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Take a bite of the original Vamp
Dracula - Bram Stoker
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Dracula - Bram Stoker
Date: 20/07/01, updated on 22/04/02 (570 review reads)
Advantages: Bloody good fun
Disadvantages: Vampirism is strangely addictive
It is a shame, not only because of the quality of the writing and strong storyline which Stoker presents, but also because the style in which the book was written, was in itself, groundbreaking.
Most people will be familiar with some, if not all of the plotline, even though it has been bastardised somewhat in the last 100 years.
The newly-wed and somewhat wet-behind-the-ears Jonathan Harker is a solicitor's clerk sent to Transylvania to arrange the estate of one Count Dracula. His journey there is far from smooth, but it transpires that the wolves which have dogged his travels are the least of his problems. While, initially he feels happy in the company of the Count, talking away into the night of all things British, he becomes increasingly uneasy and when he discovers the Counts unearthly secret he finds himself in fear of his life.
This, however, is not a simple tale of boy-meets-vampire-vampire-loses-reflection-vampire -gets stake, as Stoker paints his story over a wide canvas.
While Jonathan is battling for his life in the wilds of Eastern Europe, his new bride, Mina, a schoolmistress and a thoroughly modern woman even by today's standards, is fretting about him back home at the same time as worrying about her friend and confidente Lucy Westernra and her string of suitors: Dr John Seward - who runs the local mental institution (nice); Mr Quincy P Morris - a Texan's Texan and displaying all the perceived attributes of America at the time; Hon Arthur Holmwood - true Brit (and the lucky guy).
Lucy is one of the greatest plot devices ever, linking as she does, the disparate strands of this s
tory. For though the Harkers and Holmwood have met before, it is Lucy's plight at the hands of the Count himself that draws these disparate individuals together. And with them come, of course, the marvellously eccentric Dr Van Helsing (with his dreadfully written Dutch accent) and the wonderfully macabre Renfield who is staging something of a re-enactment of the song I Know An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly...
As you can surmise, the plot of Dracula is multi-faceted, for not only must Harker face the bloody Count alone in his native land, our heroes must fight him on the beaches (of Whitby) and in London.
The plot alone, is worth picking this book up for. It travels at a fair clip and also provides a few unintentional laughs to the modern audience in the form of the local accents which Stoker tries to render (badly).
I mentioned the word groundbreaking earlier and this book certainly fits that bill, for it is one of the earliest 'modernist' texts. Briefly, the modernist movement - perhaps best represented by James Joyce and Virginia Woolf - was concerned with decadence destroying itself (perfectly embodied by the vampire myth) and not with plot development as such, but rather the means of relating that plot, twisting narrative to suit their own ends.
Now, while there is plenty of plot in this book the narrative element is interesting. This is because Stoker chose not to just 'tell' the story in a linear style. Rather it is presented to us in a series of diaries, letters, ship's log, newspaper cuttings and transcriptions which had never been attempted on such a large scale in novels before.
I particularly love this style of story telling, because by using it, Stoker allows his reader to see through the eyes of each of the characters in turn - allowing us to be in more than one place at the same time. Also, this is a great device for building the tension of the novel, as we are able to see the bigge
r picture, of which the characters are individually are blissfully unaware.
His characters too are great fun, from the gothic zoophagous Renfield in his asylum room to the feminist Mina who worries that she may be too 'modern' yet is universally loved and trusted by all. If Helen of Troy's was the face that launched a thousand ships, then Stoker's Dracula must have spawned at least a thousand novellas. Drink deep of the original and be satisified.
You can pick up a Penguin Classics copy of Dracula for around one pound in almost any bookshop, but, more importantly, you can read a copy free gratis and for nothing online at http://www.literature.org/authors/stoker-bram/drac ula/
If you like the book and want to know more about Bram, I recommend reading Supping With Panthers by Tom Holland - a fictional vampiric romp but with lots of actual biographical detail and much more fun than a dusty old reference book.