Bram Stoker’s peerless tale of desperate battle against a powerful, ancient vampire, the Penguin Classics edition of ‘Dracula’ is edited with notes and an introduction by Maurice Hindle, as well as a preface by Christopher Frayling.
When Jonathan Harker visits Transylvania to help Count Dracula purchase a London house, he makes horrifying discoveries in his client’s castle. Soon afterwards, disturbing incidents unfold in England: a ship runs aground on the shores of Whitby, its crew vanished; beautiful Lucy Westenra slowly succumbs to a mysterious, wasting illness, her blood drained away; and the lunatic Renfield raves about the imminent arrival of his ‘master’. In the ensuing battle of wills between the sinister Count and a determined group of adversaries – led by the intrepid vampire hunter Abraham van Helsing – Bram Stoker created a masterpiece of the horror genre, probing into questions of identity, sanity and the dark corners of Victorian sexuality and desire.
Does a novel that’s 120 years old really need a spoiler alert notice stamping across its review? Hmm probably not, but I was once famed for my spoilers and I refuse to ruin yet more books for my adoring fans. There are just so many elements of this book that I want to discuss and it would be impossible to do so without letting slip major plot points.
So, Dracula, eh? My last encounter with the titular character was during my reading of a horrifically bad paranormal romance trilogy in which Dracula (or Vlad, c’mon, let’s use first names here, no point in being shy…I mean, I did read a graphic description of his, ahem, manhood), but I had this deep rooted desire to read about the actual Dracula, the original Dracula, the Dracula who has inspired generations of people in everything from music to art, from movies to Halloween costumes.
I will confess; I did try and read this book some years ago but Jonathan Harker’s fifty page account of travelling through the Carpathians proved too much for my 17 year old self (may or may not have exaggerated just slightly there). However, having seen this pretty Penguin English Library edition sitting on a shelf in Waterstones, I felt compelled to give Jonathan one more chance. Just one more single chance, though. Life’s too short for boring books after all.
But Dracula is far from boring. The issue, it seems, lay more with my impatient teenage self, who disliked the lengthy descriptions so often found in Victorian literature. The thing with Victorian literature is this; the readers whose eyes first read the words we’re still reading today didn’t have the likes of Google at the literal tips of their fingers. They didn’t have £40 EasyJet flights into central Europe. They didn’t have Netflix streaming movies from all over the globe. Their world was their home, their street and their town. Places such as Transylvania were far off places of almost mythical proportions. The overly lengthy descriptions were essential. How could a writer immerse their readers in a story if the place in which it was set was unimaginable?
Dracula struck me as a Victorian novel that’s very…well, unVictorian. In a time when a woman’s place was deemed as the kitchen and more than two decades before women won the right to vote (that right with many conditions placed upon it), the character of Mina Murray is a breath of fresh air. Sure, she’s annoyingly dramatic in places (well, I guess most people would be if their best friend had to be beheaded because they’d become a god damned shit sucking vampire), but she’s treated as an equal among the men. Towards the end of the novel, when they’re off gallivanting in hot pursuit of the boxed up Dracula, Mina accompanies them and she’s recognised as the valuable asset asset that she is. She’s brave, intelligent and resourceful. She’s never treated as a hindrance and her opinion is always, always taken into consideration. Jonathan is initially reluctant for her to travel to Dracula’s castle (for obvious reasons), but he hears her out and eventually understands that it’s her right to exact revenge against Dracula.
In regards to Dracula himself, I initially assumed that I’d been desensitised to horror books. I read The Shining when I was 12 and figured nothing would ever scare or creep me out again in regards to a horror novel…but that moment when Jonathan sees Dracula freaking crawling down the castle walls? Eugh! That’s a scene that had shudders wracking my body! Creeeeeeeepy! My only issues with Dracula himself were a) how little he appears in a book with his name gracing the cover and b) how easily he was defeated. I won’t go into details for those who haven’t read it, but that scene is near enough over and done with in five pages. For such a feared, centuries-old being, it didn’t seem feasible that he’d be taken down so easily.
I can see why this book has endured for as long as it has and, minor faults aside, it’s one that should be read by all horror fans. The book itself is the forefather of modern horror and Dracula is the forefather of the modern vampire.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Song: HIM’s Vampire Heart (RIP HIM, the first band to ever capture my heart)
This book is available on Amazon in both e-reader and paperback format…and the Kindle version is free!