I thought I understood what I was getting into when I started Dracula. I knew the plot and was familiar with the characters. It’s hard to read as much horror as I do and not know about Dracula, even if you’ve never read the original. I expected to love this novel because it has influenced pretty much every modern horror book in existence.
I did not expect to be really, really bored.
“We learn from failure, not from success!” – Dracula
The novel starts out in a promising way and actually hooked me very quickly. The story is told in epistolary form by a group of characters who seem to be obsessive diarists. Jonathan Harker, a lawyer, is keeping a journal of his business trip from England to Transylvania. His boss sent him to help a rich client—Count Dracula—buy real estate in London. After a harrowing journey where Harker is pursued by wolves and strange lights, he arrives at Dracula’s castle. The trip does not get any easier after that. The Count has some strange habits and even stranger companions. Harker is locked in a room and held prisoner.
What I like most about this section is the atmosphere. There is a heavy sense of foreboding. Jonathan Harker is a resourceful guy, but you get the feeling that even if he escapes from the castle, getting home won’t be simple. The start of the novel has the suspense and horror the synopsis promises. Also, Dracula is a severely creepy dude. It’s interesting to see the seeds of all the horror movie tropes that grew out of this story.
After the first part of Harker’s journal, the plot slows down so much that the reader will be tempted to scream in frustration. Dracula heads to London and starts turning beautiful women into vampires. The male friends and family members of the women take it upon themselves to kill Dracula and stop the vampire epidemic. Unfortunately for the reader, vampire hunting turns out to be tedious business. And, it requires a surprising amount of paperwork.
This is one of those books where the characters spend more time talking about what they’re going to do than actually doing it. Vampires aren’t a big part of the story. Most of the book consists of characters giving multi-page speeches, men sobbing uncontrollably in manly ways, repetitive descriptions of “mysterious” illnesses, and travelogues. I just wanted to see someone kill a vampire! When the vampire killing (finally!) does happen, it’s rushed and disappointingly easy. Honestly, by the end of the story, I was on team Dracula. I wanted the vampire to put the characters out of their grief-stricken, constantly weeping misery.
“Loneliness will sit over our roofs with brooding wings.” - Dracula
I also struggled with the epistolary form of the novel. I didn’t find it believable. These characters talk a lot. Who on Earth is going to remember a 10-minute speech and write it word-for-word in their journal? Why not summarize it? And why bother capturing the speakers’ annoying dialects? It would have taken the characters days to write these unnecessarily detailed journal entries. Why are they writing in their diaries when there is a vampire epidemic happening? The heroes of this story often behave like preteen girls, but seriously? Put down the diary and do something already.
“I am longing to be with you, and by the sea, where we can talk together freely and build our castles in the air.” - Dracula
Also, since Dracula doesn’t keep a journal, one of the journal-keeping characters has to suddenly become psychic at the end of the book in order to tell the reader what Dracula is doing. This is a strong sign that the novel’s structure is broken.
Maybe I would have found this horror story scarier if I had lived in Victorian-era England. Reading Dracula made me wonder if people’s fears are based on their cultures. Are there universal fears? Maybe Dracula isn’t scary to me because I’m from a different time and culture than the intended audience. Based on this book, I’d say the Victorians were scared of technology, female sexuality, and anything that conflicts with Christian values. Since I’m not scared of those things, maybe this novel was boring for me and completely terrifying for the Victorians.
Dracula wasn’t anything near what I was hoping for, but I’m happy it has inspired so much awesome modern horror. Unless you’re a Victorian, I’d suggest reading those books instead.
“Once again . . . welcome to my house. Come freely. Go safely; and leave something of the happiness you bring.” - Dracula