Saturday, 31 October 2015

2015 CLASSICS CHALLENGE: DRACULA


Dracula by Bram Stoker
My rating:☆☆☆

A young lawyer on an assignment finds himself imprisoned in a Transylvanian castle by his mysterious host. Back at home his fiancée and friends are menaced by a malevolent force which seems intent on imposing suffering and destruction. Can the devil really have arrived on England’s shores? And what is it that he hungers for so desperately? [summary from Goodreads]

When I discovered this classic:
This is another classic that I think I've always been aware of but never thought to read until I caught sight of it in a charity shop. I admit that the amazing cover design definitely drew me in to actually buy it and discover the story.

Why I chose to read it:
I bought it in August with the idea of reading it for this month's classics challenge as it seemed a perfect Halloween read. 

What makes it a classic?
Although Bram Stoker didn't invent the idea of the vampire he definitely defined our modern interpretation of vampires, and Dracula (published in 1897) has inspired endless works of horror since. Whilst reading I realised how little I knew about the actual story and history of Dracula so I did some research on the book, it's inspirations and it's reception upon publication. It's interesting to note that readers of the day considered it just another enjoyable adventure story and it didn't reach it's current iconic status until film versions started to appear. It is now considered to be amongst the greatest works of gothic horror and since 1931 the book has never been out of print.

What I thought of this classic:
On first picking up the book I was surprised to find that it is an epistolary novel that is comprised of letters, journal entries from various people and newspaper reports, that, pieced together, tell the story of Count Dracula's invasion of Britain. I think I expected it to be an entirely first person narrative but the epistolary style is actually quite typical of the gothic genre and makes the novel seem more believable even in it's most far-fetched moments. I enjoyed dipping in and out of different characters' perspectives and seeing all the seemingly disparate pieces come together at the crux of the novel.

The overall narrative was well-constructed, quite fast-paced and exciting. I enjoyed the plot as a whole and would have rated Dracula higher if it weren't for my next point.

The one thing that irked me throughout the entire novel was it's intense sexism and celebration of the patriarchy. The novel is obviously of it's time in that respect but the representation of women as damsels who are weak and need constant protection is still pretty enraging. Even the strong female presence in the novel, Mina Harker, whose wit and bravery are essential to the progression of the narrative is ultimately diminished because of her gender. At one point one of the male characters remarks in surprise that, because of her intelligence and conscientious actions, Mina 'has a man's brain'. And when it comes down to taking action at the crux of the novel, the same male character forbids Mina to take part, as 'it is no part for a woman [...] her heart may fail her'. Without spoiling anything, the women in the novel can be categorised as either; pure and innocent but ultimately weak, or sexualised, violent and evil - either way they are objectified. This book encapsulates the problematic depictions of Victorian women and it just really pissed me off.

Ignoring the above (although how can I?) I did actually objectively enjoy the book and think that as a work of gothic literature it is pretty brilliant although in terms of gender representation it's apalling. I do think it's definitely worth reading to gain an insight into the origins of modern horror.

Will it stay a classic?
Definitely. The continued iconic status of the vampire in pop culture is rooted in this novel and I imagine that as long as the idea of the vampire is continually recreated in modern literature, television and film, people will come back to the original classic to see where it all began.

Who I would recommend it to:
Horror fans and anyone interested in gothic literature. 

The 2015 Classics Challenge is hosted by Stacey of Pretty Books and you can find out more about it here.

Happy Halloween! 
Have you read Dracula? What did you think?

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