Tag Archives: gothic ficition

Dracula: Everything you thought you knew about vampires is wrong (views on Twilight remain unchanged)


It’s my parents’ fault that I don’t know anything about Dracula. I thought I knew little bits about the story from pop culture, but then I remembered I don’t know anything about pop culture because my parents didn’t let me watch movies or TV. And that I didn’t, truthfully, know anything about the story. Okay, my argument falls apart because my parents certainly encouraged me to read. And widely. And I could have read Dracula before my 32nd year. But I didn’t. Like the undergrad student I was chatting with yesterday, I assumed I’d have my whole life to read the pile of ‘classics’ I always meant to read but had never bothered. You know, the kind of book you pick up at the used bookstore for $2 only to let it languish on your shelf for years because you think it probably won’t be that good because it was written so long ago and besides there’s the hip new Twilight thing to read.

No, it wasn’t a brush with mortality that made me decide it was finally time to read a classic work. It was S. and D. independently and within the same week citing it as a terrific read. And me feeling hugely embarrassed when reading the children’s version  (not a paid advert btw) that I had no idea who the two women or five heroes referenced. I laboured under the view that Dracula was about a vampire and a castle and that was that.

I. was. wrong. This book is about so much! And it’s so enjoyable to read! Enjoyable but also scary. I had a couple of nights of bat-related nightmares (for real), so if you scare easily (or at all) I might suggest avoiding reading this one right before bed, or perhaps preparing yourself to jolt awake convinced you hear flapping (probably compounded in my case in that I *did* once wake up to a bat flapping about my head after it got in through a cracked window. I DIGRESS).

It’s about science: As our heroes attempt to work out just what in the fuck is going on with all the blood loss and mysterious nighttime shenanigans they challenge positivist assumptions and make space for other kinds of knowledge: “It is the fault of our science that it wants to explain all; and if it explain not, then it says there is nothing to explain.” Well, sort of. Maybe. They still seem to use all the methods and approaches of Good Science in their quest, but Dr. Van Helsing makes it clear that there are limits to accepted truth.

It’s about gender: Oh what oh what to do with women. And their pesky desire to contribute, be independent, make meaningful lives. They must. be. eaten.

It’s about sexuality: Man-bat comes in the night and slips up under the covers to eat ladies. Ladies love. Men love. But usually only by engaging in passionate discussion and hand kisses.

It’s about form: letters! journals! phonograph records! meeting minutes! Look at all the ways plot and character can be developed in the pieced together epistolary form. There were a few moments where it felt analogous to the 2016 plot wherein characters have to explain why no one has a cellphone or cellphone reception in order to make the plot believable: characters kept explaining why they were bothering to write down what had just happened in such detail so as to convince the reader that this was not, after all, literary convention but instead the raw goods of vampire attack.

So whether it’s genuine interest or deep social shame for not having done so already (or, better still, fear that you’ll die before you read it) that motivates you to read Stoker’s classic work, seize on the interest and get it! (I’d add that I ‘lost’ my library copy (aka it was in the car and I assumed it was lost forever because it was under the seat) and found a free version online in under two minutes – so degree of difficulty in obtaining a copy can’t be an excuse here). That way the next time some punky punk of a reader gets excited about Twilight or True Blood or Insert-One-of-Bazillions-of-Vampire-Cultural-Objects-Here you can roll your eyes and explain “well, X work may be great, but it’s derivative of Stoker’s original work in Y way.” I look forward to your comments explaining the intertextuality of Stoker and how he’s really referencing Y work. Or how Twilight is in its own right a classic work. Ha.



Leave a comment

Filed under British literature, Fiction, Mystery, Prize Winner

The Little Stranger: Ghosts of my Ambi(valence)(guity)


Published just after (like months) the first season of Downton Abbey began, Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger shares the basic plot features of the show (well, sort of): British aristocratic family falls on hard times after the end of the War (this time, WWII) as they are without fortune, but more importantly without a ‘place’ in a world that has moved past the need for lords and ladies.

Place is significant in The Little Stranger as the deteriorating manor house that forms the claustrophobic setting for the novel parallels the degradation of the family’s wealth and social standing. As a good gothic tale, the creaking house is a character in its own right, taking action – at first to protect and then to threaten – the family and any guests. Further gothic elements of maidens in distress, haunting figures and would-be heroes, The Little Stranger is as much an exercise in genre as it is an exploration of the consequences of changing social mores brought about by economic and political turmoil.

That exploration, while complicated and rich in the abstract, is captured in the novel in the minute interactions among characters, casual glances, waylaid gloves and dogs barking at the wrong time. That is to say, the fascination of changing social attitudes falters under the microscopic and magnified lenses of the novel. I am not ordinarily drawn to pages and pages detailing a parlour visit and the composition of the tea tray. Nor was I drawn to it in this instance. I suspect that if you have interest in the time period, or in ghosts and haunted mansions (or in considering how ghosts might be manifestations of our own interests) and mysteries, you’d enjoy the read.

My complaints registered, I should say that I found the mystery element compelling: how/whether the doctor-hero was, in fact, a murderous villain bent on protecting and seizing both the bodies and ideas of the aristocracy. And appropriately haunting. I’ve come back to did-he, didn’t-he in the days since finishing the book, more as wonder of how deceptive first person narration can be and how capable we are of deceiving ourselves – and the pleasure that comes from both.

Leave a comment

Filed under British literature, Fiction, Mystery, Prize Winner