§ion=&combo2=&text1=&text2=&SocNetUsername=&SocNetPassword=&authCode=& 7th Decade Thoughts: Dracula by Bram Stoker

7th Decade Thoughts

Thoughts about books, politics and history (personal and otherwise), pictures I've taken and pictures I've edited.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Dracula by Bram Stoker

I had never read Dracula and I was curious when it was chosen for the book group—and the text is free on the Internet. I enjoyed it. It was suspenseful without being scary—its themes have been so intensified by film versions that the original seems quite tame.

It’s written as a series of documents—journals kept by the five main characters, newspaper articles, letters, telegrams, etc.—a veritable treasure trove of Nineteenth Century technology. Jonathon Harker, a law clerk, travels overland by train and coach to castle of a Transylvanian court to attend to the details of a land purchase for his boss. He keeps a journal of his trip. He keeps it in shorthand, for privacy and also because he and his fiancée, Mina, are fascinated by stenographic technologies and practices—she reads and writes shorthand and also typewrites, even has a portable typewriter for her travels. Jonathon finds Count Dracula distinctly odd—friendly but forbidding and his household is difficult to understand. With trepidation, he investigates, finding Dracula’s coffin and seeing him slither under the windowpane of one of the castle rooms. Jonathon’s freedom of movement is increasingly limited by Dracula and eventually he fears he’ll never get away. He ends up in a hospital in Budapest having suffered from “brain fever”. Mina travels to his rescue and they are married in his hospital room.

In the meantime, though, Mina has traveled to Whitby to visit her friend Lucy. They experience more weirdness which the reader recognizes as similar to Jonathon’s experience (Mina has not yet read his journal). Lucy becomes ill under mysterious circumstances and Dr. Seward—one of Lucy’s suitors—consults a friend and colleague from Amsterdam, Dr. Van Helsing, who’s heard of Dracula and knows the mythology of how to ward off vampires—the communion host, a crucifix, garlic—and recognizes Dracula as one of the Undead who can only be killed by a stake through the heart.

The plot is long and complex, written almost entirely as journal entries by the characters, including Jonathon and Mina, Lucy, Dr. Seward, Dr. Van Helsing as well as Arthur (Lucy’s fiancé who becomes Lord Godalming on his father’s death) and Quincy Mason, a world-traveled Texan who is his friend. The technology theme is extended as the doctors employ blood transfusion techniques when Lucy is attacked by the vampire and they talk about their other theories and experiments. 19th century geeks one might call them—Dr. Seward even keeps his journal on phonograph records.

Lucy, who’s praised for her brains and organizational ability—but also adored (and patronized) as a goddess—types out all the journals and puts them in a timeline along with pertinent newspaper articles, telegrams, etc which gives the company a sense of who Dracula is and what he is doing. From then on the books is about tracking down the fiend and wiping him off the face of the earth. Not surprisingly, they have to track him to his lair, the castle in the Carpathian Mountains of Transylvania, to do that.

Stoker’s characters are not very subtle, nor is his use of language. The broken English he attributes to the Dutchman Van Helsing is downright irritating: inconsistent and juvenile, even when the elderly doctor is explaining the most sophisticated ideas. Stoker is good at planning and pacing a plot to keep the reader interested, though, which, along with the myth of a vampire existing in some remote Romanian backwater where even the gypsies are terrified of him, have made this novel a bestseller for generations. Posted by Picasa


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