Friday Book Club: Dracula At the Movies

SWT-Book-ClubsFrom silent movies to today’s 3D, Dracula inspires filmmakers because its themes continue to resonate with modern viewers, and because it is full of vivid, iconic imagery.  What filmmaker wouldn’t want to film the scene of Dracula crawling down the castle wall, face first?  Or the scene in which Van Helsing and Mina Harker take refuge in a circle made of crumbled holy communion wafers as Dracula’s brides  attempt to lure them into the open?  Or Vampire Lucy wandering the graveyard in her wedding/burial dress, clutching a child (dinner) to her lovely bosom?  The novel is perfect for the movies.

black and white photo of Bela Lugosi as Dracula

Bela Lugosi

It probably doesn’t hurt that the basic story of Dracula provides a good excuse for a filmmaker to sell gore, sex, and mayhem.

Leslie Nielsen as Dracula

Leslie Nielsen loves his mayhem!

And, in a perfect circle of longevity, every time filmmakers release another movie version of Dracula, more movie goers become interested in the book – and as their interest grows, so does the studios interest in making more movies grow.  That’s not even counting all the vampire movies more loosely inspired by Dracula (Interview with a Vampire, Lost Boys, Near Dark, The Hunger, Blade, etc.)

Christopher Lee as Dracula

Christopher Lee, creeping me out.

Here’s a partial list of movies (by year of release) more or less directly based on the novel Dracula.  My source is the wonderful New Annotated Dracula, annotated by Leslie S. Klinger.  Just for the heck of it, here’s a link to a review from io9 of the latest Dracula movie, Dracula 3D.  Directed by Asia Argento, it is supposed to be bad beyond all belief!  If you are in the Sacramento area, come visit us at the Arden Dimick Branch of the Sacramento Public Library on October 27, at 2PM, for our actual, real life, face to face book club discussion.  I hereby invite you in.

Gary Oldman as Dracula

Gary Oldman as Dracula in Francis Ford Coppola’s terrible, terrible adaptation.

Now for the movies.  I haven’t seen most of these movies so I can’t personally endorse them.  Be aware that I’m listing movies according to their link to the novel, not according to their quality, which may be minimal.

1921:  Death of Dracula (no copies remain)

1922:  Nosferatu

1931:  Dracula (starring Bela Lugosi!)

1953:  Drakula Istanbul’da  (a Turkish production)

1958:  The Horror of Dracula (starring Christopher Lee)

1972:  Blacula

1973:  Dracula (starring Jack Palance)

1978:  Count Dracula (starring Louis Jordan)

1979:  Dracula (starring Frank Langella)

1979:  Love at First Bite (a comedy starring George Hamilton)

1992:  Bram Stoker’s Dracula (directed by Francis Ford Coppola, it has very little in common with Bran Stoker’s version of Dracula.  I actually have seen this movie, and it’s HORRIBLE.)

1995:  Dracula:  Dead and Loving It (a Mel Brooks’ directed comedy starring Leslie Nielsen)

2000:  Dracula 2000 (directed by Wes Craven)

2004:  Dracula 3000 ( a sci-fi horror film that, weirdly, has no relation to Dracula 2000).

2008:  The Librarian:  Curse of the Judas Chalice (starring Noah Wylie as the badass librarian)

2013:  Dracula 3D (directed by Dario Argento)

For a more complete list, including such gems as Batman Fights Dracula, and Dracula’s Dog,  Wikipedia has a long, long list!

Friday Book Club: Dracula and The Angel in the House

SWT-Book-Clubs Once upon a time, there was a poet with the rather wonderful name of Coventry Patmore,  He published a long poem in installments between 1854-1862.  This poem, called “The Angel in the House”, laid out an image of womanhood that became the Victorian ideal.

‘The Angel in the House’ ideal was based on the premise that women were superior to men morally and that their role was to provide a stable, serene domestic environment for their husband and their children.  The Victorian Era was a time of great social instability, and men of every socio-economic class were in some way affected by the changes of their society.  The Angel was to provide a sanctuary from a troublesome world, and to provide moral guidance to men and to children.

Believers in the ‘Angel in the House’ ideal believed that a woman should be intelligent and well-educated enough to converse with her husband and teach her children, but she should not engage in intellectual pursuits.  She should not work outside the home and of course her behavior would always be socially proper and sexually pure.  In this ideal, a man lucky enough to be married to an Angel should appreciate her and not treat her badly.  But if he did, she must patiently guide him towards better behavior, and stoically endure her own suffering.

