Fiction Review: Dracula

Dracula is a novel which has entered western culture so much that even those who have not read it are familiar with many of its essentials. However, it is a novel absolutely worth reading.

Dracula is written as a collection of journal entries, newspaper clippings, letters, etc. The narrative switches from perspective to perspective. It begins with Jonathan Harker, solicitor, narrating the tale of his visit to Count Dracula of Transylvania. The villagers of the area try to warn him against going there, warnings he of course should have heeded. Dracula appears to be an older gentleman, very friendly, who is in the process of acquiring property in London with the intention of moving there. Over the course of the first chapters Harker becomes aware that he has never seen any of Dracula's servants and he only interacts with Dracula at night. He also notices he never sees Dracula eat. And worst, he realizes he is a prisoner of Dracula and contrives a plan to escape.

The narration initially stays with Harker for several chapters. However it soon shifts to England. We meet his fiancee, Mina Murray. Her friend Lucy Westenra. We meet her three suitors: Dr. John Seward, owner of a private insane asylum; Quincey Morris, a Texan; and the noble-born Arthur Holmwood. The three gentlemen are all friends with one another and manage to keep their friendship when Lucy becomes engaged to Arthur. However, Lucy begins falling ill of blood loss (hmm...) and is treated by Dr. Seward who consults his teacher Van Helsing.

All of the protagonists are eventually brought together to defeat Dracula. Though Dracula is a difficult foe, a being who has existed for centuries.

Hopefully I've not given too much away with my brief summation. How does it all work? Very well, in my opinion. There are some moments which remain chilling to this day - for example, at one point Harker is nearly preyed on by three female vampires, in a seen which is one part sexually suggestive and one part terrifying. The protagonists have a definite faith in late Victorian technology - they have their flashlights, their recording devices, their typewriters, etc. which they use in their efforts against Dracula. The powers and weaknesses of Dracula do have some surprises - for example he is able to function during the daylight, though without the ability to make use of the bulk of his supernatural abilities. In many ways Dracula resembles an RPG party being assembled to fight against a common foe.

There are a few things that have aged a bit poorly. A product of the late 19th century, the casual sexism present in the novel can be at times astounding to modern eyes. No one actually says "Well Mina, you're probably the smartest of all of us but you're a woman so we're going to cut you out," but they certainly suggest it. There seems to be some rather extreme coincidences as to the connections between the protagonists and antagonists. Dracula's motivations for relocating to England are unclear.

Many of the items I list as to having aged poorly have provided great fodder for modern writers. For example, Mina becomes a protagonist in Alan Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and is one of the most competent characters in that series, Also, it seems possible that Dracula may have survived his final battle with the protagonists.

Despite some parts of Dracula having aged poorly, overall it is one of my favorite novels, one I go back to from time to time to enjoy.


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