I was struck by a desire to read through some old classic horror stories this summer. These books are iconic, but no one really seems to ever actually read them. Also, Netflix has a fabulous series on "Prophets of Science Fiction" that looks at novels by people like Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Jules Verne, and H.G. Wells, and points out how their fictional ideas are today becoming reality. It was a super cool series. And it began with Mary Shelley, which is perhaps what put me on this classic horror novel kick. I started with The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Then I moved on to re-read Frankenstein, which I'd selected for a book report in grade school but didn't remember anything about except a whole lot of traipsing through the European countryside. Finally, I tackled Dracula.
Husband warned me about Dracula - he'd read it himself, many years ago. "It's a terrible book," he said. "I don't know why you're reading that." I didn't believe him. And indeed, the first section of the book, the bit where Jonathan Harker goes to Dracula's castle in Transylvania, realizes that he's a prisoner, and slowly discovers the truth about his host, was un-put-downable. It was spooky and gripping and incredibly well-paced. The next sections, an almost dizzying array of diary entries, letters, and newspaper articles, reminded me of Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White, since each person only knew part of the puzzle and it was up to the reader to piece the truth together. All too quickly, though, Dracula got annoying. For one thing, Van Helsing was a complete idiot not to tell everybody everything as soon as he realized that Dracula was a vampire and that Lucy was being fed upon by him. For another thing, there was entirely too much telling and re-telling (and re-retelling!) of every little event that happened. It wasn't enough for us to read in someone's diary about a new development; we had to read in someone else's diary about their being told about it, and often more than once. At least half the book was spent planning a grand master plan to destroy Dracula, with precious little book time actually spent doing it. And the final stage, the actual killing of Dracula himself, was hopelessly unexciting (although, to be fair, Stoker was somewhat limited by his reliance upon after-the-fact diary entries instead of in-the-moment narration). All that foreshadowing that Mina could turn to the dark side, and she never did! What a waste of a perfectly good source of last-minute drama. Tragic. And I don't even want to go into the gender relations in this novel, where women are beautiful, beloved by all of the men around them, eternally coddled and protected, and the only ones that Dracula bites. I'm certain entire dissertations can and have been written about the sexual undertones and rape imagery.
I'm glad I read this book - while it didn't initiate the vampire novel genre, it singlehandedly formed a lot of vampire stereotypes. Twilight is a bit more interesting in contrast to Dracula (but only a little). In the end, though, I agree with Husband: it's a terrible book.