Bram Stoker’s Dracula is one of those stories that has been taken and made-over by Hollywood so many times, it’s hard to decipher what came from the original, and what came from a studio. In the movies, Dracula has luscious black locks, nice cheek bones—in the older films he wore a cape—and in the 21st century, he’s sexy, and he knows it.
In the original story, though, he is none of those things.
Dracula was written back in 1897 in an epistolary format, meaning the story is told through letters, journal entries, newspaper clippings, etc. and the narration switches between multiple POV.
If you don’t like the journal entry writing style, you’re not alone. I detested any form of epistolary writing when I was younger, and actually gave up on Dracula the first time I tried to read it. Over a decade later, I decided to pick it up again this past October in the spirit of Halloween and give it another go.
I’m so glad I did!
The epistolary writing style fits Dracula so well, I can’t believe I kicked this book to the curb all those years ago. The letters, journal entries, and newspaper clippings add a level of creepiness to this classic that both surprised and delighted me. There’s a sense of realism to Stoker’s work; I felt like I was reading a true story, which gave me goosebumps whenever anything out of the ordinary occurred.
The first four chapters are told through Jonathan Harker’s eyes as he writes in his journal. Harker is an English solicitor who finds himself invited to Dracula’s castle in order to provide the count with some legal support for a real estate transaction.
When Harker first lays eyes on the count, he describes him as having “peculiar arched nostrils; with lofty domed forehead, and hair growing scantily round the temples, but profusely elsewhere” (p 20).
Yeah…Dracula’s bald…no luxurious black hair for this guy.
At first, Jonathan is pleased with his stay—Dracula has impeccable manners and is an excellent host—but as time goes on, Jonathan discovers his host is not what he appears to be. There are no mirrors, no servants, Dracula is crawling along the walls like a lizard (Stoker’s words, not mine), and all the doors are locked. Jonathan soon realizes he’s a prisoner, and the count is not quite human.
I have to say, the first four chapters in this book are my favorite. Jonathan’s journal entries become more and more dire as he realizes he may never escape. You can just feel the tension in these chapters as he becomes desperate.
After Jonathan’s escapades in Transylvania, we jump to England, where we remain for a good chunk of the story. It’s here we’re introduced to the rest of the characters: Mina (Jonathan’s fiancé), Lucy (Mina’s friend), Dr. Seward, Quincy Morris, and Arthur Holmwood (Lucy’s admirers), and Dr. Van Helsing (who is not Hugh Jackman in any way).
All of these characters are brought together through their mutual affection for Lucy, who falls ill around the same time a mysterious ship pulls into the harbor. She grows weaker each day from blood loss, and as much as Dr. Van Helsing and Lucy’s admirers try to save her from this strange illness, she eventually succumbs and becomes one of the “children of the night.”
I will say the first half of this novel is amazing. I was so ready to give this book five stars. There were some hiccups where Stoker would go off on a tangent, or he’d add a jarring adverbial phrase to his dialogue tag (laconically? Really?), but there wasn’t enough of that to warrant the loss of a star.
Until I started the second half.
My gosh! The last 150 pages are rough! There’s a lot of talking and planning and not much else. I found myself dozing at certain points and had to skim through paragraphs just to keep myself awake. All the excitement from the first half was gone and replaced with endless amounts of dialogue regarding the character’s plans for Dracula—for 100 pages! Then the last 50 pages are spent traveling and talking some more.
To top it all off, the epic showdown you’d expect to happen with Dracula is a huge letdown. All the talking and planning leads to the characters joining together for one final hurrah to end the count for good. There’s all this build up—surely Stoker would end this with a bang?
Nope. It’s all over in two sentences. Two sentences!
The ending is so anti-climatic, I couldn’t believe it. How could a story that was so creepy and exciting in the beginning become such a bore by the end? There was so much potential!
Has anyone else felt this way while reading Dracula? Have I let Hollywood spoil my vision for this novel? Let me know!
In the end, I gave Dracula four stars. While the last 150 pages were a struggle, and the ending left much to be desired, the writing was good (other than some hiccups), and the first half was easily five star-worthy.