Friday, August 26, 2011

Dracula, by Bram Stoker

One of the interesting aspects of Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula (1897) is its narration. The story is told through letters, journal entries, newspaper accounts, memos, and so on. The effect is of a first-person narration by a number of narrators, some of whom don’t survive the story. Another interesting element is the fascination with late 19th century technology: dictaphones, phonographs, typewriters, trains, boats (transportation in general), science, medicine. Countervailing against the modern, of course, is the novel’s fascination with the irrational—with demons, magic, superstition, vampires, the undead. What most surprised me about the book, which I have long avoided, was how melodramatically entertaining it is.

Stoker is continually telegraphing his readers about events soon to occur. His technique isn’t especially refined or sophisticated, but he gets the story told. Early in the book, when it’s clear that Lucy is being preyed on late at night by the evil Count, Professor Von Helstrom warns his associates that they must never leave her side. Someone must always be in the room to protect her. Yet whoever it is that happens to be there protecting her always finds a way of leaving, if only for a few minutes, during which time the Count gets his dinner.

Dracula is especially delicate about women, yet women are almost always Count Dracula’s victims, and an exorbitant Victorian eroticism infects the story surrounding Dracula and his female victims. Also evident, but not overly apparent (both Lucy and Mina Harker are Stoker’s versions of the saintly Eva in Uncle Tom’s Cabin) is the xenophobia. Count Dracula comes from eastern Europe, Transylvania, and before that from Turkey. Fears of the East, of darker-skinned races, of Jews in particular, are often apparent. Dracula is an early reaction against globalism.

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