After three weeks of reading, I finally finished Dracula by Bram Stoker. The reason it took me so long partly had to do with me being in a funky mood (been sick/too tired to read mostly) but also I think the epistolary form of the writing. Now I actually thought I liked this way of writing – telling a story through documents, whether they be letters or diary entries. I still do appreciate that this form of story telling is interesting, because it allows the reader to make their own connections rather than being told the story fluidly. But it also makes for a jumpier pacing, going back and forth between different person’s writing – from Jonathan Harker’s diary, to a different characters journal entries, to newspaper articles, etc. Most of the book does consist of a cast of character’s diary/journal entries though. The jumping between characters I think made it harder for me to fall into the story, at least initially. Especially because the first 70 pages follows Jonathan Harker only to change perspective and focus completely, it becomes a different story and I found it hard to find my way back.
Anyway, after the mid-mark or so I started to enjoy the story much more – especially I think because the characters started to become people to me. Then there was a point were something dawned on me – the representation and interpretation of gender. That might not be the right way to title it, but basically I had some issues with how things were done in the story and I was waiting to finish the novel to give it a chance to redeem itself before I judged it.
Well, the way women are portrayed is.. you can tell Stoker was inspired by the philosophists and scientists of his day. For example, the female vampire Lucy is seen as a monster – she’s a beautiful seducer that will kill in cold blood. Her human self was pure and angelic in the eyes of the men around her, and the contrast between living Lucy and unDead Lucy was strong. The way she is potrayed reminded me of something I read about in school a while ago, about representation of women criminals in media. Well, a vampire is a criminal – a killer to be more exact, and so the representation that was done of the female vampires (all of them) in this book was very telling of the way women were viewed in the era the book was published. However, the vampire has its own imagery as a monster and so I thought perhaps Stoker would view the Count equally horrendously, but not so. Sure, the Count is a monster but he is smart, he is to be feared, he is in some ways respected and he’s treated as more of a complete being, although Van Helsing does of course talk of his “child-brain” which just gives me Lombroso flashbacks and yeah, does not make me happy.
Well, I really shouldn’t be that surprised of women being portrayed badly in a 19th century novel. And it’s not just the female vampire thing (I’m not sure I even described it well enough to make any sense), but also the way everyone keeps talking about how amazing Mina is – how smart, how hardworking, genius, etc but then the men decide to leave her out of it when the action starts – seriously? It really goes against everything they’ve said of her up until that point, really every character on his own have admired her strength and wiseness and then just – nah, you’re a weak woman and I will feel better if you never have to go into the lair of the vampire so no, stay home and go to sleep and think of beautiful things while we strong men go get shit done. Ugh.
But yeah, as I said, it’s not really that surprising for the era so it’s not something that hindered enjoyment from the book although it made me roll my eyes. Another thing that I just didn’t like about the writing at all – the way Van Helsing’s narrative was written. He’s from the Netherlands and all of his parts are written in a way I suppose a non-native English would talk, basically it’s weird English and it’s just such a hassle to read because it’s already old English and then his nonsensical order of words sometimes, I just wonder if that was really necessary. And I pretty much feel the same about the dialects, although that at least was easier to follow.
I guess I have one last thing to mention and that is, I didn’t realize how religious this was – or rather how much the story deals with religion. It’s probably obvious to others, I mean we’re talking vampires – basically Lucifer’s kids, and the holy water being a weapon against them should probably have been hints. Like for example, when the men kill of the vampires they feel it is their duty to do so, to save innocent people from getting hurt but also partly to save the souls of the vampires themselves. This reminded me of crimes commited from a religious perspectives – like I’m sure someone have killed “bad” girls because they thought they were “saving them”. It’s easy to imagine crimes where religion has been used as a motive for actions, and honestly I felt like the entire book was sort of like that; justified killing when we’re talking “bad people”, “monsters”. So yeah, the entire book has a religious current which should’ve been obvious to me but wasn’t.
To sum it up, I’m not sure how I feel about Dracula as a whole – I had issues with it as can be seen above, but I enjoyed reading the original story and experiencing it for the first time – I think I especially liked the mid-section of the book. I did find the end sort of anti-climactic, like was that all? But yeah, it was fun to finally read it.