Monday, October 5, 2015

Dracula by Bram Stoker

Title: Dracula
Author:  Bram Stoker
Published:  1897
Challenges:  The Classics Club; Reading England; Back to the Classics (19th Century)

If you are looking for an eerie book to read during October, Dracula is a good classic.  I am not much into dark novels, but this one is not like today's standard of diabolical or fiendish. There was only one early passage that made me think that maybe I should not continue reading, but I have forgotten where it is and I did not mark it.  Nonetheless, I did not stop, and actually looked forward to reading the following night.  

The story is told through a series of written works, like journals, diaries, and letters, from numerous characters; hence, the reader gets several different perspectives, which makes for an interesting presentation.  If you know anything about this story of Dracula, by Bram Stoker, it is more than just a few characters hunting down a monstrous vampire creature. The characterization of the vampire and his victims makes the story eerie and engaging, but the ideas that accompany the plot keep the reader thinking deeper.  This is more than about vampires.  

Dracula book cover design via Anne Lambelet Illustration

I wonder if this novel has a lot to do with changes: changes in time periods and places, changes in how the world functions, changes in how women live and think, and changes in how men perceive and treat women.  Without getting into specific details about the plot, there are unique characters who see things differently because they represent changes in opinions, philosophies, religion, and technology.  Ideas are advancing and the world is changing. Going forward with these changes seem to be the only way to defeat this monster.

Also, the men in the story maintain their typical roles as noble protectors while keeping the women, Mina and Lucy, ignorant of truth and information; but it proves to be disastrous.  It is only later when they utilize the knowledge of Mina that it becomes beneficial to their cause.  

Mina and Lucy were representative of contradicting ideas of women.  Lucy completely fell prey to Dracula's efforts.  She was young, desired, tempting, and even a little daring for the times.  Being conquered by Dracula only meant that her traits were exaggerated, and it is the duty of the men who loved her to put an end to her, and save her from herself.  (This kind of women could not be condoned.)

Meanwhile, Mina, a good woman, was loyal, intelligent, and helpful.  The men worked diligently to preserve her and protect her, but they realized that they could not complete their difficult task without her. In the end, it was what saved her, unlike how they saved Lucy.

And there were more concepts and themes to explore, but I will have to reread Dracula again someday.  It took me a month to read it, and most of the time it was late at night and I was falling asleep.
Dracula illustration via Philippe Druillet

Before I end this, I wanted to share this one passage that I remember well, which coincided with a current article I had read.  In Dracula, Mina appealed to her husband (and the others) to sacrifice her if she fully became a vampire.  She pleaded with him,
Think, dear, that there have been times when brave men have killed their wives and their womenkind, to keep them from falling into the hand of the enemy.  Their hands did not falter any the more because those that they loved implored them to slay them.  It is men's duty towards those whom they love, in such times of sore trial!  
That reminded me of the story I had just read about an Indian woman, Anita Rani, who learned the fate of a grandmother and how she had died during the time of Partition in India.  Women and girls were murdered by their husbands/fathers rather than be given to the invading Muslims. Many of the women sacrificed themselves, too.  Rani said,
It's so cruel; I am horrified.  It is the most shocking account of what humans are capable of.  I hate that the world was in such a way that that was the only choice women had - that men would decide their fate.
Obviously, sacrificing wives and daughters was already known to history at the time of Dracula, and Indian Partition did not take place until 1947, long after this publication.  It is a little difficult to wrap a 21st century brain around the idea of asking one's husband to sacrifice you in the event of a vampire transition, or worse yet, being taken by the enemy.  I know one is fictional, but nonetheless, the wretched proposition is shocking.


Anonymous said...

This is a really interesting review! I think you're right that Dracula is very much about change, particularly technological and social change. There's a great contrast between Dracula's Transylvania, which is backwards technologically, and the fierce pace of modernity in England.

Hamlette (Rachel) said...

That first copy you pictures is the same one I have :-) I bought it on choir tour in Canada after my sophomore year of college and read it on the tour bus, sitting next to various friends.

I think you're on to something with the whole theme of change. I feel like Dracula himself represents the danger of forgetting or ignoring the wisdom of the past in a heedless rush toward the future. It's only by embracing and understanding the past that they can dispatch the monster and save Mina, don't you think?

Ruth said...

That's right. I think Stoker really wanted to illustrate the passing of one century into the next century, which was on the eve of the industrial revolution. Wow! What a time to be alive. The only thing is I am trying to understand the whole idea of vampires and how that may fit into the change idea. Vampires do change a lot, but why did Stoker use them in his story. I don't know, yet.

Ruth said...

That sounds interesting b/c I was trying to understand why Stoker used vampires to tell his story. So what you are saying is that the men in the story must understand the past in order to go forward (and in this case, save Mina)? Maybe Dracula is representative of the old, archaic ways, and he is stuck in the past. I think I like that.

Hamlette (Rachel) said...

Yeah, that's pretty much it, I think. It's a double-edged thing, though -- Dracula himself is repulsive and dangerous, and if we get too entranced with the past the way Lucy got entranced by him, we can be in big trouble too. We need understand the past, but not try to dwell in it.

Or something like that. Also, it's a bit of sensationalist Victorian literature, so I think a lot of the vampire aspect is just that gothic novels were really popular. I actually wrote a paper on Dracula for Advanced Composition loooong ago. I should try to dig it up. IIRC, Stoker did a bunch of research into Vlad Dracul (Vlad the Impaler) and got a lot of inspiration for his book from him, but in the end I concluded he didn't mean for his Dracula to actually be Vlad Dracul.

Joseph said...

Yes, I will have to reread this one day as well. It is much more than just a scary story - though it's a masterpiece of that.