Publication year: 1897
Format: Print, a Finnish translation
Page count: 607 which includes a small notes section which has explanations about some of the places, people, and references in the book, plus a “Short History of the Vampire” by the translator.
The translation’s publisher: Otava
Translator: Jarkko Laine
Publication year of the translation: 1977, reprinted in 2010

The book is written in diary entries, letters, newspaper clippings, telegrams, and other notes, as no doubt most people know. It works surprisingly well. At the start, the various people writing their journals have no idea that anyone else is going to read the entries. So, they are quite personal. But even later, when they write the journal specifically to leave them to posterity, they don’t seem stunted or edited. Some entries contain dialog which, apparently, is today considered very fake in journal entries, but it didn’t bother me.

I’m going to assume that most people are familiar with the tale so there will be some spoilers.

The book starts with young solicitor Jonathan Harker who is traveling to Transylvania to meet a reclusive count Dracula who is a client at the firm where Jonathan works. The local people seem fearful and the coachman sent to fetch Jonathan is very strange. However, the count is friendly and very curious about England and the English customs. But increasingly, Jonathan senses that something just isn’t right.

The scene shifts to England, where young Lucy Westernra writes to her best friend Mina Murray who is Jonathan’s fiancee. They gossip about men and marriage proposals. Then doctor Seward writes about his strange patient Renfield.

The events build slowly, especially in England after the rather intense last entries in Jonathan’s diary. This lull from Jonathan’s diary to the pretty frivolous letters between Mina and Lucy really stopped the momentum and changed the tone. However, with Lucy’s declining condition and even later, after Mina is bitten, the pace picks up again. I read this over 3-4 weeks and even after 11 hour workday I just had to pick up the book again and read, even if it was just a few pages.

It’s interesting to note that the only character who dies at the end didn’t keep a diary and we didn’t get to know him very well. All of the core characters, Van Helsing, Seward, Lord Godalming, and Morris, and later the Harkers, become great friends and rely on each other through all the horror. I had no idea that Seward, Godalming, and Morris where friends before the book started; they had been in the Wild West and saved each others’ lives several times. Yet, they welcomed the Harkers into their tight circle. There were surprisingly little sexism towards Lucy and Mina. (I was listening Cook’s Black Company and Stephenson’s Quicksilver at the same time… and Dracula was the book that treated women characters with the most respect…) The men did try to exclude Mina at one time but that turned out to be really bad idea.

Dracula has some pretty impressive powers: he controls wolves, rats, bats, moths and fog, and can turn into them as well, although only at night. He has also some Transylvanian gypsies as sidekicks. He’s very strong and can walking in daylight. However, he didn’t really do much with his powers. When he finds out that the group of five men and one woman is after him, instead of using his powers against them, he flees. Van Helsing says that Dracula has a “child-brain” and so it would seem. It takes a long time for anything new to occur to him and instead he does what he knows has worked for him in the past. I also didn’t find him particularly sexy. At the start in the castle, he’s described as an old man with white hair and mustache. Later, when he becomes younger, he isn’t described much at all. All of the vampiric sex powers are given to the women; the three nameless vampire women in Castle Dracula are described as lewd and wanton, and so is Lucy later.

The characters are very religious. They pray, and talk and write about God a lot. This is in striking contrast to the modern vampire hunters who usually aren’t part of any religion and don’t seem to have personal faith, either. Also, in modern books vampires and demons are often result of a disease or members of (super)natural species. The supernatural is also often part of the natural world and not a result of any divine meddling. So, I guess it makes sense that when demons and angels are just people from another dimension or people with different inborn talents, the people who hunt them don’t turn to religion.

I’ve seen only a couple of Dracula movies but clearly they’ve made a larger impression on me than I realized. I kept seeing Anthony Hopkins as van Helsing (down to his facial expressions and how he sat in some scenes) and Keanu Reeves as Jonathan Harker but Christopher Lee as Dracula. I didn’t even remember seeing the film with Lee!

I can’t help but wonder what it would have been like to read this book without knowing anything about vampires or at least not knowing that this book is about vampires. However, the helpful “Short history” made it clear that the myth of vampire has been alive and well (so to speak) for a long time before Stoker, so perhaps Dracula’s identity was clear to Stoker’s contemporaries, too. Stoker did apparently invent the “aren’t seen in mirrors” and “don’t have shadows” things, though.

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