Welcome to this new segment here on Obscura Undead where I will take on Gothic literature. I will be talking about the old classics as well as newer works. While I love music, books are dearer to my heart, and I always need to have a book to read. That’s why I will be hosting this segment! Hope you enjoy.
We will start with Bram Stoker’s Dracula, for obvious reasons. It’s one of the most famous gothic novels of all time, and let’s face it; a lot of us goths are a little too obsessed with vampires. The book was a little late to the Gothic game, not published until May 26, 1897 (133 years after Horace Walpole’s The Castle Of Otranto). It wasn’t even the first vampire novel (that was John William Polidori’s 1819 short The Vampyre)! Stoker actually quotes Gottfried August Bürger’s poem Lenore from 1773 early on in his book;
Denn die Todten reiten schnell
So why is it that THIS novel became so famous? Well, the Gothic really exploded in the Victorian age - both when it comes to revival of the architecture, but also the literature. Penny dreadfuls, Edgar Allan Poe, the Brontë sisters, Charles Dickens, Le Fanu’s Carmilla, The Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde, The Picture Of Dorian Gray and many more examples were published during this time. Gothic literature was super popular! So it’s really no wonder that when Dracula finally came out, the Victorians devoured it. It was a time when death and blood were common sights, and the vampire can be used as a metaphor for sex - especially when Dracula bites the necks of young women! But it still wasn’t as popular as it is today. It still had good reviews though. But when Stoker died in 1912, he was pretty poor.
“I want you to believe...to believe in things that you cannot.”
- Van Helsing
Bram Stoker never knew about Vlad The Impaler, he just saw the name Dracula while doing research, and thought it was cool (the original name he came up with was ‘‘Count Wampyr’’). I guess we can blame Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula 1992 movie for that misconception. That is still one of the best Dracula movies though! And it’s the movies that are ‘‘to blame’’ for Dracula’s fame. But long before that the novel was adapted for stage plays. Rumor has it there was a Hungarian movie called Dracula’s Death that came out in 1921, but it has since been lost. Nosferatu, an unauthorized adaptation, came out in 1922, and we’re lucky the film still available today, as Bram Stoker’s widow Florence ordered all copies to be destroyed. The original score, however, was lost. But one of the most famous adaptions is the 1931 Universal movie, starring Bela Lugosi. Universal continued to make tons of Dracula movies, and in 1958 Hammer Horror came out with their own version with Christopher Lee. Since then, over 200 Dracula movies have been made, which makes him the second most adapted literary character after Sherlock Holmes.
Now let’s actually talk about the book itself! Stoker wrote the novel so it reads like a historical account, consisting of diary entries, letters, telegrams, newspaper articles, and a ship log. They are still very detailed, so it still reads like a novel, and since there is a small headline over each entry, it’s easy to switch character point of views, and it doesn’t get confusing.
Editor’s Note: Spoilers ahead! Just in case you’ve never read the book, or seen the films, or engaged with pop culture vampire tropes in any way shape or form.
Jonathan Harker, a young solicitor, travels all the way from England to the Carpathian Mountains to visit Count Dracula, to be of legal support to Dracula's real estate transaction of Exeter. Not long after, Jonathan discovers what the Count truly is, and is trapped in the castle. He encounter’s Dracula’s three vampire brides, but is saved by the Count who wants to keep him alive for longer to use him. After Dracula leaves Transylvania, Jonathan manages to escape, but suffers from brain fever.
The next part is a pretty big part, which I feel isn't portrayed enough in the movies. It starts with the ship log of the Demeter, which ends up in Whitby - With only one passenger left, that is the captain, dead tied to the ship's helm. We are obviously told that Dracula was aboard this ship - he gets off as a large dog, and the recovered cargo consists of boxes of earth.
The Count watches Jonathan's fiancée Wilhelmina Murray (Mina) and her friend Lucy Westenra closely.
Lucy is a popular young woman, and receives three marriage proposals in one day from Dr. John Seward, Quincey Morris, and Arthur Holmwood - She accept that of the latter, but they all remain friends. Now that we know who Dr. John Seward is, we are introduced to his phonograph diaries about the patients of the lunatic asylum, in particular about the patient Renfield - who is clearly being influenced by Dracula. We hear about his love of absorbing the life force from flies, spiders, birds, and cats by devouring them whole. In some movie adaptions, we hear that HE went to Transylvania to see Dracula before Jonathan did, which is an interesting take.
