Bram Stoker and his Dracula

Halloween was a week or so away and scrolling through the lists of books on my eReader Dracula seemed to be a fitting choice.

I enjoyed the novel; it reminded me of works by Dickens which I recall with fondness – the riding in horse-drawn carriages, such as a Calèche in Stoker’s case – and the characters, especially the endearing and attentive female ones, noting similarities between Stoker’s Mary and Mina, and Dickens’ Esther Summerson from Bleak House. Perhaps this is just how such male writers at this time imagined these young women to be; this compared, in Stoker’s case, with the men who were to be good and noble (as observed by Mina in particular). It seemed to me that Stoker made more effort to get into the mindset of his chosen female characters and express that portrayal more keenly than with his male ones, as if trying a little too hard perhaps. Not that I found it a problem.

I also considered how Stoker had given the insights from each of his characters by having them write journals and telegrams, and how in The Expanse series of sci-fi novels (for which I have read the first two instalments this year) by “James A. Corey” used each chapter to present the unfolding story from the perspective of a different character – in the first book it alternates between Miller and Holden, but in the second (which is where I’m up to so far) more character viewpoints are added into the mix.

After reading the Dracula book I sought out a film version, for which there are a few to choose from. The 1977 version, Count Dracula, seemed to be well regarded so this is the one I selected. It was produced for the BBC by Morris Barry who later went on to produce the highly popular dramatisation of Poldark. I’m sure I have seen (at least bits of) the 1958 version with Christopher Lee years ago, since the stills of him as Dracula are familiar. The 1977 film sees Dracula being played by Louis Jourdan so I couldn’t help but think of James Bond every time I saw his face on the screen (since he played Kamal Khan in Octopussy).

I likely didn’t follow the plot or found the old Count Dracula movie awkward to watch (I don’t typically choose horror as my genre of choice), but having now read the novel the 1977 version works well although I’m sure if I hadn’t read the novel first I would have struggled to grasp what it was all about, especially with such scenes as the shipwreck and the ones at the asylum (these sudden interjections in the novel were a little confusing too); perhaps I just struggle to figure everything out as much as I’d like in screen portrayals these days since I had similar difficulty with The Expanse when I started watching that without having read the book. Perhaps a film like Dracula was created more with the assumption that you would have watched it at the time to complement having already read the book. I generally think it’s best to read a book first.

How the act of being a vampire was carried out in the film, notably between Lucy and the Count, was far more sexualised in the film (which is perhaps a little surprising since this was a BBC creation in the 1970s). In the novel we experience first more of the time of Jonathan at the Count’s castle, and it seemed to me that the “games” (if they can be deemed that) which the Count played with his victim here were little different than when it came to how he treated Lucy. The Wikipedia page on Stoker’s novel makes a suggestion regarding homosexual interests, whereas if this were more true for the novel (although if such is true then incorporated in a very tame and subtle manor) then the BBCs version of the film all but obliterated this in favour of a blatant sexual portrayal between the Count and his female victims, which to me gave the impressions of rape or if not that extreme then the seduction of other men’s wives-to-be.

Towards the end of the film the Count justifies his actions with reasoning to the effect of being bound to this earth and therefore using it to his benefit; humans (although not all) eat animals to survive – it is no different in his eyes. He had, I dare-say, developed a lust for Lucy since he learned about her through her fiancé, but how I read the novel (perhaps through more innocent eyes than that of the film director) it wasn’t a sexual lust, more of a hunger for her lifeblood/soul (or whatever the vampire consumes since in the film the Count questions if it is indeed the soul), and she was an ideal target for him upon his arrival in London since he had learned much about her. The same, I suggest, is with the relationship between the Count and his three concubines (if they can be considered such in the book); in the book he his very fierce in his response to them praying on Jonathan, who he calls first dibs on, whereas in the film he treats them like pets where the sexualness persists as if he’s a pimp keeping his prostitutes in check. This is where the “romance horror film” gets its label from I guess. The book to me turns more murder-mystery, and I wouldn’t consider it to be “romance”. When it comes to films, sex sells. A book can be more true.

One particular query I have regarding the film, which I have failed to satisfy from Googling, is regarding the Quincey character, a Texan. There is next to no information about Richard Barnes who played him, but my suspicion is he is/was a British actor. This I consider because it seemed his Texan-drawl was a little too excessive, and compared to the other characters, his delivery of dialect too loud and direct – in his first scene in the film where is came on suddenly I could even detect his somewhat outspokenness to cause the other actors in the room, namely that playing Mrs Westenra, to automatically deliver their dialogue in louder tones. [Then again Barnes did have very pearly whites in the film.]

Dracula, the novel or the film, is about good versus evil; God’s work (as carried out by man) versus the Devil. Dracula, the embodiment of the Devil, and other vampires, are held at bay with various religious artefacts, such as the crucifix, and Van Helsing’s holy biscuits. The protagonists are there to protect and save the souls of the victims; particularly in the film where the discussion of souls is more evident I think. There is also garlic which is known from pre-Christian times for it’s healing properties. The count and his other vampires “sleep” in coffins (or perhaps they’re just wooden boxes) filled with hallowed earth. They come alive at night, in the dark. In addition to these things, in the film at least, at the Count’s new residence in London, among these boxes is seen an Ark (of the Covenant) complete with cherubim on top. In the novel the protagonists have to hunt down fifty of these boxes, whereas in the film it is “twelve plus one for Dracula himself”; again providing some religious significance when we bare in mind Jesus’ twelve disciples.

At the end of the film (and I do hope this isn’t a spoiler for you!) when the Count is staked in his wooden box (coffin or Ark) a great amount of smoke is released and this reminded me of the portrayals of the Ark of the Covenant in the Bible when it is mistreated and releases fire on those responsible. Also, Mina’s mark on her forehead, and how it disappears following this act, reminds me of the Book of Revelations and the mark of the beast.

And he causeth all, the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free and the bond, that there be given them a mark on their right hand, or upon their forehead.

Van Helsing, in the novel at least, had, in an incident prior to the timeline of this story, also received a scar to the forehead. Curiously, J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter also received a scar to the forehead. Is this a common theme when doing battle with the Devil incarnate?

As you can see, it is all too easy to read a lot into what someone like Stoker has created or what others have focused on and incorporated into their versions of such a work. It has even been suggested that Count Dracula was based on “Vlad the Impaler” which suggests ties to the modern-day British Royal Family. Be that as it may, November 8th in Dublin, Ireland, the birthplace of Bram Stoker, sees an annual festival in honour of his literary achievements.

As a final curiosity, Bram Stoker’s full name is Abraham Stoker. Did he consider himself as his character “Professor Abraham Van Helsing” perhaps? The professor uses the a phonograph invented in 1877 by Thomas Edison, so did Stoker also imagine some of Edison in his Van Helsing character (who I found to be not so accurately portrayed in the film)? These points are made further strange by the comparative poses in Wikipedia’s main images for Stoker and Edison. Then again, maybe these are just typical poses for such photographs.

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