January 25, 2011

Arts & Literature, Reviews

Written by D:

Few readers will ever forget the nightmare atmosphere of Count Dracula’s sinister castle in Transylvania, the prowlings of the Un-dead, the blood-curdling tension as Bram Stoker’s tale races towards a thrilling climax.

Dracula recounts the struggle of a group of men and a woman – Dr Seward, Dr Van Helsing and Jonathan Harker and his wife Mina – to destroy the vampire, whose sinister earth-filled coffins are discovered by Harker in a ruined chapel adjoining Dr Seward’s asylum. Cruel and noble, evilly and fatally desirable to women, Dracula possesses a terrifying lust for power and, like Dr Jekyll of Conan Doyle’s Moriarty, is one of the immortal fictional monsters.

The lavish attentions of early cinema made sure that it was this novel, out of the very many spawned by the 1890s Gothic revival, which achieved lasting fame, to such an extent that most people first come across Count Dracula outside of his literary context. He’s one of those characters, like Hamlet and Sherlock Holmes, who have grown so great they doth bestride their narrow fictional worlds and ultimately escape from them.

But getting back to business, Dracula is an epistolary novel told from the various perspectives of the human foes of the Transylvanian Count, set in his homeland, and then in Whitby and London, England. In fact, the famous villain barely appears at all, save for at the beginning of the story and the very end. What possesses the minds of his opponents in their letters and journals is what he represents, and what he represents has been the subject of much debate. Because of it’s age and unflagging popularity, this novel has been subject to a great onslaught of critical examination, to which it would not do much good for me to add.

Needless to say, Count Dracula can be said to stand for or encourage any terrifying ‘other’, seemingly threatening to white, male imperialists: the sexuality of women, the culture of foreigners, the feudal mindset. It should be noted also, that Dracula is a novel in support of progress, of new technology, of burgeoning scientific discoveries, of capitalism and the rule of law and of the potential of America. In that it is very much a novel of its time, and now a curious, old anomaly in our less certain, much splintered age.

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