Bram Stoker's Dracula is, hands down, the greatest horror novel ever written. In addition, it is also an enduring classic of literature. You may have seen every Dracula movie ever made, but you do not know the real Count Dracula until such time as you have read Stoker's book. Of course, unless you have been living under a rock, you will know the general plot line, but I assure you there is a wealth of rich material buried throughout the text that is sure to excite, intrigue, and surprise you. Perhaps the ending is a slight anticlimactic, yet I, having read this novel before and being quite familiar with the Count, read the final pages with bated breath, an anxious mind, and the sense of exhilaration that only the most talented of writers can induce.
The most striking characteristic of Stoker's masterpiece is its solid grounding in late 19th-century Victorianism. This may prove frustrating to some readers. It is far from uncommon for the men in the tale to weep and bemoan the dangers threatening the virtuous ladies Lucy and Mina; virtue and innocence of women are hailed rather religiously. Mina, for her part, assumes the role then deemed proper for women, accepting and praising the men for their protection of her, worrying constantly about her husband rather than herself, shedding tears she must not let her husband see, etc. Yet, it is most interesting to see Mina rise above the circle of a woman's proscribed duties; she in fact becomes a true partner in the effort against Dracula, expressing ideas and conclusions that the men, with all of their wisdom, could not come up with themselves.
Another thing I find interesting is the lack of a clear protagonist in Dracula. Technically, I suppose, Jonathon Harker is the protagonist, but Mina, Dr. Van Helsing, Dr. Seward, and the Count himself basically operate on an equal plane with him. It is Van Helsing who can be described as the anti-Dracula; he plans the moves by which he and his friends seek to thwart the Count's plans and destroy him; the second half of the novel can be compared to a chess match between two equally strong competitors. Minor characters such as the lunatic Renfield are also drawn clearly in our mind's eye by Stoker's incredible gift of characterization. While the format is unusual--the novel consisting fully of diary and journal entries by different characters--you cannot help but be drawn in closely to the group of heroic souls who pledge their very lives to one another as they take it upon themselves to combat a centuries-old evil.
One could expound upon a number of themes in this novel (and many literary critics have certainly done so), so I will just quickly mention a few. Is this an erotic story? Certainly, to some extent, but there is certainly nothing overtly sexual in these pages. Is it really horrible? One might wonder how much blood one would encounter in this product of the Victorian age, but there are indeed some rather shockingly gruesome descriptions of events--nothing to shock modern readers but probably quite surprising to Stoker's contemporaries. There are also subtle overtones of religion in these pages. Aside from the Christian objects that have the power to keep vampires at bay, the most striking scene in the novel is Dracula's perversion of the Lord's Supper in his own most nefarious deed.
I cannot recommend Stoker's masterpiece highly enough. The impatient reader may encounter sections that move too slowly than he/she would like, but such lulls are always wiped away by sudden spurts of activity and drama. Feminists will dislike the Victorian characterization of the women but can find unexpected pleasure in the strength and intellect of Mina. Literary critics will surely find in these pages a deep ocean of issues ripe for analysis. Of most importance, the common reader will find an absorbing storyline which may horrify him/her to some degree in places but which will certainly offer great rewards of enjoyment. I think most individuals would be won over completely by the great humanity of these characters and the unexpected richness and complexity to be found in this story of a fiend they thought they already knew.
on July 16, 2001
One of the scariest books in history, DRACULA is nevertheless misunderstood. Our civilization is removed from the Victorian era. We think of it as somehow distant and quaint, and ourselves as modern. But when Bram Stoker published DRACULA in 1897, the Victorian era _was_ modern. Stoker meant to make the book more frightening than most books by bringing an ancient horror into a modern, anti-superstitious world. He uses typewriters and phonograph disks the way a modern writer would refer to the internet and e-mail. DRACULA's first readers might've looked out of their town or country houses and expected to see Dracula's gaunt figure emerging through the fog.
He tells the story through a series of diaries, letters, clippings. Normally this is an unweildy method of storytelling, but in this case it is most effective.
The novel is divided into three broad sections. In the first, young Jonathan Harker and Dracula have the stage almost alone. Though Harker's diary we learn details of his journey through eastern Europe to meet a Count who wants to travel to England, and Harker carries him certain important papers. Count Dracula's character comes across very strong and well-defined, and grows ever menacing as Harker slowly learns he is not going to be allowed back to England, but will become food for Dracula's vampiric harem.
