Author: Bram Stoker
Synopsis (Courtesy of Powell’s Books): “When Jonathan Harker visits Transylvania to help Count Dracula purchase a London house, he makes horrifying discoveries about his client. Soon afterward, disturbing incidents unfold in England – an unmanned ship is wrecked at Whitby, strange puncture marks appear on a young woman’s neck, and a lunatic asylum inmate raves about the imminent arrival of his “Master”-culminating in a battle of wits between the sinister Count and a determined group of adversaries.”
Thoughts: I first read Dracula in elementary school; I believe I was eight or nine years old at the time. You could say that this is the book that started it all – my love of classics, my love of suspense, and especially my love of vampires. There is something so mysterious, so sensual, and so deliciously creepy without being overtly scary or gory, that I never fail to enjoy this story.
The epistolary nature of the novel is a stroke of genius. It not only builds suspense because the reader can see the entire picture being established but it heightens the emotions of the reader through the intimate interaction with each diary author’s personal thoughts. In addition, what is left unsaid, everything left to the reader’s imagination creates its own sense of building horror. The result is a novel that places the reader on a roller coaster of dread and anticipation.
On this most recent of many re-reads, I was struck anew by the dynamic between the men and the women in the novel. Mina and Lucy are much stronger, both emotionally and physically, than any of the men ever consider possible. Their patronizing tone and declarations that Mina’s mind is just as good as a man’s is upsetting at the frequency with which both are used. The blood transfusion scenes are a great example of a poor, weak woman needing the blood of a strong, healthy male to fortify her and help her recover from any illness. I can never truly discern whether Mr. Stoker meant to confirm that a woman’s place is at home, safely bundled away from danger, or if he was pointing out that a woman can indeed hold her own with a man. Evidence for both arguments abound throughout the novel, lending a somewhat contradictory air to the implied message.
Much has been said of the sensuality of Dracula, with much debate about whether it exists or whether it is imaginary. To me, I feel that it not only exists but is a huge part of the novel. The nape of the neck is extremely sensual, and Dracula (and his vampire coven) tends to go for the neck when drinking from his victims. When he starts to turn Mina, he forces her to drink from his breast. Then again, the time of the day when vampires prey on their victims is suggestive – nighttime, when women and men are scantily clad. All three combine to imply an intimacy between vampire and prey that typically is only present in the bedroom. This intimacy only heightens the shock and discomfort of the main characters, making Dracula’s crimes that much more sinister and depraved.
Dracula is the quintessential vampire story. It is important to remember that it is not the first vampire story but it is certainly one of the most influential. There is a reason for this. Spooky castles, mysterious counts, a tragic loss, a love story – it has it all. Add a touch of gothic, combined with a hint of the supernatural, and you have a story that has ensnared minds throughout the decades, remaining as popular today as it was when it was first released in 1897.