Monday, 7 April 2014

Review: Dracula by Bram Stoker

Bram Stoker

Penguin English Library edition

'There's something in that wind and in the hoast beyont that sounds, and looks, and tastes, and smells like death.'

When I announced in my March Reading post that I was aiming to read Dracula this month, I received mixed responses. Some of you were disappointed by it, some of you felt a bit 'meh' about it and some of you loved it (I think Sam even said it was one of her favourites). With this reaction I had no idea what to expect, and so determined to read it purely for the experience if not for enjoyment. It turns out I was pretty safe anyway as I fall in the 'love it' camp.

I loved the vampires in this novel. There is none of that pointless sparkly crap going on, these are the vampires that we know and love (or are terrified of, if you're me). They've got deathly pale skin, red eyes, sleep in coffins, hate garlic, turn into bats and seriously suck all kinds of blood all the time (except when they're in their Undead sleep in their coffins). They add the perfect amount of horror to an already atmospheric tale. I must say, I actually found Dracula much more exciting than I expected. There were points when I couldn't put it down and towards the end I'm certain my heart rate rose. 

Now, onto Mina Harker. Oh Mina, Mina, Mina...what's a feminist to do with you? I loved you at the beginning - you were so strong (if a bit lovey-dovey), intelligent and quick. And then you just decided to quit. You lay down and took it when the men said that from then on the fighting and killing of Dracula was man's work. I would have loved to study this at uni because I could analyse this stuff to death (pun semi intended). Let's just say it's pretty telling that it is women and lunatics that fall prey to Dracula's dark and brooding charms...

Mina is set up as some sort of wonder woman from the start. The way Jonathan talks about her in his diary as smart, sexy and the kind of person who will not take shit from anyone, made me really excited to meet her (so to speak). She lived up to those expectations and in comparison with the overly feminine Lucy, she is pretty awesome. The men love her and she is raised on to a pedestal by the whole vampire-fighting crew. And then what happens? Her 'woman's heart' is considered stronger than her 'man's brain':

'Ah, that wonderful Madam Mina! She has man's brain - a brain that man should have were he much gifted - and woman's heart. The good god fashioned her for a purpose, believe me, when he made that so good combination. Friend John, up to now fortune has made that woman of help to us; after tonight she must not have to do with this so terrible affair. It is not good that she run a risk so great. We men are determined - nay, are we not pledged? - to destroy this monster; but it is no part for a woman. Even if she be not harmed, her heart may fail her in so much and so many horrors; and hereafter she may suffer - both in waking, from her nerves, and in sleep, from her dreams.'

Don't hold back, Van H, my old chum. I find this amusing considering it is Jonathan who is clearly suffering from a nervous disorder for most of the book. Even if these bits of Mina's representation grated, I still found them entertaining and - as a supporter of not reading out of historical context- revealing. I also got terribly excited when there were references to the New Woman:

'Some of the 'New Woman' writers will some day start an idea that men and women should be allowed to see each other asleep before proposing or accepting. But I suppose the New Woman won't condescend in future to accept; she will do the proposing herself.'

In short, I loved Dracula. It was a surprising, engaging and thoroughly entertaining read. The gothic horror elements were suitably atmospheric and chilling and the characters were so well rounded. It works well as an epistolary novel mostly on the strength of the characterisation and the varied voices that are included. It's one of those novels with multiple narrators that really does have multiple, wholly distinguishable narrators. I have a couple of quibbles with the female aspects but, hey, this is the 1890's so I can deal. 

Have you read Dracula? Do you sit in the 'love it' camp?



  1. I liked the Mina character - mostly. She was definitely no Lizzie Bennet but then again who is? As you say, she started out well (built up by others) but couldn't help but fall from such a high pedestal and, of course, I was picturing her as Winona Ryder throughout the book [grin]

  2. I most definitely sit there, yes! I loved it when I read it, at the tender age of twelve. In fact, I think this was the book that introduced me to serious literature, so Dracula will always hold a very special place in my heart. It scared me to death, surely, but even then I couldn't put it down until I finished it. A really enjoyable read! :-D

    PS: And I'm absolutely in love with this new Penguin collection: those books look gorgeous.

  3. For me, I think it was the epistolary style that pushed me out of the "love it" camp -- as I was reading, that style took a lot of the suspense out of it for me :/ Glad you liked it though -- I wish I could have enjoyed it more!

  4. Literally the only thing that stopped me loving this book beyond all reason was the fact that THEY TRY AND STOP MINA DOING STUFF. When she is clearly the most capable and excellent member of the team. I just reread my review of Dracula (which is ridiculously long... Ah, I remember when I had the time to write a bazillion words about books!) and apparently I decided that Stoker was showing that the men were stupid for not including Mina in things cause it left her vulnerable to attack rather than spared her upsetting things, so there's that...

    Anyway. I did bloody love/was actually really scared of Dracula, and I've really got to read it again! Good thing I have the Clothbound Classic edition now *winning smile*

  5. It is one of my favourites :) It's the first classic I ever read for pleasure and was my gateway into reading classics in general.
    I agree that the representation of Mina (and Lucy) is problematic, but like you say, it's still a great story.

  6. It's the love camp for me too! I first read it when I was far too young (like, when I was 7 or something) and was terrified of vampires flying through my window for basically my entire childhood! I decided to face up to the trauma a couple of years ago and it was just brilliant - I mean, sure, there a few too many of Van Helsing's ramblings and it isn't winning feminist manifesto of the year but it's so creepy and so good that I just don't care all that much :) I'm so glad you liked it too!

  7. I'm glad you enjoyed the book, Ellie - looks like our opinion on Dracula is quite similar. I also rolled eyes about Mina, but in the end it didn't influence my rating because women seemed to be quite poweress regarding the times, even Marian Halcombe.

  8. I'm planning to read this really soon and hopefully I'll love it! It was the BookTube Classics Club pick... last month? This month?... so there's quite a bit of chatter about it over there, which got me all interested again. I half-read it as a young teen, but at the time I was pretty obsessed with the Gary Oldman movie and my patience with Jonathan Harker's missives quickly disappeared. This time I'll be reading it on its own merits and be a fair bit older to boot, so I'm hoping to fall in love with it!

    P.S. I have an ugly but very functional Penguin Classics edition but am SO TEMPTED by the PEL one that I might have to break every rule and get myself a new copy before I even start reading. Is that really stupid?


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