Monday, October 29, 2007

"Fortunately I am not of a fainting disposition."

You know what's really important? Momentum.

You can lose it if you wait too long, which is why I'm only writing about this book now, even though I finished it a goodly while ago.

The thing is, I wrote a big long blog entry and then didn't save it for reasons that I won't go into here and so now it's gone forever. But here it is, as best as I can recall it: Dracula or, the book I read two weeks ago.

The book's opening segments, heavy on Jonathan Harker's diary, are marvelous and enthralling, and enticed me into the book instantly. I love the way it reads like a portentous, sinister travelogue. I also enjoyed the way the book cuts back and forth across narratives, employing shifting points of view (epistolary narratives usually get on my nerves, but it works really well here).

The novel's form and structure felt very modern to me, as modern as its subject is ancient. There were overt references to this idea in the book as well, the strangeness of having this relic of the dark ages wandering about in London in the age of rationality, which provides a thrilling tension throughout -- the irrational often trumps what would appear to be common sense under normal circumstances, yet the characters employ modern technological developments to get their man:

"The characters of Dracula use modern technology and rationalism to defeat the Count. For example, during their pursuit of the vampire, they use railroads and steamships, not to mention the telegraph, to keep a step ahead of him (in contrast, Dracula escapes in a sail boat). Van Helsing uses hypnotism to pinpoint Dracula's location. Mina even employs criminology to anticipate Dracula's actions and cites both Cesare Lombroso and Max Nordau, who at that time were considered experts in this field." (From Wikipedia, so you know it must be true.)

I really liked to think of a lot of the plot points in terms of scientific developments of the time, wondering, for instance, if it wasn't all the blood transfusions that killed Lucy (though successful blood transfusions had been performed in the 1840s, blood types weren't classified until after 1901, four years after the publication of the novel).

I also liked the character of Mina quite a bit, especially the way she was integral to figuring out where Count Dracula was at the end of the book (she used her psychic connection with him to figure out he was on water, then she whipped out her maps and deduced exactly where he was in a neat bit of sleuthing that led the men right to him) although the constant Victorian speechifying she endured at the hands of Van Helsing et al. started to get on my nerves (constant speeches about how virtuous she is and how much they loved her, quite dull stuff clogging up the third act). I interpreted the fact that she got bitten by Dracula while they locked her away for her own protection as a sort of "serves you right for treating her like an invalid" thing, because it backfired so horribly. Is Bram Stoker telling us it's just a dangerous to treat women like fragile flowers as it is to expose them to the dangers of the world? I like to think so.

Overall, vastly enjoyable, and surprisingly and impressively layered. I only wish images of the Francis Ford Coppola movie wouldn't pop up in my mind's eye quite so much while reading it (we all know this is the best movie version of the story!). I did enjoy watching The Simpsons Halloween parody of it, though, which came on TV, like, the day after I finished the novel, much to my delight.

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