02 October 2009

Dracula - Chapters 1 & 2: What's with all the dogs?

So I'm going to be blogging as I read Dracula along with the good folks of Infinite Summer (not to mention Views from the Page and the Oven). This is my first time reading the novel, so keep that in mind as you read. I'll put chapter 2 after the break for those of you who haven't gotten there yet. 

Quite obviously, after the opening chapters, things are not looking good for our hero, Harker Johnathan. Oh wait, it's Johnathan Harker. Sorry, I keep thinking like the Transylvanians. But a few observations on Harker first. He seems to truly embody the Victorian spirit of "The Sun Never Sets on the British Empire." Take for instance his observations on the women he passes.
"The women looked pretty, except when you got near them"
At first I was drawn to thinking of Harker as the original Victorian brosef. But then as he talks more and more about the locals, I got a sense of condescension. It's never really overt, and he certainly never refers to people as anything so brusque as "savages," but there is a definite feeling of superiority to the locals. It comes across best when Harker talks about timetables:
"It seems to me that the further east you go the more unpunctual are the trains. What ought they to be in China?"
Everyone knows that Dracula is a Victorian novel, but I think it will be interesting to see what sort of impression I can glean of the Victorian mind at the time. How is their worldview reflected in the writing of Bram Stoker?

Another thing I noticed was the motif of dogs. In the first chapter alone, we get 15 mentions of "dog" or "wolves," and a "werewolf." Now, this is probably just a misconception on my part, but I've never associated the story of Dracula with dogs; bats were always the animal I had in mind. I'm going to be keeping an eye open as I keep reading, because I get the feeling that dogs (wild or domestic) are going to become a theme.

Chapter 2 sees Harker entering the castle and becoming acquainted with Count Dracula, who we learn has bought property (sight unseen) in London. Harker has apparently traveled (as a clerk to a solicitor, though he has since obtained status as a full solicitor) to finalize the paperwork needed for the real estate transaction. Seems like a pretty boring premise for a horror story. Luckily, Stoker doesn't bore us with details of how the paperwork happened, but instead gets right down to the nitty-gritty of scaring the beejeezus out of us. Dracula is a terrifying man: proper in his manners, but ready to lunge at Johnathan when our hero cuts himself shaving. We already see some of the blood lust that Dracula is typically known for in this early chapter.

Finally, one last thing I noted. Dracula learned about England in much the same way that Stoker learned about Transylvania: through books. Stoker had never been to Transylvania and yet he paints a vivid picture of the Carpathians due to his extensive research. Dracula, in much the same way, has learned English and seems to have a good grasp of English mannerisms and the like from nothing more than magazines, literature, and a surprising array of pedantic books covering the minutiae of London life. It's an interesting parallel between character and author.

Anyways, what are your thoughts on the opening chapters?

1 comment:

  1. Also, what's with the climbing walls like a lizard? I thought Dracula was a bat and could just fly out the window into the night?