Friday, October 30, 2009

What I'm Reading Now-Dracula (The Final Review)


Dracula by Bram Stoker-Well, you may remember that I signed up to read this as part of the Dueling Monsters Read-a-long sponsored by Heather J. and Softdrink. I have to say that not much has changed, overall, since my last review. I still think this was a surprisingly good read, and I am glad I read it. There were a few things that bugged me about the story, but overall they were fairly minor in the grand scheme of things.

I'm not going to go into plot since its mystery was part of the reason I read it; besides, most of you know enough to know if you'd be interested in reading more or not. Since I'm not going to go much into the plot, this post is mostly just going to be a random round-up of my thoughts throughout the novel. Yeah, I know, and that's different from my other reviews...how?

I was, of course, familiar with Dracula and vampire lore in general, but I didn't really know what, specifically, was Dracula's story. So, that was part of the fun for me, seeing what enduring vampire myths and story-lines were Dracula-inspired and what have been added to the mix since then. What? You think I'm going to tell you here? If you want to know what happens, read the book, like I did!

I mentioned in my last Dracula post that one of the things that surprised me was the amount of actual scary stuff, like not implied creepiness lurking in the shadows but actual lopping of heads and feeding on children and staking of hearts and that sort of thing. With this in mind, I was also surprised that Dracula is shelved in the YA section of my library. It's not that I think this is necessarily too hard-core for YA readers, it's just that I'm sure Stoker's intended audience in 1897 was not 13-year-old girls. Did anyone else read a library copy of this? Does your library consider this a YA read as well? What do you think of this categorization?

Heather J. recently put up a post about Literary Connections, where something you read in one book plays into another book that you read shortly after. Well, as you probably know, I recently read (and loved!) The Sparrow. All throughout that book, I was wondering what significance the title had, and if it applied specifically to our hero, Father Emilio Sandoz, who feels as though he has been betrayed by God. Toward the end of the book it is revealed that the quote comes from the Bible (Matthew 10:29): "Not one sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing about it." Some of you who are more familiar with the Bible probably already had this one figured out, but I didn't have any idea. I had never heard this before and was unfamiliar with the reference. In Dracula, one of the characters, Dr. Seward, is trying to figure out what is going on with one of his mental patients whom he suspects is suffering from religious mania. Part of the reason for the suspicion (and something that I found a bit hilarious) is the patient's equal treatment of Dr. Seward and one of the hospital attendants-he treats them both as equals (gasp!), both of whom are unworthy of his attention. Dr. Seward notes in his journal: "His attitude to me was the same as that to the attendant; in his sublime self-feeling the difference between myself and attendant seemed to him as nothing. It looks like religious mania, and he will soon think that he himself is God. These infinitesimal distinctions between man and man are too paltry for an Omnipotent Being. How these madmen give themselves away! The real God taketh heed lest a sparrow fall; but the God created from human vanity sees no difference between an eagle and a sparrow."

And, at this point, I was ridiculously happy that I understood that reference. Because I'm a big dork like that.

Within the confines of the story, we really don't get much feel for society in general at the time, not the way you do in many Victorian-era novels, but our heroine, Mina, gives us a good sense of both herself and society at the time in one of her journal entries. She and her dear friend, Lucy, have just taken a walk about town, followed by a "severe tea" at a local inn (whatever that is-do they throw your crumpets at you and insult your dress? Is smiling not allowed?). She says, "I believe we should have shocked the 'New Woman' with our appetites. Men are more tolerant, bless them!" Bless them indeed! Later, as Lucy is sleeping peacefully in their shared room, Mina writes, "Some of the 'New Women' writers will some day start an idea that men and women should be allowed to see each other asleep before proposing or accepting. But I suppose the New Woman won't condescend in future to accept; she will do the proposing herself. And a nice job she will make of it, too! There's some consolation in that." Ah, Mina, I suspect 2009 would shock you to pieces!

Interestingly, as I was just looking up information about the New Woman movement, this quote from Winnifred Harper Cooley's The New Womanhood jumped out at me. "The finest achievement of the new woman has been personal liberty. This is the foundation of civilization; and as long as any one class is watched suspiciously, even fondly guarded, and protected, so long will that class not only be weak, and treacherous, individually, but parasitic, and a collective danger to the community." Whoa. Did we see this play out in the book or what? (For those of you who haven't read the book, yes we did).

***THIS PARAGRAPH CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS***Okay, so I mentioned that there were a couple things that bugged me about this book. One of the things is that up to a certain point, Mina is shown to be a pretty independent and capable woman. Then, all of a sudden, all the men in Mina's life decide that they are going to go after Dracula and it would be best not to trouble Mina's delicate femenine sensibilities with the harsh and stressful details of this crusade. They try to protect her and keep her away from all the scariness in the world, and it's not like she's ignorant up to this point; she has been full-on involved and knows exactly what kind of evil they are up against. She's been typing up and collating everyone's scary journal entries, lizard-crawling men, woman-eating wolves, vampire stakings and everything for crying out loud! And what happens? Dracula gets her, and if she follows in poor Lucy's footsteps, she will soon be preying on small children, which, I think, qualifies as a parasitic danger to the community.

Wow, I did not expect for this review to get all deep! I have to say, whether that was an intentional commentary on society or not, I feel a lot better about Bram Stoker now. I was ready to throw the book across the room earlier, but now I'm glad I didn't, especially since it's a nice older copy.

