Dracula Reading Guide

Buy at Amazon Stoker, Bram. Dracula (Norton Critical Edition). Edited by Nina Auerbach and David Skal. W.W. Norton & Company, 1996. ISBN: 9780393970128.

This is a reading guide for the Norton Critical Edition of Dracula, as used in the class.

Chapter 4:

You'll have noted Jonathan Harker's coolly rational and analytic mind (even in circumstances of acute stress). It is only in this chapter that equivocal reasoning about the Count's intentions finally crumbles in the face of the evidence, and his malign and duplicitous, indeed murderous, intent becomes unambiguously clear. The decisive moment is probably…?  

  • Some critics have invoked Freudian-inspired arguments to suggest that Harker is essentially a weak man, showing a subjectively "feminine" complicity and willingness to be seduced by the vampire women at Castle Dracula. Is there anything here that might undermine this view?  
  • Could we argue on the contrary that Harker does things in this chapter which might demonstrate physical courage of a high order?  It might be an idea to have some of this evidence handy for the purposes of argument (with, naturally, accurate page references).  
  • Harker views Dracula not only as a menace in himself, but as a threat to the future well-being of England, because if he manages to establish himself in London, then….?
  • Obviously, too, we'll need to know why he is unable to destroy the Count when he discovers him asleep in his coffin, and how Harker effects his eventual escape from the castle.  

Chapter 5:

Here we go for the first time to the correspondence between Mina Murray and Lucy Westenra.  

  • Obviously, we'll need to know who these people are and what they're like.  Do you detect any difference in their attitudes and perhaps also in their epistolary style (the style is, after all, a reflection of the mind and personality behind it)?  
  • It might be an idea to have a look at the dates here.  What is Jonathan Harker doing at the time, for example?
  • I want you to have a think about narrative next, and changes in narrative rhythm in particular.  Do you detect any difference in the letters reproduced in this chapter compared with Jonathan's long, flowing journal entries?
  • Maybe we could jot down a brief appraisal of Lucy's character as it emerges in  these early letters about her courtship and numerous lovers from what she says and, above all, the way she says it?
  • Things are often compared and contrasted in this novel in quite clever ways: for example we have just seen the three vampire women in Castle Dracula; how many lovers has Lucy?
    • You'd better have a good grip on their names, too.

This chapter ends with the first of the transcripts from Dr. Seward's phonograph diary.  Have a look at the date.  What does this tell us about its place in the chronological sequence of documents of which the novel is made up?  

  • Typically perhaps of Stoker's unobtrusively deft characterisation, we can tell Seward is a man of learning because…?

In this chapter, also, we are introduced for the first time to quite an important figure in the novel, namely Quincey Morris.  What are the most obvious features of his character?

Chapter 6: 

The scene now moves to…well, where?  And for that matter, when?  (What is Harker doing when this chapter begins?)

Mina alludes, seemingly casually, to Constance de Beverley, in Sir Walter Scott's famous poem Marmion.  Who is she?  (Googling this should take you about five minutes).  Bear in mind what happens to Constance, and what parallels she may offer to Mina and Lucy.

They are harangued by a local sailor called Swales.  In chapter V we had a think about the way Stoker varied the narrative rhythm.  Here, with Swales, we see him varying his style in a different kind of way… namely?  

  • Although a rough uneducated sailor, Swales is one of the most thoroughgoing rationalists and materialists in the novel.  If you were to summarise his ultimate position, it would be…?

Mina Murray quickly establishes herself as one of the most important centres of consciousness in the novel, so we'll need to pay her particular heed.  Two things are bothering her at this point.  They are?  

Chapter 7:

Here we move away from the journal entries and letters that have hitherto born the main thrust of the narrative, and meet yet another kind of "source":  which is…?

In one of the great set-piece "entries" in literature, Dracula bounds ashore in the form of a great black hound from a storm-lashed Russian ship steered by a dead man.  

In the captain of the Demeter's log (yet another kind of "document" perhaps?), there is a teasing mixture of detail and vagueness; the effect of this being…?  

How do the local dogs react?  And Lucy?  And what happens to Swales?  

Chapter 8:

Here we see the Count's first attacks on Lucy.  Probably it will be handy to be familiar with the details.  There's something about Lucy's mother which complicates things: it is?  

One of the pleasures of Dracula is the constant change in narrative voice and hence also in style.  The quiet intensity of Mina's journal is counterpoised by two other documents here, in contrasting styles: they are?  

