Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ was neither the first novel on Vampires nor the most particularly well written one. What it has over every other vampire book before and after it was supreme staying power and influence. Scholars have theorized that this staying power owes in large measure to Stoker’s ability to capture a range of Victorian fears that are still relatable to us to this day in the work.
A Thrilling Tale
Stoker is a master of the horror genre and excels at creating suspense and maintaining thrill. The narrative technique of making use of diaries, journals, news reports, and other methods of information storage and sharing lends a realistic and believable air to the story. We are not hearing all this fantastic tale from the unreliable narration of just one character, but a piecing together of a coherent narrative from several characters. We never get the perspective of Dracula himself and we are often in the dark about his motives and actions.
This lends a degree of mysteriousness that tempers our optimism about the possible success of the crew of light. The fact that the crew members were often racing against the clock— such as Harker being desperate to escape before the day he was to be killed, and the crew hurrying to destroy the temporarily incapacitated Dracula before sunset when he would become more powerful, provides the novel with the relevant tension and urgency to hold readers spellbound.
Stoker’s characterization in ‘Dracula’ is most fitting. Jonathan Harker’s naivete, Lucy’s innocence, and Dr John Seward’s total faith in Science at the expense of the spiritual are factors that incapacitate the protagonist’s effort against Dracula’s menace. Dr Van Helsing’s vast knowledge of both modern science and spirituality is the only saving grace for the crew. At this point, it is clear that the characters are being used by Stoker to represent his anxiety over the increasing primacy of science over religion.
Count Dracula works as a perfect villain because of his immense power, but his limitations are incapacitating enough that his destruction does not seem unrealistic. Dracula’s seeming invincibility at the early stages of the novel was only a result of the knowledge handicap the protagonists had. When they were able to learn all they could about the Vampire, it becomes a much even matchup. This is better than some other villains who display no obvious physical weakness and are only conveniently killed because of some uncharacteristic behaviors on their part. Here the only thing we can fault Dracula with is his inability to operate stealthily without detection, that is, to hide his vampirism totally from society so no one would know who he is.
The characters undergo little change throughout the movie and in some respects, they appear like cardboard cuts and repetitions. The protagonists are all imbued with similar characteristics; strength, bravery, sharpness of mind, noble constitutions, innocence, and the likes. Mina and Lucy are basically the same characters in a lot of ways— both innocent and to differing extents, naive. It is only vampirism that brings about any sort of change in the characters. Harker’s gentlemanliness gives way to the expression of pure lust and passion as the female vampires assailed him inside Dracula’s castle, while Lucy becomes a seductress upon her transformation into a Vampire.
A Book that Speaks for an Age
Stoker’s ‘Dracula‘ has such incredible staying power partly because of the manner in which it captures the anxieties of the age, and how such anxieties continue to speak for humans even to this day. ‘Dracula‘ is a cautionary tale about the threats of sexual corruption in Victorian society. Harker’s uncharacteristic lust and Lucy’s sexual expressions upon being a vampire seem to highlight the unnaturalness of sexual expression. Prudishness is captured as normal, while sexual expression is abnormal.
The book also covers Victorian anxieties over the ascendancy of technology over religion, the threats of invasion from Eastern Europe, and the racist fears over contamination of the British gene pool by strange and inferior groups around the fringes of the British empire, among others. These anxieties are relatable to us too given the influence of conservative Christianity in our present day.
Dracula ends on a remarkable note. The whole of England is oblivious to the crew of Light’s struggle with Dracula. The protagonist is not greeted with a hero’s welcome as the savior of Britain from a horrible monster. They realize that the only evidence for their story lay in what they have put down and they admit the possibility of not being believed. This is a break from the convention of having the protagonists of stories being duly acknowledged and appreciated by a grateful society. Only the protagonists know what they have done, and this adds a powerful and moving element to the story.
Adherence to the Zeitgeist
Dracula Review: A Book For The Ages
Dracula is a classic of the Gothic Horror genre, particularly the type with scary monsters. It follows a centuries-old vampire’s attempts to invade England and the efforts of a group of courageous individuals to stop him against all odds. The book captures latent Victorian anxieties and norms of the age while providing a frantic and highly tensed plot that has been reprised over and over again in various film adaptations.
- A well written horror book
- Has gigantic influence over vampire literature and film
- Captures perfectly the anxieties of its time
- created memorable characters like Count Dracula and Abraham Van Helsing
- Stiff characters that do not develop much
- Locks women in constricting gender roles and denies their sexuality
- Not that great stylistically