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Over the years, I had heard from various sources that Bram Stoker’s famous novel was a surprisingly good read but it always slipped into some nebulously deep part of my reading list that I never seemed to reach.  It finally came to the forefront recently when reading some excerpts from it in “Religion and Its Monsters” by Timothy Beal.  Beal’s work was somewhat disappointing overall, covering  broader range of topics within the title’s spectrum, but ultimately not broad enough.  Still, his discussion of Stoker’s novel piqued my interest, even then not so much by his offered explanation of the story as a sort of xenophobic parable (although, it’s a perfectly lucid analysis) but just by his synopsis of the story itself.  It sounded like a much richer tale than I associated with the images of Bela Lugosi stalking around black and white frames with a cape and pointy teeth.

While the climax of “Dracula” has been outdone by dozens of vampire stories written since then, everything else leading up to it is surprisingly engrossing for material that’s not only older but so often-copied and referenced.  However, familiarity with the general outline of the story does nothing to dampen the gothic atmosphere that Stoker builds.  Isolated castles shunned by visibly frightened natives, vampire brides materializing from moonlight, a ship crewed by the dead.  Stoker brilliantly constructs a mythos around his main monster while shrouding him in mystery.  You quickly forget all the ripoffs, adaptations and pastiches and are drawn into the story and the characters.

Oh, and Dracula is NOT the romanticized pretty boy of modern vampire lore.  Edward, Lestat, even the Count’s on-screen rendering by Francis Ford Coppola seem more at home in boy bands than in Stoker’s portrait of vampiricism.  If you read closely, you’ll find a couple of lines devoted to the man Dracula once was or might have been.  Otherwise,throughout we’re dealing with a full-blown, unapologetic monster.  And there’s something refreshing about that compared to the existential angst of his modern-day “peers”.

Perhaps what makes the story so immediate and engaging despite its age and universal recognition is that Stoker’s wrote it as an epistolary work.  In other words, the story is presented as a collection of letters and journal entries.  So we are privy to the innermost thoughts of our protagonists in a rather organic yet vivid fashion.  Conversely, this also keeps Dracula at an even greater distance as we never see the story from his view, further building and the mystique of this monster.

After reading it, the not entirely original thought occurred to me that we’ve lost something in the full embrace of the digital age.  I doubt that the letters written in his character’s voices would seem contrived or overly explicatory to his contemporary audience.  And a modern audience will accept the mechanism because the story draws you in quickly and also because it’s set in another era in which we just take for granted a difference in modes of communication.

But to write a novel like this set in today’s world would look VERY different.  Instead of a full epistolary, we’d have a series of tweets, emails, IM chats and Facebook posts.  It’s an interesting contrast in cultures and communication methods.  In these fictional letters, things mundane yet heartfelt are expressed between characters.  Yes, it’s a novel and as such may be exaggerated in its depictions of such relationships for the purpose of the narrative.  Still, there’s something about the written word, especially letter writing, that forces us to dig a little deeper into our expressions and communication.  In stark contrast, the rapid and public communication that we all now employ forces us to be as brief and concise as possible.  Granted, sometimes brevity is a good thing and I’ve seen some very creative uses of 140 characters.  But the overall effect is a sort of debasement of interpersonal communication.  Our interactions are more frequent, but much less personal and much more detached.

So where does that lead us?  Are we truly drifting apart on our own little digital islands?  Or has this deeper interaction reasserted itself elsewhere?

In any case, for a free e-book copy from Amazon, click here!   And, no, Amazon’s not paying me to do this.  Even if they were, a commission percentage off of $0.00 isn’t going to buy me much.  :)

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8 thoughts on “BOOK JOURNAL: “Dracula” and the Lost Art of Letter Writing

  1. I imagine it would be interesting to compare Stoker’s Dracula to the Hollywood renditions of Dracula and all the other vampires that have appeared on the scene lately. I haven’t read Stoker’s Dracula but I read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein a few years ago. I was amazed at how ariculate the monster was compared to the Hollywood versions.

    • “Frankenstein” and the eloquence of the monster took me by surprise, too! It was assigned when I was in the 7th grade, so I was actually a bit disappointed that he wasn’t a moaning, mindless beast. In fact, if I remember correctly, his text was actually MORE articulate than some of the doctor’s journal entries.

      But because of my age and the fact that I was a bit blindsided by that aspect of the story, it may be worth revisiting to see if I appreciate it more on second read.

  2. Stoker’s Dracula was a monster – I wish we would get back to that depiction of vampires – enough with the romance and the angst! I loved the style of the book – it’s still quite unique even today – and it’s never been faithfully adapted for film. I remember reading it was a bit of a chore – but a worthwhile chore. I recall in college reading a very persuasive essay that interpreted the novel as a parable on child abuse and even stated evidence of Stoker having been abused as a child. In my Catholic high school I took an entire course on it studying line by line (like the Bible!) – through the lens of religion – and that was fascinating, too – how subversive Stoker’s vision was – and how truly horrifying that must’ve been to his very religious/superstitious Victorian audience. Great stuff – and, yes, I wonder, too, about the lost art of letter writing…

    • Those are some fascinating angles on the story! There’s a ton of religious subtext and symbolism throughout, including the subversion of some classic imagery. Some are obvious. Others, I’m not sure I would have caught had Beal not pointed them out first (the pillar of smoke and fire in Mina’s bedroom, for instance). A deeper analysis of those would make for a very interesting course (although line-by-line sounds almost painful).

      The child abuse angle is surprising and one I totally missed. Although missing major themes is not entirely unheard of in my adventures through literature, as I’m sure we’ll see on my next entry on “The Great Gatsby”.

  3. It was a great book. I’ve read elsewhere that it was about homosexuality; somewhere else that it was about rape… now, child abuse? So many interpretations for one book: it’s quite fascinating.

    • Stoker really does weave in a LOT of different (and disturbing themes). It goes a long way towards explaining the endurance of this particular work. Obviously, he didn’t invent vampire lore, but he’s essentially set the bar for everyone going forward.

      Thanks for commenting!

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