Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Dracula or, So Totally About Mina, OMG, Did You Hear About Her?

So this week I read Dracula (1897) by Bram Stoker, which, I'm gonna level with you, is one of my favorite books of all time. It is, of course, the most important vampire book ever written--the most famous, the most adapted, and the most beloved of the genre. It is so famous that we encounter the same problems with it as we did with Frankenstein: we know "the story" so well that we neglect the novel.

But the story of Dracula isn't quite what we expect it to be. Even Nosferatu, the first film adaptation (even as bootlegged as it was) changes, subtracts, and re-imagines what the novel is about. The vampiric "rules" as we understand them, don't apply to Dracula. So every time that he appears in later works, he must be dealt with; in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, he's adept a gypsy magic, in other works, he's just ancient.

There's a whole list of issues that Dracula brings up: the first, and arguably most accessible, is the issues with invasion and foreignness. We have the invasion of the Oriental danger--it's no accident that Dracula is from Eastern Europe, i.e., THE EAST--fought off by our stalwart and trusty Englishmen.

Then, we have issues of gender in Victorian, and arguably contemporary, society. Mina is ignored by the "big brave men" and finds herself under attack by Dracula--even though she's the one transcribing the damn novel.

Finally, we have issues of sexuality. The contemporary understanding of sexuality--Freud--leads the reader to some very awkward conclusions about Dracula's method of drinking--and sharing--blood. Mina's very erotically-charged encounter with Dracula makes for a lot of intellectual fodder.

All right, for serious lastly, Dracula remains one of the most pop cultural vampires. Why? The Victorians read the book as a purely adventure story, yet modern (and some contemporary) readers recognized the novel as a work of "literature". And even as the novel is read as literature, it enters the mainstream. Why? For one, it is a better telling of the Carmilla story (although, sadly, without lesbians), i.e., Overcoming the Monster. For another, Dracula's sexiness [even though he is sooo unsexy] calls out to both the Victorian sensibility and the Postmodern sensibility--that is, the era of Science is a fan of the un-scientific.

So, as a finale of sorts, next week, we will continue our exploits with Mina in Alan Moore's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (1999), which is a graphic novel starring many of our Victorian (and Gothic!) heroes,

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