Wolfgang Iser once said, “A text can only come to life when it is read, and if it is to be examined, it must therefore be studied through the eyes of the reader.” This quote relates to Bram Stokers’ Dracula very well. Stoker uses first person accounts throughout the story to give better visual images to the readers. It really makes the text seem like it is “coming to life.” The novel Dracula has been able to withstand the test of time and earned a name as a classic piece of literature. Readers’ responses to the novel from 1897 through today continue to make Dracula a timeless tale. The next few paragraphs will take you back in time to see how readers viewed the novel Dracula upon production, and even how new readers interpret it today.
It is quite fascinating how one single piece of literature can adopt numerous morals, meanings and hidden messages depending on how it is analyzed. It is then left up to the reader to extract what he or she believes to be correct. Over time, readers have taken away different opinions on the tale after reading. In 1897 when Bram Stoker produced Dracula, readers viewed the book in a completely different perspective from what they do today. The time period and the people were different. Everything was different besides one thing, the story. Yes, Dracula plays and movies have been edited to fit today’s society but one thing is for sure, that the novel has been the same since production. “Invasion literature,” or literature that had to do with monsters invading the British Empire (which, at that point, still covered a lot of the world beyond the British Isles), was ridiculously popular at the time. However, at the time of his writing there was not much writing on vampires. Stoker only wrote novels to pay the bills. Honestly, he would probably be astonished at the lasting impact Dracula has had on popular culture. At the time it came out in 1897, it was popular and well received, but hardly a blockbuster hit. It was not until later in the twentieth century, when film versions of the novel started to appear, that the novel’s popularity really skyrocketed and its impact on popular culture became clear. When you read the novel, you really can get a good feel of what the Victorian era was like. For example, sex and lust were controversial topics during the era. They both played big roles in the piece of literature. This could be why some passed on reading at first. They did not want to be judged by others for reading a “dirty” book. In addition, there is a scene in the book where a female was “sexually assertive.” “The fair girl went on her knees and bent over me, fairly gloating. There was a deliberate voluptuousness which was both thrilling and repulsive, and as she arched her neck, she actually licked her lips like an animal, till I could see in the moonlight the moisture shining on the scarlet lips and on the red tongue as it lapped the white, sharp, teeth” (Stoker 50). This was unheard of during the late 1800’s to 1900’s. Women had little rights before the suffrage movement took place in the 1900’s. Women were expected to refrain from showing sexual attraction. It was “unnatural” and “Inappropriate.” As you can tell, times were different when Dracula was first published. Readers had a different interpretation that what we would have today due to the impact society has on people. Their reaction to the literature was shocked due to their interpretation of the text.
Readers of Dracula interpret the text different from those of the early 1900’s. Today’s society does not mind the sexual innuendos like the past did. The Victorian era that the story is set in does not represent today’s society, but it gives readers today a feel of what it was like. It gives that “mental image” to the reader. Another difference is that in today’s time, there are lots of other books, movies and plays about vampires and evil creatures. Back then, there was not a lot of background on vampires. They were almost scared to read into it. The evil demons are not as big of a factor to readers today. Readers today are certainly not scared to read Dracula. The reason there are not a lot of Dracula readers out there is that today’s people would rather lay on the couch and watch the 2-3 hour movie instead of taking a couple of nights to read the book. If people today would take some time to read it, they would truly enjoy it. The reactions would be much more relaxed.
Throughout Dracula, Bram Stoker uses several literary elements well. The use of dramatic irony is present to enhance the tone and mood of his gothic tale. Ex. “It amazed me that I had not seen [Count Dracula], since the reflection of the glass covered the whole room behind me (Stoker 36),” this is when the readers start to recognize that Dracula is a vampire. Foreshadowing is also present in the novel. Ex. “I am beginning to feel this nocturnal existence tell on me. It is destroying my nerve. I start at my own shadow, and am full of all sorts of horrible imaginings (Stoker 45).” Harker’s words foreshadow the grotesque actions performed by Dracula later in the novel. The setting throughout the novel changes, but it is mainly in castle Dracula (Transylvania) or England. The point of view is first person throughout the majority of the novel. There are also several themes throughout such as the promise of Christian salvation, the consequences of modernity and the dangers of female sexual expression. All of these examples of literary elements really help readers interpret the book.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula was a very well written book and is a great read for people today. It can connect you to the past, and literature history. If you are looking for a book that your great grand-parents got dirty looks for reading, Dracula would be a great choice! As the quote in the opening paragraph says, “A text can only come to life when it is read, and if it is to be examined, it must therefore be studied through the eyes of the reader.” If you still have yet to read the novel, take your time in reading it. Examine all of the little details. Each and every one of them serves a purpose. If you have previously read Dracula, kudos to you! You learned more about history than you probably realized!
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