Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Dracula by Bram Stoker

As part of the 1% Well-Read Challenge, I have just finished reading Bram Stoker's Dracula for the first time. What a phenomenal read and certainly worthy of being on the list of 1,001 Books to Read Before You Die.

The book was first published in 1897 and the picture to the right shows the first edition cover at the time. Stoker was of Irish heritage and his writings were very much influenced by American writer Walt Whitman with whom he corresponded many times.

I was curious to know if Stoker had created the Dracula persona and vampire myth only to find out that blood-sucking monsters and figures of the undead had existed in the folklore of many civilizations for centuries.

Early 18th century Europe was particularly fascinated with vampires and it was the short story, The Vampyre, published in 1819 that first introduced the idea of a charismatic and sophisticated Vampire who preyed on high-society. The Vampyre was written by John Polidori after three days trapped indoors with five other writers during "the year without a Summer", a year when Europe and America were undergoing a severe climate aberration which forced everyone to stay indoors. I found it very interesting that one of the other writers in attendance was Mary Shelley who wrote Frankenstein following this same weekend!

The book is written as a series of letters and journal entries from the viewpoint of a number of protagonists with an occasional newspaper entry to relay parts of the story when none of the narrators were present. I hadn't expected the book to be written this way but found that I enjoyed it very much. The book begins when an English solicitor, Jonathan Harker, travels to Count Dracula's castle in Transylvania to provide support to the Count in purchasing a home in London. Bad things happen to Mr. Harker as he learns that he is imprisoned within the castle and he begins to learn of the evil nocturnal nature of the Count. He does escape without ever being bitten but upon making it back home, finds that the Count has "moved in" to his city. You see, that smart and cunning Count had made his way to England inside a cargo ship full of wooden boxes filled with Transylvanian earth. On arrival, the ship has no survivors and the boxes are delivered to the Count Dracula's new home. Dracula has arrived in his new "playpen" and the story starts to really build momentum.

Dracula begins to "feed" on the aristocracy and the story builds in crescendo until the final showdown which occurs back in Transylvania. It's a brilliantly written story with the all-male vampire hunters who vow to love and protect their women; the women who are preyed upon by Dracula; and Dracula himself, who through pure evil and cunning, outwits and outsmarts the hunters down to the very last pages.

There's quite a bit of sexism and paternalism in the novel which you might expect for the time period but Stoker's mastery of the horror story transports you into some fairly frightful and gruesome scenes. It's quite impressive and I can see how significantly this work has influenced the horror genre in the 20th century in film, literature and stage.

I loved it, I highly recommend it but think it may be best read during the period at the end of October during All Hallow's Eve or Halloween.

Next up is to watch Francis Ford Coppola's movie version released in 1992. I know my husband has seen it many times and I've read that it's the closest version to the book ever released. I'll let you know.

Next up on my list for the Challenge in the month of August is Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote. Won't you join me?


Heather J. @ TLC Book Tours said...

Great review! I'm down to the last few pages myself - hopefully I'll be able to finish it on my lunch break. I can't believe how much I really enjoyed this book.

Debra Dixon said...

Breakfast at Tiffany's, eh? I might consider it although it is not in my pile yet.

I think I'll wait on Dracula until later but enjoyed your review. It helps to have them from credible people.

allie aller said...

Thanks for the review. My son Chad has read scads of books about vampires...I don't get the attraction but I know from him that it is a very solid tradition in Eastern Europe.

I love Truman Capote but he will have to wait.... I am blissfully immersed in the espionage series by Charles McCarry. I am a connoisseur of the genre and get really excited when I find a new author who is miles above the norm. So you go lightly with Holly while I dive deep into the bowels of 1973 Saigon...A good book of any stripe gives joy like nothing else, doesn't it?

Anonymous said...

If you're interested, there's a brand new version of Arukiyomi's 1001 books spreadsheet. Along with some cool new features, there are lists of both the revised 1001 books and those that were removed from the new 2008 list.

To get your free copy of the spreadsheet, head over to Arukiyomi's blog.

BTW, I started Dracula earlier this year in Sighisoara, the town in Romania where Vlad Tepes was born. Eerie place in some ways.

Happy reading!

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