Lucy Westenra must have been quite the catch in her pre-undead times. After all, not only did she receive proposals from three strapping young men: John Seward (the doctor), Quincey Morris (the cowboy), and Arthur Holmwood (the construction worker), they remain dedicated to her, and, by the glue of her awesomeness, each other well past her expiration date.
What I want to know is, is the devotion the three men show to Lucy and to each other more fantastical than the vampires? There are a few things I am willing to accept as a historical fact in terms of romance being different during the writing of this book than it is today: getting engaged was a different situation a hundred years ago, for instance. You didn’t wait as long to get engaged, it wasn’t quite as formal and so it wasn’t that weird to get multiple proposals. That’s fine. I do wonder whether Stoker envisioned why Lucy was indeed so popular, or whether he just had it as a fact: Lucy is beautiful and popular with the mens. If I were to write Dracula fan fic I might start with Lucy and explore just what makes her so great, since we barely know her before Drac gets to her. Is she a good listener? A hilarious joke-teller? An amazing lover? Or is she kinda stupid and bitchy but just really, really hot? I wonder about these things.
But fine, she is proposed to three times. But what are the odds that the three men who proposed to her would be good friends? A.) As friends, do you think they consulted each other about proposing and just decided to go for it, or did they not mention it to each other and it was just awk-ward! B.) Stoker imbued all three of these men with a remarkable sense of honor that they would respond to each others’ cry for help in Lucy’s time of need. Part of me wants to envision a “Curb Your Enthusiasm” version of Dracula where one of them pulls a Larry and says “You know, I’m OK, you go on to the bloodletting without me.” C.) Not only are they so eager to help each other out but they’re still willing to help Lucy too. Again, it’s nice that they are so true to their devotion to her, but it would be funny if one of them said “I’ve moved on and my new fiancee really doesn’t want me donating my blood to the lover who spurned me.” Even Van Helsing finds this weird: he jokes to John that if Arthur felt that he was married to Lucy via his blood donation, that meant she was also married then to John, Quincey and Van Helsing. John didn’t find this so funny, however. Killjoy.
Am I just way too cynical? Is Stoker describing a type of man that really was prevalent in 1897 or are these brave, strong sensitive men just chivalrous superheroes that he’s created for Dracula?
It’s just amusing to me how the guys’ heroism, honor and selflessness (dare I utter the term “bromance?”) is the most unbelievable part of the book thus far. I guess their near-blind obedience to Van Helsing is another matter but of course I envision Van Helsing as Hugh Jackman so who wouldn’t want to do what he says?
Leslie S. Klinger is one of the world’s foremost authorities on the twin icons of the Victorian era, Sherlock Holmes and Dracula. He is the author if The New Annotated Dracula, winner of an Edgar award, and later this month will be teaching a course for UCLA Extension called “Dracula and His World.”
At least a rudimentary understanding of Victorian history is necessary to appreciate the contemporary readership for Dracula. By the beginning of Victoria’s reign in 1837, Britain was in the process of not only creating the Industrial Revolution but becoming the greatest industrialized nation in Europe. Spurred on by the acquisition of overseas territories, England witnessed an exponential burst of industrial growth. New, surprisingly complex forms of commerce arose, much of it as a response to the masses who suddenly swelled cities like Manchester, Birmingham, and London, creating sprawling urban centres where crime and poverty abounded.
By 1868, when Benjamin Disraeli became Prime Minister, Britain had unequivocally become the world’s most powerful nation, and Disraeli loudly and frequently advocated this expansion, epitomized by the coronation of Victoria, at his instigation, as Empress of India in 1876. Disraeli’s “imperialist” foreign policies were further justified by invoking generalizations partly derived from Darwin’s theory of evolution. The argument was that imperialism was a manifestation of what Kipling referred to as “the white man’s burden.” The Empire existed, argued its supporters, not for the benefit—economic, strategic, or otherwise—of Britain, but in order that “primitive” peoples, incapable of self-government, could, with British guidance, eventually become Christian and civilized. This mentality served to legitimize Britain’s acquisition of portions of central Africa and her domination, in concert with other European powers, of China and other parts of Asia.
