! go! I must awaken him, for there is work to be done.”
I actually cannot overstate enough that this book is a very weird reading experience. Bram Stoker waffles back and forth between finding Dracula terrifying and finding him fascinating; the characters both fear him and pity him. As with a previous influential vampire of the time, he represents the fear of reverse colonization and the fear of sexuality at once. Indeed, it is widely believed that Stoker’s inspiration for this character was a man he knew and cared for deeply. (I find this alternately sad and interesting.)
But I don’t think Dracula is meant to represent one man - he is a stand-in for the fears and fascination Stoker felt over Victorian society, over the new status quo, over himself.
Queercoding does not mean a character is gay, necessarily, or villainized specifically because they are gay - it simply means that the character falls into audience stereotypes of queer people. This tends to occur via three major avenues: 1) flamboyant or “feminine” bodily presentation in men or “masculine” presentation in women; 2) association with sex, often in a lewd or perverted way; and 3) explicit or implied same sex attraction. This happens with the character of Dracula… a lot in this novel. Dracula is thin-bodied, often associated with sexual imagery, and definitely does not have platonic feelings for Jonathan Harker.
Towards the end of the novel, we even receive this lovely line: “your girls that you all love are mine already; and through them you and others shall yet be mine – my creature, to do my bidding and to be my jackals when I want to feed” (365). In this context, Dracula seems to be expressing attraction to women as a means of getting to their men.
In the time Bram Stoker was writing, the audience would have associated gender noncomformity with gayness; thus, a character who presented as gender noncomforming would typically be presented as bad. Gay, bad, straight, good. Yet while Stoker certainly plays with the trope of the queercoded villain, the message of Dracula is not quite so black-and-white.
Mina and Lucy each, despite often having roles in the domestic spheres, end up wielding far more power within the books than male characters, and Mina especially is often coded as breaking away from gender norms of the time. She is presented more as the more practical member of her relationship with Jonathan and the better planner, a role that would typically go towards the male partner. She is explicitly described as having a “man’s brain” as a compliment. Mina is also fairly easy to read as queer herself: her relationship with Jonathan is strangely sexless, she is described as “staring at a very beautiful girl” multiple times and I’m me so I read into that, and perhaps most glaringly, her relationship with Lucy is easy to read as having romantic undertones; “oceans of love and millions of kisses,” Lucy writes to her friend (117).
I really hesitated to put this in the review, because it sounds so weird out of context, but there is also a scene where Mina is forced to drink Dracula’s blood. The imagery is that of corruption, with Mina’s “white nightdress” being “stained with blood.” Metaphorically, this suggests that Mina, above all of his victims, carries a ‘piece’ of him — the ‘purest’ character of the novel losing her spiritual purity to the queercoded villain. The audience expectation is surely that she will fight against her inner darkness [read: queerness] in order to defeat Dracula. Yet Mina’s newfound strength is not entirely presented in a negative light; in fact, Mina’s new mind-reading powers (which, yeah, are very plot-device-y) serve as the means by which Dracula is eventually defeated. While Dracula is too far gone to live a happy life, perhaps characters like Mina, and for that matter Jonathan, are not.
All this is to say that vampires are gay now, and also apparently Katie McGrath played Lucy once and she was and in love with Mina, and Mina was Heterosexual, and honestly that’s just so completely not valid. Mina Harker is sapphic and I do not accept slander. @NBC I am horrified
TW: villain queercoding, sexual assault, and uh… everything that comes with vampires existing, basically.
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Dracula is, of course, one of the most renowned horror stories, and the most well-known vampire novel. Bram Stoker set the ground rules for what a vampire should be, and set the benchmark for all other writers of the vampire afterwards. Indeed, if tyrannical villains are a necessity of Gothic fiction then Count Dracula is the father of all gothic villains, in spite of it being one of the last Gothic fiction novels to be written. It’s a work of genius that his presence is felt so strongly in the novel with him appearing in the flesh so rarely.
"His face was a strong, a very strong, aquiline, with high bridge of the thin nose and peculiarly arched nostrils, with lofty domed forehead, and hair growing scantily round the temples but profusely elsewhere. His eyebrows were very massive, almost meeting over the nose, and with bushy hair that seemed to curl in its own profusion. The mouth, so far as I could see it under the heavy moustache, was fixed and rather cruel-looking, with peculiarly sharp white teeth. These protruded over the lips, whose remarkable ruddiness showed astonishing vitality in a man of his years. For the rest, his ears were pale, and at the tops extremely pointed. The chin was broad and strong, and the cheeks firm though thin. The general effect was one of extraordinary pallor.
