Dracula, by Bram Stoker (pub. 1897)
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In August of 2016, I bought a used copy of a DVD double feature of "Bram Stoker's Dracula" and "Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Not long before that, I had bought a used copy of the book Frankenstein at a thrift shop, and when I bought the DVD set, I thought I'd try to read both that book and this one in October, then watch both movies around Halloween. However, I didn't manage to finish reading "Frankenstein" until Halloween itself, so I waited until October of 2017 to start reading "Dracula" (which I had ordered from Amazon in September 2016). I hoped to finish reading this book by Halloween 2017, and then watch the movie. However, I didn't finish reading this until the middle of December, because I am both a slow reader and prone to long spells of not reading at all. Sigh.
But of course, none of that matters. Um... I should say this is something I've always wanted to read, and I'm glad I've finally done so. It's really not much like I might have expected, and I don't think I've ever seen the story told much like it is, here. In fact, the title character himself barely appears in the book at all, which is strange, considering he's central to everything that happens. Also, maybe it's because I'm not living in Victorian England, but I don't think I found anything in the book particularly scary. Still, I appreciate the book for having provided pop culture with such enduring, iconic characters as Count Dracula and Professor Abraham Van Helsing (regardless of how much the portrayal of both characters has changed in various adaptations and works inspired by this novel, over the years), as well as how much vampire lore became common knowledge because of the book.
The story is told via things that have been written by various characters within the book, mostly journal entries by the main characters (excluding Dracula himself, whose own point of view is never represented in the book). However, these entries are so detailed that it's often easy to forget one is reading what is supposed to be a journal, and just read the scene as if it were the sort of narrative typical of any novel. The first four chapters are all from the journal of Jonathan Harker, a young British solicitor who travels to Transylvania to represent his firm in a meeting with their new client, Count Dracula, who has plans to travel to England, himself. Harker arrives at Castle Dracula in early May, and while at first the Count seems an affable enough host, it's not long before Harker begins to fear that he has become a prisoner... and that Dracula is in fact a vampire. He also encounters three beautiful women, who are also vampires. It isn't until the end of June that he makes a desperate attempt at escape. (I wasn't even sure, when the story leaves him, whether or not he'd succeeded in this attempt.)
After that, the viewpoint switches to that of a few other people, including Harker's fiancée, Mina Murray (whom he had mentioned several times in his journal). Also we see the perspective of Mina's best friend, Lucy Westenra, and a psychiatrist named Dr. John Seward, who runs an asylum in (or near) London. Mina spends a lot of time worrying about Harker, from whom she has not heard in some time. Lucy receives marriage proposals from three different men: John Seward, Arthur Holmwood, and a rich Texan named Quincey Morris. Lucy chooses Arthur, who is good friends with her other two suitors, and they all remain very good friends after she makes her choice. Meanwhile, the one who is most central to the story is Seward. His own journal is often about a patient of his, named Renfield. Anyway... Mina and Lucy spend the summer vacationing in Whitby, where the ship carrying Dracula to England makes port. Subsequently, it becomes apparent to the reader that Dracula bites Lucy, after which she becomes increasingly ill. Eventually, Seward seeks the help of his friend and former teacher, a Dutch man named Abraham Van Helsing, to try to learn what is wrong with Lucy, and how to treat her. It's also fairly obvious to the reader that Van Helsing soon realizes what the problem is, though he is most circumspect about it, since obviously he'd be thought mad if he just came right out and said that she was the victim of a vampire.