Jonathan is finally located and Mina goes out to Budapest to join him.  While all of this is going on, the lunatic Renfield escapes.  An interesting character, Renfield; could you summarize his characteristics?  Keep an eye on him, and be prepared to offer some ideas on what he contributes to the novel from a structural point of view (which is another way of saying "what would be lost if we removed him from the story"?).

Chapter 9:

Jonathan gives Mina his journal with certain instructions about reading it.  These are?

We might perhaps note in passing an interesting contrast between Sister Agatha's and Dr. Seward's attitudes towards the mentally ill. (You can never be sure with Stoker that he is not using one character's attitudes and conduct to comment indirectly on another's).  

Anxious about Lucy's baffling condition, Seward writes to his old mentor Dr. Van Helsing, Dracula's eventual main antagonist.  Clearly we'll need to have a pretty firm grasp of what Van Helsing does and what he's like.  At the outset, he seems the very embodiment of rational scientific enquiry.  Can we jot down anything in what he says that might usefully support this view?

Chapter 10:

Van Helsing examines Lucy and at once declares that "Young miss is bad, very bad. She wants blood, and blood she must have or die." (p. 113): remember these words, they will turn out to be deeply, if unconsciously, ironic.

Can we find and jot down an exchange from this chapter that shows an awareness that Van Helsing is working well outside the range of modern medical and scientific practice?  

Chapter 11:

A stylistic point here: note the Pall Mall Gazette's report (a famous contemporary newspaper in real life, edited by the great journalist W. T. Stead, and having many famous people write for it—which makes it all part of the fun), a chance for a bit of "vox pop" and for Stoker to show off his command of stage-Cockney (and add a little more variety of register) as he has the keeper at some length tell his tale.  Register is a very useful term in literary analysis: it is the word we use to describe different levels of language usage ranging form the highest formal registers, such as the language of the bible at one extreme, down to the very lowest forms in terms of prestige, the language  of the common people, with all its racy, vulgar, vivid demotic idioms—as here.  

There's another Renfield episode, in which he attacks Seward with a knife then laps up the blood: maybe Renfield's role in the novel is nearing its climax?

Chapter 12:

The next section centers on a gossipy, cheerful letter from Mina to Lucy, all about her happiness with Jonathan and the joys of setting up their own house in Exeter. 

  • Have a think about the way Stoker manages the chronology and different levels of knowledge amongst his protagonists.  Mina sends bubbly, unread, letters to Lucy, never guessing how near to a horrible death she is.  Useful words here might include "poignant/poignancy"; "pathos", perhaps, and maybe a visit to your book version of Roget's Thesaurus may suggest others? 
  • Note, too, the shift in the presentation of the Count in this section of the novel, from ghoulish but still basically human in form, to different kinds of animals (dogs, bats, even a kind of creepy mist);  all part of the ceaseless variety of approach that we see in this text.
  • It is here that Lucy Westenra suffers what appears to be death, but is merely the first stage of her transformation into a vampire.  How does Van Helsing react?

Chapter 13:

Mina has read and transcribed Jonathan Harker's diary, and shows it to Van Helsing: with the result that…?

Van Helsing has a big speech here about scientific curiosities and marvels, and the need to keep an open mind and to follow where the evidence leads, no matter where it may take you, pp. 170–173.  This is really about scientific method and the blinkered nature of much contemporary scientific materialism.  Do we find his arguments convincing?    

We get the first accounts also of the depredations of "The Bloofer Lady"—a chilling sobriquet, apparently coined by Stoker, note the other headlines: indicating Stoker's mastery of the popular newspaper style.

Chapter 14:

This is where Van Helsing has to release Lucy into "true death" and deliver her from her vampire form.  Since this is, to a modern sensibility, an utterly barbaric process, involving staking and decapitation, essentially mutilation of what most people would consider a simple corpse, and hence an act of desecration, Stoker has to proceed very carefully in his presentation of Van Helsing to ensure that he retains the reader's understanding and sympathy.  How does he manage to do this?

Chapter 15:

Here Van Helsing has to persuade Arthur Holmwood that his beloved Lucy is now a monster whom he must help to destroy.  A ticklish task from a rhetorical point of view.  How does he manage this?  What does he appeal to?  What are his arguments?  

Chapter 16: 

Dracula is full of restless movement: we note the flickering changes in narrative standpoint and style; and also the ceaseless physical movement of the characters; you are never anywhere for very long: Whitby, London, Exeter; the cumulative effect upon the reader being…?