The atmosphere of the novel is unmistakably gothic. It is impossible to talk about Dracula without mentioning the Gothic; the two are one and the same. The decaying castle in which the book begins is testimony to the eeriness that follows. The "damsel in distress" motif appears quite often in Gothic literature, and none so much as Dracula. Mina and Lucy are both damsels at some point, and even Harker himself can be seen as one at the start when he is rescued by his wife that has a “man’s brain.” It’s quite a subversion of the standard gender roles, at this point, and quite funny really.
On initial inspection the plot of the book can be summed up in a few short sentences: Dracula wishes to create more vampires in Victorian London; his attempts are thwarted and he and his kind are exterminated. But, the novel is so much more than that. It represents Victorian fears and fancies; it is a comment on women’s position in society and underpins their sexual desires (and perhaps fears.) It suggests a struggle between modernity and science with religion and superstition. It harbours the effect of Darwinian thought on man as Dracula himself represent the idea of “survival of the fittest.” The undertones of sexuality and disease that occur so frequently symbolise the time in which it was written. Each one of these has been a topic for commentaries on Dracula, and academic essays.
Indeed, the extrinsic value of this novel is incredibly high. Bram Stoker also explores the theme of sanity with many of his characters, not just Renfield. At some point, every character wonders whether their dealings with the Count are born from some mental deficiency rather than a paranormal encountering with the villain. This clashes the Victorian realism view with the paranormal events that occur in the novel. There are also issues of identity, and how this is affected by transgression. It can further be seen as an allegory for religious redemption and a comment on colonisation.
I think I’ve said enough; if I say anything else I will break my “500 words a review” rule. As you can probably tell I’m quite passionate about this book: it is brilliant; at this point, I can honestly say that Dracula is one of my favourite novels of all time: I just love it. I might even write my dissertation on it and Gothic Literature.
4.5 Bloodsucking Stars!
"Once again... welcome to my house. Come freely. Go safely; and leave something of the happiness you bring."
"I want you to believe... to believe in things that you cannot."
I’m not a big scary book fan, but I have been known to read some spooky stuff. Two books that I found most terrifying were Peter Straub's 'Ghost Story,' which is also one of my all-time favorites, and Stephen King's 'Different Seasons.' Ok the last one isn't that scary but it's my favorite Stephen King book and I had to mention it.
I can now claim to have finally read Dracula! It has always shamed me that I never read it but called myself a book lover and so I decided I would finally give it a try.
I half expected Count Dracula to sparkle in the sun. But then I remembered this isn't Twilight.
Vampires. They're everywhere, you know. They can be found in the folklore of virtually every culture in the world. There have been countless books on vampire phenomenon. Too many to name or analyze. Yet Bram Stoker remains the undisputed 'king.'
Stoker's Dracula has some of the darkest characters and plot lines I've ever read. The world he has created is at the same time unique and spell-binding.
I dare you to find me a vampire more badass than this guy-
He is a fascinating character full of contradictions.
Dracula is a complete monster, yet I couldn't help but feel sorry for him. His story is tragic and bizarre, but it draws you in and makes you fall in love with him in spite of his villainous ways.
"Do you believe in destiny? That even the powers of time can be altered for a single purpose? That the luckiest man who walks on this earth is the one who finds... true love?"
Gary Oldman will always and I mean ALWAYS, be my number one favorite Count Dracula. It is also my favorite Dracula movie. Simply because it's directed by Francis Ford Coppola, and Gary Oldman is fantastic.
"I am longing to be with you, and by the sea, where we can talk together freely and build our castles in the air."
For those who haven't yet read it... why not??
"There are darknesses in life and there are lights, and you are one of the lights, the light of all lights."
As I expected this one goes straight to the favourites shelf!!
Whether you have read it or not, we all know loosely the story of Dracula. Although I assume a lot of people think of it as the bloodthirsty vampire book it definitely is not. Have no doubts this is a horror novel but not like those of modern day, the horror here is perceived as much as it is read, simply by the amazing words of Bram Stoker. There is no real gore here - this is not the Hollywood Dracula, nor is it Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Interview with the Vampire.
Forget your views of flying nasty invasive bats and laughing Vampires in capes. They are here, they exist in this book but the 21st Century Vampire is not Dracula - although Dracula in the original. Everything you see today is the image of Dracula but moulded and enhanced and with a tonne of gore thrown in.
