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July Books 18) Dracula, by Bram Stoker

A very enjoyable reread of the fundamental vampire novel, which I guess I read first when I was about 15 and again when I was about 30; I am now 45. It remains a rollicking good story, as our heroes (a lawyer, a lord, a psychiatrist, an American, a weird Dutchman and a beautiful woman) chase to the end of Europe to prevent foreign evil from contaminating the purity of the heart of Empire. You can read all kinds of political agendas into it, and you are probably meant to.

One point in Stoker's favour is that Mina Murray, later Mina Harker, actually has rather an active role despite needing to be rescued (and actually it's her husband who is most in need of rescuing at the end of the first section of the book). She types up all the notes and distributes them; she knows the railway timetables from Varna (pretty damn impressive); her telepathic link with Dracula allows the team to guess where he is; and the men make a mistake, and admit it is a mistake, when they try to keep information from her delicate ears. Of course the other female characters who get turned by Dracula (including Mina's friend Lucy) are much more passive, but I thought Mina's role worth noting.

After an early reference to a Kodak camera startled me, clanwilliam pointed out that the book is all about technology - the camera, the phonograph, the typewriter, the railway trains. But this isn't rationality alone defeating superstition - our heroes also use garlic, crucifixes and consecrated Hosts (this in a book by an Irish Protestant!) alongside the latest tech. It's about the forces of good, with technology and teamwork, using all means at hand to defeat an individualist, primitive evil. (One of the more chilling moments is when they realise that Dracula is strong enough to hump his own coffin about the place; he works best without allies, and consumes his servants.)

Now that I know the Balkans and Eastern Europe to an extent, I was interested to check off the extent to which Stoker used reality for his setting (I believe that he never visited what is now Romania himself). Various people (including Ken MacLeod) have pointed out that all this vampire stuff gives the historically liberal and pluralist lush arable territory of Transylvania a bad name; the more isolated and geographically challenging Bukovina is the more likely location for the castle. I'm also a bit dubious about the eastward spread of the Czechs - I think Stoker meant Hungarians there. But he namechecks several local delicacies which I have eaten myself. I note that Harker takes the western route, tied into normal business practices of Central Europe, when he approaches the castle at the start of the book, whereas the final campaign is waged from the less developed and more obscure south-east.

There are some incongruities. Dracula has a moustache; I can never quite get over that. Also Stoker's ear for accents is not unerring; while I will accept his Cockney, his Whitby yokels seem to me to be under some Irish influence, and Van Helsing does not speak like any native Dutch speaker I have ever met (see my pedantic comment). I also don't quite understand why Dracula first imprisons Harker and then lets him go, except that the plot needed Harker's diary to get back. These are not fatal points.

There is probably more to say about deviance in general, and also Lucy's love life (is her vampirism punishment for having three boyfriends?) But I am out of space. Read it, if you haven't.


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 16th, 2012 09:33 pm (UTC)
On Van Helsing's peculiar English: he says at one point, "he [ie Dracula] have gone back to his castle". A real Dutch speaker would have no problem with "has", since Dutch also has a third-person-singular form "heeft" for the verb "hebben"; but they might be more likely to say "he is gone back to his castle", as in Dutch one uses the verb "zijn"/"to be" for the perfect tense of motion in a specified direction. Van Helsing also has difficulty with forming the imperfect tense in English, which is interesting as it's one of the strongest points of similarity between English and Dutch.

Maybe he is not meant to be Dutch at all? What should we read into the fact that he has the same first name, Abraham, as his creator?
Jul. 17th, 2012 09:50 am (UTC)
I don't think English has an imperfect tense... The simple past in English is quite similar to the Dutch imperfect, but only for regular (weak) verbs, both have lots of irregular verbs and the use is different. Lots of learners have difficulties with the fact that English has six past tenses, not including extras like 'used to' and modals (eg would).
Jul. 17th, 2012 08:51 am (UTC)
I've been meaning to read it ever since I heard Zander's lovely Mina's Song - see here for Playing Rapunzel, but there are several other versions on line too.

Jul. 17th, 2012 10:21 am (UTC)
There's an essay about Dracula in the back of one of John Sutherland's books, and he agrees with clanwilliam, and that technology probably explains why Dracula targeted Britain as his new home. Britain gives him access to more of it than anywhere else in Europe.

A friend of mine specialises in pre-Roman Dalcian archaeology and has taken to growling when we make vampire jokes.

Edit to add: I think the sign that Dracula is good is that I only noticed some of the plot peculiarities after I finished it, not while I was reading it.

Edited at 2012-07-17 10:54 am (UTC)
Jul. 21st, 2012 09:15 pm (UTC)
It is funny how people never think of Dracula as having a moustache, but doesn't he come from one of the many parts of the world where all men have moustaches?

I thought Dracula had imprisoned Harker but then Harker escaped. Why Dracula did not just kill Harker is another question, but villains seldom do that.

When I re-read it a couple of years ago I was struck by how grim some of the horror aspects are. The battle to save Lucy is quite tense, but the most horrible moment for me was the one where they discover that the host burns Mina.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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