Sunday, October 30, 2011

Dracula: Review,commentary (Sitting Up With the Undead)

To enter the world of Dracula as born in the pages of Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel is sleep walk into a night world of mysteries. Every good vampire story, and no less, its Undead Lord, unveils itself in a unhurried tease of facts. I attempted to take myself back to the readership which did not know what was coming next, nor the nature of the menace itself. Only Van Helsing suspects and researches the truth of what they face, and in an age of Victorian reliance on science and common sense, he holds this close to the vest as long as possible, lest none believe him.

I realize most of us followed the introduction of the character through his famous movie incarnations, not to mention the proliferation of his and other vampire imagery throughout popular culture. Vampires were long part of folklore, in Japan, India, and the Balkan states from which Stoker drew his gypsies, his Transylvania.

Thanks to Stoker, and most of all Legosi, Hammer Films and all that followed, they are part of our own. The dynamics of the romance and the picture of the times have shifted shape, through the modern prism of Twilight, and Anne Rice’s books in the decade before.


To write about this novel could be a paper, or book in itself. The piety of the heroes is played up in contrast to the blasphemous nature of Dracula. I suspect Stoker may have gone the extra mile in establishing their moral goodness and Christianity for both his own tastes and to deflect criticism from the grisly narrative and celebration of sorts of unholy powers. The loving friendships between the characters, as conveyed in the letters and diaries that make up the novel, give it a coherence and humanity that makes for a rather rich, humanistic work. The structure and pace stand up well, of their own literary merits. The eloquence of our loquacious protagonists, all of whom sound groomed by finishing schools, may create language that is a challenge for some modern readers, but without fail, it carries a worthy poetic sense.

I suppose the point that would be examined by many modern critics would be the period piece depiction of the genders. I do believe, in providing a chance for the female victim to avenge herself in concerted efforts with the gentlemen, Stoker thought of his Mina Murray character as relatively progressive and well-rounded. More, on this, can be said.

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Let me take one of many fine instances that build the picture of Victorian sexuality and social norms, below. This is from Johnathon Harker's journal, after he finds himself an increasingly reluctant guest of Castle Dracula:

“The fair girl went on her knees and bent over me, fairly gloating. There was a deliberate voluptuousness which was both thrilling and repulsive, and as she arched her neck, she actually licked her lips like an animal, till I could see in the moonlight the moisture shining on the scarlet lips and on the red tongue as it lapped the white, sharp, teeth” (Stoker 50).

Amanda Podonsky writes: "This particular passage describes the mixed feelings men had towards forward women; temptation made the “unnatural” occurrence of female sexual advances desirable (as it was the “forbidden fruit”), yet from a God-believing gentleman’s standpoint, it was purely evil and almost animalistic. Alluding to the fact that, again, a man’s sexual attraction was not entirely his own fault or “responsibility” (per say), this passage also insinuates that women can only be seductively appealing when deliberately tempting a man to “take the forbidden fruit” himself; another reference to evil’s association with a woman’s sexuality.

Even if a woman tempted a man and he took the bate (sic), it would still be considered the woman’s fault for defying the set social expectations for proper ladies, as the men could not easily control what was natural to them. Expectations and standards concerning ladylike behavior were very confining and limited the expression of many natural emotions and freedoms."

The language between characters-- depicting their regard for one another-- builds a deep concern in the sensitive reader. The metaphors and analogies in which the speakers engage lend a beautiful glimpse of a pinnacle in human conversation in Victorian times. Compound sentences build intense moments by their sheer inundation of detail.

The bond between the characters, and the opportunity to bring smoldering human passions to the fore, afforded by the magical plot, is conveyed fully through the epistles and memoirs of the characters themselves. It's gone near the top of my favorite books, without so much as a beloved, insightful instructor in sight, rewarding faith in one's own intelligence and painting a countryside world in transporting descriptions.

Three essays follow.

3 comments:

  1. Bram Stoker's DRACULA is one of my favorite novels. Stoker's prose is beautiful and so descriptive in such a way that I still have never seen anything on film able to evoke the imagery as he presented it. People who only know Dracula from films and comics are missing out.

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  2. So imagine, Professor Challenger: I read Dracula and The Lost World, back to back. Imagine!

    Now, think: Dracula and the Lost World. One concept.

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  3. I agree this novel is the non pareil mode of experiencing Dracula, Keith; well said. The language between characters, depicting their regard for one another builds a deep concern in the sensitive reader. The metaphors and analogies in which the speakers engage lend a beautiful glimpse of a pinnacle in human conversation in Victorian times. The bond between the characters, and the opportunity to bring smoldering human passions to the fore, afforded by the magical plot, is conveyed fully through the epistles and memoirs of the characters themselves. It's gone near the top of my favorite books, without so much as a beloved, insightful instructor in sight, rewarding faith in one's own intelligence and painting a countryside world in transporting descriptions.

    ReplyDelete