Dracula by Bram Stoker

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I always had a tender spot in my heart for Sesame Street’s Count von Count. He had his organ and a mysterious castle, and mysterious music. I love Toccata and Fugue to this day. (My dad can play it on the organ and it sounds so cool!). The Count was just plain cool.

Now that I’ve experienced the story of the original Count (Count Dracula), I have to wonder why Sesame Street wants to align themselves with such a morbid creature. I’d never read a vampire story before (of any kind), and I have to say, I really don’t think they are for me. There’s something about the dripping blood. While at first I was excited for an adventure story, by the end I was a bit disgusted by the bloody concepts. (I didn’t include a cover picture here because they all look disgusting.)

I was glad when Dracula by Bram Stoker had finally ended.

Part of my problem was an amateur narration via Librivox.org. It was just bad. I believe that a compelling story with well written characters and setting, or at least good writing, can stand out, even when it is narrated on audio by amateurs. In places, I felt Bram Stoker succeeded in writing with each of those. I just didn’t feel he did them all at the same time ever.

Is it unfair to judge this book by the narration? Yes. Maybe someday I’ll read the book too. But I’m observing my experience with Bram Stoker’s words as narrated by amateurs, and there was little in this experience that compelled me. I think it was more than the poor narration; I just don’t think vampire stories are for me. I found Dracula to be overly dramatic and morbid for my tastes.

I was very excited in the beginning. When Count Dracula welcomed Jonathon Harker to his home, I thought, “This is going to be good!” It remained “good” in my mind until the narration changed (until the end of chapter 5 of 27 chapters).

As was The Woman in White (which I read recently), Dracula is told in an epistolary manner. Some chapters have memorandums, some have journal entries, some have letters. But unlike Collins’ tale, Dracula’s various narrators all sounded the same. None of them had a distinct narration style (except Dr. Van Helsing, who wrote with uneven broken English), so when it switched from a woman to a man it all just sounded like Bram Stoker to me!

There were lots of comparisons in my mind to The Woman in White. In some senses, the black, bat-like Dracula himself (the image of the devil) was a foil to the white-clad innocent lady in Collins’ tale. Yet, Dracula, as a vampire tale, was so ridiculous to me that even now I struggle to put in to words the ultimate point of it. Dr. Van Helsing had a penchant for long speeches about right and wrong: I suspect I was supposed to come away from Dracula with a sense of pride in the fact that these people were able to do right.

Throughout the novel, there was a degree of confusion between what was chosen and what was forced. “The devil made me do it” often seemed a liable excuse! And yet, the ridiculous tale, the bloody “adventure” scenes, and the gothic settings made it seem overly dramatic.

It wasn’t even suspenseful to me, since I knew Dracula was a vampire. From the beginning, I knew what had to happen in the end. It felt tedious to me because it took forever to get there.

Someone is going to tell me that my poor audio narration “ruined” a wonderful book. I agree that my amateur narration made this worse: Dracula, for me, would have been better skimmed quickly. (I read the last chapter on Project Gutenberg because I was so eager to be done, and it was much less painful that way.) But I’m sure that those who love this story also like Edgar Allan Poe, horror stories in general, and dripping, bloody vampire tales. I don’t even like Halloween, so I’m sorry to say that this book probably would not have been a favorite for me, even if I skimmed it quickly.

These, however, are simply my impressions after listening to Dracula once. For a more professional assessment of why Dracula is worth reading, note Michael Dirda’s analysis in Classics for Pleasure (which I read after I wrote the majority of this post):

Dracula is … among the scariest books ever written. … The first third of the book could hardly be better in its carefully designed journey into fear, one that starts quietly and gradually ratchets up the tension. … Stoker modeled his novel after Wilkie Collins’s The Woman in White, unfolding its tense narrative through letters and journals. This allows him to build suspense to a braking point, then suddenly change key, forcing the reader to squirm with apprehension. …

Today more than ever, Dracula seems a text built, if only half consciously, on sexual anxieties. …[O]ur fear of the vampire lies in his seductiveness. He threatens our values, our public socialized selves; he tempts us from the path of salvation.” (excerpts from pages 196-198, Classics for Pleasure)

So you, like Michael Dirda, may like Dracula more than I did. For me, there was nothing likeable about the devilish vampire, and the people fighting to save the world from his undead influence were flat, boring, and overly dramatic.