Eventually, Jonathan Harker turns out to be alive, and Mina receives a letter from him. He'd been sick and delirious after escaping from Dracula's castle, and doubted his entire experience there was real. Mina goes to Budapest to help nurse him back to health, and marries him there, in August. Meanwhile, Lucy had returned to her home... it's called Hillingham, which I think is the name of the estate, and I think it's in, or near, London. Honestly, I was rarely sure of what city anything was taking place in. Also, Lucy's mother eventually dies, as does Arthur's father. Then Arthur inherits his father's fortune, and his title- so henceforth he'll usually be referred to as Lord Godalming. And... Mina and her husband return to England; I believe they live in Exeter. Jonathan's boss eventually dies, and leaves Jonathan as his successor. Later, Van Helsing invites the Harkers to London, where Dracula is now. And where Van Helsing has learned that Lucy has become a vampire, herself. Eventually, he and Arthur kill her (after she had apparently already died), thus saving her soul. And, man, I am probably saying everything out of order. But um... anyway, eventually Van Helsing convinces everyone (Arthur, the Harkers, Seward, and Quincey) that Dracula is a vampire, and that he must be stopped. And Mina combines her own journals with those of her husband, and Dr. Seward, and anyone else who'd written anything, and newspaper clippings, and so forth, to make as complete as possible an account of everything that had happened concerning the Count. (It even seems that Renfield has some inexplicable connection to Dracula.) Anyway, everyone makes plans on how to defeat Dracula. But before they can confront him, they must find all the coffins full of his homeland's soil, which he's hidden in a few different places throughout London, in addition to the home- Carfax- that he had purchased through Harker's firm. Once they do confront Dracula, he escapes, and makes his way back toward his home country, by sea. And so they must make more plans to give chase. That part of the story begins in early October, and I found myself hoping the climax would come on Halloween itself... but alas, Halloween is never even mentioned, and the climax doesn't come until November. Sigh.
I'm sure I'm forgetting countless details, as well as intentionally omitting many. I feel like I've already said as much as I need to, about the plot. I don't suppose I need to reveal whether or not they ultimately defeat Dracula. So I'll just get on with some thoughts about the story, beyond the plot. Um... I dunno. It's just sort of... eh. It's one of those things that I'm not sure how much I'd even care about it, if it weren't already a classic before I ever read it. It's not bad, but I'm not sure how much sense any of it makes. And it's hard for me to really see Dracula as being the sort of ultimate monster he's generally seen as, today. Partly this is because, as I mentioned, we don't actually see that much of him, except in the beginning and end of the book. And most of what we know about him is through exposition on the part of Van Helsing and the others. But despite being much stronger than any human; and having the ability to shapeshift into things like a wolf, a bat, and even mist; and having the ability to control various animals, as well as the weather itself; and the ability to turn people into vampires (though not in quite the way a modern fan of vampire stories would expect); he really doesn't end up seeming like as great of a threat as he should.
Aside from that, I didn't entirely like the portrayal of Van Helsing. While he's clearly well-respected and knowledgeable, he also seems like something of a comic figure, in the way he talks (English being not his first language). Aside from odd and inconsistent syntax, and malapropisms, he seems to have a tendency to ramble, and I think his point often gets lost in his train of thought. I also really don't get why he said, at least a few times, that Dracula had a "child-brain." His explanations of that made no sense to me, and were in direct conflict with his describing Dracula as very intelligent and cunning. Then there's also a bit of sexism. Certainly Van Helsing and the others held both Lucy and especially Mina in high regard, though it's awfully condescending to "compliment" Mina by saying she had a "man's brain." Besides that, they were all more interested in protecting her than really letting her be part of the team. On the other hand, she does become an invaluable member of the team, in several ways. So I suppose some feminism grows out of the sexism. (And I really did like the fact that there was never a trace of jealousy from Seward or Quincey, concerning Lucy.)
Otherwise... I suppose I could mention a few things that I posted on facebook, while reading different parts of the book. There was my surprise at learning that Kodak cameras were already a thing when the book was written. And how I didn't care for children often being referred as "it" rather than "he" or "she." And dripping candle wax being referred to as "sperm." And it was interesting find that the phrase "if looks could kill" might have originated in this book. And one line that sounded to me like what, in a movie, I would think of as a "jump scare" was being described, in theory, but without such a scare actually happening, in the story. And I guess that's all I had mentioned, there.
So, I guess now I'm done with the review. Definitely a decent book, even if I'm a bit disappointed that I didn't end up liking it as much as I'd hoped I would.