In my rereading of Dracula, (this being my third time through since college—this time as research for a poem and the When Shadows Rise rpg), I’ve reached the point where Harker and Godalming are pursuing the Count by steam launch up the Sereth and Bistritza rivers toward the Borgo pass. Harker opens by writing in his journal by the light of the boiler fire Godalming is stoking. (Hence my post title.)
It’s striking how much more exciting Harker’s journal is than Dr. Seward’s has been, or Mina’s since the death of Lucy. (You may recall my saying in a previous post that the letters between Mina and Lucy are well done.) In part, I have to give Stoker his due that Harker’s persona is simply more focused and driven—at least in his own journal. And in part, I suspect, it’s that the group is again entering foreign lands that Stoker himself once visited and found interesting. There is, to be sure, a fascination in the exotic, and a sense of danger in simply being away from home.
However, a major reason this section works better than what has come before, I’d argue, is that Stoker has stopped dithering around, having his characters waffle back and forth as to what should be done, and throwing their hands into the air in dramatic displays of “overwrought” emotion. I’ve mentioned in an earlier post that Stoker was a business manager for the actor Henry Irving and his Lyceum Theatre, and that the characters in Dracula often act as if they were on stage. (Hmmm. Perhaps this explains why my wife and I so enjoyed an ISU stage production of Dracula some years ago.)
I’ve complained earlier that Van Helsing, as recorded in Dr. Seward’s diary, talked far too at length about revealing nothing until the appropriate time. The latest episode of Stoker’s apparent uncertainty as to how to proceed came in the group’s first keeping Mina out of their planning sessions, so that her feminine mind might not be overtaxed (after having earlier praised her strength of mind and great aid in—among other things—having collected and typed all the journals thus far), then deciding that she must not be kept out any longer, then deciding that she could not be trusted because the Count had infected her, then deciding she must be taken along because she couldn’t be left on her own, then deciding she and Van Helsing would actually proceed overland toward Castle Dracula (the why of which still hasn’t been explained) while the others pursue the Count’s boat.
Mind you, this all sounds much less problematic when summarized as above. Read it in the ongoing dialogues, as recorded by Dr. Seward, and you’ll understand why I say the book is simply uneven.
Lest you dismiss my complaints as jealous ravings, let me give you two last things to consider. First, as mentioned in a previous post, Stoker wrote Dracula ten years after the first Sherlock Holmes tale, making him a late contemporary of Doyle. Doyle’s writing puts Stoker’s to shame. Second, Dracula was written fifty years after Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus, in which Mary Shelley posits a perfect (not hideous) creature abandoned by its flawed creator, a creature that goes to increasing extremes to demand its creator’s attention. That’s some deep sh*t, as they say, compared to which Dracula is just a summer potboiler.
Frankly, Anne Rice’s vampire novels are better than Dracula, particularly Memnoch the Devil, which I think approaches Frankenstein as both a literary and philosophical endeavor.