Lucy begins to grow pale and weak, and everyone worries about her - so Seward calls in his old teacher Professor Abraham Van Helsing to help them out. He immediately knows what they're dealing with, but won't tell. He makes them all give her blood transfusions, but her blood is quickly drained again. A night when Van Helsing is in Amsterdam and his message for Seward to watch the house is delayed, Lucy and her mother are attacked by a wolf. Mrs. Westenra dies of heart failure, and Lucy dies soon after. After they are buried, newspapers report about a beautiful lady (called ''bloofer lady'' by the children) luring children away at night, and we understand that Lucy has now become a vampire. Van Helsing finally informs the others and, together with Lucy’s former suitors, stakes her in the heart, cuts off her head, and fill her mouth with garlic.
Jonathan Harker is now back home, with his new wife Mina, who went to him in Budapest after learning of his fate, and married him abroad. After Mina learns what happened, she and the others join forces to deal with Dracula. She is the one who collects and types out all their diary entries and evidence, which makes up this book, which I think was pretty cool of Stoker to include!
How blessed are some people, whose lives have no fears, no dreads; to whom sleep is a blessing that comes nightly, and brings nothing but sweet dreams.
- Lucy Westenra
The Count ultimately learns of their plans, and in anger feeds off of Mina several times. He forces her drink his blood, so they are bonded, and he can control her. Harker and the others now have to kill him to set her free. She is hypnotized so she can psychically connect with Dracula, but he feeds her misinformation regarding his surroundings. Mina, Jonathan, and the others set out to destroy all the grave dirt Dracula brought with him to England. When all of the earth boxes are sterilized by the group, Dracula flees back to Transylvania, and the group follows him. As they are closing in, they split up. Mina stays with Van Helsing who kills the Count's three brides.
It is now sundown at the castle, and Harker and Quincey have rushed to the box with Dracula in it, transported by gypsies. Harker stabs Dracula through the throat, and Quincey stabs him in the heart, and he dies. Dracula turns to dust, and Mina is freed. Quincey succumbs to the wounds he sustained in the fight and dies.
And just like I want my endings to be, we are told that seven years later, Mina and Jonathan have a son, named after the members of the group. One is called Quincey, since he was born on the anniversary of their American friend's death. That summer they travel back to Transylvania.
But wait! There was a deleted ending! Take a look:
As we looked there came a terrible convulsion of the earth so that we seemed to rock to and fro and fell to our knees. At the same moment with a roar which seemed to shake the very heavens the whole castle and the rock and even the hill on which it stood seemed to rise into the air and scatter in fragments while a mighty cloud of black and yellow smoke volume on volume in rolling grandeur was shot upwards with inconceivable rapidity.
Then there was a stillness in nature as the echoes of that thunderous report seemed to come as with the hollow boom of a thunder-clap – the long reverberating roll which seems as though the floors of heaven shook. Then down in a mighty ruin falling whence they rose came the fragments that had been tossed skywards in the cataclysm.
From where we stood it seemed as though the one fierce volcano burst had satisfied the need of nature and that the castle and the structure of the hill had sunk again into the void. We were so appalled with the suddenness and the grandeur that we forgot to think of ourselves.
The prequel to Dracula, inspired by notes and texts left behind by the author of the classic novel, Dracul is a riveting novel of gothic suspense that reveals not only Dracula's true origins but Bram Stoker's -- and the tale of the enigmatic woman who connects them.
So this was kind of supposed to be a review… I went a little overboard, but I hope that’s okay. It’s the first in this new series after all, and Dracula is a famous classic! Most people know the story already, so I hoped you liked the extra background, facts, and history I included.
Now, what do * I * think of it? Of course I love it, hahaha! I’ve read this so many times, and I’ve watched vampire movies since I was a small child. I’m also a big fan of Victorian literature, so I think it’s really good. People who are not used to that type of language though might have a hard time reading it, at least that’s what I’ve heard from others. But I read it without a problem (except slight giggles when I encounter words that have ENTIRELY different meanings today), so I will give it a rating of:
Next month I will be writing about Neil Gaiman’s Sandman! I will try to read all of the issues by then, review them and maybe talk about its’ significance to the goth subculture. Feel free to read along as this series continues, so we can discuss them together! See you next time!
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