Dracula by Bram StokerAuthor: Bram Stoker
Publisher: Barnes & Noble (2004) [Originally published 1897]
Number of Pages: 433
How long it took me to read: a month, reading sporadically
Where I bought this book: Barnes & Noble
ISBN: 978-1593081140

Like a Moth to a Flame

I don’t know if you’ve noticed the deluge of vampire novels flooding the young adult fiction and romance sections of your local bookstore. Twenty-first century vampire literature is the recent culmination of more than a hundred years of legend, literature, and popular culture, and now only bears the flimsiest of resemblances to its original progenitors. Stoker’s one-hit wonder is one such progenitor. Despite having little to no stomach for horror as a genre, I have been morbidly intrigued by its bastard child, horror fantasy, for many years now and have started a journey in exploring the genre’s roots. Dracula is one of the first major stops on this journey, and represents the introduction of vampires into the West’s popular imagination.

Favorite Five

I propose that the top 5 quotes from this book are:

5. “When the Count saw my face, his eyes blazed with a sort of demoniac fury, and he suddenly made a grab at my throat. I drew away, and his hand touched the string of beads which held the crucifix. It made an instant change in him, for the fury passed so quickly that I could hardly believe that it was ever there.” (p.61)

4. “I felt in my heart a wicked, burning desire that they would kiss me with those red lips. It is not good to note this down, lest some day it should meet Mina’s eyes and cause her pain; but it is the truth.” (p.72)

3. “This was the being I was helping to transfer to London, where, perhaps, for centuries to come he might, amongst its teeming millions, satiate his lust for blood, and create a new and ever-widening circle of semi-demons to batten on the helpless.” (p.86)

2. “The sweetness was turned to adamantine, heartless cruelty, and the purity to voluptuous wantonness.” (p.242)

…and my pick for the No.1 quote is…

1.I have learned not to think little of any one’s belief, no matter how strange it may be. I have tried to keep an open mind, and it is not the ordinary things of life that could close it, but the strange things, the extraordinary things, the things that make one doubt if they be mad or sane.” (p.217)

New Words

Words are wondrous creatures. Put them together and they paint a picture. Rearrange them and the scene changes. But to be able to see what they are saying, we must first know what they mean.

New Word: satiate (verb)

Definition (Source: Merriam-Webster.com): to satisfy (as a need or desire) fully or to excess
Synonyms: assuage, quench, sate, slake
: 15th century; Latin ‘satiatus’; past participle of ‘satiare’; from ‘satis’ enough
As in: “…for centuries to come he might…satiate his lust for blood…” (p.86)

Conversation with the Reader

While I read, I write, and as I write, I read. Here’s some of what I wrote while I read this book:

Dracula is a story of extremes. In true Victorian fashion, no space is left for meandering in the murky swamp of moral ambiguity. Our damsels are sweet and devoted, our heroes stalwart and studious, and our villain is one demonic horde short of being the Lord of Darkness himself. The novel implies that the evil it describes is cunningly attractive, but it does not seek to understand, navigate, or justify the vampiric mindset. The novel only advocates this mindset’s destruction. The dramatic contrast of good and evil is best shown through Lucy’s transformation from sweet innocence to ‘voluptuous wantonness.’

“I found this contrast refreshing yet limiting. It is refreshing in its catharsis. I can believe, for a couple hours each day, that good and evil are easily definable, and that good ordinary people can join in the good fight against dreadful evil. But Stoker is not exactly straightforward in his examination of evil. He presents it as decidedly Other, and forces me to lean towards introspection in order to see the evil in this novel as a reflection of the desires that are an essential part of the human condition.”

“The novel is presented through a collection of personal letters, journal entries, and newspaper articles. It even includes a couple of invoices and a Russian ship’s log. While reminiscent of the formatting of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Dracula is more informal, even disjointed in its narrative structure. This gave me the feeling that the events of the book may have actually taken place. The way bit characters add subtle, seemingly insignificant details that build the story, how the protagonists are preoccupied not just with the novel’s central conflict but with the goings-on of their own lives—it reads in an uncomfortably real way. Even if we are living our lives through books, trying to find meaning in the way our personal stories develop, we are never living only one story at a time: we have a main plot, yes, but it is littered with subplots and asides, grocery lists and electric bills and sitting in bad traffic. That the protagonists of Dracula demonstrate an awareness of such mundane details gives the novel an unsettling sense of reality.”

“A lack of familiarity with Christian ritual would be a huge detriment to understanding this novel. Religious rites are presented as the only effective way to combat vampires; otherwise all of Dr. Van Helsing’s and Dr. Seward’s ministrations, replenishing lost blood with transfusions and liberal dispersal of garlic flowers, would have saved Lucy from her horrific fate. Yet Van Helsing is able to seal Vampire-Lucy within her burial crypt by using sanctified communion wafers smashed into a paste. Perhaps that is why modern vampires are increasingly portrayed as invincible. As popular culture dismisses and forgets Christian belief, the mortal characters of vampire novels are increasingly helpless and overwhelmed. The traditional methods for fending off vampires (staking, garlic, crucifixes, etc.) are presented as gimcrack or are not even mentioned in the most recent vampire literature. Faced with a lack of weapons, humans are forced to consider vampires as potential neighbors, compatriots, or overlords rather than simply predators.

“I am all for vampire characters being treated as more than monsters to hunt down with pitch forks, but this modern concept of vampires merely being the next step in the evolutionary ladder, the next step towards godhood, disturbs me. Vampires kill humans, period. We can explore their motivations, their perspectives, even their childhood traumas, but it does not change that vampires are inherently antithetical to the human race. Romanticizing them in literature, portraying them with anymore approbation than pity, seems to me inherently self-destructive. Dracula, as one of the first vampire novels, presents this conflict best and shows humanity’s will to survive even in the face of the horrific odds that vampirism represents.”

Rachel Castleberg

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1 Comment

  1. […] Book Review! The first of them is on Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and you can read it by clicking here. My second, on Brandon Sanderson’s Warbreaker, should appear at the end of […]

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