This is a literary horror, it pushes the boundaries of belief but only a little. Reading as a vigilante or revenge story you do get a feeling that this is not far-fetched fiction like you read today. For example, the book I read before this was Richard Laymon's 'Bite". The horror comes more of a building of fear - based mainly on the fact that we all know the general story and all understand what should be happening. Think of it as like having a fear of spiders or snakes and you find one in your house. You go to get something to kill it and return to find it gone. Now you know WHAT it is but not where it is or when it will resurface, but it is there, it is present.
The other point to raise here is the way Stoker chose to set the book out. I think it was a clever way of doing things because most of it is read from the journals of the group of main characters. In a sense, it removes the feeling of disbelief because as the reader you are not really being asked to BELIEVE the story. You are almost forced to believe that this could not be fictional as there are several different journals that overlap, from different individuals but all claim the same story.
'Welcome to my house. Come freely. Go safely. And leave something of the happiness you bring!'
These are pretty much the first words spoken to Jonathan Harker, one of the heroes of Bram Stoker's Dracula, upon his arrival at Count Dracula's castle in Transylvania, just minutes after a nightmare journey through the landscape of gothic horror: darkness, howling wolves, flames erupting out of the blue, frightened horses. Within a few days of his arrival, Harker will find himself talking of the Count's 'wickedly blazing eyes' and 'new schemes of villainy' and have some hair-raising encounters with the man who is now the world's most famous vampire: 'The last I saw of Count Dracula was his kissing his hand to me, with a red light of triumph in his eyes, and with a smile that Judas in hell might be proud of.' Several adventures involving sharp teeth, mirrors, garlic, crucifixes, bloody-mouthed corpses and big stakes will ensue.
The above quotations should make it abundantly clear what kind of book Dracula is. It's sensation fiction, written nearly half a century after the heyday of that genre. It's a cross between an epistolary novel, a detective novel and a save-my-wife story, and it's full of scares, horror and disgust, all described in a lurid tone that befits the subject: the living dead. Or the Un-Dead, as the book's other hero, my countryman Van Helsing, calls them.
Sadly, Van Helsing is one of my main problems with the book. While I love his heroism, his 'Let's-do-it' attitude and his unceasing struggle for Mina's soul, I find him entirely unconvincing as a Dutchman. I wish to God (with a crucifix and everything!) that I could switch off my inner linguist and appreciate the story for its narrative qualities rather than its linguistic aspects, but Stoker has Van Helsing indulge in so many linguistic improbabilities ('Are you of belief now, friend John?') that it quite took me out of the story, again and again and again. I'm aware this is not a problem that will bother many readers, but I for one dearly wish Stoker had listened to some actual Dutchmen before making the hero of his story one. Then perhaps he also would have refrained from making the poor man mutter German whenever he is supposed to speak his mother tongue. ('Mein Gott' is German, Mr Stoker. I mean, really.)
Linguistic inaccuracies aside (there are many in the book), Dracula has a few more problems. For one thing, the bad guy doesn't make enough appearances. Whenever Stoker focuses on Dracula, the story comes alive -- menace drips off the pages, and the reader finds himself alternately shivering with excitement and recoiling in horror. However, when Dracula is not around (which is most of the second half of the book), the story loses power, to the point where the second half of the book is actually quite dull. In addition, the story seems a little random and unfocused. Remember the 1992 film, in which Dracula obsesses about Mina Harker (Jonathan's wife) because she is his long-lost wife reincarnated? That conceit had grandeur, romance, passion, tragedy. And what was more, it made sense. It explained why Dracula comes all the way from Transylvania to England to find Mina, and why he wants to make her his bride despite the fact that she is being protected by people who clearly want him dead. In the book, however, Mina is merely Jonathan's wife (no reincarnation involved), a random lady Dracula has sunk his teeth into, and while this entitles her to some sympathy, it lacks the grand romantic quality the film had. I guess it's unfair to blame an author for not thinking of an improvement film-makers later made to his story, but I think Stoker rather missed an opportunity there.
And then there's the fact that Stoker seems to be an early proponent of the Robert Jordan School of Writing, meaning he takes an awful lot of time setting the scene, only to end the book on a whimper. The ending to Dracula is so anticlimactic it's rather baffling. Did Stoker run out of paper and ink? Did he want to finish the story before Dracula's brides came and got him? I guess we'll never know.
Still, despite its many flaws Dracula is an exciting read (well, the first half is, anyway), and Stoker undeniably left a legacy that will last for centuries to come. In that respect, Dracula deserves all the praise that has been heaped on it. I still think it could have been better, though. Much better.