(e-book, originally published 1897)
This most famous of vampire novels is an interesting novel told from many different points of view. It’s a tense story, but its moments of terror are never explicitly stated, leaving much unexplained and to the reader’s imagination.
The first part of the book is written in a journal format, by Jonathan Harker, a solicitor from Exeter who is travelling to Transylvania to transact some business for an unnamed Count. The nearer he comes to the Count’s remote castle, the more the local peasantry express their pity for him openly, and request him not to go further in his errand. However, he ignores their vaguely-expressed warnings, and embarks on a rather terrifying trip from the local town to a mountain pass where he is to be collected by the Count’s coach. The strange coachman appears to have a power over wolves, who continually harry the coach on its journey. Once at the castle, Harker is treated hospitably, and finds his host courteous and intelligent, but suspicion grows on him over the next few days as the Count exhibits strange behaviour.
The tension mounts, as Harker becomes a virtual prisoner, and his suspicions of the Count’s activities grow. At last, feeling sure that the Count plans to kill him, he resolves to escape. The journal ends here, and the novel is then told by letters exchanged between friends Mina Murray (fiancee and later wife of Harker) and Lucy Westenra. Lucy’s three suitors are introduced, who will become major characters in the novel: Quincey Morris, an American; John Seward, a doctor in charge of a lunatic asylum; and Hon. Arthur Holmwood, son of Lord Godalming, who is Lucy’s beloved. All three have previously known each other and are friends. This middle part of the story shows the Count’s arrival in England on a ship of dead men, Lucy’s strange wasting, the varying insanity of Renfield, one of Seward’s patients, and Lucy’s eventual apparent death.
The friends succeed in driving the Count from England, with the help of Dr Abraham van Helsing, but travel to Transylvania themselves in order to save Mina’s life and – more importantly – soul.
It’s interesting to see how much Stoker doesn’t explain in his novel, such as Renfield’s behaviour, and why Lucy is the first of the Count’s victims in England, as well as how much isn’t explicitly stated, such as how the Count became a vampire in the first place, how Van Helsing knows how to kill him, and why no-one seems to notice Mina’s symptoms, coming so soon after Lucy’s illness.
It’s a tense novel, rather mysterious in tone, rather than terrifying. Probably because of the time it was written, there’s a tendency on the part of the male characters to treat the women as delicate blossoms who must be protected at all costs, even when it’s obvious that they have courage and strength of mind. The lack of scientific knowledge is also noticeable – Van Helsing arranges blood transfusions for Lucy from four different people, obviously not realising that an incompatible blood match would kill her more surely than being drained of blood by the Count. The book is a little slow-moving in parts, and there are some long passages of dialogue, but this is an exciting novel and one which I enjoyed.
As a final thought, Stoker’s original makes very clear that the real horror of Dracula (and all vampires) is his long life and powers obtained at the expense of his soullessness: when finally killed (by what has become the traditional method, of a stake through the heart and beheading), the vampire is released; redeemed, perhaps. Nor is the Count an attractive personality: although he is intelligent, Harker describes him as physically repulsive. This is very different to many modern vampire novels, which treat the vampire as a glamorous being, beautiful, immortal, blood-lusting, and not the kind of creature who would actually accept real death with relief.