Dracula, Bram Stoker, Hertfordshire, Great Britain, 1993 (Originally published 1897), Wordsworth Editions Limited.


The book is actually a series of semi-chronological journal entries and letters written by some of the characters of the story.  At a point about half-way through the narrative, Mina Harker collates the various loose ends into the manuscript that becomes the story we are reading.

One of the story's strengths is its attention to detail.  For instance, when the stake gang are making their plans, they are also conscious of how their actions might appear to anyone who should happen upon them.  After all, driving a stake into a corpse's chest is not a common thing to do, nor is it easy -- another unforgotten detail.  All the things that Buffy the Vampire Slayer never seems to worry about.

Harker At Castle Dracula

The time is approximately coincident with the time of the writing, 1897.  Jonathan Harker, a young real estate lawyer, traveled from his native England on business to the Carpathian Mountain home of his firm's client, Count Dracula.  As he neared his destination in eastern Transylvania, near its border with Moldavia and Bukovina (northeastern Romania), he began to suspect his business trip might become more than routine.  At his last stop before leaving for Dracula's castle, the peasants try to dissuade him from continuing on his journey.  Especially, they wanted him to wait a day or two.  The day was the eve of St. George's Day.  At midnight of that night, folklore had it, evil was at full sway.  It would logically follow that the day before the feast day of St. George, that fiercest of evil destroyers, evil things might be aroused in anticipation of the rout they would experience the following day.

(An interesting aside -- another attended detail:  Britain and her colonies adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1752, later than most Catholic countries which converted in 1582.  Russia, Greece, Turkey and others did not change until the twentieth century.  I do not know when the specified area of Romania converted but, apparently, it was still using the Julian reckoning.  The date in Harker's journal was May 4.  St. George's feast day is April 23, the eve of which would be April 22.  Harker's Gregorian date of May 4 -- assuming the year 1897 -- converts perfectly to Julian April 22.)   

Harker was not deterred, though, by this pleasant but superstitious people.  Before he boarded the carriage a peasant woman finally convinced him to take and wear her Rosary around his neck.  

It was dark already when Dracula's coach met his.  After a while, Harker began to suspect this strange and dark coachman was driving around in circles.  And every so often, he would stop the coach, walk off into the brush toward a small blue light, and return shortly thereafter.  Harker later asked Dracula about this queer exercise and he dismissed it as folk myth.  On St. George's eve, just before midnight, a blue flame marks the sites of treasures buried by passing marauders over the many centuries past.  But, Dracula added, that poor man was most likely unable to find the markings he placed there that night, by the next morning.  

During the last of these excursions, wolves began to approach the coach and Harker thought he might be attacked.  He beat against the side of the coach but the wolves would not abate.  But the driver, emerging from the brush, with voice and a wave of his arm, commanded them and they scattered.  

The next Harker knew, he had arrived at Dracula's castle.  The driver unloaded his bags and drove off.  It was now midnight, of course.  Count Dracula, himself, opened the door and greeted him,  "Welcome to my house.  Come freely.  Go safely.  And leave something of the happiness you bring!"  Interestingly, it seemed, he had the same strong grip of the coachman.  After the greeting, he assisted Harker with his luggage, explaining that the servants were in bed already.  He had a suite of rooms ready for him and supper was on the table.  

The count was tall.  He had bushy eyebrows that almost met over his long thin nose.  His red lips and white, sharp teeth were hooded by a heavy moustache.  His skin was pale and the tops of his ears ended in a point.  That night, when Dracula was about to leave Harker so he could rest from his journey, the wolves began to howl.  The Count's eyes gleamed as he spoke.  "Listen to them -- the children of the night.  What music they make!"

The nights thereafter, Dracula and Jonathan conversed long into the night.  Dracula asked questions and Jonathan answered as best he could.  Dracula was very well read and his English was excellent.  Jonathan wondered if perhaps a main reason for the conversation was to help the Count increase his functional command of the English language and culture so that he might better blend in when he reached his new home.

