Reading Guide Dracula
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DRACULA: ABOUT THE BOOK
'One of the most powerful horror tales ever written' Malcolm Bradbury
The tale begins with Jonathan Harker, a newly qualified English solicitor, journeying by train and carriage from England to Count Dracula’s crumbling, remote castle (situated in the Carpathian Mountains on the border of Transylvania and Moldavia). The purpose of his mission is to provide legal support to Dracula for a property transaction. At first seduced by Dracula's gracious manner, Harker soon discovers that he has become a prisoner in the castle. He also begins to notice disquieting facets of Dracula's nocturnal life. Harker eventually escapes and returns to England.
Not long afterward, a Russian ship, the Demeter, having weighed anchor at Varna, runs aground on the shores of Whitby, England, during a fierce storm. All of the crew are missing and presumed dead, and only one body is found, that of the captain tied to the ship's helm. The captain’s log is recovered and tells of strange events that had taken place during the ship's journey. These events led to the gradual disappearance of the entire crew, apparently owing to a malevolent presence on board the ill-fated ship. An animal described as a large wolf is seen on the ship leaping ashore. The ship's cargo is described as silver sand and boxes of earth from Transylvania.
Strange happenings start to occur in Whitby: puncture marks appear on a young woman's neck; and a lunatic asylum inmate raves about the arrival of his 'Master'. Events soon embroil Harker and his fiancée Wilhelmina 'Mina' Murray, her vivacious friend Lucy Westenra and Lucy’s fiancée Arthur Holmwood, an asylum psychiatrist, Dr. John Seward, and an American, Quincey Morris. As Lucy begins to waste away suspiciously, Seward calls his old teacher, Professor Abraham Van Helsing from Amsterdam,
for help. In the ensuing battle of wits between the sinister Count and a determined group of adversaries, Bram Stoker created a masterpiece of the horror genre.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
'How blessed are some people, whose lives have no fears, no dreads' Bram Stoker
Bram (Abraham) Stoker was born in Dublin in 1847, the son of a civil servant. He overcame an incapacitating childhood illness to attend Trinity College, Dublin, where he distinguished himself in athletics, became president of both Philosophical and Historical Societies and graduated in Pure Mathematics. From 1870 to 1877 he worked as a civil servant in Dublin Castle and published The Duties of Clerks of Petty Sessions in Ireland (1879). During this period he wrote dramatic criticism, and in 1878 his strong admiration for Henry Irving led the actor to appoint him as acting business manager at London’s Lyceum Theatre. Here he was box-office administrator and front-of-house master of ceremonies – a career change which led him to routinely rub shoulders with the artistic and political establishment of the day. He was by all accounts a hearty, down-to-earth and meticulous man. Stoker seldom left the theatre before one in the morning, because his boss liked him to organize regular dinners after the show in a Gothic parlour behind the stage. In 1878 Stoker married actress Florence Balcombe, with whom he had a son, Irving Noel Thornley.
To judge by the many different headed notepapers he used, Bram Stoker tended to write on the run in hotels, on trains, in libraries and on leave from the Lyceum: Stoker's first jottings for Dracula were developed during a wet family holiday in Whitby, Yorkshire, in July-August 1890. He found the name 'Dracula' in a book about Wallachia and Moldovia, shelved in Whitby's Museum and Subscription Library. Between Summer 1890 and Summer 1896, and between several major writing assignments including three other novels, he methodically worked on Dracula. The form of the book matched the fragmentary way in which it had been assembled: a collection of letters, diary and journal entries, press cuttings, transcribed phonograph recording – the documents in the case, from the points of view of all the main characters except the Count himself.
Stoker's literary output was more vast than people remember it today. He wrote several short stories and novels, a lecture in praise of America, and the amusing Famous Imposters (1910). Few of Stoker's works, which include The Mystery of the Sea (1902), Personal Reminiscences of Henry Irving (1906) and The Lair of the White Worm (1911) are now read, except for his very successful Dracula (1897). Dracula was a bestseller upon publication, soon went into paperback and continues to be read worldwide.
In an interview conducted by Jane Stoddard ('Lorna'), [published in British Weekly, 1 July 1897], Stoker made the following comments on the legend of the vampire...
'In certain parts of Styria it has survived longest and with most intensity, but the legend is common to many countries, to China, Iceland, Germany, Saxony, Turkey, the Chersonese, Russia, Poland, Italy, France, and England, besides all the Tartar communities … No one book that I know of will give you all the facts. I learned a good deal from E. Gerard's 'Essays on Roumanian Superstitions,' [sic] which first appeared in the nineteenth century, and were afterwards published in a couple of volumes. I also learned something from Mr. Baring-Gould’s ‘Were-Wolves'.'
