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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The creepiness and the clunkiness of Bram Stoker's Dracula

Yes reading or re-reading as the case may be Bram Stoker's Dracula after many years is good, campy fun - up to a point (no pun intended). It was no doubt a smart and daring decision for Stoker to tell the whole tale through diary entries, notebooks, letters, telegrams, and newspaper clippings, giving this exotic vampire tale the sheen of reality - and avoiding the need for establishing a narrative voice because who could really narrate this story? On the other hand, it's a 19th-century novel and feels like one: not that it's too long, although it is (I know there are abridged versions out there and one could certainly red pencil many of the "humorous" passages in which characters talk in various regional dialects) but the biggest problem is that we always know so much more than the characters - partly because we by now are so familiar with the accoutrements of the vampire myth and partly because, well, because Stoker is highly manipulative; for ex., we get pages and pages of narrative in which the famous Dutch physician administers various potions to the dying Lucy and he never, ever sits down with Dr Seward and explains what he's thinking: that bat flapping around out there: It's a vampire! Those marks on her throat, the loss of blood  - let's all put 2 + 2 together, OK? Anyway, that aside, the campy fun is the utter creepiness of the whole vampire conceit: the idea of contagion by mixing blood, the blood-thirstiness of the infected, the transformation into creatures such as bats and werewolves, the sense of the infected among us "disguised" as ordinary folks, the weird alliance between the "infected" and the animal kingdom (werewolves, bats), the connection between vampirism and lunacy (scenes at a lunatic asylum), the boxes filled with Transylvanian soil - these moods are extremely personal and invasive and play at our uneasiness about alien others: think of how this played out in, for ex., Battlestar Gallactica, Night of the Living Dead, The Thing - Dracula is the model on which they're all based.

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