Book Review: Dracula by Bram Stoker

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 3/5 stars

“Dracula” is a book with a really good premise written by a man with no idea how to tell a compelling story.  The story is equal parts brilliance and plodding nonsense.  It is written as a series of journal entries that detail the actions of the protagonists.  It’s an interesting literary device, but it mostly falls flat because of the fact that most action happens “off camera”, so to speak, with the journal entries retelling things that happened to other people.  This makes it very difficult for the reader to establish a mood.

Despite that, there are some great parts.  Right at the beginning, the retelling of Jonathan Harker’s journey to Transylvania and his encounters with Dracula and the denizens of his castle makes for some very compelling reading.  Another bright spot is Dr. Seward’s retelling of his encounters with Renfield, who is one of only two interesting characters in the book.  Other than that, there is strewn here and there tidbits of compelling reading, but it never lasts for very long.

To show just how poor Stoker’s sense of pacing is, he goes straight from Harker in Transylvania to an overly long description of Lucy’s courtship of three suitors.  The sole purpose of this is to establish how the three of them end up joining in on the hunt for Dracula.  So we get to read page after page of courtship nonsense just so we can be introduced to Jack Seward, Arthur Holmwood, and Quncey Morris.  Of the three, only Dr. Jack Seward has a real reason to exist as he is the connecting tissue between all of the main characters.  The other two are blandly one-dimensional window dressing.

Interesting character number two is Wilhelmina Murray, or Mina, as she is called throughout the book.  Mina is probably as close to feminist as female characters were allowed to be in the late 1800’s.  She is strong-willed, intelligent, and comes up with almost every breakthrough in the group’s hunt for Dracula.  Of course, it’s still the late 1800’s so she is also the plot device to keep what flimsy of a storyline there is going.  Time after time, we have the men praising her for her strength only to immediately backpedal and go with the “oh, but you are a woman and thus must be protected by us manly men” trope.

The story itself relies on a series of not fully explained details, like Jonathan Harker’s escape from Castle Dracula, and poorly reasoned decision making to keep things moving.  This turns what could have been a page-turning monster hunt thriller into an eye-rolling, saw that coming a mile away, yawn fest.

Despite the book’s many flaws, I can still see why hundreds of years later the world is still enthralled by Dracula and by vampires in general.  Like many good ideas with poor follow through (I’m looking at you H.P. Lovecraft), much that has come since is superior to the source material.  It is still worth while to read where it all began if to only see how far Dracula has come.