So, let’s talk about Lucy Westnera and Mina Harker, in Dracula.  Lucy Westnera is like that blonde girl in the slasher movie who has (*gasp*) HAD SEX.  Although Lucy is, presumably, a virgin, she’s enough of a flirt that you just know poor Lucy isn’t going to make it to the end of the book.  She’s sweet, she’s kind, all the men adore her, but they like her a little too much, and she likes them a little too much.  She’s not “pure”.

But Mina is the Angel incarnate.  She’s smart, she’s well-educated, she has practical skills, but she is content to use them to assist her man – she has no ambition to strike out on her own as one of those “New Women”.  The “New Women” was a phrase coined towards the end of the Victorian Era that described women who resisted the Angel in the House ideal – they were self-supporting and independent, and often rejected the idea of monogamy.

Mina Harker is also the heart of the group.  When Jonathon is ill, her one thought is to nurse him back to physical and emotional health.  She comforts Lucy’s suitors with supreme tact and kindness.  She is the moral guide of the story, insisting that one should not hate Dracula, but be thankful that with his death he will be restored to God.  Mina is capable with a firearm but chooses to remain in the background both as a matter of strategy (she may be controlled by the Count) and as a matter of temperament.  It is the men’s job to protect her and it is her job to emotionally and spiritually guide the men.

I do think that Stoker plays a bit of a double game in Dracula.  Mina makes fun of the “new woman” but she seems a little envious of them as well.  And in the original manuscript, Lucy says, “I almost envy mother sometimes for her knowledge, when she can talk to people whist I have to sit by like a dumb animal and smile a stereotyped smile till I find myself blushing at being an incarnate lie.  And it is so silly and childish to blush and without reason too.”  This does not appear in the published manuscript, but it, combined with the ambivalent attitude of Mina towards professional women, suggests that Stoker’s views about the roles of women were not as clear-cut as a quick reading of Dracula suggests.

Should you be interested in the original poem by Coventry Patmore, poemhunter.com has the complete poem, “The Angel in the House”.

Personal Aside:  Nathaniel Hawthorne was a huge believer in the ‘Angel in the House’ ideal.  I did my senior thesis on Hawthorne and his views on women.  Mercifully, I’ve forgotten almost everything I’ve written, although I’m left with a strong impression that Hawthorne was a brilliant writer and a colossal jerk.  Hawthorne’s gothic novel House of the Seven Gables, published in 1851, has a character, Phoebe, who is a textbook example of the ‘Angel in the House’.

Friday Book Club: Bram Stoker’s Double Life

SWT-Book-Clubs

This month’s Friday Book Club is all about Dracula, by Bram Stoker.  Bram Stoker was an interesting guy – on the surface, frankly he’s pretty boring.   He was a civil servant and a business man, with a wife and a kid and possibly a picket fence.  Under the surface, he’s a man of mystery.  Here’s a short (very short) bio of the creator of Dracula.

photo of Bram Stoker

Bram Stoker

Bram Stoker was born on November 8, 1847.  “Bram” is short for “Abraham”.  He was born in Ireland, and in the first of many odd things about him, he was bedridden until he was seven years old.  Of what?  We do not know.  Nor do we know how he recovered.  But he did, and became a star athlete in college, where he studied math.

Bram Stoker graduated, became a civil servant, and wrote a book with the most boring title possible:  The Duties of Clerks of Petty Sessions in Ireland.  He described it as “dry as dust”.  Then he met this guy:

Henry Irving

Henry Irving

Henry Irving suggested that Stoker become the business manager of the Lyceum Theater in London.  Stoker not only did that, but he also became “Irving’s secretary, confidant, accountant, public spokesperson, closest friend, business associate, and tireless companion”  (From:  The New Annotated Dracula).  Stoker married a woman named Florence Anne Lemon Balcobe, and had a child who he promptly named “Irving”.  Stoker was travelling or working most of the time, with Irving.

Here’s an interesting tidbit about Florence: she was also courted by Oscar Wilde.  In fact, Stoker and Wilde had a quite a falling out over it, although they eventually reconciled.  Needless to say, there is a lot of speculation about Stoker and Irving, who were far closer than even close platonic friends usually are.  Very little is known about Florence except that two very artistic and unusual men wanted to marry her.

Florence Stoker

Florence Stoker

The other bit of trivia I’m fond of is that Bram Stoker hired Pamela Colman Smith to work at the theater, and she is best known for illustrating the Rider-Waite Tarot.  Stoker was rumored to be a member of The Golden Dawn, an occult society.

