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reading Dracula

Reading Dracula (notes)

I admit to not being a big fan of Vampire Fiction, or even Vampire Non-Fiction for that matter. However, please do not mistake this for full-blown ignorance.  I read Bram Stoker’s Dracula for the RIP V challenge and at my husband’s recommendation. We have plans to watch Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula (1992) this weekend (hopefully during daylight hours), perhaps I will have a shorter, comparative post after. also, my apologies as the post is long.

7636611Dracula by Bram Stoker

I read the 1992 Barnes & Noble Books edition with the ugly cover. The picture (r) is nicer.

Hardback, 404 pages.

The aristocratic vampire that haunts the Transylvanian countryside has captivated readers’ imaginations since it was first published in 1897. Hindle asserts that Dracula depicts an embattled man’s struggle to recover his “deepest sense of himself as a man”, making it the “ultimate terror myth”. goodreads

As his chilling, suave monster stalks his prey from a crumbling castle in the Carpathian Mountains of Transylvania to an insane asylum in England to the bedrooms of his swooning female victims, the drama is infused with a more and more exquisite measure of sensuality and suspense.

Dracula is a classic of Gothic horror, an undying wellspring of modern mythology, and an irresistible entertainment. Publisher’s Comments

Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a seminal work in Vampire Lore. Needless to say it is hard to approach the read without expectation, without feeling like someone has told you the story more than a couple of times. I was looking for  plot marks along the way to anticipate coming events. I had images of the characters firm in my mind. Fortunately, none of these hardships frustrated the read–none but one.

Stoker’s story is relayed through the sorted and dated collection of journal entries, letters, telegrams, and newspaper articles. Stoker has provided each of his characters with a definite look, personality, manner of speaking–some with dialects that are an effort to decipher. The bulk of the material for the novel is told by Jonathan Harker, Dr. John Seward, and Mina Harker who are keen observers and have fantastic memories for conversations.

At the beginning, just before the Table of Contents, Dracula asks that you believe that such records can be believed:

How these papers have been placed in sequence will be made manifest in the reading of them. All needless matters have been eliminated, so that a history almost at variance with the possibilities of later-day belief may stand forth as simple fact. There is throughout no statement of past things wherein memory may err, for all the records chosen are exactly contemporary, given from the standpoints and within the range of knowledge of those who made them.

Suspend your disbelief at the door. The effort to provide all credibility to the horrific occurrences found in the collection of texts is not singular to the above paragraph. Stoker revisits authenticity throughout. Stoker would make sure that every action on the part of the actors appeared logical and wise, and informed. Rules are outlined, limitations and powers. Causes and effects are explored and explained–sometimes at tedium.Can we be truly frightened if we didn’t think it true? For the audience contemporary to the novel–the possibility of the real would be chilling, indeed. This is not the metaphorical read, but the ghost story by the fire. Are there really creatures like that, lurking?

<!> If you haven’t read Dracula skip to next asterisks. <!>

For those Readers (like me) who took courses like The Travel Narrative, the Journal Trope is challenging. I had a hard time with the memorization more than the observation powers of the Diarists/Journalists–though Stoker was thorough in considering his writers would be keen in both: Harker, a lawyer; Seward, a physician, The Journalists, also a job requirement. Mina, practices.

“Ah, then you have a good memory for facts, for details? It is not always so with young ladies.”

“No, doctor, but I wrote it all down at the time. I can show it to you if you like.”

“Oh, Madam Mina, I will be grateful; you will do me much favour.” I could not resist the temptation of mystifying him a bit—I suppose it is some of the taste of the original apple that remains still in our mouths—so I handed him the shorthand diary.” ~Mina’s Journal(196).

My distraction from suspension comes from two sources. The first is early–Van Helsing goes on and on, and rarely in a straightforward manner–while enough drama is occurring. The second is later, though for Hitchcock’s sensibilities I suppose it is late enough. The record/the novel is second hand–translated and typed by Mina.

And then there is this: at the very end, in the “Note” by Jonathan Harker.

