Being a self-proclaimed connoisseur of the vampiric arts (?), I surprised myself by how long it took me to get around to reading this classic of Gothic literature. Not only is Dracula arguably the most influential book in the Gothic horror genre, but it has also spawned uncountable adaptations, including the (arguably) two most influential movies of the horror genre – 1922’s Nosferatu (Dracula under a different name due to copyright issues) and 1931’s Dracula (starring Bela Lugosi). Seeing as how this book is not only so influential, essentially defines the modern vampire, but also sports the most famous vampire in history, well…could I really call myself a connoisseur without reading it?
This summer, I finally did.
Before reading this classic, I sort of dreaded it – I sometimes feel obligated to read classics, not because I actually enjoy doing it, but because it’s a classic for a reason, and influenced the genre or entire medium tremendously (something like: The Birth of a Nation). Thank the Lord on high that good ol’ Dracula is not a ‘classic’ in that sense.
Though the writing is technically archaic, it never feels that way – this book could have been written in 1982 and I wouldn’t have thought twice about it. So not only is this book relatively easy to digest for the modern reader, but it surprised me as well in its format. The entire book is made up of the diary entries of our main characters, mostly Jonathan Harker, Dr. Seward, Lucy, Van Helsing, and (more towards the end) Mina. Some newspaper ‘clippings’ also supplement the diary writings. Thanks to this format, Dracula remains entertaining and incredibly fun to read even for those familiar with its characters and plot from some of the movie adaptations.
Despite how fun it is, though, this staple of vampire literature definitely suffers from being a thorough product of its time, at least for me. The entire time I was reading, I kept getting slapped in the face by its blatant misogyny (thanks for pointing out how stupid and fragile women are, Van Helsing). Now, I don’t think Bram Stoker hated women – I don’t get that vibe from Dracula, that sort of Naruto misogyny that permeates all of the female characters, because, surprisingly (for me), Stoker’s female characters are by far the most compelling. As I stated before, it’s simply a product of its time.
But I digress. On with the review!
So, as I was saying, one of female characters is actually well-written and compelling, more so than most of the male characters. I expected the women to be bland and do nothing (as is typical in a lot of mainstream modern media, unfortunately), and while Lucy is pretty dumb, Mina is a badass. I don’t care what anyone says, I LOVE MINA. She helps the men gather information, she figures out stuff much more quickly than the others in their little vampire-hunting league, and she has strong emotions that are reigned in when she needs to get s*** done. Arguably, Mina’s the most interesting character in the book, especially towards the end.
One more quick anecdote: can I just say how lovely it is to read about men who are presented as very dominant and masculine, but they still faint or cry at regular intervals in the book? Odd that I’d have to go back to the 1890’s to get a refreshing (mainstream) presentation of men’s emotional needs – you know, like the fact that everyone has them and we shouldn’t repress emotions for the sake of being ‘a man’ or ‘not a wimp’? Thanks, mainstream 1890’s.
Overall, pick up Dracula if you have not read it yet. It’s a creepy tale worthy of all the praise it receives, and its position as a literary classic.