I suspect that I’ll stay away from vampire tales for the foreseeable future, but maybe Dracula is for you.

Now, I return to my question: why on earth does Sesame Street include a Dracula figure in their line up?!

If you are interested in reading Dracula and/or Frankenstein in October, FizzyThoughts and Age 30+ A Lifetime of Books are hosting a Dueling Monsters read-along. Go check it out!

If you have reviewed Dracula on your site, leave a link in the comments and I’ll add it here. Since I didn’t enjoy it, I’ve included as many reviews as I could find so you can find someone who did enjoy it!

Other Reviews:

Reviewed on October 5, 2009

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  • I have only read snippets of this book, as we were assigned portions of it for a seminar I took my first year of university called “The Monstrous Imagination” (which focused on how monsters have been depicted in literature over time and how this reflected the psychology of the people). I intend to read the whole thing soon (perhaps before Halloween… it seems appropriate!), but I’m not sure what I am expecting. I have heard this one can drag and is not actually all that impressive, and I’m not exactly a vampire fanatic (I did love the show Buffy, but that’s about the extent of my vampire love). I have been getting back into reading the Classics, however, and I do enjoy spooky stories (though not ones that are amply gory or grotesque) so maybe this will be a better fit for me than it was for you. I’ll certainly be steering clear of the audiovox version! 😉

  • Oh, Count von Count! He was great!

    Have you thought about giving The Historian a try? I read it and loved it – and I don’t do well with bloody, violence-ridden books. It really is tasteful (no dripping blood), but just spooky enough to keep things interesting. And the writing is lovely, with truly beautiful descriptions of cities, food, and people all over Europe. My husband also read and loved it, and went on to read Dracula. He liked The Historian much more than Dracula.

  • I have literally abandoned books before due to the librivox readers. I mean, some are great, but some are just really, really bad…

  • I’ve never listened to anything on librivox, I usually just see what audiobooks are available at my library. I actually combined listening and reading Dracula (since otherwise I’d end up sitting in the driveway all day). My audio version had two narrators and the male (Harker/Van Helsing) was much better than the female (Lucy). I found the first part of the book excellent — especially when Harker realizes Dracula is a vampire and sees him crawling up the side of the building — creepy!– but parts of it really dragged, it just seemed like they were chasing the Count around Europe. Still, it was better than I expected. Frankenstein’s not bad either, and it’s pretty short.

  • I love Count von Count so much! Though, yeah, I don’t know who on the Sesame Street planning committee said, “Hey, you know what would make this show better? A Dracula puppet that likes counting!”

  • I’m listening to Anne of Green Gables through Librivox and the narration is terrible too. I think I will end up switching over to the paper version.

    Some of the librivox audiobooks are great and some are real misses.

  • Count von Count was my third favorite Sesame Street character when I was a kid! I’ve always loved vampires it seems but I’ve never actually read Dracula before. When I finally do give in I plan on listening to one of the audio books. Maybe the one narrated Alexander Spencer. Don’t give up on vamps completely! There are quite a few good ones out there 🙂

  • Steph, on the contrary, most of the reviews I found raved about how suspenseful and masterful this book is! I think I”m one of two “negative” reviews! So maybe just don’t expect too much, but I think it’d be perfect for Halloween. (I couldn’t stand the concept of Buffy either. Vampires are just not my thing.)

    Brittany, I keep seeing The Historian on RIP challenge lists. Not sure RIP horror/scary books are for me, though, so I”ll probably give it a pass! I don’t like spooky books at all. Glad you enjoy it, though.

    Amanda, yeah, probably should have. But I have a hard time “abandoning” books I”m reading. And I did like the first few hours of the narration!

    Karenlibrarian, I did like the first part when Harker was in Castle Dracula! That was what got me in to the book. I just felt like it lost the momentum and never regained.

    I do get books from the library sometimes but then I have to bother getting them put on to my handheld — Librivox goes straight from computer to my handheld, so middle step eliminated!!

