Reading Dracula

Clive Leatherdale, Dracula: The Novel and the Legend. Aquarian Press, 1985.
This book takes a wide ranging look at Bram Stoker's great gothic masterpiece, putting it in the context not only of the legend of the vampire in Europe and the historical Vlad Dracul, but also attempts to analyse its place in its contemporary social setting.

Leatherdale charts the growth of the western European 'literary' vampire from its roots in the folk fears of eastern Europe; he demonstrates how the elegant, cloaked, sinisterly-polite Count of a hundred horror films grew out of the wild, foul-smelling, blood-soaked demon of peasant belief.

Dracula is a novel replete in symbolism, a rich source of material for the psychoanalytically inclined critic. Stoker's own life is examined. Besides his famous vampire work, Stoker also wrote what may be perhaps the most boring book certainly the most boringly titled of all time: The Duties of Clerks of Petty Sessions in Ireland. Leatherdale suggests parallels between the physical vampirism of Dracula, and the psychological vampirism of Stoker's employer for many years, the actor Henry Irving, and in his examination of the psychoanalysis of the novel he reveals how much of Stoker's private life found expression. He examines, too, the overt sexual symbolism in Dracula, and the implicit sexual vampirism between the 'good' characters - Harker, van Helsing, Westenra, etc.

Leatherdale also looks at political messages which have been overlaid on the Dracula story, and here a curious contradiction emerges. By different critics, the vampire has been seen both as a symbol of oppression ('bloodsucking capitalists', etc.), and as a symbol of earlier, feudal systems which have been vanquished by the industrial, rationalist, capitalist values of the 'heroes' of the story. This echoes a similar dichotomy in the psychoanalytical and sexual aspects, where Dracula has been interpreted as both a symbol of male domination of female values, and yet has also received feminist interpretations as a figure which liberates the repressed sexuality of his 'victims'.

It is perhaps, the dynamism of these contrasting interpretations which have given Dracula the continuing power it has demonstrated to readers for eight decades. -- John Rimmer, from Magonia 20, August 1985.

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