Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a very intriguing Victorian era fantasy-type novel that tells the story of the Romanian vampire – Dracula – being hunted down by a group of English people, entangled in his web of evil, malice and unholy intentions through various different means. It has quite a few common elements to the modern idea of vampires. After all, Bram Stoker’s Dracula did heavily influence public perception of such myths.
For example, the idea that vampires are charming, attractive people is still very much alive nowadays. Perhaps the key term is charming, as female vampires are more or less temptresses and enablers of evil, while male vampires appear dominating and the leaders of unholy schemes. Despite this, Dracula scaling the castle “like a lizard” is pretty weird and not exactly the epitome of intimidating.
Concept of story-telling and notes in Bram Stoker’s Dracula
What is striking to anybody reading the book seriously is the fact that the story is told through journals of multiple characters, as well as letters, diaries, cuttings from newspapers, telegrams, memoranda, reports, notes and even phonograph diaries. It’s a very specific way of telling a story and it gives the impression that the events described are being discovered. It can even be seen as a secret being unearthed – the truth is coming to the surface. In a way, this is exactly what Jonathan and his crew want in the end. They want their horrendous experiences to be known by others. Most importantly, the truth about vampires needs to be out there.
On top of this, the date is noted at the beginning of every newly written addition to the story. This gives the impression of the events unfolding in real-time. It adds to the impression of authenticity. This makes the events seem veracious. In the “Note” segment of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, it is noted as such: “It was almost impossible to believe that the things which we had seen with our own eyes and heard with our own ears were living truths”. This quote further pushes the idea of authenticity, though there is some self-awareness: the described events are, in truth, highly unbelievable and suspicious.
Memories and perception of Romania
The addition of scattered in-letter (or diary) notes beginning with “mem.” (which presumably stands for memory, to memorize or remember) is an insight into the writer’s state of mind. For example, Jonathan stops inserting these after the realization that he is a prisoner in Dracula’s decrepit castle. It’s also a sign of being able to pay attention to details and being thoughtful (“Mem., get recipe for Mina”).
There are some interesting descriptions of Romania in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. For example, the quotes “one of the wildest and least known portions of Europe” and “no maps of this country” introduce an invisible, mysterious country. This sets the tone for the unexplained things about to come in the story. On a lighter note, the following quote amused me: “it seems to me that the further east you go the more unpunctual are the trains”. CFR should take note. Unfortunately, that is still the case in Romania of the 21st century.
Chemistry lesson, the character of Dr Seward and sexuality
The readers even get a subtle chemistry lesson with Dr Seward. In the book we see the chemical formula C2HCl3OH2O. Since I am not a chemist, I will not dispute its truthfulness. Upon further inspection, it is chloral hydrate and Dr Seward seems to be addicted to it as sleeping aid. He says: “I must be careful not to let it grow into a habit”. I would be inclined to say it’d already become a habit by the time he started worrying about it.
It isn’t exactly shocking, as opiate use was rather commonplace, as expressed by Mina too: “I asked Dr Seward to give me a little opiate of some kind, as I had not slept well the night before”. There weren’t exactly many options when it came to medication for mental health or sleep disorders, so we mustn’t judge too harshly.
Dr Seward is an interesting character for various reasons, but his experience with treating Renfield betrays a very poor understanding of mental health and mental illnesses, ranging from mild to severe (“he’s chained to the wall in the padded room” – referring to Renfield). He also fantasizes about performing a vivisection on Renfield, just for the sake of personal curiosity and potential prestige from a scientific discovery.
He and Van Helsing also perform what they call “transfusion of blood”, which is a very useful procedure, but really unsafe for that time. You could get possible rejection because of blood type. Infection would’ve probably killed the patient in the end. Let’s presume amazing luck four times in total.
Lastly, there are plenty of sexual undertones in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. For example, Lucy comments “Why can’t they let a girl marry three men or as many as want her?”. It’s quite silly, but she seems to desire a harem of sorts. Further, Jonathan is seduced by the three voluptuous female vampire figures that haunt him in Dracula’s castle. Jonathan’s uncontrollable desire for the phantasm-like vampires puts them (and Jonathan) in contrast with Mina. Her sexuality appears repressed. There is also some eroticism to the act of biting one’s throat, even in this horrid context.