    Jenny, I get the “count” theme but still, Dracula should not be a role model for preschoolers!!

    Bella, oh too bad about Anne! I love that book so I hope you don’t give up on it.

    Ladyting, sorry, I’m done with vampires!! Not my thing at all. I have officially given up on them. Don’t want to know about the good ones, seriously. A good vampire “disturbs” me (and there was a “good vampire” in the next book I read, The Graveyard Book, too).

  • You read Dracula and you don’t like spooky? It is a weird book. I’m reading Frankenstein now and it’s a much better book so far.
    Why don’t you like Halloween? I find myself wanting to get to the bottom of this mystery.

  • Lula, yes, I know. Why did I even bother trying? I guess I thought I needed to give a classic a chance. I am glad I did. Now I know even more it’s not for me!

    As for Halloween, um, I think it’s a ridiculous thing to encourage young children to dress up like the devil (or vampires or witches) and go around asking people for candy. If my son someday wants to dress up he can, but it won’t be as a devil or a vampire. And I’m just not ever going to encourage the go-around-the-neighborhood-and-ask-strangers-for-candy thing. The whole thing rather disgusts me, although I’m apparently the only one in the USA who is disgusted by it.

    I wouldn’t mind if it was an innocent dress up holiday. But add the devil to it and I’m just not such a fan. Add the trick or treating, and it just teaches kids to be greedy.

    Ok, I’ll get off my soap box now. You asked….

  • It’s a perfectly legitimate reason, and I would say a common one for more people than you think. Really gross stuff bothers me – I’ve refused more than one disgusting mask purchase for my teenage son, but ghosts and witches, etc don’t bother me so much. My youngest has wanted to be a skeleton for three years running, but you have to draw the line to where you feel most comfortable with your own family. Don’t ever feel bad about it, even if you’re the last person on the planet to think so.

    As an interesting side note with the candy dispersal, I would say 90ish percent of the time my kids only eat a little bit of it. It’s just too much. Where does most of it end up? In the garbage. I’m totally with you on that one. It’s way overdone.

  • Interesting; I didn’t realize that the structure of Dracula was so consciously modeled on The Woman in White. I’m not surprised that you found the characters flat compared to WIW; I think Collins is really outstanding at crafting unusual, amusing, likable (and unlikable) characters.

    As for Halloween, it’s always been one of my favorite holidays! But I always dressed up as unusual, non-spooky things – one election year I was the Statue of Liberty, and carried around a placard reminding people to vote. Another year I wanted to be a butterfly, and my dad rigged up a contraption with near-invisible straps, so that I could flap my wings as if by magic. I think it was so fun for me because my parents’ skill sets are perfect for dress-up – he’s awesome with engineering puzzles, and she’s an amazing seamstress, and they collaborated on all my costumes. Most of the fun of the holiday was in working with them on a creative project; the trick-or-treating was just icing on the cake. Although, I admit it was nice to have an occasion on which to wear my fancy new costume, and impress my friends with my wing-flapping ability! 🙂

  • Lula, I was babysitting a five-year-old today and I asked him what he was going to be for Halloween and he said ” A VAMPIRE!” and I seriously felt sick to my stomach. I just read Dracula. I know what “vampire” means. Oh well, I can only mother my son in my way. He will never be a vampire. *shudder*

    I don’t think a skeleton would bother me. I was fascinated by skeletons in third grade after we did a unit on the bones. I can still remember some of the random facts.

    As for the candy: um, I kept it forever when I was a kid. Portioned it out so I’d have some in, say, December. My sister never could so she was always jealous of my stash. Yuck.

    Emily, Dracula is definitely an imitation of Woman in White! Since I just finished Collins’s tale, I immediately drew the parallels. You’re probably right on them being so flat in comparison. Maybe if I hadn’t read them back to back it wouldn’t have been so bad!

    My costumes when I wasn’t a kid weren’t so bad either. I was a ballerina one year, and Annie (I had curly red hair and a red dress.) My husband and I are not creative or inventive in any way like your folks, though, so my son loses out on the fancy costume to be proud of!

