Of all the vampire stories in existence, the most famous is definitely that of Dracula. Even though the character has been included in many different retellings, it is at the hands of Bram Stoker that its most famous version comes to life. So how could we not take a look at this novel that has cemented itself as a must-read of vampire literature?
Dracula – Plot
Jonathan Harker is invited to Bran Castle to finalise the sale of an estate in the heart of London. The Count immediately comes across as a mysterious figure with a certain charm. And he certainly isn’t inexperienced either. Weird occurrences start happening at Bran Castle that will disrupt poor Jonathan’s dreams and his very soul. And in just the same manner, all the way over in London, weird occurrences seem to herald Dracula’s arrival.
We have already mentioned that Dracula is possibly the most famous vampire in existence and how many other titles in horror literature owe a lot to its creation. The novel is certainly Stoker’s most well-known work and the one that cemented his career and made his influence, together with Dracula’s character, immortal in the literary tradition.
Rewrites and Correlates
Dracula’s text, over the course of its drafting, was revised and reworked many times by the author who, in some cases, went as far as rewriting entire segments. One example of this is Dracula’s Guest, which was originally written as one of the first chapters of the novel.
As well as the final version of the novel, other editions exist. The Un-Dead is a collection of all the parts that were erased from the final result while Dracula or The Un-Dead is a theatrical play. Both works were compiled by Stoker and actually preceded the release of the novel.
Furthermore, the character of the Count has gained such fame that many other works that include Stoker’s creation now exist. Examples of this are the trilogy The Diaries of the Family Dracul by Kalogridis or the more recent Hunting Prince Dracula by Kerri Maniscalco.
Dracula and other Vampires
The Count was certainly a starting point for many generations of authors who followed Stoker’s footsteps, however, it can’t be said that he also didn’t get some of his inspiration from other authors himself.
Stoker, however, brings into the picture some important innovations to the vampire’s abilities. To mention a few, Dracula is able to mutate his shape and transform into fog or into nocturnal animals (always predators) like wolves and bats. The Count can’t consume human food, can’t cross running water, and can only and exclusively find rest in his homeland (to the point where he’s forced to bring with him 50 cases of its dirt).
He has hypnotic abilities, he can breach into the mind of his victims and subjugate it, and in doing so force them under his will and steal their secrets. He fears holy wafers and crosses, can’t stand garlic. When it comes to daylight, this certainly puts a stop to his abilities but doesn’t kill him, something that will only be added later on in other cinematic versions.
Dracula is definitely one of Stoker’s best works, to the point that his critics refused to recognise him as the true author of it. In reality, as we already explained, the text underwent many revisions and cuts before getting to what we know today, and that might be the exact reason why we now take great care in it.
Any observant reader, however, might notice some small peculiar details. There are a couple of figures in his lineage that the Count describes as two distinct people, while Van Helsing, when talking about the same events, only identifies as one person.
Furthermore, the novel is written in the style of a diary and, in some parts, as letters. This lets the point of view of the events change throughout the narration, together with the linguistic style. The different perceptions and social contexts, together with the levels of education and knowledge, are perfectly handled by Stoker in the lines that each of his characters witnesses and describes.
The style used by Van Helsing, for example, is a clear demonstration of how the language he uses in his sections isn’t his native one, even though he is certainly not inept at it. When it comes to Mina, her way of writing displays a deeper sensibility.
Mina and the women of Stoker
Wilhelmina Murray, later Harker, is the female protagonist of the novel. Wife of Jonathan as well as being a lifeline for him and his moral strength, she’s a woman of great intelligence and her moral character is possibly much stronger and lasting than any of the men in the novel. It’s not an accident that most of the intuitions in the story come exactly from Mina. It’s very likely, and possibly even certain, that without her input, Dracula would have reached his objectives much more easily.
Even though she’s one of his victims, and knows she is, she still resists his enchantment and is only overcome with it to save her husband (a very important clarification).
The Mina in the novel, in addition, displays a remarkable sense of initiative. She transcribes documents, joins Jonathan at the convent, invites Van Helsing in her house, and isn’t shy of presenting her own intuitions even when she risks not being believed. As opposed to Ellen from Nosferatu, a film that owes a lot to Stoker’s work, who also plays an important part, the Mina in the novel is an active participant of the story from the very beginning. And if Ellen accepts her destiny of being a victim to only be saved by others, Mina fights against it until her last breath.
The vampire, sexuality, and violence
The cinematic version (we’re referring to Coppola’s work) offers a much more romantic view of the relationship between Dracula and Mina. But the truth of Stoker’s novel is very different. There is no romance between Mina and the Count. One could even say that the relationship between them is much more similar to rape.
It’s no surprise to us. We have discussed the relationship between vampirism and sexuality many a time on our website. Dracula’s women, and Lucy herself (we’ll talk about her in more depth in another article because it is truly a very extensive subject), are examples of that. As are some of the other works we’ve discussed before. To mention a couple: Carmilla and the Sapphic relationship with Laura, and Stenbock‘s Vardalek.
This relationship only gets deeper and more obvious as time goes on and vampires turn into a kind of forbidden erotic fantasy in modern times. Although there’s a lot more to say about it before it gets to that point. It’s another subject we can’t delve into at this time, lest this review turns into an academic paper.
The Oscar Draghi edition
We’ve almost reached the – very long and winded – end of this review, so I would like to use the last few words to talk about the edition of the book that guided my experience of the novel. The Oscar Draghi edition, which I’d coveted for a very long time, not only contains Stoker’s novel, but it’s made even more refined by a series of additions.
First off, the edition contains an introduction on the origin of the novel and on how Stoker conceived the idea. The novel is introduced by the story we mentioned earlier, Dracula’s Guest, about which we’ve talked in a previous article. The edition also includes an array of explorations on the characters, the settings, and anything related to the story. Last but not least, there is also a section completely devoted to other later stories that owe a lot to Dracula, something we’ll be talking about again in the future.
Finally – and this time I mean it literally – we can’t forget to mention the astounding illustrations and images that enrich the entire work and make it a valuable collection everyone should add to their bookshelf.