Dracula by Bram Stoker: Book Notes

These are my thoughts and reactions on reading Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

I knew the story of Dracula from film and TV versions – with most notably Christopher Lee and later Louis Jourdan as Dracula, but have steered clear of reading Bram Stoker’s book until now. I didn’t really know what to expect from the book but I was interested to know how Stoker described Dracula, was it anything like the film versions? This is what he looked like when Jonathan Harker first entered Castle Dracula:

… a tall old man, clean-shaven save for a long white moustache, and clad in black from head to foot, without a single speck of colour about him anywhere.

… he moved impulsively forward, and holding out his hand grasped mine with a strength that made me wince, an effect which was not lessened by the fact that it seemed as cold as ice – more like the hand of a dead man than a living man.

… His face was a strong – a very strong – aquiline, with high bridge of nose and peculiarly arched nostrils; with lofty domed forehead, and hair growing scantily around the temples, but profusely elsewhere. His eyebrows were very massive, almost meeting over his nose, and with bushy hair that seemed to curl in its own profusion. The mouth, so far as I could see it under the heavy moustache, was fixed and rather cruel-looking, with peculiarly sharp white teeth; these protruded over the lips, whose remarkable ruddiness showed astonishing vitality in a man of his years. For the rest, his ears were pale and at the tops extremely pointed; the chin was broad and strong and the cheeks firm though thin. The general effect was one of extraordinary pallor. (pages 22 – 25)

Not like the film versions I’ve seen.

Dracula is composed of letters, journal entries, newspaper articles and transcripts of phonograph diary entries, from several characters, so the story is told from several different viewpoints. Stoker used a variety of sources in telling his tale – folklore, myths and legends and historical facts, all blended together with his own inventions. It’s a very scenic novel, and I could easily imagine the locations  – most memorable are those describing Jonathan Harker’s journey and first meeting with Dracula. Dracula doesn’t eat and has no reflection in a mirror, can change his shape dramatically and grows younger, but apart from the opening chapters he remains an elusive figure.

It’s also a very sensual and melodramatic novel, full of religious references. So there is the question of life after death, the existence of the soul, the triumph of good over evil, the nature of sexuality,  fear and superstition. Vampires are at the same time appealing and repulsive. Much use is made of hypnotism and putting people into trances. I was struck by the comparison with Christianity – Dracula drinks the blood of his victims and has everlasting life as one of the Un-Dead and Christ gave his life to redeem the world. It reminded me of the Communion Service – this is my body, this is my blood.

It is too an adventure story with a final chase scene and a love story. It reflects the time in which it was written, with women seen as frail creatures unable to withstand the danger that the men confront. Mina Harker, that most resourceful woman, is left behind whilst the men seek out Dracula and plan to kill him. I was puzzled – why was she left alone with no cross and garlic flowers to protect her when the men were fully armed? The outcome was predictable.

I found the character of Renfield most interesting. He is one of Dr Seward’s most dangerous patients in the lunatic asylum, who wavers between lucid and intelligent episodes and sheer madness. His hobby is catching flies and eating them. He progresses to eating spiders and birds.

I thought it was a fascinating book, found it thought-provoking, both whilst I was reading and after. A book which certainly qualifies for the RIP Challenge.

10 thoughts on “Dracula by Bram Stoker: Book Notes”

  1. Hi Margaret,
    I was particularly interested to read this review as last night my book group discussed The Possessions of Doctor Forrest, which is billed as a modern gothic novel. Have you read it? Like most of the group I struggled with it, having not read any of the ‘old’ gothic, but lots of the elements in it now make sense in the light of what you say about Dracula!

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  2. Yes it was. Have you considered joining? The books are chosen by New Writing North and that one was to coincide with an appearance by the author at the Durham Book Festival. It had a couple of supporters, but most folk considered it overwritten and lacking tension. I’ll let you know when the blog entry is up, or if you don’t already you could follow @berwickbabs, who is our facilitator and writes about what we thought of our reads. I think she has her work cut out this month!

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    1. I have thought about joining, but I already go to a group nearer home and don’t think I could fit in reading two books alongside all the other books I want to read. I do follow the blog through google reader. What is the next book you’ll be reading?

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  3. Margaret – Thanks for sharing your thoughts on Dracula. How right you are that it’s more than just a vampire story. It’s got so many other elements and themes in it. Something I should definitely re-read…

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  4. Next month’s read is The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog and his Friend Marilyn Monroe by Andrew O’Hagan. Will probably be away for the meeting visiting parents, so not even going to try to read that one! Tony and Susan by Austin Wright is December’s and I’ve already got that on my Kindle.
    Understand you not wanting to take on too much, but if you fancied just the occasional meeting cos it’s about a book you know, it’s fine to dip in and out. And it would be nice to meet you.

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  5. I was amazed by how much I liked Dracula as I am not much of one for horror, but I found it compelling for many of the reasons you outlined–the sensuality and the religious references, especially. It is, to me, such a wonderful reflection of how I view the Victorian era. I agree, Renfield is the most interesting and unique character. I really dislike how films of Dracula in particular and vampires in general overlook the monster aspect of the creature and give him a better nature than Stoker did.

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