Tuesday 23 January 2018

Books: Cheat read... Dracula

Dracula by Bram Stoker, Written early 1890s London, Gothic horror

Bram Stoker's Dracula.
Bram Stoker's Dracula.

Hilary A White

The rundown Solicitor Jonathan Harker travels to Transylvania to finalise a property deal with Count Dracula. While a guest in the Count's rambling castle, weirdness ensues. Not only does his host have no reflection, he sleeps in a coffin by day and despises crucifixes. Before you can say "fangs for nothing", Harker is fending off three female vampires and being held prisoner.

Dracula travels by ship to London and duly starts to run amok. Harker's fiancée Mina watches as illness overcomes her pal Lucy, leaving doctors baffled and causing her to waste away and behave erratically. Treatment is provided by Dr Van Helsing, who comes to the conclusion Lucy has been infected by a vampire. Jonathan, meanwhile, escapes and is nursed back to health by Mina. Along with three suitors who loved the now-dead Lucy, Mina, Jonathan and Van Helsing set out to destroy Dracula.

Free of an omnipotent, verifiable narrator, the story is told only through diaries, letters and even newspaper reports, which brings a shape-shifting uncertainty to the macabre events.

Need to know: Nowhere else in literature has a character spawned such a huge amount of film adaptations (200+), spin-off novels (1000+) and an entire subculture all their own.

Although Dubliner Bram Stoker didn't invent the monster - John Polidori's The Vampyre (1819) and fellow Dub (and one-time boss) Sheridan Le Fanu's Carmilla (1872) came earlier - he ended up crafting the most iconic literary villain in history and making the vampire myth eternally ubiquitous in every generation since.

Much fed into the creation of Stoker's timeless bloodsucker; his childhood visits to cholera-ravaged Sligo; Irish mythology; the symbolic idolatry of Parnell's coffin; the great Shakespearean actor Sir Henry Irving, with whom Stoker worked closely during his time managing London's Lyceum Theatre; the killing of God by Freud, Nietzsche and Darwin. By meshing death, sex and gender politics together, Stoker also ensured literary-minded psychoanalysts would forever be kept busy.

The end: Infected by a series of Dracula's nocturnal nips, Mina becomes supernaturally connected to the powers of the Count. Under increasing pressure from our heroes, the Count flees London for his home in Transylvania. Mina, Van Helsing and the rest of the team give chase across the continent resulting in a showdown that sees the weakened Dracula lose his head altogether.

The Verdict: A review at the time read: "Persons of small courage and weak nerves should confine their reading of these gruesome pages strictly to the hours between dawn and sunset." Viewed nowadays, it is a conceptual, atmospheric and stylistic milestone but prone to overcooked tracts of flowery, genuflecting dialogue.

Did you know? The 1922 film Nosferatu was an unauthorised adaptation of Dracula and courts ruled for every copy of the movie in Europe to be destroyed. Amazingly, one print survived and made it to the US where a copyright error put Dracula in the public domain. FW Murnau's film was saved.

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