The second part of the book, set in England, deals with Mina Murray, who is going to marry Jonathan; Mina's friend Lucy; three men who are in love with Lucy; and a good-hearted but mysterious Ductch doctor, Abraham van Helsing. The bulk of this part deals with Lucy's mysterious disease, her decline to death, and her transformation into a vampire that her suitors must destroy out of love. Dracula appears only fleetingly through the book, but the reader knows what happens, and suspects the cause of Lucy's decline.
In the last part, Jonathan, Mina, and Lucy's three lovers band with Dr. von Helsing in a pact to destroy Dracula before he can spread his contagion throughout England; and meanwhile, Dracula wreaks his vengeance on them for taking Lucy from him.
Stoker uses many ways of approaching his subject. Occasionally the horror is direct; but once it is established, he makes it subtle, working behind the scenes, in a way that may be even more frightening. Though he also uses different voices, his prose is invariably fine. And as each character has to overcome his aversion to ancient superstition and face Dracula with a mind open to the fact that there's more in the world than science and technology and late-Victorian materialism can contain, the book becomes eerily meaningful for the twenty-first century.
Modern purveyors of vampiric fiction dispense with the blatant Christian symbolism used to fight Dracula's ilk, such as a crucifix or sanctified host, or prayer. They also turn the evil of Dracula topsy-turvey and somehow invent sympathy for soulless monsters who view living humans as food. Stoker doesn't hesitate to show Dracula as an evil, totalitarian horror; as a contagion that must be eradicated; as an enslaver of women, like Lucy, and men, like poor Renfield. And Stoker has reason enough to realized that only Supernatural agencies could fight the supernatural. The saving Blood of Christ on the Cross, blood of which a soulless terror like Dracula cannot drink, is the most effective symbol for fighting and defeating this brand of evil. It was part of the novel's consistency that as the characters have to come to grips with the reality of ancient evil, they must also return to the symbols of good that they also have rejected in a narrow-minded embracing of the modern.
Dracula, the strongest character in Victorian fiction, does not weaken himself by the need to be "understood" or "pitied". He will destroy or be destroyed. And the worst destruction that could happen to him would be mitigation.
DRACULA may be the scariest book ever written; it's certainly the best of the classic horror stories. It's well-crafted and exquisitely constructed enough that it stands as a great novel even without genre pigeonholing.
on June 9, 2009
I have never read the novel "Dracula" but with it being absolutely free for my absolutely wonderful Kindle, I decided to give it a shot. The book is written entirely in correspondence from the characters; letters to each other, diary entries, telegrams, etc. While I did have to use my built-in Kindle dictionary many times with the big (or antiquated) words, the book flowed freely and was a surprisingly easy read. Certain scenes were downright chilling. What's truly amazing is Stoker's creation of such an incredible monster that has stood the test of time.
I'll comment on the features of the Norton Critical Edition of "Dracula", as reviews of the novel can be found elsewhere. The novel, itself, is reproduced from the 1897 British edition that was published by Archbald Constable and Company and is preceded by a short but useful Preface that discusses the contexts in which "Dracula" was written and received over a century ago. The text of the novel is amply footnoted. Not only are terms defined, but allusions are explained, and passages of particular interest are treated with some commentary. The footnotes are worthwhile, but easy to ignore if you prefer. I had reservations about the footnotes in the early chapters of the book. Too many of them referred to points later in the story, acting as minor spoilers. I found this stopped after the action moved to England, so it only applies to a small portion of the book. Following the text of the novel are sections on Contexts, Reviews and Reactions, Dramatic and Film Variations, and Criticism.
"Contexts" includes some 19th century source material on vampires, Bram Stoker's working papers for the novel annotated by Christopher Frayling, and "Dracula's Guest", which was originally to be the novel's opening chapter, before Bram Stoker decided to situate the novel in Transylvania. The working papers are thoroughly uninteresting, and "Dracula's Guest" is not as chilling as the introduction that replaced it. "Reviews and Reactions" includes 5 reviews of the novel written shortly after it was published, in 1897 and in 1899, three of which are favorable.
