I’ve finally finished reading all of Bram Stoker’s Dracula last night. I’ve made only a single attempt prior, some years back, to surmount this magnum opus, and yet I had purchased the complete annotated version of the novel, complete with background information and footnotes, which were both fascinating and distracting at the same time.
Indeed, Mr. Stoker drew upon a vast knowledge of folklore and history for his work. And popular culture in the last 115 years has heaped more upon the tradition of the vampire, in cinema, television, and other forms of media. Neil Gaiman, in the Introduction to The New Annotated Dracula said that “Dracula is a book that cries out for annotation.” And I agree in the very least that terms and usages at the fin de siècle of Victorian England have changed over time. And the editor, Leslie S. Klinger, shares the context of the time period in which the book was written. There are plenty of annotations throughout the book which are both enlightening and thought provoking.
Unfortunately they were also distracting, as the historian in me could not help but put the book down and do further research. I’ve always been intrigued and entertained by the stories of Count Dracula, fictional and otherwise, and thus over the years I’ve accumulated a great deal of knowledge pertaining to the subject. The annotations were another stepping stone to understand the myth and the legend. Yet one day I never returned to finish the story, my research had taken me too far away and I lost interest.Recently I mentioned to my World History class that we would be covering the Late Medieval Period and the Fall of Constantinople. As it turns out we were looking at a map of Europe when I announced this, and there it was–“Transylvania.” And thus some of my students requested to learn more about his history of Vlad Tepes. We would be having class on Halloween, after all. So therefore I searched and found a non-annotated version of Dracula, and thusly digested its contents in a three days. While I’d be speaking about the historical Dracula, it helps to have knowledge of the fictional personage as well. Indeed, it does help as history and fantasy have mingled freely with movies and literature in the last century.
What struck me as surprising was the non-existent love affair between Mina Murray and the Count. She is not the reincarnation of some lost love of the Counts, as shown in movies like Frances Ford Coppola’s version from 1992. No, Dracula attacked and cursed her out of vengeance, and to stall those who hunted him.
Mr. Renfield, a standard minion in Dracula lore, never preceded Jonathan Harker in going to Transylvania. Renfield was an experiment, already insane, by the time the Count took up partial residence in nearby Carfax abbey.
The origins of Dracula draw upon his true history, but are mingled with tales of the occult and witchcraft. Dr. Van Helsing discovered Dracula may have danced with the Devil himself on the shores of a remote lake in the mountains.
Why did Dracula come to London, then, if Mina Murray was not the object of his desire? To expand and experiment with his powers, as Dr. Van Helsing explained in pidgin English. Perhaps even begat a new race of vampires. The only thing holding him back, really, was being unable to leave his castle and homeland. His powers are tied to the earth there, in the “land beyond the forest.” He had to figure ways to being the earth of his resting place with him.
Would I recommend somebody else read Bram Stoker’s Dracula? Of course. Yet the reader should be cautioned the storytellers of the late 1900 wrote novels in a different discourse than the novelists of today. The chapters are divided up in to transcriptions of diaries, newspaper articles, phonograph records, newspaper articles, and the like, with long paragraphs of text, with lots of sentences fragments divided by commas, even longer than what’s written in this blog entry, which by Internet standards are much longer than appropriate length of a paragraph for easy reading; so therefore expect not to let your eyes skim the words, but read with intent, read to find the deeper meanings.
Dracula is book to be deciphered in retrospect. The mysteries and motives of the Count are not revealed until the very end. Even then, if the reader paid close enough attention, he or she will discover how evil Dracula really is.
Today I shall finish preparing my lecture for my World History class, which unfortunately, we just don’t have time to cover Dracula, too much time devoted to the High Middle Ages, Heresy, and Witchcraft. Vlad Tepes III shall have to come next week when I teach about the Fall of Constantinople and how he used impalement to frighten his enemies.
I don’t think impalement was mentioned in the novel.