My favourite interpretation of Dracula is that it’s all about the vampiric nature of typewriters, which suck inspiration our of people and reduce them to empty character-less husks. And there I was thinking it was a traditional sexist, xenophobic rip-off of Carmilla.
Dracula is a guilty pleasure of mine, but I do feel my better self revolt when I read it because it seems to contain so much of what’s wrong with the Gothic.
1. The gender politics are terrible! Why are the women so stupid? Why is it better to kill a beautiful woman then let her do her own thing? Why is Stoker so frightened of sex? Why does Mina Harker – Mina Harker the strong, intelligent, female role model – have to make snide remarks about ‘the ‘new woman” who would sneer at girls with big appetites (?) while ‘Men are more tolerant, bless them!’
Seriously, this is the point where I wish Gothic classics could go back to challenging society, just a little bit, rather than pandering to the worst prejudices in society. On the other hand, I suppose it is just a book and I shouldn’t take it that seriously . Who am I kidding – I take my Gothic literature very seriously. Frankly the way I enjoy Dracula is by hearing the hysterical screams (‘don’t give them the vote! Don’t encourage them to work!’) behind the reactionary presentation of women and knowing how much Stoker would hate me and everything about my modern independent life.
2. I find this less offensive, because it’s more cartoonish, but I do feel a bit like all European nations should sue Stoker for Van Helsing and his magical traveling accent. I know he’s not meant to be realistic, but I do wish polyglot medical geniuses could be presented as having conquered basic English grammar.
I do however like the Transylvanian wilderness/castle bits, and it is sweet the way Dracula’s determined to become an English gentleman because transmogrification, muscles of steel and immortality are as nothing in comparison with the joy of being British.
On the plus side:
1. Mina Harker is great, and I’m sure she didn’t mean the bits about the ‘new woman’.
2. The use of technology is fantastic. The whole novel is told through real time first person narration thanks to cutting edge technology. Jonathan Harker keeps a journal (paper and pens are just so cheap nowadays that this is possible even in the foreign wilds), Mina keeps a journal in shorthand, Dr Steward keeps his diary on phonograph cylinders and what’s great is that everyone has a phonograph so he can even keep up the recording in other people’s houses. That’s not counting the telegrams, newspapers and notebooks and other modern means of recording information.
I suppose with there’s good and bad in Dracula (like in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde if I’m allowed a cheap Gothic joke). Clearly, the book is a Gothic classic and so it’s worth embracing – but I’ll take Frankenstein over it any day.