That new home, actually a very old home, was named Carfax.  It set on an estate outside London.  It had at one time been a grand mansion but now had fallen on hard times and was in need of much repair.  The reason for Harker's trip to Transylvania was to have Dracula sign the paperwork transferring ownership to him and to provide him with instructions for taking possession.

One morning Jonathan was shaving when he felt a hand on his shoulder and the Count greeted him good morning.  Harker looked back in his shaving mirror (there were no other mirrors in the house) but could not see the Count's reflection.  The start caused Harker to cut himself.  This sent the Count into a sort of craze and he grabbed for Harker's throat.  Instead, though, he touched the Rosary beads put there by the peasant woman.  Dracula stepped back, grabbed the mirror and hurled it out the window, somehow refocusing the blame for the cut on that "foul bauble of man's vanity."

By the third day, Harker realized he was a prisoner.  Dracula still came to talk with him in the evening and into the night, but the respect between them was a veneer.  The Count was never around during the day so Harker had free reign.  Many of the doors were locked and none of the first floor doors leading to daylight would open to him.  And Dracula had warned him, in an odd way, to never fall asleep anywhere except in his own suite.

One day Harker, exploring, came upon a room, still furnished, that must have been a lady's drawing room.  The dust on the floor told him he was the first visitor for a very long time.  He laid down on a dusty divan and before he knew it he had fallen asleep.  In a dream-like state he saw three beautiful women, two brunettes and a blonde, circling around him.  He couldn't move.  Then the blonde came up to him.  He could feel her breath on his throat.  But then, in fury, Dracula appeared.  He pulled her from him and demanded that they never touch him again, until he was through with him.  Then he dropped a bag a their feet, a bag that moved and emitted wailing noises.  They circled around it and disappeared.  The next he knew he was laying in his bed, his clothes neatly folded.

The next day, May 18, the Count had him write three letters: one saying he would leave for home in a few days; another that he would leave tomorrow; and the third that he was on his way home.  The last was to be dated June 29.  Now he knew the length of his life.

All this time Harker had kept a journal in shorthand.  His letters to Mina had also been in shorthand, since, when they were married, they planned that she should transcribe his legal notes into type-written form.  He saw a chance rescue.  A group of gypsies, Szgany, were below his window in the courtyard loading wooden boxes onto wagons.  He quickly wrote a letter to Mina in shorthand and wrapping it around a gold coin made motions to them that it should be mailed.  Soon thereafter the Count came in and showed him the letters.  His fury was controlled as he threw the letter to Mina into the fire.  Within the next few days all writing paper had been removed from his room, as well as his traveling suit.  Fortunately, the journal was overlooked.

A night some time later, Harker was looking out the window down toward the Count's when he saw the Count emerging, wearing Harker's traveling suit.  He proceeded to descend the sheer wall face, crab-like, his fingers and toes grabbing the edges of the stones.  Harker knew what his errand was, to bring back a living repast for the ghostly women, and dressed in Harker's clothes, the blame would be on him.

A few days later, near the day of his supposed departure, he made a plan.  Since he hardly ever saw the Count during the day, he would attempt to climb into his room through the window, balancing on a small ledge.  He did so and found the room nearly empty.  In the corner set a pile of gold but the room had not been used for sleeping.  Through a door he followed a set of stairs downward to an old chapel that had been used as a graveyard.  From here earth had been removed and placed in wooden boxes which the gypsies were loading onto wagons.  And there, in one of the boxes lay the Count.  He lay still, neither dead nor asleep.  Harker searched for keys but could find none.  Then, in a panic, he ran back up the stairs and crawled to his own room by way of the window ledge.

The next day, the last of the wooden boxes was carried away by the gypsies.  Harker knew that that night the three women would take him so, throwing caution to the wind he decided to attempt to scale the wall and escape.


© Lester L. Noll