Victorian Brain Fever
As part of my personal Gothic literature reading challenge, I start with Dracula by Bram Stoker. Here’s a book that I pretended to read in the past (I’d started it several times) but in truth I’d only seen the movies from Murnau’s silent Nosferatu to Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula , which I re-watched last night and highly recommend as a companion piece to the reading challenge (if you care to join me). The film, which I’ve seen a few times, is visually stunning, and is faithful to the book with one major difference. The central theme of the film is the relationship between the Count and Mina Hawker, a woman for whom he crossed centuries of time. Alas, there is no such romance in the book unless you read between the lines (Mina does swallow his blood). The novel’s Mina character is the model for unstained Victorian womanhood (yawn) and cheating on poor Jonathan Hawker with the Count just won’t cut it. One reason I think I struggled with the book , versus reading Frankenstein which is my favorite novel, is that it’s episodic without being very insightful. There are certainly moments that chilled me to the bone–one that comes to mind is Lucy coming back as undead and smuggling a child back to her crypt; another is the dead captain tied to the wheel of the ship that brings the count to London along with his boxes filled with the profane, foul-smelling earth in which he must sleep each day.
There are also comical touches (like Lucy dropping that kid) that both the book and Coppola’s film explore, particularly in Van Hesling’s character (Anthony Hopkins is a hoot) as he casually mentions cutting off dear Lucy’s head and stuffing her mouth with garlic. The novel is told in an epistolary format using letters, diary entries, ship’s logs, clippings, and recordings from early cylinder phonographs. Written in 1897, the book explores these modern inventions of bustling London juxtaposing it with the old world superstitions and dangerous landscape of Transylvania. There is a lot of information about the source material for the novel. Whether Vlad the Impaler was Stoker’s inspiration is up for debate (but I’d like to think so).
A cool thing to know is that Dracula and Frankenstein were (in a sense) born on the same night during the infamous Lake Geneva holiday of 1816 when Lord Byron, Mary and Percy Shelley and Bryon’s personal physician (and lover?) John Polidori who stuck indoors during a raging storm invented ghost stories to entertain themselves. Mary Shelley’s story of course became Frankenstein and Polidori’s The Vampyre, which I haven’t read, but it’s definitely on the list. As a companion piece to the Gothic reading challenge I highly recommend Ken Russell’s film Gothic that dramatizes the holiday in all his glorious decadence.
Gary Oldman as the Byronic Count Dracula.
It’s difficult to separate the Dracula myths (and many movies) from its original source novel, making me wish I could go back in time to read it when I had never heard of Twilight. But that being said , I’m glad I finally read it from cover to cover. Speaking of covers, during the challenge I’m trying to read the books in handsome hardcovers. Here is my copy with lovely illustrations by Edward Gorey who of course created the set and costume designs for the Broadway show starring Frank Langella in the late 1970’s. There’s a film version of that too that’s worth watching for Drac’s hairstyle alone.
I’m not approaching the list in any particular order. Up next, I dig into the (supposed) first Gothic novel The Castle of Otranto. Happy reading.