I’ve read quite a few articles recently declaring 2009 to be ‘The Year of the Vampire’, and as I am studying gothic fiction it seems only polite to take an interest. For the last couple of weeks I’ve been immersing myself in all things Dracula, to the extent that a couple of days ago when I took myself off to bed with a bug that’s been doing the rounds, I was having feverish dreams I’d been bitten by a Vampire. Luckily, that was not the case, and I arise untainted to offer a review of the three books I’ve been devouring.
I started with the original vampire story, which happens to be yet another result of that famous ghost story competition that spawned ‘Frankenstein’ at Lake Geneva. Based on an outline by Byron, but actually written by John Polidori, I speak of ‘The Vampyre.’ This is in fact a very short, slight story. I was surprised, as I always thought it was more of a novel, but I wasn’t too disappointed; it diverted me from real work for half an hour in the library.
The story centres on Count Ruthven, a mysterious figure in London society, who attracts the notice of more than one virtuous maiden, and also of a young orphaned gentleman of independent means, Aubrey. Aubrey is fascinated by Ruthven, and attached himself to him while undertaking the obligatory European tour so beloved by gentlemen of the 1800s. Obviously things go awry for poor Aubrey. After discovering that his companion is nothing but a seducer and cad, he separates from him and takes himself off to Greece, where he falls in love with a beautiful maiden. On a wild and stormy night, so typically gothic (you wouldn’t believe how many storms I’ve experienced in my gothic reading over the last three months), Aubrey’s love falls victim to a vampire! This is the beginning of the end for Aubrey’s gentle, romantic mind. The latter part of the story sees him falling into a brain fever, coming out of his madness in time to hear of his sister’s coming nuptials to…yes! Count Ruthven! Whether or not he is the vampire in question, or is simply misunderstood, obviously affects the outcome of the story considerably. However, if you wish to know that, you’ll have to read it. I give nothing away!
So…a definite must-read for any vampire fans out there, or anyone who has read Dracula and enjoyed it. If you do enjoy scary stories and terrifying tales, I can very much recommend the Oxford World’s Classics edition of The Vampyre, which has another thirteen short scary stories.
And now…on to the main event…the man himself- DRACULA!
(Do I need to do a plot summary? I kind of hope not. In fact, I’m kind of ashamed of you if you need one. Go to Amazon.)
This was a re-read for me, I first rendezvoused with the Count when I was seventeen and supposed to be studying for my A Levels. Obviously I thought it was amazing and couldn’t put it down. Since then, I feel I have grown and matured, and learnt more about literature and life in general…kind of. Ick.
So did my twenty-four year old self agree with my seventeen year old self (they so rarely agree)?
Yes and no.
Oh, it is so hard to review this book! This is probably one of the most overused and over analysed, texts in the English language. Every possible theory (Freudian, feminist, colonial…) has made it their vessel. Is Mina Harker a new woman? Is Lucy being punished for wanting to marry three men? Is Dracula gay? This is the reason I didn’t enjoy Dracula like I did the first time. I’m a post-grad English student, I’ve studied Dracula twice now, and everywhere I look in that book I see remnants of theories and ideas. I’ve almost been taught to laugh at it a bit, and it’s old-fashioned Victorian ideals. This makes me sad, when I think how innocently I loved this book just a few years ago, and now I regard it as if I see through it. Vampires? Ha! They’re just a literary device, don’t you know? Maybe we all just need to throw literary theory in the rubbish and lock all the doors, draw the curtains, light a flickering candle and stay up all night devouring Dracula from start to finish. Yes, that is what you must do! Forget everything you’ve ever heard about this book, or vampires in general, just sit down and read….
…and then when you’ve finished that, move straight onto The Historian.
This is a thriller like I haven’t enjoyed in a long time. Imagine that Dracula was actually real, and he was a bit of a scholar with a penchant for librarians and historians. Imagine a group of those historians getting together to track Dracula through the very medium by which he entrapped them- history. As a history geek I really loved the literary chase through archives in Istanbul, Oxford, Budapest and Bulgaria (and having just visited Budapest I was able to get extra excited at the lavish descriptions of that amazing city)
If I have to make any criticisms of this book, it’s only that maybe the climax and conclusion were not quite as exciting as I had hoped, especially after reading 600 odd pages. it did drag a little towards the end, and maybe there wasn’t quite enough action. There was never a moment when I actively feared for the character’s lives. So yes, those interested in looking deeper into the Dracula story should definitely read it, there was a lot of interesting background on Vlad, but don’t expect to be too scared.
And now I’m going to leave vampires behind, because it’s mere days until Christmas, and I can’t possibly think of a more unseasonable subject than the Un-Dead.