As I write this, I have the strangest notion that somebody has beat me to it, that somebody else has mentioned vampirism with respect to 2666, but if so, I can’t find the reference. If I’m inadvertently ripping you off, please speak up and take appropriate credit in the comments. Maybe I just have the Infinite Summer read of Dracula still on the brain.
The things I’ve noticed (probably not an exhaustive list; I found these in a quick skim after reading this part a week ago):
- There’s the obvious draining of life force from industrious women.
- The man held in connection with the crimes is a tall, pale man. Even though he’s locked up, the crimes mysteriously continue. He’s obviously sneaking out at night as a bat.
- In a bit of mischief running parallel to the murders, we have an elusive sacraphobic breaking idols (Dracula hates a cross, don’t you know?).
- The Penitent pees in prodigious amounts. Vampires drink lots of blood. Vampire bats, which can consume half their weight in blood within a 20-minute feeding, begin to pee within a couple of minutes of feeding. One assumes they pee in impressive volume.
- Inmates at the mental hospital are made nervous by the wind. I’m reminded of the storm that preceded Dracula’s arrival to England and his later association with a mental hospital in Stoker’s novel.
- The director of the asylum has small, sharp, white teeth.
- The filmmaker Rodriguez, probably best known for his vampire film From Dusk till Dawn, is featured in the prior section of the book, with a credit on what seems to be a snuff film oddly premonitory (or emblematic) of the killings in Santa Teresa.
- One victim has a stake driven through her. Usually we think of this as the vampire’s fate, but then, vampires spread the love to others who must also be staked.
- The left hand of one victim rests on some guaco leaves, which are supposed to be good for mosquito bites. Mosquitos are another blood sucker.
I’m not saying this is a vampire novel, or a vampiric section of the novel. The bits about the pee in particular are almost certainly a stretch. Still, there are some pretty evocative images and circumstances that a credulous reader like me can find a way to tie together in a post about vampires. Boo!
“…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.
What if Bram Stoker is the equivalent of Phil Hartman’s Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer character on Saturday Night Live. He’s just this guy, right. This guy who happens to be alive at the time of almost tectonic shifts in the way the world looked and worked. Everything was in flux.
Let’s cherry-pick shall we?
- Married women had been granted the right to vote in England in 1894. In fact , the two decades spanning the turn of the century saw women’s suffrage explode throughout the British Empire.
- Austria-Hungary, including the Count’s beloved Transylvania, was a loosely stitched-together amalgam of tribes and nationalitoes, ruled by the German aristocracy with the consent of Hungary’s Magyar ruling class. Similarly, the whole of the Western World was bound up in a web of alliances, treaties and backroom deals that all but guaranteed any regional conflict would bloom into full-blown war across the entire European continent.
- Technological advances on par with those that marked the late ’90s and early ’00s in this century were blurring the lines between personal and business communication. Anyone with an opinion and a couple hundred dollars could start a newspaper and through the use of telegraphy, a vigorous mail system and a rail network that ran like clockwork and report news from places that had been days away from a printing press only 20 years before.
- Resource-rich America was an emergent power on the world economic and political stages.
In short, might the Victorian Age have been all about trying to retain a grasp on a too-quickly shifting World Order? Any thinking, semi-well-read white man in the world *should* have been able to look around the world to see that his supremacy as the Prime Mover was being challenged from every side. Women. Technology. Social Class. Wealth. Power. All these props of the Victorian Man were being nibbled away at.
And so with all that angst that he and his fellow Men must have had bottled up inside, Bram Stoker sat down and wrote a scary-ass story.
- Aristocrats fleeing their beloved, impoverished homelands for juicier pickings abroad!
- Women torn between a society that wants them docile and an outside world that obviously needs their help! Oh and S-E-X too.
- The insane being treated as human beings!
- Domineering Germans dictating the course of events at every turn with no explanation!
- New-fangled technology that moves information at the speed of electricity no longer afforded the calming gift of time between missives to let passions simmer down and news to play out!
- Lord Godalming’s fading genteel aristocracy overpowered by the rootin’ tootin’ manifest destiny of Quincey Morris’ America!
That, my fellow Zombies, is some crazy, boundary-messin’-with, masculinity-threatening stuff to cram in a book. To me the question is whether or not Stoker wrote all this and more into the book.
In fact, no author can claim to write in a vacuum, totally removed from his times. I believe Stoker was just writing a good, pulpy story that would sell enough copies to make him just a bit famouser than his boss, actor Sir Henry Irving.