Review: ‘Dracula’ by Bram Stoker

This isn’t a review as such: it’s difficult to review works set in a different era, a completely separate context to the one we know. As such, a book like ‘Dracula’ comes across as a massive cliche in our world, whereas in reality, it was groundbreaking literature that put forth this notion of a preternatural world encroaching on our own. This is probably better titled a discussion, therefore, of a book that I found both enthralling and a prime example of sensational literature.

The plot itself is one modern audiences are all too familiar with: Dracula is out to suck the blood of innocent victims, psychologically scarring people who come across his path. The characters are fairly stereotypical: the hunting American, the well-to-do Lord, the inquisitive-minded doctors, and the man protecting his woman. Mina, on the other hand, is a Victorian oddity: a woman with a job, who joins in on the male adventure, and is sexualised within her encounter with Dracula. What Bram Stoker does with Mina, and what is the subject of literary critics across the globe, is turn the gruesome experience of drinking blood and staking the women (Lucy and the three vampires) into sexual encounters: the women are controlled and defeated by men, who turn them into dust with an essentially phallic object. With regards to Dracula, I have read it as his abnormal, criminally deviant physiognomy being cured by the healthy, exuberant, traditionally-built males: the dominant man is the sane and rational working on behalf of God, equating Dracula to a feminised soul by his own vanity and, what Van Helsing dubs, his ‘child brain’.

Talking of Van Helsing brings me on to my next point: the narrative sequence itself. The mixture of diaries works both successfully and unsuccessfully. The success lies in the notion that the diary works as a historical and emotional record, allowing us to witness the plot developing as the characters live it. However, this is not apt towards the end. It is difficult to maintain a fast and furious pace to build to a climax when the characters are supposedly living events first. I believe this is why Quincey Morris was never given a speaking role: he couldn’t narrate and die, as it were. The end is let-down by the diary format: the pace is too slow for events that need speed and gravitas that only a present-tense account could give. It also didn’t help that the end seemed a bit too convenient: the Count put up no real fight, and all members of the party ended up in the same place coincidentally, with Jonathan and Holmwood’s mission seeming completely random and non-essential to the plot.

In a book named after its main character, I was also quite disappointed at the lack of Dracula. Even though his presence probably worked better as an ethereal rather than physical threat, it showed in areas of the novel that he was too-often absent, as it sometimes felt as though all the planning to defeat the Count was irrelevant in face of the actual encounters and knowledge they had of him. At points, I couldn’t help but wonder if the Count really did pose a big enough threat to justify the group ruining their lives for him. I think this would have been helped by Lucy’s death being directly linked to the Count: perhaps seeing her, as we did with Mina, struggling against the Count’s influences. Instead, within the narrative, she was never directly placed alongside the Count: their existences seemed rather separate.

Overall, though, I was riveted by the idea of how this novel will have first come into existence: how it was the beginning of our culture’s stereotypes over the supernatural beings, how it would have shocked and gripped a nation of readers, and how it would have brought women into the limelight, although perhaps not in the most positive of ways.

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