Dracula (Part One – England)

I don’t know why I hadn’t read Dracula. I like old-skool horror as much as the next weirdo, but I’d never even picked it up. A few weeks ago I was chatting about family trees to my girlfriend’s father. He has an incredible store of data on the subject and has traced the family name back to something like Cro-Magnon times. He said, “you know our name crops up in Dracula?” I didn’t and confessed to never having read it. So I bought a copy, thinking, if nothing else, it might explain why my girlfriend sleeps in a coffin.

Dracula is not an easy read. Nothing to do with the subject material, everything to do with the structure. There is no central narrative; the story is a combination of character diaries, newspaper snippets and recorded conversations. It skis back and forth, with activities viewed from many angles, repeated by multiple characters, but building all the time. The text is fractured and at times, frustrating. It teeters on the cliff-edge, then pulls back, sustaining a tension that finally leads back to Transylvania and the (rather abrupt) conclusion.

There are enough co-incidences and juxtapositions to render the story improbable. Then you remember the concept is a centuries-old blood-sucking vampire, so suspension of disbelief is a pre-requisite anyway!

It’s the detail that engrossed me in Dracula. The descriptions of Transylvania are striking “a vast ruined castle, from whose tall black windows came no ray of light, and whose broken battlements showed a jagged line against the sky” and Stoker’s haunting evocation of Dracula’s voyage by boat to Whitby is downright frightening. Even London is given flesh, as the plot shifts from Piccadilly to Mile End to south of the river. Dracula’s London lair is actually east of the city in Purfleet. Purfleet! A place so dismal even other Essex towns sneer at it.

Despite the jarring composition, I finished it quickly. I replayed a lot of the scenes in my head over the next fortnight. I couldn’t shake the image of the lizard-like Dracula, scaling his Transylvanian castle walls and the three brides, hungry for Jonathan Harker’s blood. The book leaves an aftertaste.

Bram Stoker never visited Romania, he wrote most of the Transylvania chapters from his writer’s retreat in Aberdeen! The historical parallel with Vlad Tepes (The Impaler) is based on misinformation and the Romanian tourist industry has skewered the connection further, but you can still follow Jonathan’s journey. Dracula has created a blurred legacy of fact and fiction and inadvertently given goths a holiday destination

I went for the jugular and booked a flight to Bucharest. I bought a guidebook. It says “Romania is vegetarian hell.” I guess it goes with the territory. A figure like Vlad the Impaler was hardly likely to be a tofu fan.

I told my girlfriend I was going to Transylvania. She threw her head back and laughed a horrible, otherworldly cackle. “Say hello to my family” she said. “Sure”, I said, “can you tape the football?”

Part two to follow from Transylvania.