Academic study of Dracula is a funny subject.
Apparently the readers are not supposed to believe whatever the characters have written. They are either ignorant or concealing their true thoughts, and they are not the virtuous knights and pure maiden as Bram Stoker described, but just bunch of xenophobic bullies who want to drive away this old man from the East and conservative and submissive woman worthy of Victorian gentleman’s wet dream. No other literature had its critics deny the credibility of the very text they study.
They even go far to say that the whole story is nothing but a misunderstanding; Dracula, according to some scholars, is supposed to be the heroic super-hero who helps the local people, and when he moves to England for some nice life his dream is shattered by the ignorant racists. In this theory, every horrendous act of Dracula is nothing but misunderstanding or xenophobic delusion. Some say that when Jonathan Harker witnesses a woman demanding Dracula to return her baby and wolves are sent by Dracula to kill her, it is actually the opposite – a woman was actually asking Dracula for help to find her baby (Harker does not know the local language so he completely misunderstood it, apparently) and wolves were sent to protect her. I read this from the note in The New Annotated Dracula and had to laugh a little. Why? Because such theories completely turns Stoker’s story around and turn everyone who read it in traditional way into idiots. There are many literary critics who offer alternative interpretation to the books, but Dracula critics seem to be a little extreme…
Even Neil Gaiman had such moments too. In the introduction for The New Annotated Dracula, Gaiman confesses that he used to think Quincey Morris was either Dracula’s henchman or even Dracula himself. I think that notion would make an entertaining retelling of Dracula, but I digress.
So why such extreme reputation with the credibility of “texts” in Dracula? There are many other books with epistolary formats, but never have I seen such strong suspicions as in Dracula scholars.
Common explanation is that Dracula embodies Freudian concept, therefore all the narrators in this book are unreliable narrators. Due to the mental blockades and denials often seen in psychological studies, the characters of Dracula become the samples for Freudian concepts. Do I buy it? Just a little. If I am going to take such skeptical scholar’s attitude with the text, I would go further and say that this is actually a Sci-Fi novel where Dracula is actually a mad scientist experimenting on himself and others to create an ultimate immortality project and he moves to London to find more test subjects, and the good guys mistake him to be a vampire. What about the ending? Hell, there are scholars who think Dracula threatened Bram Stoker or Jonathan Harker to write that way despite his survival so he could elude the annoying vampire hunters. I am pretty sure I can say Jonathan Harker was an ignorant simpleton who was seeing things, or the death process of Dracula was a result of his serums. Fun thing is that this might be even possible route to take (note to myself. Write this for NaNoWriMo before anyone does).
Anyway, all these theories and reinterpretations used to annoy me a lot. My Dracula was the charismatic yet sad loner who wanted to keep his dignity of the past but driven away and succumbed by the new age. But many scholars and authors plastered the story with that reincarnated romance and depicted Dracula as prototype Edward. I used to hate Francis Coppola’s Dracula for this reason, and I still don’t like it. However, such movements make it fun to read criticisms.
With Dracula, each criticism becomes almost fanfiction. Each essay is their take on the story with the familiar characters like fanfiction writers do with their favourite works. All these interpretations collide with each other but that’s the fun of it. There is something wonderfully delightful about seeing the scholars discussing what they see in the ambiguous texts. Perhaps it is the glimpse of their passion that makes re-takes and interpretations fun to read. I did not read Dracula much but vigorously read any annotations or commentaries on Dracula, because the version offered by each writer is so different.
So to this day, I read Dracula criticism for fun. Their sometimes outrageous explanations for the events in the novel are entertaining discussions I enjoy in fan forums, and they rarely fail to amuse me. Recently I obtained Elizabeth Miller’s Dracula: Sense and Nonsense and it is great fun to read as well. Miller furiously shoots down any misconceptions regarding the book, Bram Stoker, and the historic Dracula. Her main targets are usual idea such as Count Dracula being strictly inspired by Vlad Tepes (Miller explains that the novel itself was being written under the title “Prince Wampyr” and only after Stoker heard about the name Dracula he changed little details in the story), or the historic Vlad Tepes being associated with vampirism (Tepes was NEVER associated with vampire myth before Bram Stoker’s novel). It is a shame that this book is hard to find, and the best way to get it is to purchase it through Kobo.
Never has been a book where criticism was more fun than the text itself… Now I’m off to find another outrageous and delightful take on Dracula. It will be a good night’s entertainment.