Dracula – Bram Stoker

I am all in a sea of wonders. I doubt. I fear. I see strange things, which I dare not confess to my own soul. God keep me, if only for the sake of those dear to me!

RIP8main300 This is the second book I’ve read for the R.I.P. Challenge hosted by Carl at stainlesssteeldroppings

I love horror stories. The terrors of the night which make sleep hard to conquer and make horrible monsters out of every shape in the room, where mirrors are portals to the unknown and the slightly open door of a closet becomes a stone door to a deep and dark cellar, where the wind shaking the curtains changes them into diaphanous veils worn by beguiling beings sent to harm. The quiet of the night unbroken but for the sounds in my head, small, insignificant sounds which I can only hear with my eyes closed. Sweet sleep that finally comes only to bring dreams of fantastical white creatures flying in the night, converging on a tower, their mouths red with blood. Such a powerful dream, I still remember waking up and being surprised to see I was in my bed and not running for my life on the streets of an unknown city filled with people whose fascination with the creatures was bigger than the fear of them.

Dracula I had put off reading Dracula for a long time. After watching its 1992 movie adaptation (with Gary Oldman as Count Dracula), I was afraid the printed work would have no surprises for me. How glad I was to see my fears turned to nothing!
The story is told in the form of letters, journal entries and newspaper clippings. Jonathan Harker, a young English solicitor, is sent by his employer to Transylvania, Romania, to explain to a nobleman of the country the legal procedures connected with some properties the nobleman recently acquired in England. His experience at Castle Dracula is unforgettable in a very horrible way, and barely escaping with his life, Jonathan makes his way back home only to have his sanity shaken yet again when he sees the Count on the street.
His journal becomes a powerful tool in dealing with the monster he knows would have taken his life. His wife Mina, proves to be one of his most intelligent allies in the great adventure that will have him question his judgment and worth as a human being. In fact, the whole story becomes a fight strategy, and the characters each have their own part to play in the battle against the evil embodied by the Count. Mina’s friend, Lucy Westenra, becomes the count’s first victim, a turning point in the story, which serves to strengthen the belief that the enemy is someone so extraordinary that unusual measures have to be taken and the outmost secrecy preserved.
Lucy’s suitors, Quincey Morris – the American adventurer, Jack Seward – a doctor working in a lunatic asylum, and Arthur Holmwood, Lucy’s fiancé, are joined by Abraham Van Helsing – a Dutch doctor and famous scientist of those times. Renfield, a patient in Seward’s lunatic asylum proves to be of notable help in unmasking Dracula’s plans. His penchant for “consuming life”, starting with the flies and working his way up to bigger creatures, makes him an unreliable ally at first – what is more intriguing and hard to believe than a madman telling the truth – but his death brings new facts which are taken into account.

I loved this book. I was under the impression that Dracula would be more likable, a monster that should be pitied, maybe envied for his power but he was just pure evil. I guess that’s what happens when you watch the movie before reading the book. His death was anticlimactic but the story leading to that point was more than worth it. The constant fear, the dramatic turns, the threat to life and sanity, these were fascinating to read about and the fact that the book was written in epistolary form gave it a sense of intimacy and also of credibility, as much as a work of fiction can be said to be credible. Reading this book also made me feel a bit homesick. It’s been a while since I’ve visited Transylvania.

Dracula is a work of fiction but history is a part of the story. Here are some interesting facts mentioned in the book that are still valid today:

mamaliga – a porridge made from maize flour, a traditional Romanian food, is still very popular, not only in Transylvania but also in another region of the country called Moldavia. So is slivovitz, “the plum brandy of the country” which is still being made but the name varies depending on the region;
the leiter wagon, a type of wooden wagon used to carry Dracula’s box – my grandfather had one, which he used for carrying hay and sacks of sunflower seeds, with a pair of buffaloes pulling it.
• The clothes of the peasants described in the story reminded me of a photograph I saw of my aunt from more than twenty years ago – “white undergarment with a long double apron, front and back, of colored stuff fitting almost too tight for modesty”. I had to laugh at the “modesty” part, as those clothes would be termed plain old-fashioned these days.
• The names of the places are slightly changed but real nevertheless – Bistritz is Bistrita and river Pruth is the actual Prut. Szgany is a transliteration of the word “gypsy” in Romanian, and Veresti is the name of an actual village.
As for Dracula himself, there is little I can add to the known facts. A Romanian ruler in the 15th century, famous for his ruthlessness with which he defended the country against the Turks, he was and still is, one of the most revered figures in Romanian history.