In the Victorian age, the study of “natural philosophy” and “natural history” became “science,” and students, who, in an earlier time, had been exclusively gentlemen and clerical naturalists, became, after their course of study, professional scientists. In the general population, belief in natural laws and continuous progress began to grow, and there was frequent interaction among science, government, and industry. As science education was expanded and formalized, a fundamental transformation occurred in beliefs about nature and the place of humans in the universe. A revival of religious activity, largely unmatched since the days of the Puritans, swept England. This religious revival shaped that code of moral behaviour which became known as Victorianism. Above all, religion occupied a place in the public consciousness that it had not had a century before and did not retain in the twentieth century.
The end of the Victorian age brought a variety of literature to the public. Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Master of Ballantrae (1889), several novels of J. M. Barrie (who later wrote Peter Pan), Hall Caine’s The Bondman (1890), Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890) and several of Wilde’s plays, Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1891) and The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (1893), many works of Rudyard Kipling, and H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine (1895) and The Invisible Man (1897) all caught the public’s eye, to greater or lesser degrees. American works such as Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889) also drew attention.
A runaway “best-seller” of the decade was George du Maurier’s Trilby (1894), a novel that, with its striking central image of a swooning young woman, bears some similarities to Stoker’s narrative.5 Although little read today, the book told of a young artist and his model, Trilby, who are lovers but separated by social class. When the artist leaves her, she falls under the influence of Svengali, a psychically vampiric impresario and hypnotist, who moulds her into a great singer, “La Svengali.” However, she is only able to—and is compelled to—sing in his trances. When Svengali himself dies, she appears to be freed, but a picture of him causes her to mechanically sing again, and she dies.
Upon publication, the novel caused a sensation in Britain and America. In its first year of publication, it sold 200,000 copies in America alone, and the term “Svengali” came to be applied to any hypnotist. The book was turned into a popular play, revivified the allure of la vie bohème, last glorified in Henri Murger’s Scènes de la vie bohème (1851), and probably sparked interest in Puccini’s 1896 opera La Bohème.
Dracula is in many ways a book of its time. It reflects the Victorian fascination with the supernatural and the rising interest in Spiritualism and the nature of death. Its tale of the invasion of England by a dangerous foreigner mirrors larger concerns about Eastern European immigrants and the Irish question. The women of Dracula exemplify the Victorians’ struggle with the role of women, with Lucy embodying the traditional role and Mina the changing role. The narrative also depicts the confrontation between science and invention, in the form of typewriters, phonographs, cameras, telegraphs, the railroads, and the like, versus the superstitions and traditions of prior years. For a picture of the late Victorian period and its turmoil, Dracula encapsulates nearly every issue of the idea in its shocking story.
According to the schedule, as of today we’ve read through Chapter 12, and I’ll be discussing events from that chapter, so be warned if you’ve fallen behind.
The bulk of this section centers on Lucy, and the reactions of Mina, Dr Seward, and Van Helsing to her situation. What I want to focus on is an interesting change that occurs in Lucy, aside from the whole living-to-dead one: it seems like maybe there’s an upside to a relationship with Dracula.
We meet Lucy in Chapter 5, in the two letters she writes to Mina. As I touched on in my last post, the language Lucy uses is light-hearted, even approaching ditzy (“Do you ever try to read your own face? I do, and I can tell you it is not a bad study, and gives you more trouble than you can well fancy if you have never tried it.”). She’s wholly consumed in her attempts to fend off two of her three suitors. She bursts into tears when she must tell them she doesn’t love them, and cries “like a baby” when she gets the proposal she wants. She asks “My dear Mina, why are men so noble when we women are so little worthy of them?” Not exactly a candidate for the aforementioned New Woman. She’s girlish, immature, self-centered, and her sense of self is all wrapped up in her desire to be someone’s wife.
