'Dracula' Review

Bran Castle (Draculas Castle), Bran, Transylvania, Romania, Europe
Gary Cook/robertharding/Getty Images

As preoccupied with propriety as the Victorian era was, it always surprises me to read a classic from this period that could just as easily have been written a hundred years later. Dracula, a novel by Bram Stoker, was published in 1897, but it reads like any horror novel written today. The novel is so modern, in fact, that it has inspired many movie adaptations, two of the most recent being Bram Stoker's Dracula in 1992 and Van Helsing in 2004.

Depiction of Horror

Toward the beginning of the novel, when Jonathan Harker is trapped in Dracula's castle, Harker's journal tells how he was waylaid by three female vampires while resting in an ancient section of the castle: "I could feel the soft, shivering touch of the lips on the super-sensitive skin of my throat, and the hard dents of two sharp teeth, just touching and pausing there. I closed my eyes in a languorous ecstasy and waited--waited with beating heart."

In this powerful scene, Stoker demonstrates how horror can be as sensuous as it is suspenseful.

Nor does Stoker shy away from gore. He describes in great detail the moment when the stake is driven through the vampire Lucy's heart: "The Thing in the coffin writhed; and a hideous, blood-curdling screech came from the opened red lips. The body shook and quivered and twisted in wild contortions; the sharp white teeth champed together til the lips were cut, and the mouth was smeared with a crimson foam." No details are spared.

Women's Strength in the Story

One of the most notable qualities of Dracula is the strength of its main female character. Mina Murray, who marries Jonathan partway through the novel and becomes Mina Harker, is surprisingly critical to the development of the story. Besides being one of the story's main narrators, Mina also helps to drive the plot with her intelligence and resourcefulness.

In many ways, Mina is as much a hero as any of the men. Mina has the idea of typing up copies of all of their records, allowing them to consolidate and share all their information on Dracula. When Mina is bitten by the vampire and begins to change herself, she maintains her loyalties. She ultimately provides her companions with invaluable insight into Dracula's movements. In the end, Mina deduces Dracula's whereabouts--with insight that allows the men to ambush him before he can reach his sanctuary.

Mina's character is sharply contrasted with her friend Lucy, whose primary contribution to the novel is her fallibility. Mina rallies after being bitten, despite the fact that she is well on the path to becoming a vampire. Mina survives the conflict. In fact, she aids in her own salvation, whereas Lucy plays a helpless victim. Lucy is the fainting damsel-in-distress (the heroine one might expect from a Victorian novel). On the other hand, Mina's crucial role in the conclusion turns the damsel-in-distress stereotype on its head.

Dracula is on par with contemporary standards in many ways, making it an easy read for modern readers. With its many timeless qualities, Dracula will remain a horror classic.