Given the many references and adaptations in popular culture – of vampires and the occult, of Professor Abraham Van Helsing, and of Count Dracula himself – I should have started on Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” much earlier. The novel revolves around Count Dracula, the title character and the main antagonist, and since the book’s publication in 1897 the character, as the Western archetype of the vampire, has appeared in films, theatre productions, and even video games. The main protagonist of “Dracula”, Van Helsing, has likewise featured in different media as a vampire hunter, while the Romanian region of Transylvania is often the setting of film adaptations involving vampires or the undead.
There are three distinct segments to the novel, which is told in an epistolary format, through a series of documents from the perspectives of the characters, primarily: diary entries, letters, and newspaper articles. The first segment is Jonathan Harker’s visit to Count Dracula in Transylvania, the second details the attack on Lucy Westenra as well as the introduction of Van Helsing, and the third involves Mina Murray and the plot against Dracula. The plot moves chronologically with few overlaps, and the first-person narratives not only add intimacy in the expression of thoughts and actions, but also allow distinct voices of the characters to be articulated. In this vein, I am reminded of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”, which used letters as framing devices and also involved a well-known Gothic monster.
What I also enjoyed was that Dracula and his characteristics were described progressively by the other characters, so the reader gets to know the vampire bit by bit, instead of a lengthy biographical exposition packed within the novel. Details such as Dracula’s aversion to mirrors and his non-reflection in mirrors, “two little red points like pin-pricks” or “small punctured wounds” on the neck of Westenra, the effects of garlic and garlic flowers, weakness in sunlight, and repulsion towards religious items such as crucifixes and sacramental bread. A reader acquainted with popular culture would not be unfamiliar with these traits, yet the attention to detail – in particular, the 50 boxes of earth right from the get-go, and throughout the novel – makes for an even more engaging read.
Van Helsing provides the only extended description of Dracula – with a brief backstory – as the group first gathers to form a plan of action against the vampire. Be that as it may, I thought three features were absent, the inclusion of which would have made a good novel even better. The first is a backstory of Van Helsing, and how he came to possess the knowledge or the skills to guide the group. The second is a more well-paced conclusion, because while the first two segments contained the right amount of tension, climax, and resolution, the conclusion to the novel was very rushed, and left me wanting more. And finally the character of Renfield, given the attention paid to his behaviour and the time Dr. John Seward spent on him, could have played a more prominent role at the end too.