We next hear from Lucy in her own words in Chapter Nine. At this point we know something has happened to her, but we don’t know what. She was sleep-walking, there was maybe something creepy standing behind her on the cliffs, and she’s got some marks on her neck. She’ll get sick later, but for now, she feels better, healthier than she has in a while.
The change in Lucy in the Chapter Nine letter is pronounced. She starts: “Oceans of love and millions of kisses, and may you soon be in your own home with your husband.” Already we can tell she’s more outwardly focused, in tune with what Mina is going through. There’s a maturity in the language of this letter that we didn’t see previously. Perhaps the most telling indication of the change is this line: “Arthur says I am getting fat. By the way, I forgot to tell you that Arthur is here.” This is the same woman who wouldn’t stop talking about her suitors before, and now he’s mentioned almost in passing. What are we to make of the fact that Lucy now seems more pleasant, more well-adjusted, more like someone we’d actually want to be around?
Mina, meanwhile, is undergoing a change of her own. At first she’s terrified about not having heard from Jonathan in so long, but must deal with the fact at hand of Lucy’s strange behavior. Her diary moves back and forth between these two spheres, her worry for Jonathan and her concern for Lucy. Then Mina gets word from Jonathan, and rushes off to meet him. They get married, and almost immediately her concern for her friend drops to nothing.
Granted, Jonathan seems to be having a lengthy convalescence, for whatever reason. And Lucy seems much improved, although you would think Mina would question this—Lucy never remembered sleep-walking, why trust her just because she says she isn’t doing it anymore?
This passage in particular really struck me:
I wish I could run up to town for a day or two to see you, dear, but I dare not go yet, with so much on my shoulders; and Jonathan wants looking after still.
What’s on her shoulders? Wifely duties? Her hands were much more full with Lucy, but as soon as she gets married she can’t make time to check in with her friend? And look at the language Mina uses to describe Jonathan: “He has had some terrible shock, and I fear it might tax his poor brain if he were to try to recall it.” Those are her feelings about the guy she’s devoting herself to? This seems a far cry from the woman who risked propriety by running off under-clothed and shoeless to save her friend in the middle of the night.
On the one hand we have Lucy, changed from girlishness to maturity by her interaction with Dracula. On the other hand, marriage has transformed Mina from a strong, independent woman into someone’s wife. It’s hard to know what Stoker might have intended. Has Dracula—evil incarnate, after all—done Lucy a disservice in leading her astray from her former concerns? This would imply that Mina’s path, from New Woman to doting wife, is modeling the ideal behavior. Or are we to wonder if Lucy isn’t better off, having been released of her former concerns by Dracula, and if Mina would have maintained her sense of self and her integrity as a friend without her wifely devotion to Jonathan? Is Dracula one big STFU Marrieds?
Dracula has often been called “an inversion of the Christian mythos”. Well, I don’t know if it has “often” been called that. A friend once told me that in a bar over beers, and it sounds smart, so I’m repeating it here.
Still, you don’t have to go far into the novel before the religious allegories begin to make themselves apparent. Take this passage, from Chapter 2:
“You may go anywhere you wish in the castle, [says Dracula] except where the doors are locked, where of course you will not wish to go. There is reason that all things are as they are, and did you see with my eyes and know with my knowledge, you would perhaps better understand.”
Now where have I heard such admonishments before?
And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.
Despite the threat, Adam wasn’t killed when he sampled the goods-instead he got evicted from the garden. Hawker, on the other hand, received the exact opposite punishment. Far from giving our timid solicitor the boot, the Count lit the “No Vacancy” sign and sealed all exits.
In both cases it is knowledge that is disallowed, of Good and Evil in Eden and of Just Plain Evil and Castle Dracula. And once they acquire that knowledge, they instantly come to regret it. This is a fairly common occurrence in horror literature: the protagonist discovers That Which Man Was Not Meant to Know (usually after being told repeatedly not to go a-lookin’), and is thereafter tormented by the horrible things to which he is now privy. Worst still is his realization that he cannot share his findings with others, even those he loves, lest they become haunted by the same terrible knowledge.
