I’ll be honest, I’ve only actually read DRACULA once before – when I was twenty or so – and didn’t really think much of it. Jonathan Harker’s opening narrative seemed to me, then, slow and uninvolving and I believe I thought the rest of the book not much of an improvement. One of the joys of art – be it books, films or music – is that you can come back to something with fresh eyes at a later point in your life and appreciate it in a whole different way. DRACULA this time around, has been a fantastically entertaining surprise. So much so that I wish I could go back to my twenty year old self, peel back his skull and try to work out what the Hell he was thinking.
Written in 1897, the book can be seen as very much part of the English ‘fin de siècle’; art created at the end of the glorious Victorian age which nevertheless reveals anxiety about the world around it. DRACULA actually sees the old and the new come together, with a member of the aristocracy working hand in hand with gentlemen of the professions (doctors, a lawyer), as well as an American, to stop a threat facing London. The Upper Classes and the new Middle Classes joining so harmoniously together without comment on their distinctions, is something quite modern for the Victorian novel. (The Working Classes also put in an appearance, although they are pretty much illiterate and drunk, however they do recognise their betters. Other writers would create books for them.) There are also new fangled inventions like the phonograph, and the great wonders of transport created in the Victorian age are put to great use.
And yet, there is a constant threat of the unknown. A visitor from a country at the far edge of Europe reaches in and disrupts the harmony of this secure world. He is something beyond the great achievements of science, a creature who is old and bloody and threatens to take this civilised and ordered world back to the dark ages. He is also decadently sensual, having no respect for the morals of vulnerable young women. Evidently this is the type of monster who needs to be stopped, but can even the greatness of the Victorian age stamp him out?
Undoubtedly Stoker did his research into Victorian folklore, as his knowledge is smeared across the pages. Indeed, there are numerous scenes of gore and violence which stand up even now (particularly the fate of Lucy in the graveyard) and it all builds to a genuinely exciting chase sequence. Like FRANKENSTEIN, it isn’t perfect: the character of Dracula himself vanishes to the background a little too much; some of the melding together of the differing narratives is extremely clunky; and, once Mina is chosen by Dracula for his prey, would these people really not suspect what was happening? However, I will write every one of those off as quibbles.
My twenty year old self was wrong, DRACULA is a scary and thrilling read, which still deserves to stand as the Daddy of vampire fiction.
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