We were struck with the fact, that in all the mass of material of which the record is composed, there is hardly one authentic document; nothing but a mass of type-writing, except the later note-books of Mina and Seward and myself, and Van Helsing’s memorandum. We could hardly ask any one, even did we wish to, to accept these as proofs of so wild a story. (404)

Yes, he is asking. Stoker (often in the form of Van Helsing) in his logic, his rhetoric, is nigh on diabolical in the read–dangerously close to ruining the Reader’s experience.

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It took me a while to read Dracula as lovely readers of my blog know. The edition I read has 404 densely packed pages written in a somewhat foreign language. While compelled to turn the page when reading, I didn’t feel an equally strong passion to pick up the book and continue on once I set it down. There were three major reasons for leaving the book lay: It scared me, and it baffled my expectations, and it annoyed me.

Dracula scared me in a good way. The way Danielewski promised me in House of Leaves, but didn’t deliver. I had continually weird dreams, if not nightmares–though not of vampires. Stoker provided just a chilly enough atmosphere for my imagination to take root in, and grow. The descriptive powers of the book, in setting and action, are great. The little tales captured in the newspaper articles, or through interviews are incredible. The article about the Demeter and it’s captain’s log really got to me. Stoker knew when to leave off and when to conjure enough drama in action and language to convey absolute terror. He built from the little details, training the audience to remember and make connections. With Van Helsing’s encouragement both speculation and observation of detail enter the entries. The mystery of Count Dracula’s dealings unfold.

Stoker creates relationships between a set group of people. He is not the least frivolous in choosing the characters needed to pull off a mystery, a chase, and climactic ending. At times his choices are overtly convenient. Seeming to recognize the transparency, Stoker embraces it.

I felt so thankful that Lord Godalming is rich, and that both he and Mr. Morris, who also has plenty of money, are willing to spend it so freely. For if they did not, our little expedition could not start, either so promptly or so well equipped. Mina [Murray] Harker(381)

There are several Critical approaches to a reading of Dracula. I was reading it with the intent of entertainment–to be dawn into an adventure. However, some perspectives graft themselves quite neatly.

A reading can be made of the Colonialism in Dracula. Count Dracula would be the invading force, moving from a depleted, Knowing (believing), country to the heavily populated, Ignorant (disbelieving) London. Diabolical ideas infiltrating the ideological landscape; a change not just the behaviors of the native people, but their physical appearances as well; physical locations purchased where a foreign devil would reside… Bram Stoker is an Irish Novelist. Learning this, I am curious if he was playing with London–colonizing them in return, threatening them with their own spectre from the East.  Would have to do a bit of research and analysis there, but it is an interesting avenue.

A reading is easily made with the Feminist perspective in mind.  Despite my contemplations of Colonialism in the novel, I am not much of a Historicist. All those British Modernist discussions helped some. I tend to like a book as itself, not reading into the Author too much, if at all. I address the time period of the writing to usually provide excuse. The Mutually Male Appreciation Society and the Weak and Hysterical Female diatribes are nigh on insufferable, and desiring excuse. Remembering the Cultural Context, the prevalent attitudes, helps here. It was hard to stomach. While Lucy would be annoying in any event, she was doubly so to my mind. And Mina… Understanding the times do not make some passages easier to take, and it is distracting from the read. It certainly interrupts the pace. I began projecting Stoker onto Van Helsing and I wanted to choke the character–strangle them both simultaneously. It was hard not to skim read (in vengeance?).

“Ah, that wonderful Madam Mina! She has man’s brain—a brain that a man should have were he gifted—and a woman’s heart. […] 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. (252)”—Van Helsing.

I want to read Dracula as a parody; perhaps as a coping mechanism? But I fear the ending fails me. I began in this way. Mina and Lucy could be doubled, having sisterly affection and so many things in common. Just the same, Mina is depicted as the more modern of the two. She is learned to type ( ), has dreams of a career ( ), and has a more man-like brain and other paraphernalia ( ). For all her masculinity (as compared to her peers), Mina cannot be faulted her womanliness–the story is determined in this. Mina does not become a monster, and is valiant in her efforts for decorum. Lucy does not, and her valiance is ineffectual. She subverts a man’s expectations at many turns.

