9.28.2007

RIP Challenge - #1: Dracula by Bram Stoker


Atmosphere: Extreme Goth

Chill factor: Sufficiently spine-tingling
I've never been a fan of Dracula; somehow, the image of him, with his Brillantined-hair, cape, and bad manicure, appealed far less than Mary Shelley's creature with its zipperneck, green complexion, and droopy eyes.
But, then, that just goes to show how my ideas of these famous monsters was influenced by Hollywood.

Reading Bram Stoker's version has been a revelation: I get it!

Let's get the mechanics out of the way, and say that old Bram's plot was tight as rigor mortis. His prose goes purple now and again, and the dialog is frequently overwrought and stilted. But you know what? It works!

And I think that is because Stoker had gotten such a handle on this character. Count Dracula is the archetype of all time. And, with Stoker's skillful plotting, he sucks the most out of it (bad pun intended). Let's take a look at a few broad interpretations that can be applied to this story:
1) Count Dracula represents counter forces (Eastern Europe versus Western Europe) that threaten the stability of civilization.
2) Dracula is the "other," the "dark force," symbolic of foreigners, the underclass, the physically or socially repressed.
3) Dracula is a morality tale, good versus evil.

What gripped me throughout was, of course, the subliminal notion of sex. Dracula represents not only the repressed sexuality of the heros in the tale, but also the fear/threat of the sexual female. Here's some insight from Carol A. Senf, 'Dracula: The Unseen Face in the Mirror':

'On the surface the novel appears to be a mythic re-enactment of the opposition between Good and Evil because the narrators attribute their pursuit and ultimate defeat of Dracula to a high moral purpose ... Yet, in spite of the narrators' moral language, Stoker reveals that Dracula is primarily a sexual threat, a missionary of desire whose only true kingdom will be the human body. ... Neither a thief, rapist, nor an overtly political threat, Dracula is dangerous because he expresses his contempt for authority in the most individualistic of ways - through his sexuality. In fact his thirst for blood and the manner in which he satisfies his thirst can be interpreted as sexual desire which fails to observe any of society's attempts to control it - prohibitions against polygamy, promiscuity, and homosexuality.'

Definitely a story that transcends mores of any particular time. I'm very very glad I read it, and now I'm interested to read how other authors handle this tale -- and which interpretations they choose to emphasize. I may swap out my choice of Lisey's Story with King's Salems' Lot or maybe an Anne Rice novel. I will be checking out Carl V.'s recommendations, as well as what people are reading over at RIP-ing Yarns.

Reminder: October 1 is the start of the Horror Short Story Short Challenge! I'll list my Top 10 picks on this site. Just choose one from my list that you vow to read. Leave the name(s) of horror short stories you like that weren't on the list, or post your own top 10 and leave me a link. I'll compile all the readers' lists and post the reader choices mid-October. Hope you'll join in!

16 comments:

danielle said...

It's a very Victorian tale, isn't it! I'd like to reread it again as I think I would get so much more out of it. Will you be sharing details soon for your challenge, or do we have to wait until Monday. I'm just zipping along with my short stories this month!

Courtney said...

I'm thinking of an ann Rice myself...I've never read her. GREAT review - makes me sad I haven't read it. I may pick it up this weekend and add it to my RIP list...

Dorothy W. said...

That stuff on sexuality in the novel is SO interesting. It shows the dark side of repressed Victorian sexuality, doesn't it?

LK said...

Danielle, yes, it is so Victorian, and that is part of its enduring quality, somehow. Dracula just fits perfectly into that repressed milieu!

Courtney, I was looking for Interview with a Vampire in the local used-book bookstore...

Dorothy, the book works on so many levels -- just on the sexual themes alone! It is fascinating. I've got to give Stoker props for how well he layered the meanings into his story.

Literary Feline said...

I am glad you enjoyed Dracula, LK. I was not sure quite what to expect when I first picked up this novel. I had not thought of the sex angle in the story, but now that you mention it, I can see how it fits. Wonderful review!

J.S. Peyton said...

When I read Dracula, I too was impressed with how creepy the novel actually was. Television has often made him so campy that it's easy to forget he was an actual horror villain. I'm glad you liked it.

I'm currently reading I Am Legend by Richard Matheson, which a different take on the vampire myth. It's kind of a vampire meets "Night of the Living Dead" (which was inspired by I Am Legend) kind of novel. I'm enjoying immensely thus far.

snackywombat said...

thanks for the interesting perspective on dracula. for horror stories, how about the condemned door or the bestiary by julio cortazar? his stories are really subtly psychologically horrifying.

Brandon said...

"Dracula" is one of my favorite books, and one that I like to revisit from time to time. It scared the hell out of me.

And this is a little off-topic, but might I suggest that you NOT read "Lisey's Story"? I hated that book simply because of King's nauseating, childish love language. Besides, it's just a rewrite of "Bag of Bones." I'm just saying.

If you do decide to go for it, I'll be looking forward to your thoughts on it. :)

Kate S. said...

What a wonderful post! You've persuaded me to give Dracula a chance.

I'm looking forward to the Horror Short Story Challenge.

Eva said...

I enjoyed Darcula a lot as well!

Orange Blossom Goddess (aka Heather) said...

Excellent review. You've helped me soldify a few of the viewpoints that have been floating around my brain. I'm currently in the middle of Dracula and am having very similar ideas come to the forefront. I wonder if he consciously knew that those broad themes were running throughout his novel - intended that they be there or if it was simply a product of his time?

LK said...

JS, Someone else was reading I am Legend...and I think I have a copy. Based on your comments -- and Brandon's thumbs-down over Lisey's Story, I may just make that part of my RIP Challenge reading.

Snacky, I will add those to my Readers Choice list, thanks!

Kate, great to hear from you!

Eva, hope you are able to take part in the Challenge!

OBG, I think the broad themes may have emerged simply by being written in that milieu -- that maybe all of that richness wouldn't have emerged if the book had been written say, in the 20th century. But I also understand that Stoker very carefully plotted the book. So, that had to have helped. It's all terribly interesting...

Court said...

I had forgotten what a sensual book this was until I read your review. Dracula's definitely the most sensual and sexual of monsters out there.

Happy to hear that you enjoyed the book. :)

Framed said...

What a great review. I just read this book and really enjoyed it. Which surprised me because I don't like vampires. Then I read "The Historian" which mentions Bram Stoker's version of vampires a lot. It was fantastic.

dirtyburge said...

I just finished reading dracula for the first time. What really surprised me was what a vile character Dracula really was. Nowadays we see him as a well-groomed vampire, but in the book he really was disgusting.

John said...

buy viagra
viagra online
generic viagra