Here we get the staking and decapitation of the vampire Lucy. Some commentators have criticised this from a feminist point of view, talking of "rape", "violation" and the evils of patriarchy which the Van Helsing circle have been seen by some to represent.  Is there anything about the way Stoker handles this scene that might help reconcile us to the necessity of what happens here and retain our sympathy for Van Helsing and his associates?

There is an important philosophical statement by Van Helsing here about the nature of immortality, and what it means for the vampire to live forever.  Can you find it?  This will help shed light on some later texts where a rather different view is taken of this matter.

Chapter 17:

Harker is now fully fit again and rejoins the pursuit of the Count.  There's quite a bit of evidence in this chapter which might place a question mark over the views of those who regard him as an essentially "weak" character.  It might be useful to jot some of this down.  There's some more vivid Cockney dialect here again.  Anybody in need of help with its meaning?  

Chapter 18:

Mina interviews Renfield: he's highly articulate and suave at need, obviously an educated man; Renfield knows things about Seward that can only have come from Dracula (or gossip amongst the asylum staff).  He exhibits a complete composure and rational awareness of his situation that is, if anything, even more creepy than his mania.  Judging by his use of law Latin, he's another lawyer.  He shows complete awareness of his own condition, and the mis-application of scripture—"the blood is the life"—which underpins it. 

  • Stoker uses Seward to comment on the vein of irrationality which seems to lie behind the façade of reason and sanity, not just in Renfield who is an extreme example, but maybe in everybody: at various points Harker doubts his own sanity and several people doubt Van Helsing's.  Might be useful to have some details of this?  Is it possible to defend the view that the novel is based on a series of paradoxes: that good and evil are intimately co-mixed; that rationality and irrationality likewise are symbiotic, such that Renfield is both mad and sane and differs from other people merely in degree?

Van Helsing wants to spare Mina the trauma of the hunt, but this turns out to be a serious miscalculation.  Make sure you know why this is.

Note the important passage on p. 209 where Van Helsing summarizes the powers and capabilities of the vampire (they are dauntingly great).  If they fail, then all humanity will become vampiric.  The vampire's limitations are likewise sketched out at the bottom of p. 211.

There's an important passage on pp. 212–3 about the antiquity of the Dracula family and the intertwined nature of good and evil.  Can you summarise this, briefly, in your own words?

Chapters 19/20:

The narrative here is moved on swiftly: make sure you are familiar with the salient points.

Contexts section, pp. 331–360: 

This gives a number of sources for the novel.

Emily Gerard's essay "Transylvanian Superstitions" published in The Nineteenth Century July 1885, pp. 128–44.  Gerard had actually lived for a couple of years in Transylvania, and regarded the place as the HQ of superstition in Europe, revealing that the local Walpurgisnacht was indeed St. George's Day, the 23rd April.  

  • There are various bits of interesting vampire lore here which need not concern us in detail, except to note that this was one of the several sources Stoker consulted while developing the novel (this helps, remember, to counteract the charge more than once leveled against Dracula—although not within the last fifteen years or so—that it was a mere "pot-boiler").  Gerard notes that "There are two sorts of vampires—living and dead.  The living vampire is in general the illegitimate offspring of two illegitimate persons, but even a flawless pedigree will not ensure anyone against the intrusion of a vampire into his family vault, since every person killed by a nosferatu becomes likewise a vampire after death, and will continue to suck the blood of other innocent people till the spirit has been exorcised, either by opening the grave of the person suspected and driving a stake through the corpse, or firing a pistol shot into the coffin.  In very obstinate cases it is further recommended to cut off the head and replace it in the coffin with the mouth filled with garlic, or to extract the heart and burn it, strewing the ashes over the grave."  p. 334.
  • We will meet some of these practices again in 19th-century New England.

Then comes an extract from Varney the Vampire, pp. 335–338, but we've already dealt with Varney elsewhere.

Then there's an essay by Christopher Frayling, "Bram Stoker's Working Papers for Dracula", pp. 339–350, from his book Vampyres: Lord Byron to Count Dracula (London, 1992).