STARTING POINTS FOR YOUR DISCUSSION
'I suppose that every book of the kind must contain some lesson … but I prefer that readers should find it out for themselves' Bram Stoker
- Late Victorian readers seem to have read the book as an early piece of techno-fiction.* What examples can you find of this and to what extent can the novel be seen as an exploration of science and western civilization versus savagery and the east?
- How far does the novel fit the Gothic genre? To what extent does the novel go beyond the genre, using archetypal Gothic themes and images as a means to explore more subversive topics?
- Jonathan Harker's fictional journal entry for the night of 15 May is said to stem from a real- life nightmare of Stoker's. Can we learn anything from this regarding Stoker's own darkest fears and/or secrets? Can we take this into a wider context to discuss sexuality and sexual repression in Victorian society? Are there any further examples of this in the novel?
- To what extent is Dracula an expression of internal fears? Perhaps compare to the threat of Frankenstein's monster in Frankenstein? To what extent are these particularly Victorian fears?
- Discuss the female characters in the novel: their role, character and position in society (include any female characters met in Transylvania!), especially Mina Harker. Are they activeor passive? Realistic or extreme? To what extent do their characters determine their fate?
- Which themes just discussed, if any, do you think Stoker would have had in mind when writing the novel – and which have been ascribed to the novel by critics at later dates?
- What motives does the novel give for the Count’s behaviour? Do we have any sympathy for him as a reader?
- The story has been made into countless films. In each, we see further development of the character of the Count. In 1958 he was played by Christopher Lee, in 1979 by Klaus Klinski and in 1992 by Gary Oldman. The 1992 film is the most visually stylish and the Count has now become a romantic hero. What does this say about our feelings towards the genre and the 'villain'? Why do you think interpretations have changed?
* Techno-fiction: Fiction that makes use of and explores contemporary scientific developments and discoveries. For example, in Dracula we see phonograph recordings used as evidence, and Van Helsing attempts several blood transfusions on Lucy. It is different to science-fiction, which involves imaginative speculations based on current or, most often, future developments in science or technology.
OTHER BOOKS BY BRAM STOKER
- The Lair of the White Worm (Penguin, 2008, ISBN 9780141038759)
- Dracula's Guest and Other Weird Tales (Penguin, 2006, ISBN 9780141441719)
- The Jewel of Seven Stars (Penguin, 2008, ISBN 9780141442211)
SUGGESTED FURTHER READING
- Frankenstein – Mary Shelley (Penguin, 2003, ISBN 9780141439471)
- Hermsprong – Robert Bage (Broadview Press Ltd., 2002)
- The Coming Race – Edward Bulwer-Lytton (Magoria Books, 2007)
- The Invisible Man – H. G. Wells (Penguin, 2005, ISBN 9780141439983)
- The Castle of Otranto – Horace Walpole (Penguin, 2001, ISBN 9780140437676)
- The Historian - Elizabeth Kostova (Time Warner, 2006, ISBN 0751537284)
- Bram Stoker: A Biography of the Author of Dracula – Barbara Belford (New York: Alfred Knopf, and London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1996)
- Dracula: The Vampire and the Critics – Margaret L. Carter (ed.), (Ann Arbor and London: UMI Research Press, 1988)
- Bram Stoker's Dracula: The Film and the Legend – Francis Ford Coppola and James V. Hart (New York: Newmarket Press, 1992)
- Vampyres: Lord Byron to Count Dracula – Christopher Frayling (London and Boston: Faber & Faber, 1991)
- Dracula: Between Tradition and Modernism – Carol A. Senf (New York: Twayne, 1998)
- The Living Dead: A Study of the Vampire in Romantic Literature – (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1981)
ADDITIONAL ONLINE RESOURCES
- Nosferatu (1922) Directed by F. W. Murnau, with Max Schreck. A classic from the ‘silent’ era. Seen by many as the definitive ‘Dracula’ film.
- Dracula (1931) Directed by Tod Browning, with Bela Lugosi.
- Dracula (1958) Directed by Terrence Fisher, with Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.
- Dracula (1979) Directed by John Badham, with Laurence Oliver, Frank Langella and Donald Pleasance.
- Nosferatu (1979) Directed by Werner Herzog, with Klaus Klinski. A homage to Murnau’s classic take on the tale.
- Dracula (1992) Directed by Francis Ford Coppola, with Gary Oldman, Richard E. Grant and Anthony Hopkins. Won 3 Oscars.
- Dracula: Dead and Loving It (1995) Directed by Mel Brooks, starring Leslie Nielson, Peter MacNicol and Mel Brooks. A spoof adaptation.
- Shadow of the Vampire (2000) Directed by E. Elias Merhige, with Willem Dafoe. Combines the story of Dracula with the making of Murnau’s film.
Dracula 2000 (2001) Directed by Patrick Lussier, with Gerard Butler and Jonny Lee Miller. A film set in modern times about a man who works in antiques trying to save a woman from Dracula.