I’ve never read this entire novel before now, and it’s a little difficult to not compare it to Frances Ford Coppola’s film version from 1992. Although it is obvious that the romance shown in the film between the count and Mina was something not drawn from the novel, I still loved the movie. I felt it was sufficiently horrible and still invoked dread at the thought of vampires being real, while giving the count a human side that I did not see in the novel. There was also an explanation for how he became the undead, which was missing from the novel. Now, I completely understand and respect Stoker’s use of the technique of othering to create a truly horrid monster, and I believe he was successful. My personal tastes, however, required a bit more background and more humanity from Dracula for me to sympathize with him and his victims, especially since in the novel Dr. Van Helsing seeks to free Dracula’s soul as well as those of his victims.
That was not the biggest impression the book made on me. Two things jumped out even more than those observations.
The first thing I noticed was how Mina’s character was constructed. We were constantly told of how different she was from other women, even her best friend Lucy. In contrast to Lucy’s delicacy and sometimes shallowness, Mina was intellectual and strong. It seems these differences could have translated into a woman who was indeed the dreaded “New Woman”, but Stoker stopped short of that. I wondered why this might be: why would he craft a female character who was strong and smart but ultimately weak and deferent to her husband and the other males in her life?
There was definitely the homoeroticism of Dracula. Though we never see the count feed from a male, Jonathan was clearly in danger from the count when he was in residence at his castle. To have shown the count actually feeding at the neck of any of the menfolk would have been to overtly go against the dictates of masculinity that state that such a situation just can’t be. And if the victim must be a female, she cannot be a frail one who faints on command and all. She couldn’t be sustained throughout an entire novel and assist in the downfall of the monster (hence the death of Lucy). But then, she can’t be the “New Woman” either, because that woman would completely embrace the possibility of being all powerful, sexual and immortal, as was the female vampire in Carmilla. So what is a writer to do when the heroine of the story must be one who is directly attacked by the monster, but also strong enough to endure the attack and smart enough to make sure the monster is destroyed?
You make her a hybrid woman, one who still knows her place, going so far as to even comfort her husband in the wake of an attack on her person; yet, she is also strong enough to withstand the attack to aid in the ultimate destruction. Genius. Or maybe simply much like women are probably used to behaving, even in this day and time: strong but not too strong and smart but not too smart. And definitely not too powerful.
At any rate, I also applaud Stoker on creating a rag tag team of monster slayers, comprised of the most influential people as well as the outcasts of society: a titled Englishman, an English doctor, a woman, a lunatic and a couple of foreign born men.
The other glaring item was the annotations in the text. I’ve previously read the critical edition of other texts, and this one was the most interesting in that these annotations read more like editorial notes. They pointed out inconsistencies in dates and descriptions and brought attention to possible ambiguities in the novel, as well as the author’s likely intent. Reading them gave me a newfound respect for the editing process, and how very important it is to the publishing industry.
Gotta love those editors!