Horror is often given the short-shrift by the literati, but many of the ideas explored in the genre are among the most profound. This particular motif–the burden of knowledge that cannot be shared–is central to any number of novels filed away it your local bookstore’s “Literature” section. If Harker’s discovery had been more along the lines of “oh god I am forty-seven and haven’t achieved my life goals” rather than “uhhh the dude who served me dinner is crawling down the castle wall”, maybe Dracula would receive a bit more respect.
Although I will concede that Harker’s dilemma is a bit more straightforward than your typical treatise on existentialism. The obstacle he must surmount in communicating with those he loves is not the unfathomable chasm between the self and The Other, but rather the fact that he is sealed in a castle thousands of miles from home, with his mail routinely read and nary a cell-phone tower in sight.
And Harker is not the only victim. Bram does to us, the readers of the novel, what Dracula does to Harker: reveals the evil afoot, but prevents us from telling anyone. Through the use of dated journal entires we know not only what is happening in Castle Dracula, but when these terrible events occurs. And when Stoker abruptly changes the location to London and the date to early May, all that unfolds is tainted by our knowledge of the events to come. We too find ourselves wishing to warn Mina, but find ourselves in an even worst position than Harker to do so.
This is Stoker putting into practice something Alfred Hitchcock called “The Bomb Theory”:
We are now having a very innocent little chat. Let’s suppose that there is a bomb underneath this table between us. Nothing happens, and then all of a sudden, “Boom!” There is an explosion. The public is surprised, but prior to this surprise, it has seen an absolutely ordinary scene, of no special consequence. Now, let us take a suspense situation. The bomb is underneath the table and the public knows it, probably because they have seen the anarchist place it there. The public is aware the bomb is going to explode at one o’clock and there is a clock in the decor. The public can see that it is a quarter to one. In these conditions, the same innocuous conversation becomes fascinating because the public is participating in the scene. The audience is longing to warn the characters on the screen: “You shouldn’t be talking about such trivial matters. There is a bomb beneath you and it is about to explode!”
I don’t know much about Victorian fin-de-siecle literature, but I’m guessing Dracula wasn’t then only horror novel to be written. But already, a third of the way in, it’s clear why it has been canonized as a classic of the genre. Stoker understood that while surprise may startle, suspense of the show-the-the-bomb variety has the potential to evoke true, stomach-churning dread.
And so far, Dracula has been absolutely dreadful. For a horror novel, there is no higher praise.
The members of our ever-expanding blogroll have crafted a number of thought-provoking posts about the first few chapters of the novel.
The Valve declares Dracula to be “very good … and also very bad“.
Infinitedetox discusses the role of the sublime in the novel. Earlier, he examined Dracula through the lens of genre fiction: “There’s a certain set of rules that the book must deal with, and part of the fun for us, as readers, is to see which rules get followed and which get broken and which get bent all to hell in ways that we maybe didn’t expect.”
Observations from the fine folks at Infinite Zombies: the citizenry in Dracula love a spectacle, the count has the “ability to project mojo/vibe/Dracularity well beyond himself“, and Harker comes across as a little “dim“.
At That Sounds Cool, Aaron muses about the way the story is being told: the deliberate pacing, the unreliable narrator, and the tendency of the book to “jump through time, narrators, and moods.
William of Human Complex describes Dracula as a trickster:
I do mean that in the Jungian sense. At first glance (and relying on collective cultural baggage and preconceptions), Count Dracula would ostensibly seem to fit the archetype of the Shadow. Lurking, hiding. A sinister foreigner. Gypsy. Thief and burglar of blood. Inchoate. There but not there. The stuff of nightmares. But, as we see in the first chapter, he doesn’t actually hide in the shadows, he has no need to. He uses deceit to achieve his goals from the very first time we meet him. He’s always a step ahead. He is cunning, funny, and foolish but not the fool. He is an animal master. A gypsy shaman.
Others who wrote about Dracula this week:
Also, Jonathan McNicol–the man providing the lovely PDF chapters (which you can find in our sidebar), spoke about the project here.
