‘Take the papers that are with this, the diaries of Harker and the rest, and read them, and then find the great UnDead, and cut off his head and burn his heart of drive a stake through it, so that the world may rest from him.’
‘Dracula’ is another one of those novels where, like ‘Frankenstein’, the basic idea or one or two characters have become entrenched in literary legend and adapted dozens if not hundreds of times. After all the adaptations I’ve seen, I assumed I would know the story of ‘Dracula’ fairly well. In fact, like ‘Frankenstein’, there were many plot details that surprised me and if I’m perfectly honest I have to admit that if you’d asked me to give a summary of the novel before now, I would probably not have come anywhere near the truth.
Obviously ‘Dracula’ is about a vampire named Count Dracula. I’d also heard of the characters of Van Helsing (thank you Hugh Jackman), Jonathan Harker, Mina Murray, Lucy and Renfield before (thanks to Penny Dreadful and the Jonathan Rhys Meyers TV show Dracula) but that was about all that was familiar. Harker’s journey to Castle Dracula, his miraculous survival (which I still don’t understand), Dracula’s move to England and then the teams combined effort to drive him out of England and into dust once and for all were all completely new to me. I couldn’t help but be grateful and yet feel sad about this, mostly because it meant that I got to enjoy the novel as a first time reader with very little idea of the twists and turns the tale would have. But, as I said, I did feel sad that the plot wasn’t well known to me because it meant that out of all the adaptations of ‘Dracula’ I’ve seen none of them have been adaptations of the novel. None of them have told Stoker’s story of love, death and the potential advance of pure evil. They all took elements, mostly the characters, from the story and made their own which is great in one way but is also a shame because the plot was actually thrilling, fascinating and very entertaining. I can’t help but wish for a proper film/TV adaptation to be done soon so I can see the real Dracula on screen.
What I really liked about the novel was Stoker’s perfect control of pace. He never gave too much, and he maintained a rhythmic speed throughout that meant nothing felt rushed and the suspense built up at a natural rate. I never really felt like I understood Dracula that much, which for me was both a positive and negative. Yes, he was an evil demon like creature who was clearly up to something rotten but his air of mystery also added a sinister and thrilling aspect to his character. Why exactly had he travelled to London? What did he hope to achieve? If it was a permanent move, why hadn’t he brought his three vampire brides with him? I really enjoyed searching the book for clues as I was reading and I think that’s probably why he’s been such a flexible villain over the years that you can put into so many storylines- you never really find out what his dastardly plan is- other than corrupt young human women and turn them into the UnDead of course.
I did really like this book, and I really enjoyed building upon the preconception of the novel I had in my mind. Obviously, there were elements I didn’t appreciate, like the old fashioned sexism of the weak and fragile women being too delicate to handle vampires even though Mina was the one smart enough to make a complete record and didn’t have any problems with anything she read. But, it is possible to ignore it with the usual mantra of “it was a long time ago” and all I can say is I am glad I don’t live in a time where these ideas are still the undisputed social norms.