  • I agree that this wasn’t really the most exciting book. I read an annotated version which I think really helped because sometimes I didn’t understand why Stoker kept going on about whatever otherwise. I expected “Dracula” to be a slog, however, so I was pleasantly surprised, but I really only read it because I enjoyed “The Historian” so much that I wanted to read the inspiration.

  • Rebecca, thanks for the review. I’ve been on the fence for a long time about reading Dracula. I’ve always hated the whole vampire concept. Of course it has been toned down and romanticized in books like Twilight and the Vampire Diaries, so maybe that explains the recent attention and appeal to the whole vampire thing.

    Anyway, after reading your review I think I may pass this time around reading Dracula. I wonder how it’s a classic… but I guess I won’t know until I read it… See, round and round I go! LOL

    Thanks for the review, it was well-thought out.

  • Jen, annotated probably would have helped give some context! I’m not sure I would have had patience for that either.

    I didn’t think Dracula was a slog so much — the narration, yes. I think it was just so inferior to Woman in White which I’d just read. See, it’s been a few days since this review; I’m already being nicer to the book! lol

    Sarah M., I’d have to say, I think this book is still a classic, simply because it’s copying the same style as other Victorians and it’s very Victorian in it’s attitudes. (I got most of that from the commentary I read). That said, if you are already disgusted by vampires, it’s probably not for you. As my husband says “go watch the movie.” lol. Just kidding. I can’t handle horror movies. I imagine my reaction to the movie would be ten times worse, with the lighting and spooky music and all.

  • Hmm, while I also love the Count on Sesame Street, I think it’s a shame that a lot of books like ‘Dracula’ are seen through the lens of pop culture. Personally, I’ve never read Bram Stroker’s original – my idea of ‘Dracula’ is constructed wholly on things I’ve seen on TV, in movies, etc etccc… I’ve felt no desire/need to read the actual book because the story is so “familiar”.

    It was the same with Frankenstein. When I read Shelley’s original, though, I found it so far removed from my preconceptions (in a good way). So despite the comparisons to ‘The Woman in White’ – which I didn’t like much, from memory – I’m going to have to read this soon!!

  • Tuesday, Sesame Street’s count is the only popular culture I’ve experienced with vampires — I haven’t read or watched anything else. I personal thought Dracula entirely unoriginal and overly dramatic in it’s set up and writing. I’m not saying in terms of popular culture since I’ve never really experienced vampires through popular culture.

    I loved The Woman in White compared to this one! I hope you do read it because I’d love to hear your input on it! What did you dislike about The Woman in White?

  • The characters I found fascinating, but just the whole structure of it. The constant cliff-hangers and climaxes felt a little contrived, though I know it’s because it was originally serialized. Also, I just thought it lost steam after the first few chapters, because the ‘mystery’ was so bleedingly obvious.

    Vampires in popular culture. Hmm, well there’s Twilight (really, Dracula can’t be any worse than Twilight, I don’t think?), Simpsons halloween episodes, Dracula movies from the 70s (‘i vill suck yor blaaad’)…

  • Tuesday, Dracula copies the structure of Woman in White — cliff-hangers, climaxes, etc.

    Yeah, not interested in Twilight, ever. Dracula was, I assume, not that bad, but i’ll have to take everyone else’s word on that!!

  • I was at the library the other day and there was a book about how “Sesame Street” came to be. I almost got it but then didn’t, and now I wish I had so I could give you some info on the Count’s background. 🙂 I guess that is kind of a weird pick for a children’s character, but is it any weirder than other monster muppets?

    I agree with you that the story never quite resumed the same pace after chapter 4, but I still had fun reading it; although, I think a lot of that came from my liking of modern vampire tales-it was fun to read through and find all the little pieces of legend and lore that still exist today.

    Sorry you didn’t enjoy it, but bravo for sucking it up and committing to giving it a shot, even though you were pretty sure you weren’t going to enjoy it in the first place. 😉

    My review is here.

  • Softdrink, if I ever read it again, I’ll try to approach it as cheesy and fun! But then, I don’t like Vampires!

    Dreamybee, Well, I probably should have stuck with it with a better attitude, but for now I’m glad I gave it a try. Not too crazy about vampires, but there you do anyway. I’ll add your review above!

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