By Ashley Lister
Last week I said I was going to start writing about supernatural aspects of various counties throughout the UK. Then, having written about Ghost Stations on the London Underground, I grew bored with the topic. Partly this is because I’ve got very little interest in geography. And, because I’m worried that this lack of interest will shape itself into listless prose, I figured I would be better off looking each week at some of my favourite classic titles from the world of horror literature. In other words – screw a county-by-county examination of the UK: I want to talk about books that I like.
Having had some time at my disposal when in London, I had visited the British Museum, and made search among the books and maps in the library regarding Transylvania; it had struck me that some foreknowledge of the country could hardly fail to have some importance in dealing with a nobleman of that country. I find that the district he named is in the extreme east of the country, just on the borders of three states, Transylvania, Moldavia and Bukovina, in the midst of the Carpathian mountains; one of the wildest and least known portions of Europe. I was not able to light on any map or work giving the exact locality of the Castle Dracula, as there are no maps of this country as yet to compare with our own Ordnance Survey maps; but I found that Bistritz, the post town named by Count Dracula, is a fairly well-known place. I shall enter here some of my notes, as they may refresh my memory when I talk over my travels with Mina.
Dracula, Bram Stoker
This is from the opening page of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and gives readers their first introduction to one of the most memorable characters in fiction. According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, Dracula, the gothic novel written by Bram Stoker and published in 1897, “was the most popular literary work derived from vampire legends and became the basis for an entire genre of literature and film.”
For those unfamiliar with the story, Dracula is epistolary in form, presented as the collected journal entries, letters and telegrams from the main characters. Jonathan Harker, a young English lawyer, travels to Transylvania to do some work for Dracula and almost ends up being refreshment for the Count. It transpires [SPOILER ALERT] that Count Dracula is a vampire and maintains longevity by drinking human blood. The story continues in England where Dracula is keen to sample London hospitality whilst his detractors attempt to stop him.
I’m always surprised to find Dracula described as ‘literature’ because, unlike a lot of material that usually gets burdened with that label, Dracula is an entertaining read that is relatively unambiguous and fairly easy to follow. This is a story with themes of life and death, love and fear, and good and evil. It’s a story that shocked Victorian mores with the suggestion that female victims could enjoy the thrill of succumbing to a male partner during the exchange of bodily fluids. It was shocking because there’s a suggestion that Jonathan Harker might have wanted to be seduced by the three morally ambivalent women known as Dracula’s sisters.
And we can see, in retrospect, why the story had such an impact on the horror-loving community. This is a story that reminds its readers that a favourable response to sexual stimulation is unhealthy, unnatural and potentially a sign of diabolical influence. It’s a story that makes us doubt the trustworthiness of those who succumb to pleasures of the flesh. Coming from the end of the Victorian era, where readers had been taught that enjoying sex was wrong and its pleasures were only advocated by disease-ridden prostitutes and their disreputable customers, we can see that the story is a wonderful cautionary tale that reminds us that we can stay safe by not trusting our baser urges, or allowing Eastern Europeans to enter the country.
If you haven’t yet had a chance to enjoy the original, there are audiobook versions available for free on YouTube. And, even if you have read it before, this is one of those stories that’s always worth revisiting.