And yet, unless my senses deceive me, the old centuries had, and have, powers of their own which mere “modernity” cannot kill.
Dracula, by Bram Stoker
Dracula is one of those books (and characters) that needs no introduction. The character of Count Dracula and his surrounding folklore have become such an integral part of popular culture that Stoker’s novel has forever coloured how modern readers perceive vampires.
I’ve been on a classics binge for the past few months, but Dracula is the first classic that has raised this thought for me: It is no longer possible for any modern reader to feel the same sense of suspense, dread, and excitement when reading Dracula.
While reading Dracula, I felt hopelessly frustrated with the characters, especially Jonathan Harker. Obviously, for Stoker’s contemporary readers, who would have approached the story with little knowledge of Count Dracula’s true identity, Jonathan’s adventures in Transylvania would have actually aroused some excitement. However, as someone who is well aware of the Dracula myth, some of the ominous hints that Stoker strews through his novel, especially the first half, are too much to bear. Jonathan keeps making comments about how it’s odd that he’s never seen the count eat or drink, or how it seemed as though the count lacked a reflection in the mirror, but he must have been imagining things.
As a modern reader, I couldn’t help but think, ‘HE’S A VAMPIRE! OPEN YOUR EYES!’ Not that this is Stoker’s fault. He probably didn’t envision his novel enduring for so long.
And, to be honest, I’m not sure why it has. The first half of the novel is exciting enough, with Jonathan being trapped in the count’s castle and encountering the three vampiric sisters, who are just dripping with morbid and forbidden sexuality. But the second half of the novel…as much as I wanted to enjoy it, I just couldn’t. For one thing, the most exciting character–Count Dracula himself–is largely absent, except for a few scenes.
There are a few female characters in Dracula, the two heroines being Lucy Westenra and Mina Harker. Both women are sweet, beautiful, good, loving, and, while intelligent (especially in Mina’s case), almost stupidly subservient to the men in their lives. Some of the men, like Dr. Van Helsing, are somewhat deserving of this subservience, because of their age and experience. But Lucy and Mina are constantly making misogynistic remarks about how women are less deserving of trust than men, and their greatest desire is to improve themselves, not for the sake of self-improvement, but to be useful to the men in their lives.
Sure, you could say that the Lucy and Mina are both products of their time. However, Dracula was published in 1897, a time when the ideal of the New Woman was rapidly gaining ground and more and more women were seeking autonomy. Considering what was actually historically happening for women’s rights, Lucy and Mina are both quite insipid. Even Mina, who shows such promise as an intelligent, capable woman, ends up depending on men to save her, practically quivering with gratitude at being saved, to the point that it could come across as a bit offensive to a modern reader.
YES OR NO?: NO. I guess it’s slightly my fault for reading Dracula with my modern expectations for the depiction of women, as well as a more fast-moving, exciting plot. But still, considering that this is basically the best-known title in vampire fiction, I found it a dull read, especially the second half. Although it is a historically important book, I think I could have done without reading it.