Dover Book

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    This is one of those books, as is Frankenstein, that is so well known, few people really know what it's about. I know that sounds like something Yogi Berra might have said, but it's true! It has been adapted to numerous films, TV, plays, musicals, other novels, comedies—you name it. Wikipedia has a very long list. Unfortunately, Stoker's original story has been lost in the shuffle, and it is a good story, indeed; out of his seventeen novels, it is considered his best.
    I read this book a while back, but I wanted to read it again to write the review. I couldn't believe how much I had forgotten, and how much better I understood it this time around. Here is a synopsis of the story, followed by my own comments concerning misconceptions and associated trivia,
    The book begins as Jonathan Harker travels to Transylvania, Romania on business as an attorney to the castle of Count Dracula, concerning some transactions made by his boss and friend Peter Hawkins, who is in too poor health to travel. The transaction being the purchase of an old house in London. The entire book is written in epistolary form—as journals, letters, diaries. One wonders why Stoker chose this mode, but it works quite well. Here, we read Harker's journal as he embarks on what becomes a terrifying adventure.
    The local peasants try to warn him not to go there, but he thinks it is just superstition. Still, he accepts a rosary given to him by a caring woman. Dracula's carriage meets him in the mountains, as planned, but what he doesn't realize is that it is Dracula himself driving it. He also gets his first shock when he notices how the wolves obey the carriage driver. When he arrives at the castle, his host is gracious, but certain points are noted over the first few days: Dracula never eats in his presence, he is never around during the day, and there is no sign of any servants. But there are other things more scary—Dracula doesn't cast a shadow, cannot be seen in a mirror, and has sharp, pointed canines (not to mention reeking breath). Though Dracula's treatment of Harker is courteous, he slowly realizes he is being held prisoner. Gradually the horror unfolds, and when Harker sees Dracula one night climbing down a wall head first, he knows he's in the presence of an evil and threatening danger. And he meets the three vampire sisters who do Dracula's bidding (though the word vampire is not actually used until much later in the book).
    Meanwhile, Dracula has carefully made all his arrangements to move to England, including the shipping of fifty boxes of earth. He forces Jonathan to write several letters to home, saying he is soon to return, then one saying he is returning, and a third that he's left. Dracula then leaves. We really don't know how Harker escapes.
    Jump now back to England, where Harker's fiancée, Mina, worries and awaits his return. She corresponds with her closest friend, Lucy Westenra, who has just become engaged to Arthur Holmwood (Lord Godalming), but has two other suitors, and they all propose on the same day. One is Quincey Morris, an American from Texas, and the other is Dr. John Seward, who owns an insane asylum. He has a very strange case, a man named Renfield who eats flies. He also collects flies to feed to the spiders, then eats the spiders, then attracts birds by feeding them the spiders, but he ends up eating the birds, too. We later learn he has a spiritual philosophy in this behavior.

"The fly, my dear sir, has one striking feature; its wings are typical of the aerial powers of the psychic faculties. The ancients did well when they typified the soul as a butterfly!"

