The First “Modern” Vampire: Dracula by Bram Stoker

17245 I readily admit that Bram Stoker’s Dracula is not really my kind of book. I am easily spooked, and I don’t think my kids would appreciate a mother who can’t come when they cry because she’s too scared to walk down a dark hallway at night. So I generally keep the undead (and anything with freaky eyes or a chainsaw) far away from me. BUT… I did put it on my Classics Club list and it is Reading Ireland month (hosted by Cathy and Niall). No choice then, and once I read this post, I was ready to dive into the book that invented the “modern” vampire.

The book is written entirely in epistolary form; there are letters, diary entries, newspaper clippings, and log entries. It begins with Jonathan Harker’s arrival at Count Dracula’s castle in Transylvania and ends with a chase across Europe. Sometimes, I thought the story dragged a little bit. Was there a need for four blood transfusions for Lucy? Was the exact, word-for-word recording of the conversation between a newspaper reporter and a zookeeper about an escaped wolf necessary? And why does Van Helsing not speak proper English?

Yet despite these small complaints and the Count’s creepy red eyes, I had fun reading the story. Jonathan’s carriage ride to the castle, with the wolves howling and the mysterious blue lights flickering in the darkness, was spooky. The vampire brides were both mesmerizing and repulsive. Some of the death scenes were quite spectacular. I can certainly imagine Victorian readers being on the edge of their seats, being in turn scandalized and scared.

Much has been said about Stoker’s attitude towards women and his portrayal of them as “morally abject” characters in Dracula. I can see where this is coming from, but personally, I didn’t find anything particularly offensive in the story. Mina Harker is a pretty strong female character. She is ultimately the one who puts it all together. I did roll my eyes a few times, for example when reading this: “A brave man’s blood is the best thing on this earth when a woman is in trouble.” Overall, though, it didn’t bother me. And let’s face it: The story wouldn’t have been half as entertaining if the vampires had all been men. If Stoker hadn’t created the lusting vampire brides, Hollywood certainly would have. (Not that that is an excuse….)

I am a tiny bit proud of myself for making it through 400 pages of something I wasn’t sure I would like. But I did like it, and I wasn’t even scared. It’s a solid Victorian Gothic story, and I enjoyed the evil of Dracula—there’s nothing glittery, romantic, or redeeming about him. I think that’s a fact easily forgotten when you look at how vampires have been treated in entertainment in the recent past. If you’re into Gothic novels or like something creepy in your literature, give Dracula a try. You might be surprised by the things you didn’t know about vampires.

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23 comments

  1. I’m glad you ended up liking this when you didn’t expect too! I was bothered by how the men kept sheltering Mina and the implication that sexual women are dangerous, as well as by some of the problems you pointed out, but like you, I also had fun reading this anyway.

  2. It is years since I read this, I liked it but not as much as Frankenstein which I just re-read for a book group. I do love Victorian gothic though, so maybe I would like it even more now if I read it again?

  3. I quite liked Dracula when I read it last Halloween! I had no idea it was epistolary, and it was a nice surprise.

    I think I noticed *far* more xenophobia/germophobia in this book than sexism (though, as your quotation shows, that sexism is definitely there).

    Also, please tell you caught the line about how fantastic Van Helsing’s eyebrows were. That might be my favorite line in all of classic literature.

  4. I’m also pleased to hear that it made it to the end of Dracula, and it sounds as if you enjoyed it too! I recall it being one of the most influential books of my teenage years, one of those novels that enables the reader to escape into another world.

  5. I really enjoyed reading Dracula, although I agree some of the writing is repetitive. Also, Dracula is built up into this very intriguing character and then he disappears for the rest of the book just showing up here and there. I liked Mina Murray the most because she was very intelligent and often showed the boys a thing or two.

    • True, once he leaves his castle, we don’t get to see him that much anymore. It was funny to read about the men worry about Mina’s female sensibilities when she was such a strong person.

  6. I would really like to read this book. I’m glad to hear you liked it. I don’t mind scary or gothic stories, but have never had much interest in vampires. However, to read the original vampire story would be different, I think. I didn’t realize it was written in epistolary form – this makes me even more curious…

    • It’s definitely different from some of the more popular vampire books of “recent” years. Compared to the very few vampire books I’ve read, this is the only one that doesn’t try to make Dracula appealing in any way or give him any kind of redemptive qualities.

  7. Glad my article made you read it!

    That is actually one of the things I love about the novel. There is nothing redeemable about Dracula, you can’t relate to him and he’s not a brooding anti-hero. It’s a monster, plain and simple. Nowadays those are rare.

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