|Illustration by Fernando Vicente|
Dracula by Bram Stoker – review
Colm Tóibín's introduction to Bram Stoker's Dracula puts the work precisely into biographical and historical context
Sun 24 Jun 2012
arking the centenary of Bram Stoker's death, this new edition has an incisive introduction by Colm Tóibín. With razor-sharp acuity, Tóibín examines the context which produced popular culture's most frightening vampire.
Tóibín unmasks the connections between the Irish author's life – as servant to the tyrannical actor Henry Irving, who relished diabolic roles – and literature. Intriguingly, he identifies a "haunting, an interest in doubleness" in work by many writers who, like Stoker, came to London as outsiders in the era: in Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Henry James's The Turn of the Screw, and Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray. And he finds "an intense exploration of the drama surrounding visitors, travellers, intruders", which use violence, disguise, and stark imagery of isolation.
Dracula itself opens with Jonathan Harker's evocative journal of a journey through Budapest to the "vast ruined castle" of Count Dracula located "on the edge of a terrible precipice", where the only sound is the howling of wolves. Here, he becomes prisoner. The "rather cruel-looking" Dracula is a compelling creation: a creature who has no reflection in a mirror, he unleashes his "demoniac fury". It is plot as well as place and people that give Dracula longevity: Tóibín describes "a fierce clarity in the outline" and "in how events twist and turn".
This "haunted work" was a conduit for ideas about the rational versus the unconscious being formulated by Freud. "I read that every known superstition in the world is gathered into the horseshoe of the Carpathians, as if it were the centre of some sort of imaginative whirlpool," confesses Harker in his journal. Stoker pulls the reader deep into this "imaginative whirlpool".
Originally published in 1897, Dracula has spawned many modern-day vampires, but this most iconic character still unleashes the mind's deepest, darkest fears.