Bram Stoker's Dracula, first published in 1897, was my 50th and final read for my Classics Club challenge, which I began in November 2014. This title wasn't even on my original list, a fact which doesn't surprise me. I predicted I'd make many changes as I went along. It's also my choice in the Gothic or horror category in the 2017 Back to the Classics Challenge.
I knew the vaguest outline of the plot - Count Dracula travels from Transylvania to England, in search of unsuspecting new blood to feed upon, but is ultimately thwarted and killed - before I started reading, but much of the book was a surprise. I wasn't even aware that it was an epistolary novel, written as a series of letters, diary and journal entries as well as the occasional newspaper article and entry from a ship's log.
The novel opens with young English solicitor Jonathan Harker being sent to Transylvania to assist Count Dracula purchase property in England, Despite a promising start the visit soon turns sinister and Harker realizes he is the Count' s prisoner. I enjoyed this section of the book. The plot moved quickly and soon had me engrossed. Plus the descriptive writing was especially evocative, with wolves, the dark isolation of the castle and the mysterious flickering lights.
Abruptly everything changed and we are reading a series of letters between Lucy, who is juggling three admirers, and her friend Mina, who happens to be the fiancee of Jonathan Harker. This switch is quite disconcerting and I was somewhat frustrated - what was happening to Jonathan? - waiting for the two seemingly distinct strands to come together again. And eventually they do. A mysterious boat arrives in England without any crew left alive but reports indicate a large black dog was seen leaving the ship after it landed. Lucy becomes sicker and progressively weaker and despite the efforts of her three admirers (one of whom is now her fiancee), Mina and Professor van Helsing she eventually dies. Meanwhile Harker returns and recovers from his traumatic experience and joins the others in the fight against what they now realize is a vampire. Much drama ensues - the undead Lucy has to be killed (staked through the heart, beheaded and her mouth filled with garlic), Mina is partly taken over by Dracula, and the vampire fighters pursue Dracula back to Transylvania where he is ultimately destroyed in battle.
I loved Mina as a character. In many ways she reminded me of Marian in A Woman in White. She is so capable and resourceful, even when Dracula attempts to take her over. She is the one who makes many important connections and works out what Dracula might be doing at various points. Frustratingly, despite plenty of evidence to the contrary, the men believe she needs protecting and act paternalistically keeping some important but frightening information from her. This proves to be a costly mistake.
Despite the character of Mina, Stoker's Dracula is not always an easy read for someone of a feminist persuasion. Lucy is the stereotypical beautiful damsel in distress and all the men practically fall over themselves trying to save her. While nowhere near as passive as Laura from A Woman in White, Lucy irked me as being a similar type of character. And as for the remark from one of the males that "brave man's blood is the best thing on earth when a woman is in trouble" the less said about that the better!
Another factor that impacted my enjoyment of the novel was the many long winded tedious sections. Professor van Helsing was the cause of many of those, and I recognized the importance of some of them in setting the background and accurately providing all the information in much the same way that prosecutors build and present evidence in a court case. But still I found myself sighing after reading the fourth detailed account of a blood transfusion. After one detailed account surely a briefer mention would have sufficed? Likewise, knowing that a wolf had escaped form the zoo was important but the verbatim report of a conversation with the zookeeper seemed to slow down the action and decrease, rather than increase, the sense of rising tension - at least for me.
Overall I'm glad I read this novel. I'm not a fan of vampire fiction but in light of its present day popularity its good to have read one of the earliest examples of the genre. It was a simple, uncomplicated read not nearly as gruesome or frightening as I feared it might have been.