I don’t know if it is sacrilege to invoke this, but something that’s been in the back of my mind since I’ve been reading Dracula (my second time: the first time was in high school, I believe, although I don’t remember much other than enjoying it) is how much I can’t wait to rewatch Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula when this is all done. On Halloween, of course, with a steady supply of Kit-Kats. And BLOOD! But it’s not so much to see how well the movie matches up to the book but to appreciate the possible genius of casting Keanu Reeves as Jonathan Harker.
On Monday Kevin noted how submissive Jonathan Harker is as a protagonist, but I’d go so far as to say that he’s kind of dim. Of course I have the benefit of being the “Don’t go in there!!!” reader, but there are times where Jonathan’s British stiff-upper-lip-ness seems idiotic compared to common sense and gut reactions. For instance, if I told some Hungarians that I was heading up to a castle and they all began crossing themselves and weeping and making me wear a crucifix and so on, I’d be a little uneasier than Jonathan was, and not say “It was all very ridiculous.” And he’s always accidentally falling asleep or falling into trances at the most inopportune times–granted, some of these little naps might not be voluntary but you’d think a.) being a skeptic b.) being a stranger in a strange land he’d work harder either to keep his wits about him or would think it was odd that he was often just falling asleep here and there. Sometimes Joanathan’s just sort of a knob in general: after he sees that Dracula has no reflection and steals away his mirror, what’s his reaction? “It is very annoying, for I do not see how I am to shave.” Right, that’s your biggest problem right now. Then, Jonathan decides that he’s going to get some pleasure out of disobeying the Count by falling asleep where he shouldn’t–but this is after he’s had the mirror incident, knows that he’s trapped in the castle and saw the count climbing down the wall like a lizard. Really? Now’s the time when you get spunky? (Of course maybe he knew he was going to be in for “an agony of delightful anticipation,” with those vampiresses, which, Kevin is right, was totally hot).
In contrast is Mina. I haven’t read far enough to really take this observation to town but it is surprising to me how very modern she is especially for the period. I’m not educated enough to know off the top of my head exactly how a proper young lady of 1897 should comport herself but I admire that she seems to have some nerve and is an inquisitive type: she’s not just keeping a journal but hoping to emulate “lady journalists” (that’s on my business card). She’s learning that new-fangled typewriter and wants to understand how the weather works. Instead of being shy and withdrawn she asks the townies in Whitby about the local legends (although of course she probably wished she hadn’t–not, of course, because it turns out to be so sad and creepy but because those old men are so damn hard to understand: “fash masel,” “crammle aboon the grees,” “jouped,” “antherums,” “gawm,” “dowps”: WHAT?) Of course Mina hasn’t yet been put in the dire straits that Jonathan has so we can’t measure her backbone against his but I have a feeling that Mina secretly wears the breeches in this relationship.
What do you think? Or am I just giving Jonathan a hard time? Who would you have cast in the movie other than Keanu? Would you marry a guy who oversees a big lunatic asylum? Is anybody else having a hard time picturing Dracula with a mustache? And if, as Valente opines, Stoker’s appearance conforms to the Victorian “masturbator,”4 what do we think think the Count thinks about when he, well, you know?
So, wow, initial reaction, right off the bat: Dracula’s kind of a dick, right? Almost, dare I say, a monster?
Yeah, I know, duh, but I was raised on a steady diet of Count Chocula. This is my first time reading Bram Stoker’s Dracula1 and its made for a delightful change to encounter such a wholly creepy vampire, one who is without question intent on Very Bad Things. He’s really quite self-actualized, as creatures of the night seem to go. Most of the vampires who inform my experience are almost sheepish about their true natures: OK yes, they’re undead, but they’re just hoping to pass in polite society. Think Buffy‘s Angel, True Blood‘s Bill Compton, Louis from Interview with the Vampire, Cassidy from The Preacher comics, The Infamous Cullens, and the one that sired them all, Bunnicula.
