This is a classic monster tale I have enjoyed before, but could not wait to revisit as the season is rife with haunted ghouls and bloodthirsty readers!
Young solicitor Johnathan Harker finds himself travelling through the Hungarian countryside and into Romania, on his way to a castle in the heart of Transylvania. There, one Count Dracula awaits Harker and proves to be an odd, yet amenable, host. Seeking to finalise a land deal in England, Harker and Dracula talk long into the night, though the former feels that there is something odd about his host. It is only when numerous unsettling things occur that Harker realises that Count Dracula is nothing like any man he has met before and eventually escapes the confines of the castle.
Back in England, Harker’s fiancée, Mina, and her close friend, Lucy, are going through their own ordeals. Lucy Westenra suffers through significant bouts of sleepwalking. The two women travel to the seaside to clear their heads, but Lucy encounters someone the reader knows to be Dracula during one of her nocturnal jaunts and is eventually discovered with two minuscule puncture holes on her neck. Unsure of what to do, Westenra is sent to see Dr. Johnathan Seward, one of her suitors and director of the local mental hospital. When Dr. Seward cannot deduce all of these symptoms, he calls upon the renowned Dr. Abraham Van Helsing in Amsterdam to consult.
The Dutchman arrives and begins some of his early queries. He is highly interested, though cannot be completely sure that he has a diagnosis of yet. Slowly, Lucy begins to fade from this mysterious neck injury and eventually died of her injuries, though her body transforms into a vampire of sorts, paralleling some of the actions Count Dracula is known to have been committing.
Van Helsing works with Seward to locate the body and it is at this time that the Dutch doctor deduces that there is something eerie at work. Studying the situation before him, Van Helsing proposes the seemingly barbaric act of driving a stake through Lucy’s heart and then decapitating her, which is the only way to ensure that her spirit will be freed, according to some of his research and ancient lore.
Done with that issue, but still needing to resolve the larger concern at hand, Van Helsing gathers a group to hunt down the Count, who seems to have taken up residence in England, and drive him back to Transylvania. Lurking in the dark and gloomy areas of Eastern Europe, Van Helsing prepares for the fight of his life, armed with only the most basic medicaments, in hopes of slaying this monster once and for all.
Stoker lays the groundwork for a truly bone-chilling tale that has stood the test of time. I would highly recommend this to anyone who has the wherewithal to delve deep into the heart of a sensational 19th century story of horror and mayhem.
I am still kicking myself that I waited so long to read this sensational piece of fiction. Surely one of the early stories that has fostered such a strong tie between Dracula and Hallowe’en, Bram Stoker’s work provides the reader not only with thorough entertainment, but leaves a shiver up their spine every time they enter a dark room.
With a cast of powerful characters, Stoker weaves his tale in such a way that the story never loses its momentum. Harker, Seward, and Van Helsing are all well-crafted and provides powerful contrasts throughout the narrative, while Count Dracula is not only eerie in his presentation, but also one of the scariest villains in 19th century literature.
There need not be outward descriptions of gore and slaying to get to the root of the suspense in this novel, which seems to differ from much of the writing in the genre today, where gushing blood and guts pepper the pages of every book imaginable. The narrative is also ever-evolving, helped significantly by the journal-based writing that Stoker has undertaken. The reader is transported through the story using these varied perspectives (and some press clippings), rather than a straight delivery of the story from a single point of view. This surely enhances the larger package and does much to provide the reader with even more fright, at certain times.
There are surely many stories taking place here, some of which deal directly with the issue at hand (read: Dracula), while others seem to solve themselves throughout the numerous journal entries. Whatever the approach, Stoker captivates the reader such that there is a strong desire to know how it all ends and if Van Helsing lives up to his more colloquial moniker of ‘Vampire Hunter’.
I wish to add for those who wish to take the audiobook approach, as I have done, the Audible version, with a full cast (including Alan Cumming, Tim Curry, and John Lee), adds yet another dimension to this story and should not be discounted.
Kudos, Mr. Stoker, for such a riveting piece. I can only hope to find the time to read some of your other work, as well as that of your descendants, who seem to want to carry the torch and provide more Dracula for the modern reader.
A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons