STATS OF THE BOOK
Author: Bram Stoker (1847 – 1912)
Date of Publishing: 26 May 1897
Publisher: Archibald Constable and Company (UK)
One of the most popular books in history, Bram Stoker’s Dracula is an 1897 Gothic horror novel by the Irish author. Contemporary Vampire fantasy – be it Twilight, the Paranormal Romance Genre, True Blood ( the TV show based on The Sookie Stackhouse Novels by Charlaine Harris), and the iconic Anne Rice’s world creation, specifically “Interview with a Vampire” – book and movie, all owe a debt of gratitude to Stoker and his contemporaries. The 18th century saw the rise of romanticism, and with it came the addition of vampiric folklore to the gothic novel. The legends from the Black Forest, Eastern Europe and England in the century prior, quickly found form and embellishment in the hands of 18th-century writers. This gave us Stoker’s Dracula, a figure we want to get close to, but are unsure of the consequences if we do. It is the nature of this push-and-pull that Stoker creates and maintains that had me putting it as a top pick for this series of Book Reviews!
Why this Book ?
Here are my top 5 reasons why I would like you to engage with this book. Read it, research it, maybe even dip into a chapter or two. Yes, it’s that good, that you’ll be “sucked-in” (pun intended!).
The 5 reasons I believe everyone should read this book, at-least once, are:
- If you’re a fan of, heard of or seen Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 adaptation of this text, with Winona Ryder as Mina Harker and Gary Oldman as Count Dracula – you’ve lived through a pale watercolour version of this text. You must read the source material.
- Are you Gen-Z and unfortunately for you, in my opinion, your only vampiric-literary reference is Twilight, you need to get to this juicy and frightening but delicious book. No matter your generation, this book is worth a read due to all it’s gothic intrigue and horror.
- To enjoy the linguistic tools used by Stoker to create for us a vivid atmosphere in which we are magnetised to know more.
- The portrayal of the Vampire as villainous and pure evil is from a contemporary lens extremely fresh and some readers may find that alarming.
- My favourite aspect of reading the book is the use of letters and other ‘written accounts’ such as ship logs, diary entries, newspaper clippings, and doctor’s notes to name a few that formulate the entire book. Stoker elevates these familiar plot-devices that peppered other Victorian Novels, to an all-consuming status. In this epistolary novel, as a reader you feel that you are on this investigative journey, uncovering the crumbs that will form the pie.
STOKER’S SOURCE MATERIAL : Emily Gerard
Bram Stoker’s Dracula was very much inspired by the work and meticulous documentation of European Folklore and Superstition compiled by Emily Gerard. We know this thanks to the meticulous record-keeping at the London Library. It was discovered that Stoker, a member, had researched over 25 books, one of which was Gerard’s 1885 seminal collection of these superstitions and folklore, titled Transylvanian Superstitions. This was studied by Stoker in great detail, where he has left clues of his passionate research for this subject in the form of dog-eared pages and notes in the margins.
In the mid-1880s, Gerard a Scotswoman had spent two years in Romania with her husband – who was posted there as an officer in the Austro-Hungarian army. She became fascinated by the tales she heard and began to furiously record them. The result is this fascinating collection that chronicles much that we believe to be born in and with darkness. Here is an excerpt from Gerard’s book, she reports to us,
More decidedly evil is the ‘nosferatu’, or vampire, in which every Romanian peasant believes as firmly as he does in heaven or hell. Every person killed by a ‘nosferatu’ becomes likewise a vampire after death, and will continue to suck the blood of other innocent persons till the spirit has been exorcised by opening the grave of the suspected person, and either driving a stake through the corpse or in very obstinate cases of vampirism it is recommended to cut off the head, and replace it in the coffin with the mouth filled with garlic.Emily Gerard, Transylvanian Superstitions (1885)
ENTER BRAM STOKER & HIS DRACULA
It is assumed by critic and the layman, that Stoker christened his main character and his book – Dracula, on the infamously barbaric 15th century Transylvanian, Vlad II, better known as Vlad the Impaler. He was popularly known as Drăculea, meaning “Son of Dracul” (his father was surnamed Dracul after being appointed to a knightly order called the Order of the Dragon). This title bestowed upon them by King Sigismund of Hungary was at the time an honourable one. Over time, the title and it’s meaning got distorted due to the mass killings, abductions and murders committed by Vlad the Impaler. The origins of the word Dracul, etymologically finds its roots in the Latin ‘Draco’, meaning “dragon”. The basis for the elder Vlad’s epithet. Remember pale-faced Draco Malfoy from Harry Potter? Victim or Villain, many ask – in both cases, you’ll have to read to determine where you stand. It is extremely interesting how this simple Latin noun has found formulations within literary texts that are associated with pure-evil.
A unique aspect of Stoker’s Dracula for me is that he creates and gives us a detailed and abundant “life” for the character. He spends a substantial amount of time in world-building, as well as rule-building for the “vampiric-lifestyle”. We get an intimate glimpse, filled with seduction and horror. As we go through page after page of multiple diary entries and various points of views, in ledgers and letters, it makes one breathless. And at no point are you bored, or disinterested. Stoker does not allow for us to ever truly be still. There is an addictive quality to the writing and the way the story unfolds. At each stage and chapter, in every personal entry, you feel you are Jonathan, Mina, Lucy, and dare I say the Count himself – Dracula!
AN EXAMPLE OF THE SEDUCTIVE NATURE & WORLD BUILDING
I debated as to which part of the book I should use to give you a taste and finally decided upon a section, early enough in the story, but with a dramatic punch. Read with caution, for I am sure this will make you want to get your own copy of Stoker’s Dracula,
I was afraid to raise my eyelids, but looked out and saw perfectly under the lashes. The fair girl went on her knees, and bent over me, fairly gloating. There was a deliberate voluptuousness which was both thrilling and repulsive, and as she arched her neck she actually licked her lips like an animal, till I could see in the moonlight the moisture shining on the scarlet lips and on the red tongue as it lapped the white sharp teeth. Lower and lower went her head as the lips went below the range of my mouth and chin and seemed about to fasten on my throat. Then she paused, and I could hear the churning sound of her tongue as it licked her teeth and lips, and could feel the hot breath on my neck. Then the skin of my throat began to tingle as one’s flesh does when the hand that is to tickle it approaches nearer – nearer. I could feel the soft, shivering touch of the lips on the supersensitive skin of my throat, and the hard dents of two teeth, just touching and pausing there. I closed my eyes in a languorous ecstasy and waited – waited with beating heart.Bram Stoker, Dracula, Chapter III : Jonathan Harker’s Journal, Pg 45-46
In the end, I’d like to leave you with a few tips if you’re a first-time reader of Stoker’s Dracula,
- Approach it without any preconceived notions of how the events will unfold, nothing can truly prepare you for the twists and turns.
- Leave all vampiric mythology behind, the sub-conscious is filled with all that we as consumers of TV shows and streaming networks ingest. The shows, rules and vampires of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Vampire Diaries and all the versions of Dracula that are adaptations of this original, be it from the 2013 version with Jonathan Rhys Myers to the more recent 2020 drama conceptualised by Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat – are all to be ignored for the reading of this text.
- You may be surprised at how contemporary, post-modern in style, and engaging this text really is. I assure you, it was actually written in the 1800s. Before you begin, make sure you have a couple of hours or a day set aside, for you will not want to put this book down!