The bulk of what we’ve read so far centers on Jonathan Harker’s reactions to Count Dracula. Although we meet Lucy and Mina in Chapter Five, all we know about them so far is that they seem to be engaged in the earliest recorded rendition of The Telephone Hour. But we have a good sense of Harker at this point, and what struck me most was how submissive he is as a protagonist.2 This is pointed out to us right away, in Chapter One. After noting the driver’s impressive grip as he hoists Harker into the caleche, Harker says:
…I felt a strange chill, and a lonely feeling came over me, but a cloak was thrown over my shoulders, and a rug across my knees, and the driver said in excellent German:—…
Hey are we on a date here? Seriously, get a room, you two. There’s more of this in the following chapter, upon his first meeting with Count Dracula (“…his hand grasped mine with a strength that made me wince…”) and the purpose is to draw parallels between the Count and the driver, but the effect is that Stoker quickly erases any impressions we might have that Harker is some kind of manly-man. Clearly, this is a guy who, when faced with a locked door (of which the castle seems to have no shortage), will merely shrug his shoulders and shuffle glumly off in another direction, rather than attempt to shoulder it open or attack it with some sort of high-flying kick.
In fact his only act of rebellion, once he’s grasped the nature of his situation (i.e. that he is a prisoner in Count Dracula’s castle), is to fall asleep somewhere other than his bed. Not exactly matinee idol stuff. But this does lead us to one of the major set pieces of the book so far, and the fullest depiction of Harker’s submissive nature: his encounter with the three Brides of Dracula. Harker is awoken from slumber to find himself being lusted after by three voluptuous young women, but rather than saying or doing anything, he just lies there and waits for them to do something (anything!) to him. “I felt in my heart a wicked, burning desire that they would kiss me with those red lips,” he writes, and later:
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 super-sensitive skin of my throat, and the hard dents of two sharp teeth, just touching and pausing there. I closed my eyes in a languorous ecstasy and waited—waited with beating heart.
Which, can I just say: how hot is this scene? I mean we’re talking about necks but we’re not exactly talking about necks, right? I definitely read that scene like ten times over in the quiet confines of my bedroom, just to make sure.
So what does this all mean? How do you read Stoker’s characterization of Harker? Is the author using Harker as a stand-in for the mood of the Victorian era? A reflection of a society fearful of acting on the perceived impropriety of their most base desires? Or is Stoker himself complicit in the repression of the era, giving us in Harker what is essentially a Victorian Mary Sue?3
It’ll be interesting, as we continue on, to compare the relative strength and fortitude of the female characters. Anyone who’s read The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen can surmise that Mina’s going to be one to watch. I made light of their boy-craziness above, but maybe Mina and Lucy are simply less repressed than Harker? And maybe that’ll end up being a source of strength for them? I’m excited to find out, he wrote, pressing the “publish” button forcefully, like a real man does.
Ian Holt is a New York based screenwriter, Dracula Historian, and co-author (with Dacre Stoker) of the newly released Dracula: The Un-Dead.
Trends in popular culture come and go. Most of them last a few months, a year on the outside. The really pervasive ones can last a decade, and even come to define that decade. Dracula is one cultural icon that breaks all the rules—and is currently enjoying its biggest moment in the spotlight ever.
First introduced to Victorian society by author by Bram Stoker in 1897, Dracula had a quiet start. At that time, the vampires of legend were considered monstrous creatures. Bram’s Count Dracula, a 15th century Romanian nobleman who could walk amongst the masses unseen, was perhaps ahead of his time.
Maybe it was the horrors of World War I or the influenza pandemic at this time, but the reality of death–whether on the battlefield or in your own home–made horror feel close, and familiar, no longer relegated to ancient superstition and distant far away lands.
Bram’s novel had become a bestseller by the mid 1920′s, and Hamilton Dean’s stage play of the novel was playing to sold out crowds all over the U.K In 1927, Dracula came to America. Bela Lugosi assumed the role of the count on Broadway and nothing would ever be the same again.