    This was part of a conversation with Dr. Seward when Renfield was in a philosophical mood. His penchant for consuming life of course, hooks him up with Dracula, whom he calls Master, and who eventually kills him, not with a bite but with violence.
    Mina goes to Whitby to stay with Lucy and her mother, and while there, they observe a mysterious scene—a derelict ship of Russian origin, the Demeter, straggles into the bay in the midst of a violent and unexpected storm. A huge dog is seen bounding off onto land, but everyone else on board is dead. The ship contains fifty boxes of earth. The dog cannot be found, but other dogs are later found torn apart.
    Lucy has a problem with sleepwalking, and Mina, who is sleeping in her room, is usually able to keep her from straying too far. But one night, Mina finds her in the churchyard where they have spent much time together. She is in the presence of something with a white face and red eyes. Mina calls to her, and the figure disappears. She helps Lucy home. This occurs on August 11, at 3 a.m.. On the 19th, Mina finally gets a letter from a Catholic hospital in Buda-Pesth that Jonathan is there and very ill. She takes off to be with him, and they marry right there.
    Lucy and her mother return to London, which is where Dracula's house is. Her "condition" worsens, and Dr. Seward tries to help, but is befuddled as to her disease. She is losing so much blood, and the pricks on her neck are noticeable. The doctor requests help from his old friend and teacher, Professor Van Helsing. He becomes a main character, as it is he who "knows" what is going on, though he doesn't come out and speak of the true nature of Lucy's ailment, at least not yet. Meanwhile, Lucy's mother learns she is dying of heart disease. In spite of all the efforts of the four men: Van Helsing, Dr. Seward, Arthur, and Quincey, Dracula still gets to Lucy and she dies, and so does her mother, at the same time. It is now that Van Helsing confides to Dr. Seward what has really happened to Lucy, especially since soon after her death, little children are attacked over night and found with marks on their necks. The four of them go to Lucy's tomb, and Arthur drives a stake through her heart and they also cut off her head. She is now free and at peace.
    Mina and her husband, who is still recovering return home. Peter Hawkins soon dies, and leaves everything to them. Mina doesn't know about Lucy yet. She eventually meets with Van Helsing, and shows him all her husband's journals of his visit to Dracula's castle. Jonathan is finally at peace, because now he knows it was not illness or his imagination. The two of them join the others in tracking this monster, and they no longer play games with words. They know he is a vampire, and they know what they must do.
    Mina truly becomes the real hero: she has brains and secretarial and organizational skills, and it is she who compiles all the data from the notes and journals of them all. Dracula gets to her, but, unlike Lucy, she knows she has been bitten and doesn't hide it. In spite of her weakening condition, she works as hard as the rest, because she has the most at stake.
    Stoker masterfully unrolls this famous story of horror, which keeps one on edge until the very end. What I found interesting, and what I didn't know is that Dracula's condition wasn't the result of a curse, or any such thing. I look back on my admiration of Barnabus Collins, from the 60s TV show Dark Shadows. He was a good person suffering the effects of a bad witch. Dracula created himself, and it was his goal to create a whole population of the Un-Dead, to which he would be master, making him all the more evil.
    As in Frankenstein, Dracula was extremely intelligent, learned, and cunning. He spent centuries developing his skills and strength. By this time, he is nearly indestructible.
    The Dutch professor Van Helsing describes him thus:

This vampire which is amongst us is of himself so strong in person as twenty men; he is of cunning more than mortal, for his cunning be the growth of ages; he have still the aids of necromancy, which is, as his etymology imply, the divination by the dead, and all the dead that he can come nigh to are for him at command; he is brute, and more than brute; he is devil in callous, and the heart of him is not; he can within limitations, appear at will when, and where, and in any of the form that are to him; he can, within his range, direct the elements; the storm, the fog, the thunder; he can command all the meaner things: the rat, and the owl, and the bat—the moth, and the fox, and the wolf; he can grow and become small; he can at times vanish and come unknown.

    He also, of course, could control minds, command his subjects, and read their minds to extract information. Van Helsing discovers, however, that he can hypnotize Mina to gain information of Dracula's whereabouts, which proves essential toward the end.
    He spoke many languages. "He dared even to attend the Scholomance, and there was no branch of knowledge of his time that he did not essay."
    He was also known as a ruthless soldier. And a little research turned up some interesting facts. Dracula was real! His name was Vlad Dracula, Vlad III Prince of Wallachia, also known as Vlad the Impaler. Though he was a folk hero in Romania, he is remembered for his excessive cruelty, hence the nickname. He lived from 1431 to 1476 or 77. His picture is at the bottom of the page, courtesy of Wikipedia.
    One last point, and this concerns Stoker himself. He spent twenty–seven years of his life as the manager, advisor, and travel companion to the actor Henry Irving. Irving impressed Stoker, but his loyalty wasn't rewarded. Upon Irving's death, Stoker was left nearly penniless, and had a severe stroke in 1905, from which he never completely recovered. Strangely enough, in 1908, he wrote a series or articles published in Nineteenth Century magazine, advocating censorship of eroticism in literature! Oh my!! Dracula is one of the most erotic Victorian novels I have ever read.

Vlad III Dracula

Vlad III Dracula

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