Dracula, by Bram Stoker, is a gothic horror novel from 1897, told in epistolary format—that is, as a series of journals, telegrams, letters, and newspaper clippings, etc. It’s the tale of those cursed to have a vampire come after them. It starts with the journal of Jonathan Harker, sent by his employer to the wilds of Eastern Europe to help Count Dracula with legal matters in purchasing property in London, England. Things go spectacularly wrong from there.
(Watch Overly Sarcastic Productions’s summary and commentary on Dracula, it’s great.)
1—Coincidence Upon Coincidence
The first coincidence is that Dracula’s ship crashes into the beach of the town where Jonathan’s fiancé Mina is staying, along with her friend Lucy. The next coincidence is that all Lucy’s would-be fiancés are friends. The chosen fiancé Arthur Holmwood asks Dr. John Seward (I know, Jonathan and John, but it’s not too hard to keep them separate) to look in on a sick Lucy. Seward, not being a medical doctor himself, calls on his old mentor. Seward just happens to have been the favorite student of doctor and metaphysisist Professor Abraham van Helsing, who just so happens to have the knowledge of—and an open enough mind to believe in—vampires. And the initial property Dracula bought, the dilapidated Carfax Abbey, just happens to be behind the sanitarium Seward runs. Also, Seward just happens to take a special interest in a zoophagous patient, Renfield, who just happens to have a connection to Dracula. And all this in the first third of the book.
This book is a slow burn, most of the horror coming from the suspense of it all. But also from the idea that if you turn into a vampire, your soul is damned and you can’t be with God until the vampire-version of you is destroyed, and then you can rest in peace. If you don’t buy into the spiritual side of the horror, though, a lot of it just isn’t there. There’s still plenty to be scared of, not least of which is the idea that transformation into a vampire comes with a total personality transplant and subservience to the one who made you a vampire, but that isn’t played up as much as it could be.
Other than the male heroes trying to protect Mina by not telling her anything on multiple occasions (despite her being by far the smartest of the bunch), the sexism isn’t that bad, considering the time this was written in. There are various references throughout that seem unlikely for a woman of any time to actually be thinking, the goodness of men and so forth, and equally the men go on at length about the purity of the women—and incidentally, the horror of Lucy’s transformation into a vampire seems less about her feeding on the blood of children and more about the “pure girl” turning “wanton”. There’s the description of Mina, by Van Helsing, as having the brain of a man and the heart of a woman.
There’s also some classism and racism, but again, not to bad considering the time the book was written in.
4—Written Out Accents
Oh dear, the accents. There’s Quincy Morris, Lucy’s third suitor, the Texan, and oh my god, is his accent atrocious. It’s usually not so bad, since he’s laconic and rarely speaks at length, but when he does… There’s also Van Helsing’s mangling of the English language, supposedly because he’s Dutch, which is worse because he talks a lot—and I do mean, a lot—and sometimes it’s hard to understand him. There’s also a few side characters whose various English dialects are written phonetically, and those can be hard to puzzle out too. But over all the book was readable, if florid.
The first two chapters were a bit of a slog, but worth getting through. Despite some now-known-to-be-iffy science, and some weird psychological ideas, the book stands up pretty well. It should be available for free on Project Gutenberg, and is still in print, if you want to check it out.