  • This is a detailed talk-through of the earlier drafts of the novel showing how Stoker changed numerous things as he worked.  The earliest notes date from 1890 (Dracula was published in 1897, so this indicates several years of prior study, planning and drafting.  Normally a novel would be "in the press" for about six months, so the finished MS will have gone to the publisher in late 1896 or maybe early 1897.) Frayling stresses, interestingly, how many conventions of vampire lore Stoker established/invented. There's a fascinating list of 'characteristics of Count Wampyr' which give the vampire's strengths and weaknesses with great particularity, pp. 343–4.  Some new 'rules' for vampires are invented, such as you cannot photograph them, all you see is a corpse or a skeleton; some ancient and folkloric; some traditional rules are ignored: Dracula is not harmed by daylight and can go about by day although he is at his most powerful by night.  It emerges that Stoker got his local place names from Charles Boner's Transylvania.  
  • "…we know that he wanted the events to seem 'exactly contemporary'", p. 350.
  • These notes give a good idea of the process of thoughtful revision and reconstruction by which Stoker evolved the final version of the story.

Then there's a reprint of the dropped opening section of the novel (watch out, though, some scholars dispute this, arguing that it's a separate creation) later published as a short story, "Dracula's Guest", pp. 350–360, detailing a drive out from Munich with a very superstitious German coachman, wolves, superstitions, the undead, curses, and so on.  Our traveler sends away the spooked coachman, who seems capable of little except crossing himself and wailing 'Walpurgis Nacht!', with the words that Englishmen are not troubled by such things, and walks on alone to the haunted, deserted village (abandoned by the survivors long ago, for some place where the living were living and the dead were dead).  Climaxes with an encounter with a vampire countess in a graveyard and attack by a giant wolf.

Then comes a section of contemporary reviews, pp. 363–367.  Where nowadays we prize the novel for its mythic power and the subtlety of its subtexts, contemporary reviewers uniformly treated it as a harmless romp, although they saw at once that it stood in the main tradition of Anglo-American Gothic fiction: The Mysteries of Udolpho, Frankenstein, Wuthering Heights, and "The Fall of the House of Usher". 

  • The Daily Mail said "the eerie chapters are written and strung together with very considerable art and cunning, and also with unmistakable literary power." p. 364.  Says it's un-putdownable and very imaginative. 
  • The Athenaeum sees it as an example of the recent revival of interest in the supernatural and the occult which it traces to a reaction against positivism [i.e. as a reaction against the prevailing 19th century scientific spirit].  They—rather oddly we should nowadays perhaps think—found it too explicit and therefore lacking in mystery, and the human characters lacking in individuality, particularly Van Helsing. 
  • The Spectator saw Stoker as trying to outdo Wilkie Collins and Sheridan Le Fanu, declaring that the sentiment was "mawkish" although the invention was good.  Interestingly, the Spectator disliked the modern stuff, dictaphones, telegraphs, Winchester rifles and things, saying that they sat ill with the mediaeval ambience of the rest [do you agree?], and Stoker should have set the tale at an earlier period. 
  • The Bookman read it with "rapt attention" and said it was the best mystery writing since Wilkie Collins's The Woman in White, saying "It is something of a triumph for the writer that neither the improbability, nor the unnecessary number of hideous incidents recounted of the man-vampire, are long foremost on the reader's mind, but that the interest of the danger, of the complications, of the pursuit of the villain, of human skill and courage pitted against inhuman wrong and superhuman strength, rises always to the top." p. 366.  It emerges that Dracula appeared first as a newspaper serial in the USA, before being published in cased form in 1899. 
  • The San Francisco Chronicle perhaps comes closest to modern judgments when it says "Nothing in fiction is more powerful than the scene at the killing of the vampire in Lucy's tomb… The story is told in such a realistic way that one actually accepts its wildest flights of fancy as real facts.  It is a superb tour de force…" p.367.  The Chronicle therefore picked up the point of Stoker's determinedly setting the English sections of the book—by contrast with the wild diablerie of the Transylvanian stretches—in a tangibly "real" and modern world.

It's important to remember that reviewing is not a very lofty pastime: it tends to be something writers do to earn a little ready cash and help keep the wolf from the door; it used to be anonymous (so you could say just about anything you liked, without bad judgments coming back later to haunt you) and poorly paid.  So here you had a cadre of people working against the clock (you've always got to get your copy in for the deadline, and seldom have enough time to do a proper job), and passing judgment on books they have probably only partially read, and rather carelessly at that.  (I remember about ten years ago seeing a panel of very distinguished critics discussing one of the short-listed titles for the Booker prize, and it was shockingly obvious from the numerous basic factual errors they made that none of them had done more than glance at the novel concerned).