Thursday 20 October 2011
Devouring Books: Dracula by Bram Stoker
It's interesting that I would think this though, since most of the violence and scary bloodsucking stuff that happens in Dracula takes place in the bedchambers of delicate ladies. There's not really any justification for why Dracula preys on young women, since he is so incredibly strong that he could probably take the men and just generally massacre them all, so let's just say that he's extremely heterosexual, shall we? (See also: the three women vampires who live in his castle.) I like to think that Dracula actually likes to give women the kind of power that they are unable to achieve in living life (as opposed to undead life), but actually, I fear, it's probably to do with the fact that women are weak and unable to resist the calling of Dracula, whereas men are strong and must protect said women, even if that means staking them through the heart and chopping their heads off. Yay, men!
But really, this book is too sexist for words! Poor old Lucy is all mutually loved and all, but once she gets too big for her boots (and starts feeding off children and stuff- only children though, because remember, she's a woman and even as a strong vampire couldn't feed off a man!) she must be stopped! I'm putting aside the bit where she's a vampire for just a minute for the sake of getting my feminist fury on right now. I think the case of underappreciated women is more extreme in the case of Mina, who, everyone agrees 'has a man's brain' and is honestly the most organised member of the team, and yet, at a certain point in proceedings, they decide to stop including her in events in case they 'upset' her and in doing so, I really think, leave her vulnerable to attack anyway! My conclusion from this, rather than 'women are weak' is more 'men are stupid' so there you go- maybe Stoker was all about the feminism. But probably not.
I really did love Dracula though, much as I like to moan about it's unfeminist credentials (I feel like it's necessary to point it out, because if I don't, who else will?!) because really, I wasn't expecting all that much in that area because, let's face it, a male writer in the 19th Century? Unlikely to be best friends with Gloria Steinem. So putting everything I've said so far aside, how freaking scary was Dracula?! I think that, the fact he is absent from much of the story means that he is even more terrifying than he might otherwise be, his cruelty at the beginning builds up a picture of him that you can't help but colour in yourself as the story goes on. One of his scariest facets is the fact that, while yes, he has to be invited into your house, he can easily achieve this by hypnotising the one he wants to suck. He seems to be unbeatable, and the feeling that he is continues pretty much up until SPOILER the moment that he isn't. But I didn't think they would be able to kill him, if I'm honest!
Being the mahusive Stephen King fan that I am, it was kind of thrilling to see the things that King extracted from Dracula to write his own vampire novel, 'Salem's Lot. I say that, but I can't actually remember any specific things that I can point to that were the same, but I definitely got a feel when I was reading Dracula that was really similar to the one surrounding 'Salem's Lot. They definitely both benefit from the wealth of different viewpoints covered, because in that way, you get the entire story, and in a plausible way. I really loved the diary/newspaper articles/letters set up of the novel just because, if you get bored with one narrator (which I totally did with Jonathan Harker at the beginning, even though his story was creepy) there's always a better one round the corner, and sometimes it's even a woman! What I also liked was that there was very little from Van Helsing's viewpoint, even though he's clearly the most important character in the novel- in doing this, we are able to see Van Helsing mainly from others' viewpoints, and so he is free from the whole I love Lucy/women are weak/I am a MAN narratives, and is just able to be a kick-ass vampire genius/know it all who you'd definitely want around in a crisis (although what's with all the broken English- I mean I know he's Dutch, but he's also super intelligent, and you'd think he'd be able to learn English/that his friends would tell him he was saying it wrong. But whatever.) (Also, has anyone seen 'Van Helsing', starring Hugh Jackman? Such a terrible film that I can't even think about it or discuss it logically. Happily, the actual Van Helsing is so. Much. Cooler!)
So, anyway. Dracula is scary, and awesome, and utterly perfect for Hallowe'en. While I'm thinking it wasn't the start of all Vampire Lore, within it is contained the bones of practically every vampire story that I can think of. While there is, of course, a sense in which all vampire stories pick and choose parts of the traditions, most of them are (possibly) started here, and thus Dracula claims its place as the beginning of the modern vampire thing. For me, this makes Dracula worth reading alone, because, trust me, I like A LOT of vampire things (Buffy, True Blood, 'Salem's Lot, Interview With the Vampire- NOT Twilight because VAMPIRES CAN'T GO OUT IN THE DAY! ARGH!) and it's really interesting to see their origins and the ways they've evolved from the original tales. Plus, it gives me the excuse to watch more Buffy than is probably healthy for a human person, as a task in comparison, you know? Also, if you're interested, Dracula makes his own guest appearance in Buffy in Season 5 Episode 1. And if you can just watch that episode, you're a better person than me!
Anyway! Back to Dracula, I would just say that there are two men who don't really get their fair share of narrative time in Dracula (they're just kind of there) I fear because one of them is rich, and the other is American. I feel like Stoker only really has time for intelligent characters, and so these two men are more devices to make things happen rather than actual characters. The problem with this, though, is that in killing one of these men off in the really abrupt dying minutes (ok, it's the American) Stoker fails to get the emotional reaction that you would get if he killed off, say, Van Helsing, or even Jonathan Harker. But, in doing what he does, Stoker does manage to give us a happy ending because we don't care about the American, and who can blame him for wanting to do that?!
So, to sum up, Dracula-good, sexism-bad. Vampires-good, under-developed characters-bad. Read Dracula on Hallowe'en and you won't be disappointed, but you might have a heart attack. Accept no imitations (apart from the good ones).
Note: This my book number 4 in the RIP Challenge, as well as being my review for A Literary Odyssey's readathon for Dracula, which I'd like to thank Allie for hosting because it was SO much fun to read, and I actually finally read Dracula! So proud!