What Are We Reading: Dracula, by Bram Stoker
Rosie Best talks about re-connecting with a classic from a modern reader’s point of view:
I first read part of Dracula in my Year Nine (Eighth Grade) English class. The teacher passed around dubiously-legal photocopies of the final confrontation with the vampire who used to be Lucy Westenra. We drew down the classroom blinds and took it in turns to read a few paragraphs as Van Helsing, Arthur, Quincey and John Seward snuck into her crypt and (after some very 19th Century religious debate) put a stake through her heart. It was a fantastic lesson, and left a permanent impression on me. I’m pretty sure that at some point I read the rest of the book, but to be honest, that was the only scene that stuck with me.
There’s a good reason for that – it’s probably the most ‘vampire-y’ scene in the whole book.
It’s always interesting to return to an old-fashioned classic with the perspective of a modern reader. Beginning with Jonathan Harker’s thrilling adventure in Transylvania is a very modern thing to do – but not many modern vampire novels would spend most of the first chapter discussing where the coach stopped and what the protagonist has had for dinner. Bram Stoker is a master of the slow build, teasing just enough of the eerie, supernatural plot to keep you on the edge of your seat even when the plot is taking its time to actually do anything much at all.
I’ve seen at least three film versions of the story (I still have an abiding fondness for the ridiculously histrionic Frances Ford Coppola version, despite Keanu Reeves) and seen and read countless other works of fiction concerning various vampires, from Count Duckula through Anne Rice to True Blood. So I also found myself reading closely for things that are never mentioned in the movies.
I want to see a Dracula film that uses the incredibly dramatic events that take place at Whitby: the ship crash in the storm, the dead captain lashed to the wheel with his own rosary, Lucy’s sleepwalking in the cemetary, those red eyes on the horizon! I’d like to see a version that uses the full emotional force of the scene where the five men quietly say a funeral prayer with the slowly-changing Mina, just in case they have to stake her. I even wish a bit more weight was given to the part where Mina basically saves the day with typing.
In a story I thought I knew pretty well, it’s been a joy to discover these moments that make the whole thing seem brand new again.