"Dramatic and Film Variations" contains an essay about "Dracula"'s theatrical adaptations, including a list of major plays, by David J. Skal, who wrote "Hollywood Gothic: The Tangled Web of Dracula from Novel to Stage to Screen" and is one of this edition's editors. An essay by Gregory Waller discusses Tod Browning's 1931 film "Dracula". Editor Nina Auerbach gives "Dracula" a feminist reading in her essay about the later film adaptations of the novel: the Hammer films of the 1950s and 1960s and John Badham's 1979 film. There is also a list of major film adaptations.
"Criticism" includes 7 essays that represent widely varying interpretations of Bram Stoker's novel, including Oedipal, Marxist, sexual, gender reversal, xenophobic, and homoerotic interpretations. These essays vary in quality a great deal. The best, in my view, are Christopher Craft's "Gender and Inversion" and Stephen D. Arata's "Reverse Colonization" essays. But, taken together, all of the essays give insight into "Dracula"s continuing -in fact, ever-growing- popularity. The novel can be interpreted through virtually any doctrine. There is a chronology of events in Bram Stoker's life at the end of the book.
If you plan to purchase a copy of "Dracula", this Norton Critical Edition provides the most material for your buck and the best footnotes that I've seen in any edition currently in print.
on October 2, 2005
Bram Stoker wrote the perfect gothic novel, and Jan Needle (so-called "editor") has butchered it in this edition. This is NOT Bram Stoker's original novel, it is an abridged version. Whole passages are missing, condensed or summarized. The language has been modernized, and the story has lost much of its period flavor. Poor Mr. Stoker must be turning in his grave.
Admittedly, some younger readers might appreciate not having to cope with a novel written in Victorian English, and the simplified delivery might suit some readers. But remember- this is a PERIOD novel, and translating it into contempory language inevitably and irredeemably changes its character.
On a plus side, the wonderful illustrations lend atmosphere, and the blood-soaked pages are suitably grisly.
on January 7, 2012
This is the best version of Dracula I have read in years, Totally Un abridged and accurate to the original 1897 printing. If you can't afford a first edition- which cost thousands, then this is a nice substitute. Rich black leather binding, great bookmark, the pages are slightly tanned or faded to give it that authentic aged look. the cover art is very interesting, rather dark and is an attension-grabber. The red leaf pages are OUTRAGEOUS, and truly make this the buy of a lifetime. Great for collectors or first time readers alike.
on February 19, 2004
This is the original Dracula, the one that started it all. However, after years of Hollywood movies showing us what the Count "should" look like, reading this book can come as a little bit of a shocker as there are many (and I do mean *many*) differences from this story to the ones that the movies portray.
The Count is physically very different from the debonair looking, eyebrow rising, cow-licked hairstyle, tuxedo wearing vampire that Bela Lugosi made famous. He looks more like Count Orlock from the F. Murnau film 'Nosferatu'.
If you have seen Francis Ford Coppola's film, you have seen the closest approximation to the story the novel tells, as many of the events are portrayed similarly to those on the book, yet, the usual 'creative liberties' are taken in order to make the film more fluid.
Be warned that the book is written as a number of diary entries or letters from the different characters of the story, and that this being a book written at the waning years of the 19th century, the language used can sometimes seem confusing.
It's not as fluid a reading as you would expect from the first vampire story, but nonetheless a great book and certainly one of the classics that everybody should include in their collection.
on July 30, 2007
As stated by another reader, this is *NOT* Dracula. This is a "Modernized for the 21st Century Reader Edition" variation of the original. Another way to describe it would be "Dumbed down for a third grader edition".
All of the feel, most of the character, and part of the story are completely gone.
Do not bother with this if you want Bram Stoker's Dracula.
