Having experienced other gothic classics of the 18th and 19th century, I was delighted to find Dracula unexpectedly readable. I was also surprised to find how little it resembles its many theatrical and movie productions, even those that attempt to stay closer to the original work.
All versions begin the same, however, with poor Jonathan Harker sent out by his office to Transylvania to complete a property deal with his client, Count Dracula. While staying at Dracula’s castle, he begins to suspect something is badly amiss and eventually fears for his life.
Back in England, his fiancée Mina Murray corresponds with and later stays with her good friend Lucy Westerna at a seaside town. In one day, Lucy has received proposals from three different young men, who all feature strongly in the novel. Dr. Jack Seward is in charge of a local insane asylum. Quincy Morris is a manly, amiable Texan, whom I feared all along was designed for a ghastly death. Lucy’s chosen is Arthur Holmwood, another manly young man who is soon promoted to a lordship by the convenient death of a benefactor. (I don’t think these things work this way, since Arthur is not his benefactor’s relative, but never mind.)
After a freakish storm, a Russian ship arrives unmanned at the port where Mina and Lucy are staying with Mrs. Westerna, who is gravely ill. As it arrives, a large dog jumps off it and runs ashore. Aboard is not a single live human. We horror aficianados know that Dracula has arrived.
While Mina waits for news of Jonathan, Lucy begins sleepwalking and behaving oddly. Dr. Seward makes notes about a patient who eats bugs and babbles about his master. Soon Van Helsing will be needed.
Unlike in most of the spin-offs, except for Jonathan Harker’s experiences at the beginning, Dracula is mostly an unseen menace for much of the novel. I’m guessing that the original readers did not necessarily realize the identity of that bat fluttering outside Lucy’s window.
In any case, the novel covers a lot more ground than does the standard remake. It is epistolary, written entirely as letters and journal entries. It is well written and moves along nicely except for the occasionally long-winded expulsion of pseudo-scientific mumbo-jumbo by Van Helsing or Seward. In the true gothic fashion, it is a classic battle of good versus evil, with the prize the soul of our heroine Mina.
Modern readers may be bothered by the depiction of the two women. Lucy is supposed to be a modern woman—who else would have three suitors at a time? She is both innocent and pure in herself and quite the seductive vamp when under the spell of Count Dracula. The men do a lot of harm to both her and Mina by trying to protect the “little women” from knowledge of what is going on. Again, try to judge the novel’s attitudes by the standards of its own time, when it was simply considered a whomping good tale.