Dracula ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp
Irish author Bram Stoker lived from 1847 to 1912. He is known today for his famous Gothic novel Dracula, published in 1897. It’s a story of good versus evil that has inspired countless stage plays, books, movies and TV shows. It popularized the ancient legend of vampires and made it part of mainstream culture. Who doesn’t know that vampires are repelled by garlic, cast no reflection in a mirror, and can only be killed by a stake driven through the heart and the cutting off of the head?
From the first page we are immersed in atmosphere. Englishman Jonathan Harker is a solicitor working for a London real estate agent. Count Dracula, living in a crumbling, isolated castle in the Carpathian Mountains in Transylvania, has purchased a piece of property in London known as Carfax Abbey. (Why anybody would want to buy the creepy old Carfax Abbey is never questioned.) Harker travels to Castle Dracula in Transylvania to handle the business end of the sale. Right away he sees that Count Dracula is beyond eccentric. He is never seen during daylight hours, he doesn’t eat food or drink wine, and his eyes and mouth are red and his teeth are sharp. (“Listen to them!” Dracula says about the wolves howling in the hills. “Children of the Night! What music they make!”) When Harker is confined to his room and not allowed to go home when expected, he begins to wonder if he will ever make it out alive. When he looks out the window, there is a thousand-foot drop-off, offering no means of escape. At night he witnesses Dracula leaving the castle by climbing down the wall like a fly. To make matters worse, some of Dracula’s “brides” are awfully interested in getting their hooks into Harker. (“He’s young and strong!” they coo.) “Leave him alone!” Count Dracula says. “He is mine!” No matter what evil he is engaged in, he is always suave and courteous.
When Dracula departs his home in Transylvania to take up residence in England, he goes aboard a ship call the Demeter. He’s not your ordinary commercial traveler, though. He has fifty coffin-sized boxes of dirt containing soil from his native Transylvania in the ship’s hold. When the Demeter docks in England, all the crew are dead, mysteriously drained of blood. Nobody can figure out exactly what happened during the trip. We, the reader, have a pretty good idea, however.
Jonathan returns to England, physically and emotionally ill. (Either he escaped, or Count Dracula released him.) Once back home, he finds that all is not well with his fiancée (later his wife), named Mina, and his circle of friends. Mina’s best friend, named Lucy Westenra, has a mysterious illness and nobody can figure out what is wrong with her. Enter Dr. Van Helsing of Amsterdam to try to solve the riddle. He knows right away that what is wrong with Lucy isn’t in the usual run of illnesses.
Dr. Seward is also interested in the case. He was romantically interested in Lucy Westenra (as was American Quincey Morris), but she rejected him in favor of Arthur Holmwood. (When Arthur’s father dies, he becomes Lord Godalming.) Lucy and Arthur are in love and plan to be married. Lucy, however, becomes increasingly ill. Dr. Seward and Quincey Morris, even though Lucy rejected them (politely), seem to hang around to see if they might be of assistance. As these characters gradually realize the type of foe they face in Count Dracula, they vow to band together to fight evil and do all they can to defend English womanhood.
Dracula is told in “journal” entries and correspondence of the various characters, giving it a first-person sense of drama and immediacy. There is also the occasional newspaper article (as with the account of the docking in England of the Demeter), further lending verisimilitude to the story. It is fleet in its 326 pages and is never ponderous or wordy. Though it may be considered a “pulp” novel not on a literary scale with Poe, Oscar Wilde or other purveyors of the “Gothic” genre, it’s well-written and engaging. It won’t give you a headache and it will keep you turning the pages, even though it’s a story that is familiar to almost everybody by now.
Copyright © 2016 by Allen Kopp