Welcome to my first ever book review! I’ve been wanting to write one for ages but the truth is that I just haven’t had the time to finish any one of the books that I’ve been reading (thanks uni).
But last week I finally got down to business and finished reading Dracula by Bram Stoker. This is a book that I’ve been wanting to read for a while now and I’m so chuffed that I’ve managed to finish it. It did not disappoint.
**(Just a little heads up here that this review may contain spoilers so, although the story of Dracula is so well-known and loved, if you don’t want the plot spoiled then look away!)**
Context and Setting
Dracula was published in 1897 during the late-Victorian era. It features many of the characteristics of Gothic literature (castles, stormy skies, rugged landscapes…), which I absolutely loved. The description in the novel was so vivid and spot-on for an autumnal read; it really made me want to crawl under a blanket with a cup of tea.
I loved that I was reading this book around the same time as the novel was taking place (October-November). The descriptions of the weather, the settings etc. seemed so realistic and relatable. It allowed my imagination to run even more free.
My favourite character was Mina Harker (I loved her wit, her intelligence and ability to empathise even with the Count!). However, I understand that this book was written during the Victorian-era so attitudes to women were different to today, but I didn’t like some of the ways that Stoker wrote Lucy and Mina. Mina was often described as being kind, intelligent with a “man’s brain”. All the men looked up to her and were often praising her wit and compassion, yet Mina was constantly positioning herself as less than the men. Although the men appreciated Mina, they also helped facilitate her own positionality. For example, I couldn’t help but be annoyed when the men told Mina to stay at home, away from their attempt to catch the Count as it was dangerous, yet Mina had contributed more to the effort than any of the men. The men definitely redeemed themselves when they agreed that Mina could accompany them on their last adventure to corner the Count. I loved that Mina played a massive detective role here; it was thanks to her that the Count met his end!
One aspect of the two female characters that I did enjoy reading was the difference in their descriptions and character. Mina was intellectually on par with the men, she was empathetic and compassionate; she is very much the heroine of the novel.
Lucy Westenra, on the other hand, was initially described as being the “ideal woman” (whatever that may be!). Sweet, pure, innocent. Stoker uses Lucy (and Mina too) to describe the favoured women of the time. However, once Lucy is bitten by Dracula she becomes cruel and wanton. Typical of the Victorian-era, sexual women were depicted as evil and impure.
This change in both of the main female characters emphasises the changing time for women in the 1880s. This was the time that the Married Women’s Property Act came into play (which allowed women to retain anything they owned themselves before getting married). The 1880s were also the first time that feminism was used as a word.
Although Mina and Lucy both embody (in different ways) the changing role of the women, often called “the New Woman”, for me the Count represents the patriarchal power struggle that was undoubtedly still at play. The Count doesn’t choose to attack Jonathan Harker, instead he chooses to attack his wife, Mina. This shows the way that women were viewed as an extension of their husband as, once bitten, Mina was under the care of the four men and unable to defend herself.
I think it’s difficult to avoid the sexual connotations of a novel that is premised on biting and sucking….
I thought that the Count sucking people’s blood was described in quite a sexualised way. The moment when the Count forced Mina to suck his blood from his “bare breast” seemed voyeuristic and perverted to me. That whole scene is full of the symbolism of sin and impurity.
There is a strong emphasis on good vs evil characters; the story is very black and white. Literally white. The “good” characters are all “manly” white men who are all considerably wealthy; Lord Godalming frequently uses his title and wealth to further their adventures (this could bring in a whole Marxist analysis of the story, but I think that’s a post for another time!)
It’s also ironic that these good men are depicted as being incredibly rational whereas the women were sometimes depicted as being irrational. For example, once Mina was bitten by the Count she writes in her journal that she wanted to hide the fact that she’d been “crying again” from her husband. Stoker has written her in a hysterical way after she is bitten, as if her rational and intellectual mind that once was, has been taken away from her and replaced with this irrationality.
Also, in the beginning, I didn’t see the purpose of some of the characters (mainly Quincey Morris). I understood that he was helping to save Lucy because he was once in love with her but once Lucy died he continued to help. He actually grew on me towards the end and I realised I was being a bit harsh on him. I still think he was probably the least helpful of all the characters…
I found it quite difficult to read Van Helsing’s diary as well as the parts set in Whitby, Yorkshire simply for the way that these were written and the dialogue that was used. Although this could be seen as authentic to the nationality, for me it just didn’t flow and was a bit jarring.
It was quite refreshing (once I’d gotten over the gaps in his plot) to have a character like Quincey Morris there. The language that Quincey used was often more what I would use today and, therefore, was easier to understand. It was interesting to see the contrast between English and American English of that time and realise that, even then, the American English was very similar to how we speak now.
The history of Count Dracula was given a lot of attention which was great. The hunt for Count Dracula was very prolonged, fast-paced in most parts and incredibly intense. Yet the ending was anti-climatic. I was really expecting more for the antagonist’s death.
I was also surprised at how dark it was. That seems stupid to say for a horror book. Although I knew that the story was supposed to be creepy, I wasn’t expecting it to shock me. There was heavy and vivid description of Lucy attacking children and babies and the process of killing an “Un-dead” was very gruesome.
It is very interesting that stories around the Vampire cult have often been told during times where diseases were rapidly spreading and perceived social change was occurring (in the case of Dracula, there was a syphilis epidemic in London in the 1880s). Here syphilis is used as a moral metaphor for uncertainty, anxieties, impurity, good vs evil, the rational and the irrational as well as the visible and invisible. Throughout the story we can see all these symbols at play.
The impact that Count Dracula has had on popular culture is immense and after reading this book I can see why. I would give it a strong 4/5 stars, only because the ending wasn’t as exciting and intense as I was hoping it to be. Despite that, I would definitely recommend the book; it’s a revolutionary piece with vivid descriptions that is representational of the time it was written. It is well-rooted in social history, religion and scientific advancements.
Thanks for reading my first ever book review! Please let me know your thoughts down below. I can’t wait to do more of these!