Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Recently Read: Dracula History and Review

Author: Bram Stoker
Genre: Classic Horror/Gothic Fiction
Publication Date: 1897
Page Count: 402
Rating:  4/5

I just finished Bram Stoker's Dracula. This book has such a rich and interesting history behind it I thought I would do a combined post with the novel's history and legacy as well as share some of my thoughts on the novel.
And P.S. how beautiful is this Penguin Classics edition?

Background and History:
Bram Stoker was the business manager of the then famous Lyceum Theatre in London in 1897. He was a very close friend and manager to famous stage actor Henry Irving (some literary historians make the case for Stoker having romantic feelings for Irving, but I will leave that up to you to research and decide upon). Stoker would write a theatrical version of his vampire tale before he wrote the novel in hopes of Irving taking the leading role. Stoker modeled Dracula's mannerisms and dramatic flourishes after Irving, but Irving would not agree to play the role. Stoker was a part of the circle of late 19th century authors that included Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Oscar Wilde, and himself among others. Stoker was not  as well-known or successful from his writing as the other authors in this circle and he was a little bitter about it. 

Dracula was published to decent reviews, but did not sell an overwhelming number of copies. It was not until film adaptions of the novel began being produced that the novel became a best seller. The novel has been in constant printing since 1931. Dracula has appeared as a major role in over 217 film adaptions, he is second only to Sherlock Holmes with over 223 film appearances. 

Dracula may have gotten his name from "Vlad the Impaler" (real name Vlad Dracula III), who is rumored to have killed between 40,000 and 100,000 Europeans during his reign mainly by impaling them because he did not see them as "necessary members of society."

If you are interested in fictional books with Bram Stoker as a character I suggest, The Sherlockian by Graham Moore and A Game Called Murder by Gyles Brandeth.  I'm on the lookout for great biographies of authors so let me know if you have any suggestions for author biographies.

Thoughts on the Book:
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this book! This book is written as a series of letters and journal entries, which I was not expecting until I started the book, I listened to most of it on audio book while driving, and I actually got a little creeped out a couple times while driving at night. The first fifty or so pages of this book, when you first meet Dracula, were so eerie and so well done. I loved the atmosphere of Dracula's castle. and how so many different characters and story lines throughout the novel end up connecting. Even though Dracula is only really present for those first fifty or so pages, his lack of presence is even more unnerving because you're never sure where he's going to turn up next or what he's up to.

I really enjoyed the character of Dr. Van Helsing, and I can totally see why his character has survived the test of time and is included in so many vampire movies. He's so wise and weird!  

The biggest theme that I got out of this book was in connection the the turn of the century. This book was published three years before the turn of the century and Victorian England was changing, Technology was advancing and the world was moving on from the romantic and Gothic age of Victorian London. This contrast between new and old is seen in many place throughout the novel. Dracula represents tradition and history (he often speaks of his families history and the many wars they fought hundreds of years ago) where Van Helsing and his band represent the new age with their cutting edge technology (which included phonographs and hypnotism). In the end, as I'm sure you are aware, the new age beats tradition. 

A lot of the articles and analysis of this work that I have read make sex and sexual power the biggest theme of this novel. I do believe that this novel does comment on the sexual expectations placed on women and how a wife or "respectable women" should not be seen as sexual in the least among other things concerning sex, but I don't see that as the biggest theme of this novel. Many critics even make a case for a homoerotic connection between Dracula and Jonathon Harker, one of the main characters who lives in Dracula's castle for a while.  

If you have read Dracula let me know what you thought about themes or anything else in general.  

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