Friday, October 28, 2011

Dracula by Bram Stoker

I've read Dracula many times, but not recently. I picked it up this week to reread.

I'd forgotten what a remarkable book it is. It's an epistolary novel, told mostly by entries into various characters' diaries, and by letters between the characters. I watched the 1931 film version last night with Bela Lugosi, which was a lot of fun but no closer to the story than any other film version I've seen; so if you haven't actually read the book, you don't really know the plot.

Solicitor Jonathan Harker travels to Transylvania to finalize the sale of a London residence to Count Dracula. Dracula is creepy as hell, incidentally. He keeps Jonathan a prisoner once the papers are signed and sent back to England, but Jonathan escapes--but not before Dracula has left for England along with fifty boxes of graveyard earth. Meanwhile, Jonathan's fiancee Mina goes to visit her friend Lucy in Whitby, where a ship runs ashore in a storm--a ship with no one left alive except a large dog, which flees in the night and is never seen again. Lucy begins to sleepwalk at night, to Mina's distress, and to lose health and vitality, growing paler and paler. Also, Renfield the madman who eats flies; Van Helsing the Dutch doctor who is first to accept what's going on; and a cast of millions, including wolves, bats, and rats.

The first part of the book is my favorite, where the characters are still figuring out what Dracula is and how much danger they're in from him. The characters talk way too much, as was the style of writing in those days, until I get impatient and start to skim. But the plot is fascinating and creepy. I've never been all that fond of the last third of the book, which is basically a slow-motion chase, but the ending is satisfying.

I own two editions of Dracula, the nice hardback illustrated by Edward Gorey that my mother gave me, and a battered Wordsworth Classics edition published in 1993, which is the one I actually read (it's lighter and I don't care if it gets torn up). The text is in the public domain, so you can find copies everywhere.


Kelly Robinson said...

I don't think I've ever seen a film version of Dracula that really evoked the novel, but I was in a stage version that I think did. The author/director actually kept the epistolary vibe through monologues, etc. In one scene in particular, Van Helsing is reading Lucy's diary after her death, and Lucy gradually moves to the stage to speak the lines in her own voice. The words were extra-creepy after her death. Beautiful.

K.C. Shaw said...

Oh, I wish I'd seen that! That sounds like a wonderful way to handle it.