“Dracula” by Bram Stoker

john_william_waterhouse_1_boreas“Welcome to my house. Come freely. Go safely; and leave something of the happiness you bring.”

The novel opens with Jonathan Harker’s narrative as he travels through Transylvania to reach the Count’s mansion. The man is very civil yet very cold and strange, and soon Jonathan begins to notice odd things. His narrative makes a perfect opening and is enormously fun to read which makes the ones following it all the less so. Next, we are taken into the journals of Lucy Westenra and Mina Murray (to-be Harker), and also Dr. Seward. This is where I found the novel growing dull. Lucy and Mina discuss suitors and all that “womanly” stuff, while Dr. Seward describes the curious condition of his mental patient, Renfield. While the latter part is interesting, the rest of the prose is fluff with random clues sprinkled throughout (which are quite obvious to an educated Reader). The narrative picks up again after Lucy’s death and from then on it is a rather engaging read.

If I ever need to write a feminist critique, Dracula is a choice to go to. Fun fact: Bram Stoker’s mother was a feminist; I wonder at the correlation (or lack of thereof). The theme of female sexuality and its repression in the Victorian era becomes really obvious. The whole novel is full of subliminal messages about the roles of men and women and Christianity. The examples are plenty.

The four men stare at the corpse of Lucy, mesmerized by her beauty and innocence where only moments ago they were disturbed by her voluptuousness as the Un-Dead (a word Stoker used several times in one paragraph to describe the woman’s appearance).

Van Helsing keeps praising Mina for being a good woman, one as all should be. Mina who patiently waited for her husband and nursed him to health, who never faltered once in her dedication to him when she thought he was dead, who is embarrassed to hold hands with him even after matrimony … basically the ideal woman of puritanical Victorian times.

Also, notice how Dracula only bites women. He kills men, but only women are turned into vampires. This is where the whole male-female dynamic plays out. Dracula is basically all that is wild and bestial in a man; he seduces the “pure” women and turns them into creatures of his ilk. It is up to the gentlemanly Christian men to save them, bring them back to their traditional roles of “good” women. Yet, at some point even they cannot resist the transformed female — as we see with Jonathan and the three she-vampires when he yearns to kiss their lush red lips (and be turned into a creature of lust, as well).

So next time a novel sexualises vampires (ahem, Twilight and co.), don’t complain — Stoker did it first.*

*Technically, he wasn’t the first to include sexual elements with vampire Gothic literature, but for the sake of an articulate statement, let me leave it so.

I was perplexed about the rating: a part of me wished a 3, another longed for a 4 (much swayed by the theme rather than the story itself). So perhaps what I want to convey is a 3.5 rating, however for the sake of Goodreads and nice round numbers it is a 4, considering Dracula is extremely influential and iconic.

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2 responses to ““Dracula” by Bram Stoker

  1. I read this when I was young so I wasn’t aware of all these subliminal messages and such. Well, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised – it’s Victorian lit! Anyway, this entry was fascinating, and reminds me somewhat of my research into Victorian prostitution. The Christians (the respectable middle-class) referred to themselves as the living, and referred to prostitutes as the living dead (so, vampires pretty much). Thanks for posting!

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