“…and while Scary is Exciting, Nice is different than Good.”
-Red Riding Hood, from “I Know Things Now,” Into the Woods
And so we end in a warm living room, all gathered together, knocking back rack punch and talking about that freaky time back just after we got married where Mina got totes possessed and we ran all over Eastern Europe chasing a Vampire. Vampire, pleeease.
So is Dracula a Good book? Meh. I think it has probably been more of a Nice book for me … a creepy tale of the supernatural mixed with no small amount of “Law & Order”-like proceduralism to keep the pace going. But for me, all of the compelling bits ended up falling short of their early promise:
Mina as the “New Woman” – why couldn’t her Baptism by Blood have proven to be the small impetus needed to turn her from an apologist for women who wanted more out of Victorian life to a rabid champion for what womanhood could have been. Lucy might have been the hot one, but Mina had all the makings of that kind-of-wierd-but-sort-of-hot girl in your Psych 201 class, with all the threat and promise of the same.
Renfield as the Spurned Apostle – poor most-likely-bipolar Renfield. Never have we seen a more plain case of hero worship/man crush gone horribly wrong. Imagine what his diary might have been like … secreted away under his stool, pages sticky with melted sugar and the cover painstakingly adorned with the pearlescent sheen of a thousand blowfly wings.
Van Helsing as the (Un)witting Impetus — Abraham, with your so halting speech and knowledge of the wampyr that seems almost uncanny in its thoroughness. Surely Stoker must have thought you had a little bit more in you. In your so-strong drive for knowledge, a drive that drove your poor wife Sarah mad with fear and grief, you saw something one night, didn’t you? Peering up over a rock lip onto the unholy convocation of the scholars at Scholomance you witnessed something so thrillingly wrong, so completely, compellingly depraved that the rest of your life would be spent trying to scrub that so-not-of-Gott image from your mind, hoping against hope that you’d fail. Abe, you are a sick little monkey.
Jonathan “I Was Cuckolded by The Undead and All I Got Was this Lousy Head of White Hair” Harker: You never could get those three women out of your minds, could you, Johnny? How could Mina ever be enough after the freaky bloodthrill of getting three-wayed in the Eastern European equivalent of the Bunny Ranch. ANd tell me you didn’t go into explicit detail the minute you and the boys were out of earshot of the women. Dude, you had three undead, bi-curious, possibly related wraith women fighting over who would be your first? How do you not turn that into the best campfire story ever?
Of course, the slash fic possibilities are endless. And maybe in the end, it’s that malleability that makes Dracula a classic. You can hang sex, mystery, nationalism, criminality, class warfare and so many other Big Ideas from the hooks Stoker leaves festooned around the story that Dracula can’t help but be retold and reread time and time again. It brushes up against enough of humanity’s Naughty Bits that it ends up being the perfect framework into which we can all cast our own hopes and fears about Life, Death, Sex, Money, Class and Technology and more and watch what happens.
So is Dracula a good book? Maybe not. But is Dracula the book we need and deserve? Mien Gott, yes.
Not completely up on my Seward backstory, but had a couple of BGsO (Blinding Glimpses of the Obvious) this morning.
“Journals for go, recordings for show.” Like all of the characters, we only know of Seward what we read in his personal papers. While the Harker and Murray journals are personal papers, meant for each other and possibly their descendants, Seward’s notes get laid over to Gramophone with an eye (ear?) toward permanence. As a “physician,” Seward would have been educated to keep scrupulous notes. Van Helsing even comments on the fact that Seward’s case-books were always the best of all his students. I can’t help but get the sense that Seward records knowing that these reels will be used as source material for some future generations’ research. Contrast his reels with the journals kept by the others and Seward’s tone is decidedly more professional, which would be expected. That said, he also comes off as much more of a self-promoter and the reels end up sounding, in many ways, like what Seward meant to function as medical cases-work ended up working much more as a Book of Grievances.
