Before there was Edward Cullen, there was Dracula. Written by Irish author Bram Stoker in 1897, Dracula tells the tale of young lawyer Jonathan Harker, a simple man called to extraordinary tasks when he becomes part of a plot to move a monster to English soil. Told solely through letters, diary entries, and newspaper clippings, Dracula is a riveting thriller set at the Victorian junction of the old world and the new.
Central to the themes of Dracula is the battle between modernity and primitivism, the future and the past. The main soldiers in the war against Dracula are men of science. Abraham Van Helsing, the famous vampire hunter, is the consummate man of knowledge: he is so learned that the list of his professional designations (including M.D., D.Ph., and D.Litt) ends with an et cetera. Dracula himself is portrayed as an amalgam of old world traits: he is the noble count of an ancient, mysterious land, purveyor of a castle that has stood for time without end, a monster summoned from the very depths of history. The epistolary nature of the tale only makes the contrast between Dracula (and the carnal desires he invokes) and the empirical exactitude of modernity all the more striking: it is as if, without words directly from those who have experienced these events, they could not possibly be believed.
Despite a mainly male cast, including the famous vampire hunter Dr. Van Helsing, a stereotypical American tycoon, and the kindly director of a mental asylum, the narrative arc truly belongs to Mina Murray. Jonathan’s fiancé and close friend to Dracula’s first English victim, Mina is a daring, intrepid soul whose intelligence allows her to evade the absurdity that pervades the novel for the modern reader: a cast of characters in Dracula who do not know they are in Dracula. Harker himself, ostensibly the hero of the tale, comes across as a bit of a doof for this very reason, entering the Count’s castle none the wiser and remaining ignorant to the growing horror for dozens of pages. Written in another time by another hand, Mina would easily be the hero of the story. As it is, she is accorded far more agency than would be expected for a lady in Victorian times.
Dracula is more than just one of the most influential novels of the past two hundred years: it is a fascinating, captivating read that delves deeply into the Victorian psyche and, through its continued influence on our own culture, reveals something about the monsters we continue to battle.