Friday, August 08, 2008

Bram Stoker: Dracula

As mentioned, I re-read this not long ago. I can't remember why though - I think it was because I started humming the Annie Lennox song from the film for no reason, and that put me in mind of the book. We have - we had -two copies of Dracula. One was my old worn paper-back (Wordsworth Classics I think) that was practically falling to bits, and the other is a rather swankier paperback (Penguin Classics) with a fuller introduction by Maurice Hindle. The latter was accquired by mr Bani (who else?). I threw the older one out in the Purge now. One copy will do (but we still have three copies of Jane Eyre. Y'see, one is a love-gift (aaaawww), one is a cool old Penguin paperback, and one is an interesting boxed little thing from the 19th century. So we can sacrifice none of them, and besides Jane Eyre rocks.). Where was I - oh yes, Dracula. Vlad the lad.

I remember reading Dracula years and years ago for the first time, and finding it rather dry. What stuck with me then was the religious fervour, the pure and clean vs. sullied and wanton, the way the men all put Mina Harker on a piedestal. So when I saw the film - marketed as "Bram Stoker's Dracula" as you may recall, no small claims there - I was very surprised. I didn't recognize this sex-obsessed creation at all. Surely there was no sex in Dracula? It was all about God and the evil vampire. And it was not until I re-read it now that I understood where Coppola got all the sex from - which is funny because I must have read it a good few times between then and now. Maybe I was paying better attention this time? Although I don't know how that could be, seeing as how I have had no time to read properly, I was just snatching time while nursing... In any case, I still think Coppola went too far to tout his film as being oh-so-close to the novel. Too much added, plain and simple. I wonder why he felt the need to insist that it was closely based on the novel, surely his own vision was just fine with his name on it. (Not that it turned out all that well.)

I digress again. Back to the book: I enjoy Dracula. It's not really great literature, to be honest. It could have been trimmed down, refined, made more succinct. This was brought home to me even more clearly when I read Hindle's introduction. The more you read about mr Stoker the more you can tick off his hang-ups when reading the book, and the more it starts to come across as some sort of therapy session. But no matter, it's a classic nevertheless. And back to the sex: before I digressed I was saying that the first time I read it I didn't see past the nattering about phonographs and typewriting and mesmerizing. This time I must have had my imagination hooked up properly, and I noticed this scene for the first time:
With his left hand he held both Mrs Harker's hands, keeping them away with her arms at full tension; his right hand gripped her by the back of the neck, forcing her face down on his bosom. Her white nightdress was smeared with blood, and a thin stream trickled down the man's bare breast which was shown by his torn-open dress. The attitude of the two had a terrible resemblance to a child forcing a kitten's nose into a saucer of milk [ ... ] Her face was ghastly, with a pallor which was accentuated by the blood which smeared her lips and cheeks and chin; from her throat trickled a thin stream of blood. Her eyes were mad with terror.

Oo-er. The sexual innuendo is strong with this one. I see what you mean, Francis.

Therefore, my advice to you is: read this. It's historical, it's classic, it's... well, in all honesty not terribly scary for a modern audience, but we can certainly appreciate the effort, and it's The Original. Go for it. (And if you get a copy with the Hindle introduction, read it AFTER you've read the book. But do read it, because it's very enlightening.)

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