Did any of you Lost fans notice the reference to Jack Sheppard? It was at the very end of Chapter VIII, when Dr. Seward is talking about his restrained patient, Renfield. He says that "Jack Sheppard himself couldn't get free from the strait-waistcoat that keeps him restrained, and he's chained to the wall in the padded room." Well, I had to see if this Jack Sheppard was any relation to Lost's Jack Shephard...turns out probably not. Jack Sheppard was a notorious criminal in England who was known for his escapes...like all the times Jack has tried to escape the Lost island...so maybe there is a connection, hmmmm? Really? You think I'm reading way too much into this? Yeah, probably.

My final thought is that people must have had much better memories back in the old days because the entire novel is told in epistolary format, mostly through journal entries, and the ability that all the characters have to remember things in great detail is very impressive. Take for example, Dr. Seward's account of Mina's account of Dracula's monologue during his visit to her boudoir:

"Then he spoke to me mockingly, 'And so you, like the others, would play your brains against mine. You would help these men to hunt me and frustrate me in my designs! You know now, and they know in part already, and will know in full before long, what it is to cross my path. They should have kept their energies for use closer to home. Whilst they played wits against me--against me who commanded nations, and intrigued for them, and fought for them, hundreds of years before they were born--I was countermining them. And you, their best beloved one, [blah blah blah].'" This goes on for about half a page. This is why I have a hard time with epistolary novels. The writing doesn't always ring quite true. I'm just sayin', if it were my journal entry, it would look something like this:

Holy crap! Dracula was in Mina's room last night! I knew we shouldn't have left her all alone with that creepy mist that can sneak through cracks and turn itself into a vampire! I asked her if he said anything important, and she didn't remember too many details-vampire in the room and all-but basically, she said he's pissed that we're hunting him. And that he's kind of uppity and full of himself.


So, in summary, I'm glad I finally read this book, I enjoyed it, and I hope you do too! If you've reviewed Dracula, let me know, and I'll add a link to your review.

Reviews and other stuff:

The Daily Rant told us when Dracula's castle went on the real estate market. Anyone know the status of that? I've been thinking a vacation home in the mountains would be nice. Also, anyone have several million dollars I could borrow?


10 comments:

softdrink said...

Great write up! I think we had similar thoughts about the book...I thought it was fun to read, but if Bram was still alive he wouldn't be winning the Nobel Prize.

I'm pretty sure that my annotated edition mentioned something about the severe tea. I want to say it meant they got lots of food, but I'll have to double check.

mee said...

You remind me of the New Women commentary from Mina! I'm noting down the quote :)

I too was disappointed that Mina's role turned to be a damsel in distress. And I recall Van Helsing mentioned a couple of times about how she has "man's brain". What was that all about?! I hated that comment!

The reference to Jack Sheppard is interesting. I never realized that.

Great review! Mine's here

Dreamybee said...

softdrink-Thanks! LOL-Yeah, probably no Nobel Prizes, but I bet he'd have a crazy movie/TV show/clothing/video game deal!

That's kind of what I figured about the severe tea, but it still sounds weird!

mee-Yeah, I'm sure that whole "man's brain" thing was meant to be a compliment, but it doesn't read too well in this day and age. Really, for the time thought, I think Mina's character was probably a pretty good one. I mean, even though she turned into the damsel in distress, she still toughed it out to travel overland into the Carpathians-that's nothing to scoff at. I wouldn't want to do that if I wasn't feeling well!

Rebecca Reid said...

Yeah, I am with you on the memories thing -- just something else that made it incredibly unrealistic to me. I know, I know, the vampire thing added to that as well, but really the whole things just wasn't for me.

Mina suddenly being weak (as you mention) also bugged me.

I'm glad you liked it overall, though!

Care said...

I am going to save this book AND Frank for next October. I'm ready for sappy gratefulness and holiday cheer for the last two months but I really hope I remember to come back and read this post! What pieces I did read were great. and I, too, love Literay Connections - I'm off to go read that post you linked to. Thx!

dolcebellezza said...

My lasting impression of this book is twofold: the way that the evil was able to penetrate every where, even under doors, and the scary ride through the forest in the very beginning. I agree with you, this is not the stuff for thirteen year old girls. Usually, the most they can cope with today is sparkly pink lipgloss.

Heather J. said...

So glad that you ended up enjoying this for the most part - and also that you joined in the Dueling Monsters!

Dreamybee said...

Rebecca-I wonder if it was common practice at the time for people to keep journals that detailed and formal and also if part of the reason the book was written that way was to allow for good read-aloud experiences. I mean, journal entries like the one I suggested wouldn't make for very good reading, I guess! (Aloud or otherwise).

Care-I love sappy gratefulness! I hope you find some good holiday reading.

dolcebelleza-Sparkly pink lipgloss for their sparkly vampires!

Heather J-I'm so glad I decided to join in. Thanks for hosting the read-a-long!

farmlanebooks said...

I'm very surprised to discover that Dracula is in the YA section of your library - it is in the classics section of mine!

I agree with you about Mina - I hated her becoming helpless and in need of protection.

I also think it is funny that you mentioned the excellent memory they all must have had - i had to laugh at that!

Dreamybee said...

farmlanebooks-I actually checked out 2 copies of Dracula and now that I'm looking at them, the 1897 edition is labeled "Adult Fiction," but the 2005 version with an introduction by Elizabeth Kostova (who wrote The Historian) is labeled both "Young Adult" and "Classic." Either way, I'm confused. Like you, I would just expect it to be in the "Classic" section.