While Mina is the very soul of strength and poise, the men are weeping all over the place. They exchange words of affection amongst other intimate acts. They are weakened by women, sexually enthralled, and made fearful of and for young women. Unfortunately, the danger women pose in making a man vulnerable is part of the horror for the Reader–some Readers. But in any good adventure and horror, balance is restored. Mina is made helpless, despite her best efforts, and her effort for decorum is ever praised, but she is still in need of saving in the end. The men are able to muster and become heroes, restoring masculinity and saving London from the insidiously evil, Count Dracula. [Ah, the dark, sensual, and superstitious East.] The ending is happy (sorry to spoil it for you). Mina has serviced all the men in the group, ensuring their legacy.

Ah, the sexual preoccupation to the novel. I love the repression in the language. The orgasmic fits of Lucy when bitten. Is it juvenile to be humored? I wondered aloud at the presence and use of the word Sperm, [Van Helsing] “Holding  his candle so that he could read the coffin plates, and so holding it that the sperm dropped in white patches which congealed as they touched the metal, he made assurance of Lucy’s coffin” (p211, “Seward’s Diary,” the first visit to Lucy’s tomb). Is it also a case of if I don’t laugh, I will cry? The demonizing of  sexuality in females (especially unwed) saturates the story; the sexuality between men may be more subtle. I say subtle because whether Dracula intended to bite Jonathan becomes ambiguous for a while. At the beginning it was a very real fear. The story distracts with the female victims that are central characters. But it should not be forgotten that men were bit in that vulnerable (many read, intimate) spot by Dracula, too. And they were immediately destroyed. Is it that the wanton is insidious and the perverse immediate in respect to their destructive powers?

The intimacy in the exchange of blood, in the transfusion, the ideas of physiognomy: those discussion in Dracula are interesting–though the word “child-brain” began to grate.  The attitudes in Science, and of Religion are very present and each provide essays of their own.

For all the adventure in the novel, there is a lot of weight for the modern Reader. Yet, it should be remembered that Dracula is an adventure story: a mystery to be solved, a hunt to be carefully plotted, and a monster to vanquish. The pages turned for me and the atmospheric created suspense and fear. There is a point near the end that it drug out–the planning sessions, but the story rebounded and raced forward toward its promised climactic ending.

I was amazed at how the read could draw and repulse me equally…(something a horror novel should do)…though perhaps it didn’t repulse me the way it intended. I thought Dracula a good read, and certainly an important one if you are interested in Vampire Lore.

******* <!> below may contain spoilers…but if you’ve read Dracula, I’ve a question.

Up-ended expectation one: Count Dracula’s appearance as Jonathan describes upon their meeting. I knew Dracula capable of changing forms. But his Count form differed. I like the idea that he morphed into wolf, though I don’t agree that they are “low” creatures.

two: Van Helsing is an old man, though fit, does tire; never fear, he  is virile as well as hyper-intelligent…in the age of blue-pills can we not imaging Van Helsing younger?

three and the question: Mina and Dracula. I missed the romantic triangle somewhere. I did not skim over the Mina/Dracula interactions, not one bit; because I was curious about it, in part, as I’d heard there was a book about Mina’s love of Dracula and the conflict of choosing between the Vampire and Harker. I fair interrogated Sean, poor man–who didn’t read said book, but is familiar with the Coppola film among others.

Where did the love affair between Dracula and Mina occur? I was annoyed not by the lack of triangle (that was actually refreshing), but that one was imagined and I missed it in the text somewhere, everywhere. An affair is nonsensical to the story–which is probably why I missed it? I wrote paragraphs this morning in digression, evidencing how it wouldn’t work in effort to find how it could. I asked myself, with the time spent, why does the question even matter? It’s just somebody’s fan-fiction. It’s just someone’s reading…

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Blog Links with good, shorter, and actual reviews of Dracula: Polishing Mud Balls, That’s What She Read, This Miss Loves to Read.