With the reading of Dracula concluded, the Guides will spend the week discussing the novel in roundtable format. This is the second of four parts.
What are the strengths and drawbacks of the epistolary format of the novel?
Matthew Baldwin: One advantage is that the reader never really knows where the author stands on some of these troubling issues raised by the novel. For instance, you could argue that the book contains not a whit of evidence that Stoker himself is sexist, only that he creates characters that are. (If anything, Mina comes out looking like the strongest of the protagonists.)
Curiously, though, I feel as if Stoker didn’t exploit the format to its fullest, because none of the narrators were “unreliable”. They were all remarkably consistent and forthright in their stories, so you never had to wonder if a given character was being deceptive or self-delusional, which is often the most compelling aspect of tales told in first-person. It would have been interesting if a character fell under Dracula’s sway, for instance, and used his journal entries to talk about what a swell guy he was.
Kevin Fanning: I also wonder if he should have exploited it more, because you get the sense that he was going for a pastiche effect, tying together a bunch of different narratives. But the narratives rarely overlap, and he leans on Seward and Mina’s voices to propel the storyline. There are large gaps in what we know about Jonathan’s story, we hear next to nothing from Van Helsing, Quincey or Arthur. A more jumbled collection of voices and storylines and newspaper clippings might have been really interesting. As long as it didn’t involve more ridiculous accents.
Claire Zulkey: I actually think that the format cuts down on too much over-the-top writing about an over-the-top subject. On the other hand, somebody pointed out that we don’t know what any of the characters really look like (since we don’t usually put down the details in our diaries of what the people we’re talking about look like), save Jonathan’s graying hair, but that didn’t really bother me too much.
Why do you think Stoker included Quincey Morris with the crew?
KF: I liked Quincey! Do people not like Quincey? I’d vote that Lord Godalming is a much more peripheral character, and questionable in terms of his value to the story. I don’t have any theories about what it means that Stoker felt like including an American character with a taste for shooting things, maybe as a counterpoint to the scientific & religious approaches to Dracula taken by the other characters? But he’s memorable and keeps things interesting, so he’s OK with me.
MB: Quincey strikes me as the pragmatist of the group, one less concerned in whether something was supernatural or scientific and more in whether it could be punched. He didn’t seems as vital a character as some of the others because he was considerably more laconic (and apparently didn’t feel the need to record each and every minute in a journal of some sort), but his emphasis on deeds rather than words keep things moving along.
KF: This 100% explains why I like him so much more than Van Helsing.