Bela Lugosi’s iconic stage characterization of Count Dracula was about much more than the evil that lurks amongst us. By making Dracula a more nuanced character, full of contradictions, Lugosi held up a mirror to his audience and showed their own conflicted beings. His portrayal was as at once frightening and eye-opening. Lugosi took America by storm—and his starring role in the later film mesmerized the world.
Since then, more and more have come to read Bram Stoker’s horror classic. Dracula has become an important part of the literary canon, and the character of the vampire has taken on countless forms in film, television, books, and other art forms.
There have been many schools of thought on why Dracula and vampires hold such sway on the masses. In my opinion, the root is that Dracula represents freedom. Dracula is not bound by the rule of law or man’s self-imposed morality. He has the strength of ten men. His powers over the human mind allow him his pick of women. These are all powerful fantasies to many an adolescent boy. For women, Dracula represents the ultimate alpha-male. Wealth, power, will and strength define him. He exists on a higher plane than human men, appealing to the Darwinian “survival of the fittest” mentality.
Dracula’s immortality also plays into the very common fear of aging that all humans share. He does not age, isn’t susceptible to illness. Man’s greatest fear is death. For Dracula, death is meaningless.
These qualities make Dracula timeless. He speaks to some of our deepest animal traits. Within each of us are the capacity for violence, vengeance, vigilantism, theft, and a yearning for the rules of the jungle. What makes us civilized as humans is our capacity to control these base instincts. Yet, perhaps we all wish at times to unleash them, whether we want to admit it or not. Dracula can. Dracula represents the evil of which all men are capable.
Dacre Stoker, the great-grand-nephew of Bram Stoker, lives in South Carolina. He is the co-author (with Ian Holt) of the newly released Dracula: The Un-Dead.
My sisters and I grew up with the knowledge that Bram Stoker was our great-grand uncle. We considered Dracula to be a cousin, someone whose story was intertwined with our own.
Halloween is a big deal for children in Canada, so growing up with a personal Dracula connection caused a certain stir, although our friends were more impressed by the idea than my sisters and I. Of course we dressed the part at Halloween. Thanks to the enduring popularity of all things vampire, even today some fangs and a cape make a simple, yet unmistakable costume.
Given the family connection, it may seem surprising that the first time I read Dracula was in college. I was writing a paper on the subject of repressed Victorian sexuality, and read the novel under the pressure of considering such knotty problems as what the characters ‘really’ represented, and all the potential subtexts and ‘deep meanings’ in the book. But almost immediately I was drawn into the narrative and swept away in its tide. I quickly came to the conclusion there is no need to examine Dracula too deeply in order to enjoy Bram’s most famous book. Even now, after all the time I have spent with the novel, I regard Bram as a hard-working and honorable man who happened to write a most remarkable story. I leave the psychoanalysis to others.
While researching that paper I became overwhelmed by the many variations of the story that were available in book and film form. Clearly my ancestor had struck a chord in the popular imagination. But what I found most confounding was that there seemed to be little or no respect for his original work.
Then I met Ian Holt, a young man who had his own fascination with Dracula and had spent twenty years researching both the historic Prince Dracula and Bram’s Dracula, lecturing and giving papers at scholarly gatherings around the world. At Ian’s suggestion, my wife Jenne and I made a pilgrimage to the Rosenbach Museum in Philadelphia, drawn there like so many others seeking the genesis of Dracula. As I held my ancestor’s jotted notes in my hands, I sensed his presence and felt my connection with him flowing through my veins. It was the first time in my life I had felt so close to him, and this sense was pivotal in prompting me to dig deeper. I realized that my own research methods were similar, for while some of my ideas and information were methodically collected in spiral notebooks or in Word files, at other times I grabbed fleeting ideas, scribbling them on the backs of envelopes or whatever first came to hand.
