Have you ever actually read Dracula? I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while, but the fact that today, Google has a very cool picture which tells me it’s Bram Stoker’s 165th birthday, made me think that it was a good day to get on and do it.
I’m assuming that if you’re reading my blog (which fundamentally hinges on the fact that I write paranormal romance) that to a greater or lesser degree, like me, you’re a fan of vampire novels. And I think we can take it as read that Dracula, whilst not the inventor of the genre*, is the most famous and influential vampire novel ever written. Despite these two facts, I bet there’s a good chance you haven’t actually read it. You’ve probably seen a film or two. You’ve probably read spoofs or books that claim to be inspired by it. You probably have an idea in your head of the plot being based around visitors to a spooky eastern European castle with a suave but deadly host.
Back in the days when I sort of had an agent, they asked me if I’d ever read Dracula, and almost to my surprise, I realised I hadn’t. They hugely recommended it, so I decided to take advantage of the fact that Kindle lets you download out of copyright books for free (just one of the many reasons I love them – seriously, if you haven’t already, buy an e-reader) and get myself a copy.
I had to steel myself to read it. I was expecting it to either be painfully dry (I’m not a big fan of Victorian literature on the whole) or else painfully cheesy and clichéd. Guess what? It was genuinely brilliant – scary, romantic and well-written, the sort of book where you’re cheering the good characters on.
There’s a section where Dracula comes each night to feed off a young woman. Each night she gets weaker and weaker and each morning is given a rudimentary blood transfusion by a doctor acquaintance. Each night her friends do their best to protect her with crucifixes and white garlic flowers, each night the vampire somehow outwits them and drinks more deeply from her. I wasn’t expecting my jaded twenty first century brain to be unnerved by something written more than a century ago, but these scenes, with their horrible sense of desperation and powerlessness, are some of the scariest things I’ve read in years. The diary of the ship’s captain, trapped at sea and horribly aware that one of his crew is being killed each night, is also pretty nerve racking.
Equally, whilst it’s not a paranormal romance in the modern sense of the word (there are certainly no human women having sexy time with this vampire), there are beautifully touching and romantic scenes, whether it’s one character’s longing to get back to his fiancée when he’s trapped in Dracula’s castle, or most tear-jerking of all, another character deciding that he must be the one to stake his now vampiric fiancée to save her soul. At the same time, the link between sex and blood that tends to be made more explicit (in both senses of the word) in modern vampire novels, is very much there. When Dracula is biting his poor female victims, you definitely get a sense that there is more than mere hunger going through his mind.
A few fun facts:
- I’m sure it’s not just me that imagines the entirety of the novel to be taking place in a castle in Eastern Europe. In fact, that’s only the first couple of chapters.
- Dracula is killed with a metal knife, not a stake through the heart.
So this week, whilst it’s cold and dark outside, why not put down whatever modern vampire book you’re reading (apart from Oxford Blood, obviously!!) and indulge yourself with the king of the genre. It’ll be harder work than the latest Charlaine Harris or Laurell K Hamilton, but I promise you it will be worth it.
So, to return to my first question, have you read Dracula? If so, what did you think? Classic vampire novel or outdated?
*Before anyone tries to get clever, I know about Carmilla and Varney the Vampire and all those other nineteenth century vampire novels. Try taking a nineteenth century literature and culture module at Oxford and not having them thrust down your throat. But let’s face it, the may have come first, but Dracula made the genre.
**The cartoon near the top of the page is from: http://www.harkavagrant.com/index.php?id=285 Check out that page for more cute Dracula comic strips, and the site more generally for fab historical and literary inspired comics. So we’re totally clear, the picture totally belongs to Kate Beaton of Hark, A Vagrant, not me, but her website says it’s okay to use them as long as they’re properly cited.