Locker room talk sucks regardless of age or century. Seward proposes to Lucy (assuming, I get the feeling, as close to a sure thing as Victorians would be capable of) and gets a tearful rejection because Lucy’s heart already belongs to another. Later, he hears that his wasn’t the only proposal on the table. I make that assumption based on the sausagefest Quincey sets up at the end of Chapter V as Holmwood promises to bring messages which will “make both your ears tingle.” One can only imagine much later that night as Morris drunkenly pulls Jackie aside and drunkenly whispers, “Dude, I totally tapped that” as they all three drank healths to Lucy. Sure it was a kiss. But even if we take Lucy to be a reliable source, “just a kiss” would have been the sociological equivalent of a party hook-up.
“‘Let’s be friends’” cuts deep. So having his proposal rebuffed by the Hot One, and the Hot One’s BFF also removed from the pool by reason of her previously engagedness to that prig Harker, Seward can’t even throw himself into the work of guiding poor fly-eating Renfield down the corridors of madness before he’s summoned by his rich friend Holmwood to check up on the Hot One, now in waning health. (Chapter 9). So Seward gets to check up on a weakened Former Love Object, including, we assume, some amount of diagnostic palpating and such. Considering the times, wouldn’t have this been the equivalent of asking Seward to play eunuch and take good care of the harem? I think yes.
But wait there’s more. Seward is just about to give blood for the first of Lucy’s transfusions when Holmwood bursts into the room. ”Come,” Van Helsing commands, all but pushing Seward aside. ”You (Holmwood) are a man and it is a man we want. You are better than me, better than my friend John.” Call for Dr. Inadequacy, call for Doctor John Seward Inadequacy. Please report to the Emasculation Suite, stat!
THEN, when Seward’s blood is finally called for, only a half-measure is taken, the blood of “her lover, her fiance,” being better suited to the purpose.
Thrice shunned from Lucy. Twice required to become at least medically intimate with Lucy.
Is it any wonder some amount of rumor/speculation exists that links Jack Seward and Jack the Ripper to each other. You KNOW that if this was a comic book universe that we would have had an entire series devoted to Seward the Ripper.
I for one, am maybe interested a bit more now in the Seward/Holmwood/Lucy dynamic than I was before. Let’s keep an eye on that one.
*to the tune of Once in Royal David’s City, with apologies to just about everyone.
Living in the Nashville area puts me within easy driving distance of the University of the South’s annual Lessons & Carols. For many good Episcopalians (and a good many more lapsed ones), a trek Up the Mountain to Sewanee the first weekend in December is the true sign that the season of preparation, Advent, has arrived.
As I read, the events surrounding Dracula’s coming feel like a bizzarro Advent season.
As he draws closer to his “dear new country of England,” all sorts of strange things happen. As readers we see these things in toto. However, the players with the story see only their parts, and so don’t have the advantage of perspective that we enjoy. So!
- Lucy Westenra begins wandering around her hotel room, spooking out Mina and dredging up all sorts of negative memories of summer camp for me.
- Renfield’s zoophagy climbs the evolutionary ladder, culminating in birds. At the rate he was progressing, I dare say he would have worked his way up to either wildebeests or small children by August 6, the day the the ship bearing the Count was sighted out past the reef in Whitby.
- On August 6, Cap’n Swale, citing no more than a change in the weather, seems to forget his previous blasphemies to Mina Murray and instead make everything short of his Last Confession to her.
I point out these occurrences as examples that Evil/Dracula’s ability to project mojo/vibe/Dracularity well beyond himself. Vampires’ ability to hold humans and animal in thrall is well documented. Stoker, however, has given us several glimpses of the long-distance spookiness the Count can direct.
What I am not yet clear on is whether those who pick up on the vibes are pre-selected or simply happen to be receptive to Dracula’s evil mind control powers. I am much more spooked out by the possibility that the Count is little more than an Amplified Radio Tower of Evil, sending out wave upon wave of death and the three who pick up on it were somehow targeted from afar.
Unlike the lil Babe who was born in a lowly cattle shed in “Royal David’s city,” Dracula’s advent in the West will definitely not shine as a light unto the world.
So is it just me, or does anyone else get the sense that Lucy Westenra’s personality is not altogether dissimilar to “the kind of girl” one might run across on a (Victorian Trustafarian) “Girls Gone Wild” video?
I’m just sayin’.