Dracula (1897) by Bram Stoker is a gothic horror, and undoubtedly a classic. Although not the first in its introduction to the idea of a vampire; Dracula paved way for the more detailed definition of what a vampire was. Whether or not you have read Dracula yourself, everyone has definitely heard of him, and similarly the film world has seized on his character at any opportunity. The book provides the perspective from various different characters, including Johnathan Harker, Mina Harker and Dr Seward.
The first part of the book is dedicated to Johnathan Harker as he travels to Transylvania as a Solicitor to meet Dracula, he then finds himself trapped in Dracula’s castle with three women vampires seeking him for his blood. Even initially we have familiar imagery painted of Dracula, his teeth, his pale skin, his long fingers and not being able to be seen in mirrors. We are also introduced to the idea of him being able to turn into a bat and able to control wolves. These all what we would now consider the aspects of the stereotypical ‘vampire’. The narrative then shifts to the viewpoint of Mina – Johnathan’s girlfriend (whom later becomes his wife).
Lucy (Mina’s best friend) whilst sleepwalking is attacked by Dracula who has travelled to England. She continually becomes weaker having to have regular blood transfusions to bring her back to health. Mina is then told that Johnathan has been hospitalised and has gone mad so she travels out to visit him, during this time however Lucy is attacked by a wolf and dies. The book strongly links animalism to the image of Dracula and his ability to take on multiple forms. Van Helsing is called by Lucy’s fiancé Holmwood, and he informs them that he believes Lucy was affected by the supernatural, and on her death takes him and her two other love interests down to her coffin. Her coffin however is empty so they wait for her return to kill her after discovering that she has been attacking children in the area.
Whilst visiting a patient of Dr Seward’s who is being thought to have regular contact with Dracula, Mina is attacked and Dracula forces her to drink his blood – she now also becomes a vampire. The book here is particularly distinctive in its blurring of the good and evil. We see two female characters transformed and infected by this ‘disease’ of the undead. Links here could be seen around the time to Stokers fear of disease after being diagnosed with Syphilis. From this point the book appears to up its pace in action, now the remains are spent with John, Van Helsing and the three other men chasing around Dracula’s storage containers he has been using to hide. In the first instance he escapes, however Helsing hypnotises Mina to trace his movements.
One fault with the book is that although tension is built throughout around the still illusive Dracula – the ending comes across as rather abrupt. Within the space of a few pages after about a hundred of searching, Dracula is simply killed. The book certainly emphasises the importance of religion during the period, and the need for salvation before death, also the strength of the crucifix and communion waver. However the death itself is fast and things quickly return to normal in the last chapter as though nothing has happened, which could be deemed somewhat as anticlimactic.
Although not a quick read, Dracula helps define our image of vampires today and is incredibly significant in the gothic horror genre. Tension is continually built throughout the book and puzzle pieces gradually drawn together. Where we may already have a strong knowledge of what to expect of the typical vampire, much can be traced to the original and infamous Dracula.
A highly influential piece of work it is definitely worth a read and is very much still a classic, having never gone out of print since its initial release. At times a little slow the ending is a bit of a disappointment, but the book contains strong imagery and action.