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.

Book Beginnings: Dracula by Bram Stoker

JONATHAN HARKER’S JOURNAL

(Kept in shorthand)

3 May. Bistritz. – Left Munich at 8.35 pm on 1st May, arriving at Vienna early next morning; should have arrived at 6.46, but the train was an hour late. Buda-Pesth seems a wonderful place, from the glimpse which I got of it from the train and the little I could walk through the streets. I feared to go very far from the station, as we had arrived late and would start as near the correct time as possible. The impression I got was that we were leaving the West and entering the East; the most Western part of splendid bridges over the Danube, which is here of noble width and depth, took us among the traditions of Turkish rule.

With such an ordinary straight forward paragraph Bram Stoker begins his Gothic novel of the tale of Count Dracula and the Un-Dead.

I have no interest whatsoever in the modern vampire books, but for a while now I have been thinking about reading Dracula and now in the middle of Carl’s RIP Challenge I decided the time had come.

The opening surprised me a little, so matter-of-fact and such attention to detail. So I knew from the start that this was going to be a meticulously detailed book and that the character of Jonathan Harker was going to be that of a reliable narrator. I also guessed that after such a factual start Jonathan’s Journal would reveal more startling and scary events – well, this is Dracula! And it’s not long before he is on his way to Castle Dracula, his journey accompanied by queer dreams and warnings to go no further. As he approaches the castle he ‘felt a sort of paralysis of fear.’

I’m reading a hard-back copy of Dracula. There are many editions available and the link above is to the Kindle original and unabridged version.

Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Katy at A Few More Pages.