I discovered that Bram Stoker carried out thorough research before writing Dracula, although he never set foot in the foreign lands he so accurately described in the novel. Instead, he made good use of stories told by my great-grandfather, Bram’s younger brother George, set in the rugged mountains of Eastern Europe where George served in the Red Crescent (originally the Ottoman equivalent to the Red Cross), as well as his own extensive research in the British Museum library. Similarly, in order for Bram’s characters in Whitby to use just a few words of the correct local dialect, Bram compiled for himself an entire dictionary of Yorkshire dialect during his visits to the area.
Sir William Thornley Stoker, Bram’s oldest brother, also contributed to his notes with diagrams and explanations of brain surgery which Bram used to describe Renfield’s medical condition.
When I introduce myself, someone is likely to ask casually, ‘Any relation to Bram Stoker?’ Until now there has usually been surprise when I answer, yes. Perhaps now, with the publication of Dracula: The Un-Dead, that will no longer be the case.
I am proud to have Bram Stoker as a relative, as well as many other Stokers, past and present, who have strived to their purpose, and have left high marks in their pursuits, professions, military service, sporting endeavors, and charity work. In reality, Bram is but one of many Stokers to be admired, and as much as we share characteristics, we also share the family motto, ‘whatever is true and honorable’.
I hope you will greatly enjoy this classic and beloved novel.
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As with Infinite Jest we again have a number of writers on-board, who will be reading the novel for the first time and commenting as they go. Here is our schedule for posting, and an introduction to the three Guides.
Monday: Kevin Fanning is an Internet raconteur, as well as a Contributing Writer for The Morning News (for whom he penned Baby’s First Internet, How Everything Turned Out, and much more. He has recently turned to authoring chapbooks, including The Location Scout and Fever Dream Ghost Book. He chronicles his life and projects on In Case of Actual Death.
Wednesday: Claire Zulkey wrote a book and called it An Off Year and it was published and it is good. She also contributes to the Show Tracker column in the LA Times, The Onion’s A.V. Club, and so many other places that I can’t even summarize. (Her recent list for McSweeney’s, In Case My New Young-adult Novel Doesn’t Sell, Here Are My Backup Ideas, presaged her involvement in this project by including the phrase “sexy vampire”.) She lives in Chicago which is, by all accounts, the best city in the country.
Friday: Matthew Baldwin is the thinker-upper and editor of Infinite Summer. Between his gigs as a desultory blogger and a contributing writer for The Morning News, he has bestowed upon the Internet such 20-minute sensations as The IKEA Walkthrough, The 30 Least Hot Follow-ups to the 30 Hottest Things You Can Say to a Naked Woman, and The Definitive Solution to the 12-13 Man Problem. In his spare time he writes about whatever damn-fool thing enters his head, including but not limited to board game reviews, parental advice, crime fiction, and screenplays for NBC’s “The Office”.
On Tuesdays we will be running essays from guests. On Thursdays we will provide a roundup of postings from those who are blogging their reading of Dracula elsewhere.
A few of the sites from our Infinite Jest blogroll will be joining us in this endeavor as well. The group blog Infinite Zombies will be in the fray, and they are seeking a few more contributors to help out. Infinitedetox will also be returning, as will Aaron of That Sounds Cool. And word on the rough and tumble streets of the knit and crochet community is that Ravelry is back for more.
Some others who have publicly declared themselves in:
Plus, a veritable chorus of tweeters: @The_Cat_Army, @KevinPHaley, @muggie14, @DrMathochist, @orphum, @johnteall, @nopanen, @svwagner, @JoniRodgers, jordanpearce (and a host of other Houstonites), @benb, @sweaternine, @dotsara, and many, many more.
There are a few other websites and resources we’d be remiss to omit.
Ralph adapted his Infinite Summer progress tracker for Dracula: infinite-summer.appspot.com.
Realtime Dracula has been reprinting the work in Tweet form (see: @JHarkerEsq, @MinaHarker2be, @JackSewardMD, etc.).
And over at Infocult, Bryan is reprinting passages from the novel on the day they were supposedly written (thus, his most recent post is the entry from Dr. Seward’S Diary dated “29 September, night”).
If you will be reading Dracula along with the group and are not mentioned above, please let us know in the comments to this post or in the forum.