Written in 1897, Bram Stoker’s Dracula is obviously one of the most famous horror stories of all time, introducing the character of Count Dracula and a slew of vampire lore. The story of the count travelling to England to spread his evil, and a group of men and women led by expert on the undead Abraham von Helsing trying to stop him, is told through a series of diary and journal entries, letters, telegrams, and newspaper articles.
And herein already lies one of the fundamental problems of this book: Because of this stylistic choice, there is a constant switching of perspective which would not be so bad, if not every person sounded pretty much the same, so that I sometimes had to check back whose diary entry I was even reading at the time. There are whole conversations quoted word for word which seems just a tad unrealistic, not to mention the respective dialects that are included, as well as the grammatical errors in Van Helsing’s case, which is just plain annoying and pretty dumb on top of it. He is a foreigner, in case readers didn’t notice, so of course he doesn’t understand how to conjugate a verb, and it is absolutely imperative to draw attention to this. Who uses direct speech in diary entries anyway? I think telling the story in this manner was an interesting idea but one that needed more thought and care put into it than Stoker did. On top of that, there are some issues with pacing and the overall length of the book, because at some points, the story is just drawn out unnecessarily.
Then there are the characters themselves. As mentioned, they all sound more or less the same so there is not much of a personality to detect in their writings, and even in their doings they are all too similar. The men are courageous and strong, manly men that get things done. The women, on the other hand, are weak, and need to be protected not only from physical harm, but also from too much disturbing knowledge; they are prototypical damsels in distress. Paired with Victorian views on virtue and appropriate conduct, this causes one-dimensional and dull characters whose fate I found hard to care about. They are also dumbed down at various points to advance the plot, for instance, when neither a doctor nor the self-proclaimed vampire expert notice that one of their group is being fed on several nights in a row, or when they wait in one of Dracula’s lairs to fight him without any plan on how to do this. This is just lazy writing; don’t make the characters fit the plot, make the plot fit the characters.
When it comes to the titular adversary of the story, it’s difficult to get a grasp on him. He is only present in the beginning, and even then sporadically and without much insight into his character. After that, there are only glimpses of him. The idea probably was to make him a mostly absent opponent whose menacing presence nonetheless hovers over the proceedings and the characters constantly. This, in my opinion, did not work at all because his presence was not tangible enough to accomplish this; he was much too nebulous and remote a threat in many ways. He has a lot of powers but also numerous weaknesses, which means that there are moments in which his continued victory over the hunters seems forced because with their knowledge of his limitations they should have been able to repel his attacks more easily.
Overall, the story line itself is mostly engaging and there are some genuinely creepy moments and ideas in this book, but the odd stylistic choices and the poor characterization were simply too detrimental to my enjoyment. The beginning managed to draw me in but it was a slow downhill slide from then on. I understand its undeniable cultural impact but its immense influence seems independent of its artistic merit or even entertainment value.