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When young solicitor’s clerk Jonathan Harker goes to the remote castle of Count Dracula to oversee a property transaction, he is ready to encounter some quaint beliefs and customs. After all, the Count’s home is in the great Carpathian mountains in the heart of Transylvania, where ‘every known superstition in the world is gathered’. But nothing can prepare Harker for the horror of his sojourn with the Count, and he barely escapes with his life.
Later that summer, a Russian schooner arrives at Whitby harbour, steered by the hand of a dead man and bearing a mysterious cargo – boxes of earth from Transylvania. Count Dracula has realised his ambition of entering England, and he brings horror in his wake. Led by the learned Professor van Helsing, Harker and his allies must do everything they can to defeat this unspeakable enemy.
Dracula presents a sweeping panorama of 19th-century Europe, from the wilds of Transylvania to the Yorkshire coast, via the streets of London. With his tale of a blood-sucking entity entering England by subterfuge and possessing English women, Stoker reaches into the darkest corners of the Victorian mind, revealing deep unspoken fears of sexuality and foreign invasion. Mingling 19th-century anxieties with the oldest terrors of European myth, Dracula is one of the greatest of all gothic novels, and still has the power to chill the blood.
Our new edition includes a specially commissioned introduction by John Banville, winner of the 2005 Man Booker Prize and a master of the contemporary gothic novel.
Man Booker-winner John Banville explores the evolution of Bram Stoker’s enigmatic Count Dracula.
One should regularly refresh one’s acquaintance with the classics, for it is always an instructive exercise. Bram Stoker’s Dracula in particular suffers – some might say gains – by association with the many film adaptations that have been made of it. In most of our minds now, when we think of the evil Count, there springs up at once an image of the clay-white, ruby-eyed, needle-fanged visage of the ineffable Christopher Lee, his high narrow head set necklessly upon the flounced collar of his black opera-cape, a sucked and sere fruit du mal. By a coincidence that would have pleased, or perhaps worried, Stoker himself, Lee’s Dracula in the cheaply made but immensely stylish Hammer movies bears a marked and eerie resemblance, as surviving photographs attest, to the great Victorian ham Sir Henry Irving.
Irving was the Irishborn novelist’s mentor, mephitic life model and blood-sucking friend. From 1878, Stoker acted not only as managing director of the Lyceum, but was Irving’s acolyte, prop and general dogsbody until the great man was forced to surrender control of the theatre in 1898. The Lyceum, where he tyrannised the staff, including Stoker no doubt, and constantly upstaged his leading lady, Ellen Terry, inevitably reminds us of Castle Dracula as described by Jonathan Harker in the opening chapters of the novel, with the Count and the three frightful vampire sisters, who are at once sapphic, incestuous and irresistibly erotic, putting on a lavish performance and vying for the lifeblood of the diligent and impenetrably innocent Harker.
It might be said of Stoker’s Dracula that it was a movie waiting to be made. Aside from the incarnadined Count’s many guest appearances on screen, some fourteen adaptations of the novel have been filmed so far, and it is from these, rather than from the primary source, that the image of Dracula has been painted on the world’s wall, from Bela Lugosi’s 1931 static monolith to Christopher Lee’s and Frank Langella’s muscular, handsome and sinuously seductive matinee idols. In the happy formulation of the Dracula scholar Nina Auerbach, Stoker’s ‘children of the night’ are turned by the magic of movies into ‘children of the light’.
Although Stoker cannot hope to match the sumptuous sheen achieved by the Hammer technicians, his vampire is an infinitely more fascinating and complex invention than Christopher Lee’s relentlessly single-minded demon. The original Dracula, the ‘tall old man’ with the long white moustache, expands and develops. The life-blood that he sucks from others makes him grow physically younger while at the same time it helps his stunted mind to mature. In Stoker’s version of him, Count Dracula, originally a ‘soldier, statesman, and alchemist’, is partly based on a cosmeticised version of Vladislav III, ‘Vlad the Impaler’ (1431–76); our Dracula is a great lord with a pedigree stretching back to Thor and Wodin. His people, as he proudly insists, were the mighty warriors of Central Europe.
Dracula was Bram Stoker’s fifth novel. Nina Auerbach is of the opinion that the trial and conviction of Oscar Wilde in 1895 ‘probably shocked’ Stoker into writing it, for Wilde’s two-year imprisonment for acts of gross indecency ‘gave Victorian England a new monster of its own clinical making: the homosexual’, a creature who, ‘like the vampire . . . was tainted in his desires, not his deeds’. Whether its inspiration was homo or hetero, Dracula is certainly a secret casebook of sexual anxiety and obsession. It is the quintessential fin de siècle pre-Freudian text, published at the end of an age of certainties and on the brink of a new and catastrophic century. All the terrors are here: the marauding outsider, the plague-ridden deviant, the predatory New Woman
An essential of the classic text is ambiguity, that protean quality which allows of a multitude of interpretations, none of which is definitive whatever claims are made for it. There have been, and will be, thousands upon thousands of scholarly readings of the ‘deep grammar’ of Dracula and its author’s intentions, conscious or otherwise. Professor Auerbach, for example, gives much weight to late nineteenth-century male terror of the so-called New Woman, whose rough ways Mina Harker sneers at, albeit somewhat nervously. The changes wrought in Mina and, far more markedly, in Lucy Westenra by Dracula’s sanguinary attentions are, Auerbach surmises, ‘symptomatic of the changes men feared in all their women’.
For commentators of a traditional psychological bent, Bram Stoker is, next to Sophocles, the greatest diagnostician of the Oedipus complex. Dracula is the mighty Father who must be destroyed in order that the Mother be released into the arms of her son, or sons. Stoker’s vampire hunters, his Famous Five, for all their Victorian strait-lacedness do bring to mind Freud’s terrifying image in Totem and Taboo of feral bands of brothers hunting down their Stone Age Father in order to release the desired Mother (in this case Mina) from his sexual clutches.
Phyllis A. Roth, however, in a stimulating and splendidly titled essay from 1977, ‘Suddenly Sexual Women in Dracula’, thinks the Oedipal interpretation does not go far enough. For Professor Roth, the real motivation of the men who destroy Lucy, ‘save’ Mina and annihilate the Count is a simultaneous terror of and lust for the ‘suddenly sexual woman’ who at the end of the nineteenth century strode forth into their hitherto safely sanitised world – sanitised on the surface, that is, for of course the two elephants in the Victorian drawing room were wide-scale prostitution and endemic syphilis.
After these waylayings and elaborate muggings in the groves of academe one cannot but feel a little sorry for the Adamic Bram Stoker, pot-boiler and man of the theatre, who set out to write a rattling yarn that would freeze the cockles of our hearts and who in the process succeeded, no doubt to his own astonishment, in creating a deathless classic.
Review by rsmr.js on 16th Mar 2013
"Bram Stoker's Dracula could not have been brought to the readers in a finer form. Add the illustrations by Abigail Rorer to the already tanatalizing mysteriousness of Transylvania, the book is surely ..." [read more]
Review by Shaun2307 on 6th Mar 2013
"An exquisitely beautiful edition: everything about this book is perfect. Just perfect. "
Review by Rusty401 on 16th Oct 2012
"This volume was a pleasure to read. I've not read Dracula since high school, and since then, I've enjoyed, the various vampire stories from movies and TV (notable exception being any work where vampir..." [read more]