Dracula begins with Jonathan Harker, a solicitor (real estate agent), traveling to Transylvania to meet with a client who has bought a house outside of London, Count Dracula. Harker quickly realizes that he is essentially a prisoner in the castle and starts noticing weird things about the Count (red eyes, sharp teeth, hair on the palms of his hands, never eats, no reflection and a hatred of mirrors). Each night the Count meets with Harker to talk about England and work on his English. Meanwhile, Harker discovers more and more disturbing things (Dracula climbs face first down the sides of the castle, three female vampires that appear out of dust and try to bite him until Dracula stops them, Dracula sleeps during the day in a coffin in the church, etc). Dracula leaves Harker in the castle when he leaves for England, leaving him to the female vampires, but he escapes by climbing through a window and down the side of the castle. Meanwhile, Dracula arrives in England and starts biting and drinking the blood of Lucy Westenra. Several men in Lucy’s life work to save her from the mysterious illness she has developed (odd marks on her neck, tiredness, weird dreams, very pale), calling in Van Helsing, a medical professor from Amsterdam, to help. Lucy eventually dies and turns into a vampire. Van Helsing explains to the others that she has become a vampire and leads the men to kill the vampire Lucy (stake to the heart and cutting off her head). Van Helsing then links up with Jonathan Harker and his wife Mina, who was a good friend of Lucy, and learns of Harker’s experience in Transylvania. The full troupe then set to hunting Dracula, following him back to Transylvania before eventually killing him just in time before he returns to his castle. While there, the team kills the three female vampires, destroying the last of the vampire threat.
Dracula is a classic horror novel. The book is full of a menace, foreboding, and a nightmarish tone, and produces a feeling of fear in the reader. It doesn’t take too long to realize that no matter what happens next, it’s going to get worse before the end of the book. There is a monster (Dracula) and supernatural overtones as well as frequent surprises. However, there is no profanity, gore, or sex. Although the pacing is erratic, it does not seem to move quickly. The ending is completely and solidly resolved – Dracula is killed, and it is thought that he is the last of the vampires, so the danger is gone. The characters are strong, and have strong faith and strong relationships, rather than haunted or shattered characters. Stoker is not particularly heavy in his descriptive details, especially for a book of its time.
I was a bit skeptical about how much a book written over 100 years ago could scare me, but it definitely did. That being said, Dracula is one of the classics considered a classic because of Stoker’s creation, not his writing style. Although parts of the book are suspenseful and gripping, large portions are boring and slow. The book as a whole was a long, slow read. Dracula has an epistolary style, but many of the diary entries and letters that make it up are not convincing as that-day writing. Most of the characters who were not rich and English were written with such bad English that it obscured the meaning at times. The book was full of sexism, was overly religious, and was overly dramatic (swearing friendship to someone you just met, claiming love for every level of friend, and crying, regardless of gender, were frequent).That all being said, the character of Dracula was truly terrifying, and brilliantly done. I would love to read a re-writing of this story by a better author.
I’m at a bit of a loss over recommendations for this one. I’m not sure I would recommend it to today’s horror fans because it is such a long, slow read. It is a classic, but does not have the great writing or strong character development of literary fiction. There are aspects of mystery as the reader slowly learns more about Dracula, but you know all along ‘whodunit.’ It could appeal to readers of thriller and suspense, but is again probably too slow and long of a read. It was written about contemporary times (19th century England) and doesn’t have enough details to attract historical fiction fans. That all being said, I am glad I read it and think that avid readers of classics and those curious about the history of vampires in fiction would enjoy it.