I find it difficult to imagine that anyone reading this review does not already know the essential story and fame of Bram Stoker's classic vampire novel, "Dracula," so I will not insult your intelligence or waste your time by rehashing its plot. Suffice it to say this book is comfortably old-fashioned and unnervingly creepy, not the first vampire novel, but in many ways the definitive one. But several things should be noted. (1) The Dracula depicted in the book is somewhat different from the classic Bela Lugosi portrayal in the flick which most (or at least, many) people who have not yet read the book have probably seen. The story differs, too, so as you read be prepared for a new experience. (2) The entire book is told through a series of journal entries and letters which may seem disjointed at first. This epistolary style of storytelling may not initially appeal to some modern readers, and the transition from Harker's truly horrific journal to the first letter (Mina to Lucy) may seem stylistically jarring and a bit of a let-down; bear with it, and the story will get good again. (3) This ebook edition, a "Pocket Book" reprint by Simon and Schuster, is particularly well-formatted and a pleasure to read. As a freebie, it is well worth the price of nada. However, inasmuch as there is no commentary or explanatory material added to the basic text, should this particular edition ever cease to be free, the previous no-cost public domain version (also available in the Kindle Store) is essentially just as good. If you enjoy "Dracula" and want to read more novels and short stories by Bram Stoker, I recommend "The Complete Collection of Bram Stoker" published as an ebook by Di Lernia Publisher and costing a mere $.99. Nothing else by Stoker manages to create the same total atmosphere of horror as "Dracula," but both "The Jewel of Seven Stars" and "The Lair of the White Worm" (though neither is its equal) come close.
"Dracula" was not the first vampire novel, nor was it Bram Stoker's first book. But he managed to craft the ultimate vampire novel, which has spawned countless movies, spinoffs, and books that follow the blueprint of the Transylvanian count. Eerie, horrifying and genuinely mysterious, "Dracula" is undoubtedly the most striking and unique vampire novel yet penned.
Real estate agent Jonathan Harker arrives in Transylvania, to arrange a London house sale to Count Dracula. But as the days go by, Harker witnesses increasingly horrific events, leading him to believe that Dracula is not actually human. His fiancee Mina arrives in Transylvania, and finds that he has been feverish. Meanwhile the count has vanished -- along with countless boxes filled with dirt.
And soon afterwards, strange things happen: a ship piloted by a dead man crashes on the shore, after a mysterious thing killed the crew. A lunatic talks about "Him" coming. And Mina's pal Lucy dies of mysterious blood loss, only to come back as an undead seductress. Dracula has arrived in England -- then the center of the Western world -- and intends to make it his own...
"Dracula" is the grandaddy of Lestat and other elegantly alluring bloodsuckers, but that isn't the sole reason why this novel is a classic. It's also incredibly atmospheric, and very well-written. Not only is it very freaky, in an ornate Victorian style, but it is also full of restrained, quiet horror and creepy eroticism. What's more, it's shaped the portrayal of vampires in movies and books, even to this day.
Despite already knowing what's going on for the first half of the book, it's actually kind of creepy to see these people whose lives are being disrupted by Dracula, but don't know about vampires. It's a bit tempting to yell "It's a vampire, you idiots!" every now and then, but you can't really blame them. Then the second half kicks in, with accented professor Van Helsing taking our heroes on a quest to save Mina from Dracula.
And along the way, while our heroes try to figure stuff out, Stoker spins up all these creepy hints of Dracula's arrival. Though he wrote in the late 19th-century manner, very verbose and a bit stuffy, his skill shines through. The book is crammed with intense, evocative language, with moments like Dracula creeping down a wall, or the dead captain found tied to the wheel. Once read, they stick in your mind throughout the book.
It's also a credit to Stoker that he keeps his characters from seeming like idiots or freaks, which they could have easily seemed like. Instead, he puts little moments of humanity in them, like Van Helsing admitting that his wife is in an asylum. Even the letters and diaries are written in different styles; for example, Seward's is restrained and analytical, while Mina's is exuberant and bright.
Even Dracula himself is an overpowering presence despite his small amount of actual screen time, and not just as a vampire -- Stoker presents him as passionate, intense, malignant, and probably the smartest person in the entire book. If Van Helsing hadn't thwarted him, he probably would have taken over the world -- not the Victorian audience's ideal ending.
This particular edition has been made to look almost exactly like the very first edition, down to the illusively-tattered dust jacket and distinctive title print. It also contains an early, gushing newspaper review -- as well as a couple short chapters from Dacre Stoker's forthcoming sequel, "Dracula the Un-Dead."
The excerpts in question are rather different from Bram's work (third person narrative) and takes place a couple decades later. We're reintroduced to a beloved character who is now a morphine junkie haunted by the past and the Jack the Ripper cases. It also introduces a new vampiric figure from history, which can twist the plot in intriguing directions.
Intelligent, frightening and very well-written, "Dracula" is the well-deserved godfather of all modern vampire books and movies -- and its unique villain still dwarfs the more recent undead.