Franz Kafka

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Sunday, April 27, 2014

Dracula: between literature, mass culture, and Hollywood-hype. Dracula, by Bram Stoker. Full Text Version.

1899 Doubleday and McClure, First American edition, Dracula, by Bram Stoker.

The events portrayed in Dracula, the famous 1897 epistolary novel by Bram Stoker (full text version here,) took place for the most part in Withby (England) and Transylvania, during the year 1893. While this book's fictitious chronicles set a milestone in Gothic horror narrative that is still unsurpassed to-date, what really consigned its story to immortality is the value of the narration itself, such as the breathtaking description of places and landscapes, the breathe of nature and of human sensitiveness that blow from within. See the passage below:

...I soon lost sight and recollection of ghostly fears in the beauty of the scene as we drove along, although had I known the language, or rather languages, which my fellow-passengers were speaking, I might not have been able to throw them off so easily. Before us lay a green sloping land full of forests and woods, with here and there steep hills, crowned with clumps of trees or with farmhouses, the blank gable end to the road. There was everywhere a bewildering mass of fruit blossom--apple, plum, pear, cherry. And as we drove by I could see the green grass under the trees spangled with the fallen petals. In and out amongst these green hills of what they call here the "Mittel Land" ran the road, losing itself as it swept round the grassy curve, or was shut out by the straggling ends of pine woods, which here and there ran down the hillsides like tongues of flame. The road was rugged, but still we seemed to fly over it with a feverish haste. I could not understand then what the haste meant, but the driver was evidently bent on losing no time in reaching Borgo Prund. I was told that this road is in summertime excellent, but that it had not yet been put in order after the winter snows. In this respect it is different from the general run of roads in the Carpathians, for it is an old tradition that they are not to be kept in too good order. Of old the Hospadars would not repair them, lest the Turk should think that they were preparing to bring in foreign troops, and so hasten the war which was always really at loading point.
Beyond the green swelling hills of the Mittel Land rose mighty slopes of forest up to the lofty steeps of the Carpathians themselves. Right and left of us they towered, with the afternoon sun falling full upon them and bringing out all the glorious colours of this beautiful range, deep blue and purple in the shadows of the peaks, green and brown where grass and rock mingled, and an endless perspective of jagged rock and pointed crags, till these were themselves lost in the distance, where the snowy peaks rose grandly. Here and there seemed mighty rifts in the mountains, through which, as the sun began to sink, we saw now and again the white gleam of falling water. One of my companions touched my arm as we swept round the base of a hill and opened up the lofty, snow-covered peak of a mountain, which seemed, as we wound on our serpentine way, to be right before us...

It is worth remarking the supposed connections between Stoker's Dracula and the historical figure of Transylvania-born Vlad III Dracula of  Wallachia (1456–1462), Vlad the Impaler, revered as a folk hero by locals for driving off the invading Turks.

 Who was it but one of my own race who as Voivode crossed the Danube and beat the Turk on his own ground? This was a Dracula indeed! Woe was it that his own unworthy brother, when he had fallen, sold his people to the Turk and brought the shame of slavery on them! Was it not this Dracula, indeed, who inspired that other of his race who in a later age again and again brought his forces over the great river into Turkey-land; who, when he was beaten back, came again, and again, though he had to come alone from the bloody field where his troops were being slaughtered, since he knew that he alone could ultimately triumph! (Chapter 3, pp 19)

Since the old days of Stoker's novel, a slew of werewolves, vampires and blood-sucking wild beings followed, entering the common imaginary world of a wider audience, through printed books, theatrical pieces, and plenty of movies. However, Stoker's Dracula goes well beyond the narrow alleys of narrations of an immortal, deadly and cursed thing, precisely thanks to the striking quality of its own literary fabric. Ultimately, it is our duty to once again declare to the world that there is way more to Dracula than sharp canines, precisely because that is exactly what the meat-packaging process of today's mass culture, sadly enough, has seemingly reduced it to.  
    Quite ironically though, as we flip the coin, the very same processes of mass-culture, at times, also work in a positive way. As noted, Stoker's work reached its large iconic, legendary status well after its Victorian times, only as it caught Hollywood's attention and movie adaptations appeared. Since the American movie version was released (1931) the book has never been out of print.
    As it is often the case in today's intricate society, while mass culture broadens the accessibility of knowledge and democratizes culture, leading to a greater recognition of art, it can also have the destructive power of  diluting the general understanding of it.

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