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10 Responses to Dracula – Bram Stoker

  1. Elisa says:

    It has been years since I read Dracula, but I remember loving it a lot more than I thought I would! Great review. I want to read it again now 🙂

  2. Vishy says:

    Beautiful review, Delia! Glad to know that you liked the book version very much. Like you I was surprised at the different way Dracula is portrayed in the book when compared to the movie – I read the book first and when I saw the movie I couldn’t understand how they could portray Dracula as someone who loved Mina and who had a side which we could sympathize with because the book didn’t say that. I enjoyed very much reading the passage about your love for horror stories. So beautifully and perfectly put. I still remember the first part of ‘Dracula’ in which Jonathan Harker goes to Transylvania and travels in the coach at night. I also remember his scary time at the count’s place. That part of the book is still very scary. I also found the character of Renfield very scary and creepy. It was wonderful to read your thoughts on the factual parts of the book and your own family stories behind some of them. That picture of your aunt must be very treasured. It was nice to know about your grandfather and his wagon. It is difficult to believe that so much has changed in the last twenty years. I want to try ‘mamaliga’ and ‘slivovitz’ 🙂

    Have you seen the Leslie Nielsen movie version of ‘Dracula’ called ‘Dracula : Dead and Loving It’? The main story is more-or-less faithful to the novel, but the movie is humorous and funny, like Leslie Nielsen movies are.

    Thanks for this wonderful review, Delia. It is making me want to read the book again.

    • Delia says:

      Hi Vishy,

      Very few movies to justice to the book, do they? I remember watching “Great Expectations” and thinking it was a great movie – and then I read the book and thought the movie wasn’t as great as I remembered it after all (even the 2013 version, which follows the book more accurately, is still not as good as the written work).
      It’s wonderful to see you liked the book as well.
      I was intrigued by Renfield and I wonder how he came to be in the lunatic asylum.
      It would have been great to see a sequel to the book, but then with Dracula dead for good what else was left to say, right?
      The references to actual places and food almost made me forget this is an actual fiction book. Mamaliga is easy to make, and slivovitz burns your throat – it’s great for cold evenings. 🙂
      I haven’t watched “Dracula: Dead and Loving It” but maybe I will. Thanks for the recommendation and for your comment.

      • Vishy says:

        That is very true, Delia. Books are mostly better than their movie versions. The only two movies I can remember which I liked as much as their book versions or better were ‘The Godfather’ and ‘The Jane Austen Book Club’. In the case of ‘The Jane Austen Book Club’, I liked the movie more than the book, though I liked the book too. I loved the movie version of ‘Mansfield Park’ also, but I haven’t read the book and so can’t compare. I want to see that latest version of ‘Great Expectations’.

        Yes, it would have been nice if ‘Dracula’ had a sequel. I think if it had been one of today’s writers, they might have brought one of the other vampires back, or some vampire which was even older to Dracula would have woken up to terrorize the world 🙂

        Thanks for telling me more about Mamaliga and Slivovitz. Nice to know that Mamaliga is easy to make. Maybe you can teach me and I will try making it sometime.

        Hope you enjoy watching ‘Dracula : Dead and Loving it’. It is very humorous and funny and makes us laugh.

        • Delia says:

          Hi Vishy,
          I’ve read only one Austen novel, Emma, and wasn’t a big fan, that’s why I stayed away from her other novels but I’ve seen movies made from her books and enjoyed them a lot. I always said I should read more of her books, just to see if I’ll like them better than Emma.
          The only movie I liked more than the book was “The Lord of the Rings”.
          I hope you like the new “Great Expectations” movie. Ralph Fiennes makes a good Magwitch.

          To bring one of the other vampires back, now that’s an interesting idea.

          I hope you like cheese because that’s one of the best foods that go with mamaliga. 🙂

  3. Brian Joseph says:

    I have read this a couple of times and I love this book too. Agreed just how many surprises the novel holds even for those familiar with the film versions. Though I think he was present in the some of the films, Quincey Morris is indeed one of the most unexpected touches to the narrative.

    • Delia says:

      Hi Brian,
      Quite a mixed bunch of characters, aren’t they? Dutch, American, English, Romanian, gypsies, and so on. I’ll have to watch Dracula again, as I don’t really remember Quincey in the movie but liked him in the book.

  4. Lynn says:

    Great review. I love this book!
    Lynn 😀

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