All right everyone, it’s finally here! The review of Dracula that I was hoping to have done weeks ago for Halloween! I’m not thrilled it took me this long to finish, let alone get around to writing about it. But better late than never, right? I’d like to say that at least there’s a lot for me to talk about here, but unfortunately there isn’t.
The first and only time I’d read Dracula was actually ten years ago around this time of year. I was a senior in high school and recently obsessed with an anime and manga called Hellsing, a stylized action series about a vampire hunter named Alucard, who himself was a vampire working for London’s Hellsing Organization. I became extremely curious about vampire mythology around this time and eventually found myself reading Dracula, which I believe was the first major work of fiction that defined vampires (but don’t quote me on that; there have been legends of vampires far preceding Dracula‘s publication in 1897).
Well my vampire obsession came and went, but for the past couple of years, whenever I’d look through my bookshelf and see Dracula sitting there, I always told myself, “it’s been a while, I don’t remember much about it, I think a revisit should happen soon.” So for Halloween this year, I finally read through it again. So let’s talk about it before I forget the plot once more.
Dracula is told through journal entries and letters from the story’s cast of characters, so there isn’t one particular main character. However, the book starts off focusing on Jonathan Harker, a man visiting Transylvania to do business with Count Dracula, a wealthy man that lives alone deep in the mountains. Count Dracula wants Jonathan to assist him with official documents and legal matters regarding his plans to move to England. At first, Count Dracula makes Jonathan feel welcome in his home, but things start to feel off a few days into his stay.
Jonathan takes note of certain oddities about Dracula, like how he’s never around during the day and how he won’t eat dinner alongside him. As time goes on and Jonathan wishes to finish his business with the Count, Dracula seemingly invents new excuses for him to stay. Eventually Jonathan encounters three vampire women that attack him; Dracula saves Jonathan from them, but when he tells the women that Jonathan is his, Jonathan realizes that he is being held prisoner by whatever sort of creature Dracula is. After several attempts at escape, Jonathan finally finds himself free again and makes his way back home.
Jonathan’s stay at Dracula’s home is probably the most interesting part of the book. The growing tension between Jonathan and Dracula makes for a very interesting read, and the increasing number of hints regarding what Dracula really is is extremely interesting, especially if you’re familiar with vampires and are discovering for the first time that a lot of their traits famously known today originate from this book (well, in the way that the first major work of fiction regarding vampires is this book). Unfortunately, the rest of the book isn’t nearly as interesting, and a large part of that is because Dracula himself takes a back seat to the other characters.
Jonathan’s journal entries turn into notes meant for his fiancee, Mina. After Jonathan escapes, the plot focuses on letters sent between Mina and her best friend Lucy. Lucy is excited because she’s meeting suitors and Mina is trying to stay happy for her friend despite worrying about Jonathan, whom she hasn’t heard from in some time. Her suitors become involved with the plot as well; two of them are Arthur and Quincey, both of which are so interchangeable and honestly unneeded that I’m not going to address them for the rest of this post, and the third is Dr. Seward, head of a psychiatric hospital.
Dr. Seward plays a larger role in the plot than I initially thought he would. His entry into the plot begins with notes regarding one of his patients, Renfield. Renfield begins exhibiting odd behavior like collecting and eating flies and spiders in order to gain their life force. I’m sure you can guess where this is going, but he also starts to tend to Lucy, who has fallen extremely ill and no one can figure out why, as she appears to be quite healthy.
Dr. Seward calls on his mentor and friend, Abraham van Helsing. He’s secretive and passionate, and really adds a theatrical flare to things. After what honestly feels like too much time, he reveals that Lucy is exhibiting symptoms of being turned into a vampire. Lucy eventually dies and is buried in a tomb, but when van Helsing and Dr. Seward sneak into it one night, they discover there’s no body.
van Helsing fills our merry cast of heroes in on the situation, including Jonathan, who has finally returned home and married Mina. They plan to sneak into the tomb when Lucy is resting in her grave (vampires must return to their burial place or someplace that has the earth of their burial place in order to rest after feeding) and decapitate her, then drive a stake through her chest, as these are the only two ways to guarantee a vampire’s destruction. Obviously, it’s a heartbreaking task for Lucy’s three suitors and van Helsing, who had grown attached to Lucy as well, but it’s done and we move on.
van Helsing, Dr. Seward, Jonathan, and Mina study each other’s journal entries over recent events and begin a search for Dracula to prevent any more losses. They eventually discover he’s had boxes of earth from his home shipped around England, and with some crafty investigating they begin destroying them. Dracula eventually shows up in the story again and promises they won’t succeed in stopping him. Then he… leaves. Can’t exactly remember why, although I do remember van Helsing saying that he’s scared and running back home to rethink his plans. The group chases him back to Transylvania and finds a group of gypsies carrying back home. They ambush the box and destroy the vampire.
And that’s kind of it. There’s a small epilogue saying that Jonathan and Mina are living happily with children, and some smaller plot arcs scattered throughout the story, but overall that’s Dracula. It’s a pretty basic story, but unfortunately it’s long. It’s 400 pages, a little longer than your average novel, but the real problem regarding length is the massive amount of text dumps. There are exclusively large paragraphs in Dracula without any dialogue exchanges to break things up. Well… okay, there is a lot of dialogue here, but it’s not the usual “character a says this,” line break, “character b says that,” etc. Dialogue itself can take up an entire paragraph before someone else responds, followed by yet another paragraph of dialogue.
In other words, dialogue between two characters feels more like monologuing at each other.
I mean, Dracula is often pretty poetic in both narration and the interactions between characters, but it very much feels like an old novel with language that’s unnecessary. I feel like Bram Stoker’s involvement in theater shows itself here, as a lot of the language and characters feel like they belong more on stage rather than in a novel. And I guess in the end it’s up to each reader and their tastes to decide on how those factors contribute to an entertaining read. But personally, while I like Dracula, it took a long time for me to even want to finish it. This is one of those books that are better read during longer reading sessions when you can get into the flow of an outdated literary era. Trying to pick it up for 10 or 20 minute reading bursts just makes me feel like I didn’t really experience anything new in the plot.
Could I recommend reading it even with its faults? Yeah. I could. You may not want to reread it, but I think it’s an experience worth having. There’s a lot of interesting history about vampires and as I mentioned earlier, it’s very satisfying to read little traits like how vampires don’t have reflections or how they can transform into animals in what’s considered to be the book that defined vampires.There’s also a lot of literary analysis that makes for interesting reads as well, if you’re into that sort of thing. Like I said though, it’s a long read. If you had to read any of it, I would recommend the first quarter or so when Jonathan is being held prisoner by Dracula, as I think that part has the most to get out of in this book.
Sorry again for the long wait for the review. Hopefully it won’t be as long for whatever I look at next! Thanks for reading and I hope you’re having a great week! 🙂
Info for my edition of Dracula:
Published 2004 by Barnes & Noble
Paperback, 417 pages