Tuesday, 31 October 2017

The Problem with Reading Dracula in 2017

Dracula. It's a horror classic. A story about a vampire who comes over to London to nibble a couple of necks before attempting to flee back to Transylvania, only to be staked on his return. I did not go in expecting to be underwhelmed, but here we are. 

Most of the male characters are pretty generic. Jonathan's diary is so boring it actually hurts to read it. Arthur is a Lord and...that's it. Quincey is American. No, seriously, that's his entire personality. He's basically this guy -


The only interesting male characters are Seward and Van Helsing. Seward's pretty grey - he seems like a decent guy, but his almost obsessive interest in one of his mental patients gives him shades of the mad scientist. Van Helsing is fairly unique for the time period in that he comes over from abroad and speaks in slightly broken English, but he's portrayed as highly intelligent. He's the hero figure. The leader. In fiction in the 1800s, those traits usually signified a villain, or at the very least an obstacle. As a group, they're idiots. At one point two of them think they've seen Dracula in a hallway, but brush it off as a hallucination. If two of you are seeing it, that's usually proof that it's real.

Dracula too comes over from abroad, but Dracula is an evil, blood-sucking parasite who attacks both of the women in the story. He has just enough weaknesses to prevent him from being over-powered, but I still found him pretty dull. It's not him himself - his interactions with Jonathan at the beginning make him seem rather eccentric - but the lack of page-time he gets. After Jonathan leaves the castle, he feels more like a terrifying prescence in the heroes' minds than anything else. I finished it at gone midnight and he still didn't manage to scare me.

There are only two women: Lucy, who seemed like a sweetie-pie, but kicked the bucket quite early on, and Mina. Mina is... God. How do I put this? At the beginning, I liked her. At the beginning, I thought she was awesome. She's exceedingly competent for a heroine of this era. By the end, I found her insufferable. She goes on and on about how strong the male characters are (are they? Are they really?), everyone acts like she's a saint, and she keeps randomly ranting about the New Woman despite being one herself.

(Note: The New Woman first appeared in the 1800s and stuck around for the early part of the 1900s. She was (as) independent (as she could be). She was well-educated. She may even have attended university. Society feared her.)

Plot-wise, it's slow. After Lucy's bitten, you have to sit through four different blood transfusions before anything interesting actually happens. Really, this is where the true issue arises. The characters have no idea what's wrong with her, but we know from the two tiny puncture marks in her throat that Dracula has bitten her. The sixty or so pages it takes for the characters to catch up are sheer agony. There's no suspense in there, because the story of Dracula is so deeply ingrained in our culture that we know the blood transufusions won't work. We know Lucy will become a vampire. Just like we know when Mina's been bitten. Waiting for the heroes to work that out is even more frustrating because, by that point, they should know too. 

All in all, I do not recommend Dracula. If you're desperate to read a horror classic, pick up Frankenstein instead.

Happy Halloween, guys! Have any of you read Dracula?