Monday, January 30, 2012

Dracula - The Wrap Up

Christopher Lee, Gary Oldman, and an altered artwork of Vlad the Impaler - three very different versions of Bram Stoker's great vampire...
(Click image for original source)

Like the process of reading the book, writing this review took a lot longer than it should have. What you are currently reading is the fourth attempt to sum up my feelings about Dracula. I’m sick of sitting on it, wondering what to write. I have other books to read, dammit! And that’s why I’m up at 11.30pm on a Monday night doing my best to hammer this out as quickly as possible. It’s time to move on, people!

**The following contains SIGNIFICANT SPOILERS!**

So, why is Dracula so difficult for me to review? Well, quite simply, I’m not quite sure how I feel about it. On one hand, Dracula didn’t jump off the page and whisk me into a reading frenzy where I HAVE TO FINISH THIS PAGE AND GET TO THE NEXT ONE BECAUSE I WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS AND I WANT TO KNOW NOW! Don’t get me wrong, I quite enjoyed it, but it won’t be earning a place on my list of favourite Popular Penguins. It just didn’t suck me in, if you’ll excuse the appalling and completely unoriginal pun.

The story was a good one, and nowhere near as dull as I’d anticipated, with characters who were likeable, even if I didn’t find myself as invested in them as I feel I should have been. It didn’t really get me overly excited or change my life. Reading Dracula wasn’t a chore, not at all, but it wasn’t a walk in the park either. There was nothing driving me back to it once I’d put it down, and that’s a real shame, and the reason why it took me the better part of three months to finish it.

While I wasn’t completely captivated by Bram Stoker’s novel, elements of the book surprised me. The level of description was perfect; there was just enough to paint a picture without being a pile of wank, and what scenes he delivered to my mind’s eye! Seriously, if you want gothic delight, this is how it’s done.

The other thing that caught me off guard was the portrayal of Mina Harker, which really is a blog entry in itself. While the other female characters were weak and soft and pitiful, Mina has a bit of backbone about her, which meant she was immediately my favourite character. I’ve tossed and turned a bit about whether or not she was an early feminist, but I am certain that she’s a strong female character that deserves a little more praise, especially considering the period and the fact that she was written by a man. But, most spectacularly (and it really shouldn’t be), she’s a strong woman who, unlike Cathy from Wuthering Heights, for example, ISN’T A FREAKING BITCH. Sure, she adheres to the expectations of the 19th century lady in terms of being the good wife and demure picture of purity, but dang! Get her bitten by a vampire, or put her husband in danger, and then she gets just a smidgen badass! Yes, you could argue that it’s not that great that all her awesome moments are prompted by a man, but hey! It’s a freaking start! After all, without her on the team in Transylvania, the Anti-Drac squad would have easily lost the chance to vanquish the vampire. So yay for a critical character being a lady!

Finally, the sexual references! I'm sorry, but was anyone else a little turned on by the scene where Jonathan Harker meets the wives of Count Dracula? Sure, I hated that sexuality (particularly of the female variety) was demonised so blatantly in the book, but at the same time, it was pretty daring for the time period to include such an obvious allegory to the temptation of the sins of the flesh... I enjoyed that!

See? Who doesn't love sexy lady vampires?
(Image from Bram Stoker's Dracula)

I went into Dracula with entirely negative expectations. Knowing how much I hated its high school study partner, Frankenstein, I was sure this was going to be a real drag. Instead, I find myself confessing to enjoying it, even if it was a long, hard slog getting to the end. Call me bitten, but not converted.


Have you read Dracula? What were your thoughts? Is Mina Harker a strong female character, or did I get it completely wrong? Drop me a comment and let me know your thoughts!

x ND