Dracula by Bram Stoker
This is exclusive series for people who support The Classic Ghost Stories Podcast financially via Substack or Patreon.
In compiling these notes I am going to rely on the Annotated and Illustrated Dracula by M Grant Kellermeyer and The Essential Dracula edited by Leonard Wolf which is now quite difficult to get hold of.
Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula was published in 1897 by an Irish theatre manager called Abraham or Bram Stoker. Stoker was road manager for the famous actor Henry Irving and so had access to celebrity society in the UK.
Leonard Wolf’s notes are very informative but quite bitchy towards other Dracula scholars.
The first thing we notice is that Bram is keen to let us have the benefit of all of his research. Technically this is known as an info-dump and frowned upon in modern creative writing circles. However, I can imagine that for his Victorian readers the history, geography, cuisine and ethnography of such a remote region would be quite entertaining.
Stoker’s job was organising tours of regional theatres in the UK and Ireland and so his business was organising trains and transport, and this shows in Dracula where we have a fairly detailed road map of the journey to Transylvania by road, river and rail. Well, he sees the Danube but doesn’t travel on it, but that Road, River and Rail is the title of a Cocteau Twins song and I wanted to get it in.
Someone who wasn’t as interested in planning journeys may not have given us so much detail so good on Bram. I enjoyed it. We read out Dracula’s Guest by Bram Stoker which was published after his death but which was claimed, I think by his wife Florence, to be the initial first chapter of Dracula. In it, our narrator is not named, but we can guess it is Jonathan Harker as it is told in the same journal style. That chapter begins when Jonathan (let us say it is he) takes a day trip from Munich on Walpurgis Nacht.
Walpurgis Nacht is the Germanic Halloween when all the evil forces are allowed to run riot. Harker is in Munich therefore on April 30th going over to May 1st and this ties in well with his notes of his journey here. This chapter tells us JH left Munich on 1st May, the day after his encounter in the snowy graveyard with the wolf and lady vampire in Dracula’s Guest.
My own observations about this chapter is that it is like a funnel. I think it is well done. Stoker takes us from our comfortable Middle-Class English home and goes further and further east, a direction that signifies the exotic and mysterious. We go through fairly civilised Germany to the more obscure Austro-Hungarian Empire. Leaving German-speaking Vienna to arrive at Klausenburgh (modern Cluj) a town that is now Romanian speaking with Hungarian minorities. From there we travel deeper into the wilderness to Bistritz on the borderlands with obscure and fantastical realms such as Transylvania, Bukovina and Moldavia. “There are no maps of this country to compare with our own Ordnance Survey Maps.”
We are told we are entering the lands of Turkish traditions, and this must bring a smattering of the Arabian Nights and, at least to a Victorian audience, ideas of superstition. The vampire and werewolf were not unknown to the reading public and this setting was sure to conjure them, indeed Stoker references them directly by quoting from his polyglot dictionary.
We get a few recipes, but who doesn’t comment on foreign food when venturing abroad?
He doesn’t sleep well at Bistritz. There is a dog (oh yeah) at his window. Then someone knocks at his door to make sure he doesn’t miss the coach. I wonder who that could be?
The landscape with its mountains and trees in blossom is very beautiful and well described. He describes the country folk and it is a really lovely travelogue. Of course he never went there, he got this all from books. He is quite kind to the locals and doesn’t commit the slur of making all foreigners wicked and ignorant. These folks are kind and want to help him. They try to persuade him not to go. They give him gifts and a crucifix. The coach driver even arrives early and tries to take Harker on to Bukovina. The coachman is Dracula we all think. Some commentators say that the brown beard is wrong as Dracula has no brown beard. I think this is nit-picking. Could not Dracula with all his resources not have a dressing up kit such as I myself have? I don’t have a beard but I certainly do have a long black wig and an elf hat.
The day he leaves is 4th May. This is St George’s Eve. Now it turns that that this the wicked night in the East of Europe very much the same as Walpurgis Nacht in the Germanic Countries and Halloween in the Celtic West.
That is a little bit of foreshadowing. More comes, and more strongly with the comment that Harker is not feeling as easy in his mind as usual and his first thought that his journal might get back before he does. This building of tension, the inevitable journey into danger is well done. Harker can’t leave because of his duty and job, but we all know what this will lead to. Someone said that clues in a horror story are not so that we can work out the ending, but rather to make us come to dread it.
“I must ask the Count about these supersititions….” Oh no!
Then, what the heck is Dracula doing with that blue flame? What does he do with the few small stones? How come we can see the flame through him? Is he a ghost? I guess it is to show that the coachman (Dracula) is supernatural. His power over the wolves and skill with the horses also shows his power over nature.
The howling of the wolves and the location in the mountains is to let us know that we are a long way from Kansas.
How come they go over the same ground? I guess it might be to make him arrive at the castle after Midnight on St George’s Night. Harker checks his watch and I suppose the time must be important.
The driver says, “An hour less than the time” but not in English nor in German, because he later speaks to Harker in German. How did Harker understand? Dracula has been picked over by scholars and critics so much over the centuries, which is a tribute to Stoker. I won’t point out any more plot holes
For me one of the nastiest and more chilling things about Dracula is his awful charm. He takes all care of Harker with little gestures such as the rug and the slivovitz.
Traps means baggage.
The peasants have goitre because their diet is deficient in iodine. You get iodine from eating things from the sea, or even living by the sea.