I’ve been working my way through Dracula again as I’ve noted before. I have read this book on several occasions but this time reading it with a view to finding themes in the book is making it a tough row to hoe. Instead of thinking about Victorian society or the fact that Bram Stoker was Irish and what that might mean, I’m suddenly overcome with frustration. This is because none of the characters talk to each other. The whole book rests on the fact that Jonathan keeps a secret, Lucy keeps her fears and worries to herself, Van Helsing speaks in tongues (Stoker writes his character’s idiosyncratic speaking voice and style) and never tells anyone anything until it’s too late.
OK, I know I’m reading this book with a modern reader’s view. I understand that when the book was written, with the exception of the very well to do, people did not travel much and reading ability was at only about 50% of the population. Those that did read needed to have explained many places, cultural situation etc that we, who watch TV and movies, read and have the internet, take for granted.
Now that I have that out of the way, I think, for the time, there are some interesting techniques used by Stoker. I think the frustration of everyone not talking gives the reader some power – they know better and I can see people saying out loud ‘Look behind you!’. Additionally, if feels as if Stoker is making a comment on the manners and cultural prohibitions in society at that time. From a plot point of view, it is quite a good way to allow Dracula to insinuate himself into society – the vampire knows these things and uses the reticence to discuss painful or emotional topics for his own benefit. Even when Dracula is unsuccessful in killing them he has scared them to such an extent they simply ignore what they’ve seen i.e. when Harker sees him for the first time in London he falls asleep on a park seat and then ignores it all (or it could be PTSD).
Of course there are the obvious themes of sexual repression and what that means. I must say that nearly 50 pages about blood transfusions and Arthur’s possible jealousy if he found out that Lucy had transfusions from three other men says a lot. Then there is Lucy who is adored by everyone, beautiful, charming and at night unable to remember her ‘dreams’. I guess this is the idea that women want more than just being loved as pure and innocent or similar themes. Yep, get the whole blood sucking stuff. But it’s been done to death, especially since the revival of vampires and other supernatural characters over the past 15 years.
There is a paragraph on page 109 by Dr Seward about the madman Renfrew and what he thinks of as the man’s religious mania that resonates with me.
‘These infinitesimal distinctions between man and man are too paltry for an Omnipotent Being…….. But the God created from human vanity sees no difference between an eagle and a sparrow.’
I read this to mean that when humans make themselves to be a god they bring human frailties along, allowing socially proscribed feelings to be acted upon. Dracula can be seen as a monster god who can do anything he wants without interference of law, culture or hindrance by anyone. No one believes he exists and those that do are seen as madman. Renfrew certainly is mad but Van Helsing doesn’t seem quite the full bottle either. If this is so, those who are not mad can simply ignore the situation.
Or is this reaching? I will struggle on and see what comes.