Before even opening the book, I figured that Bram Stoker’s Dracula had quite a few things going for it:
- The subject matter is vampires, something that seems to have fascinated us humans for centuries
- The presence of vampires corresponds with the presence of all sorts of sexual tension
- The book was comprised entirely of diaries and letters, so the supposed element of reality can scare the masses
- The vampires did not sparkle in the sun. They slept during the day. In a coffin. Kind of like the vampires in every scary vampire legend.
Where, then, did this 1897 novel go so wrong?
The answer, it seems, lies in the Harry Potter series. Clearly, the character of Professor Binns, Hogwarts’ History of Magic teacher, was based on Bram Stoker. Like the author, Binns managed to make the most bloodthirsty of tales (featuring both magical creatures and wars) put his students to sleep in class. He did this by droning on about useless details.
In fact, I can already imagine Edgar Allan Poe’s smug face as he closes Dracula and immediately sets on re-reading his own story about repressed sexuality: The Fall of the House of Usher. In direct contrast to Poe, who is legendary for ensuring that every single detail in his stories is important to the ending, Stoker’s modus operandi is including plenty of details just for the hell of it. For example, pasted in Mina’s journal was a newspaper clipping about some wild storm that went on for, no joke, half a chapter! Pages of nothing but “oh the wind was very windy, and there was some ship, and fishing people said that they wouldn’t sail until the storm had past.” Then when we finally get to the crux of the article, i.e. that there was no one on board but a very dead captain tied to his steering wheel by a rosary, I was in too much of a stupor to even raise an eyebrow.
Stoker also liked including long speeches by characters when, say, a single sentence would have sufficed. These speeches were how characters competed amongst themselves to be The Most Noble Character In the Book. I kept waiting for Dracula to bite off their heads or something, but no such luck (actually, Stoker insisted on writing the most anticlimactic death scene of a villain in the history of publishing).
The very respectable Bram Stoker
My copious amounts of research (reading The Introduction) has unearthed the (little?) known fact that the idea of Dracula came to Stoker in a dream, as jotted down on some fragment of paper:
“Young man goes out, sees girls one tries to kiss him not on lips but throat. Old Count interferes – rage & fury diabolical – this man belongs to me I want him.”
Sounds like a pretty intense dream, huh?
Unfortunately, I think Stoker left out all the interesting bits and instead wrote a totally bland story that tentatively hints at – then decidedly shies away from – anything frightening or “base”. The only tension, in fact, is the one that can be inferred after doing some (proper) research on Stoker – his original version of the character of Dracula, his questions over his own masculinity and sexuality, the way he attempted to hide his acquaintance with the scandalous Oscar Wilde, and his own fear of a dominating and prejudiced employer (one Henry Irving). Had Stoker tried a little less hard (for himself, if not for the general public) to fit into the narrow box of Victorian respectability, then I might have read a very different book. One in which the reader was actually scared of the vampire and his graphic crimes.
But then again, the long, painstakingly polite monologues, combined with the far too meticulous diaries/letters would have cancelled out even the most nefarious of Dracula’s evil deeds.