Stoker wrote Dracula in 1897.  It was a solid seller, although not what we would think of today as a best-seller.   He wrote several other books, but his biggest hit during his lifetime was a two-volume biography he wrote of Henry Irving after Irving died in 1905, titled, Personal reminiscences of Henry Irving.

Bram Stoker suffered a stroke soon after Irving’s death.  He died in 1912 after several years of illness.

Thank you to the following two sources:  The New Annotated Dracula, by Bram Stoker, Notes by Leslie S. Klinger; and schmoop.com.  I highly recommend schmoop’s page of links – it’s a great resource!

Friday Book Club: The Fears of Bram Stoker

SWT-Book-ClubsWelcome to the first of October’s Friday Book Club Sessions!  This month we’re talking about Dracula, by Bram Stoker.  Is it my favorite book of all time?  Nope.  But, it is an interesting book to read in terms of culture, both Victorian and modern.

Dracula was so popular in its day because it played on late-Victorian Era fears – fears about immigration from Eastern Europe, fears about consumption and other diseases, fears about “the new woman”, fears about addiction, fears about science, and of course fears about sex.

And the impact Dracula has on modern culture can’t be overstated.  Of course there were vampire stories long before Dracula.  In addition to folktales, vampire novels were quite popular in the Victorian Era. Dracula was released in 1897.  In 1819, John William Polidori’s book, The Vampyre, introduced the idea of a gentleman vampire.  Varney, by James Malcom Rymer, was serialized from 1845 – 1847 (“Her bosom heaves, and her limbs tremble, yet she cannot withdraw her eyes from that marble-looking face…”).  And in 1872, Joseph Sheridan Le Fany published Carmilla, in which the beautiful vampire Carmilla preys upon the innocent Laura with an astonishingly explicit amount of sexual seduction.  For people with a reputation for priggishness, those Victorians were reading some pretty racy stuff.

Illustration from Carmilla

Illustration from the original edition of Carmilla, by D.H. Friston

Yet today, the book most remembered by readers is Dracula.  Without Dracula there would be no Twilight or True Blood, or Interview With a Vampire, or Buffy the Vampire Slayer (anyone remember when Buffy met Dracula?  Good times.)  Dracula is the book that permanently embedded the link between drinking blood and having sex, and/or doing drugs, in the popular imagination.  Of course Dracula is also important as an example of gothic literature.  It just doesn’t get any more gothic than women wandering around in foggy cemeteries in white nighties.

cover of Dracula

1902 cover of Dracula

Why is Dracula, and not its predecorsors, so immediately relevant?  I can only assume that it’s because many of the fears Stoker’s contemporary audience held remain current, and while the story may not represent restrained, polished, poetical writing, it sure is a nail-biter.  Let’s look at some of those fears:

1.  Disease:  Stoker lived at a time when tuberculosis, or consumption, was prevalent.  People with consumption became paler and paler,and thinner and thinner, and wasted away – plus, they coughed up lots and lots of bloom.  In the modern era, a wave of vampire books and movies came out during the height of the AIDS epidemic.  The Anne Rice book Interview with a Vampire (later made into a movie) describes an ostracisezed subculture affected by something transmitted through blood exchange (highly sexualized blood exchange).  Near Dark, an early movie directed by Kathryn Bigelow, is very different in tone but almost identical in theme.

2.  Immigration and colonialism:  Stoker touched on the Victorian feelings of guilt and hostility and fear towards the people they had colonized.  Dracula is unmistakably “foreign”, and he invades England as a one-man (or rather, one-monster) malevolent, corrupting force.  A quick look at any newspaper from the last twenty years will confirm that modern Americans are having all kinds of political and social anxieties around immigration, race, and cultural imperialism.

3.  Drug addiction:  Victorians struggled with drug addiction in the form of heroin, cocaine, opium, laudanum, alcohol, and chloral hydrate.  The vampire could be said to be an addict – he (or she) must feed on blood, and only on blood, to live, no matter what the cost or risk to the victim or the vampire.  To make the connection more obvious, many Victorian drugs were injected directly into the vein.  Modern society also struggles with addiction to both prescription and illegal drugs as well as alcohol and tobacco.

4.  Sex:  I’m planning to do a whole separate essay on gender and Dracula. For now, I’ll just pose a couple of questions from the book.  What is a woman’s place?  Should she be at home or pursue a career outside the home, or maybe work from home?  Can a woman be sexually active and still be “good”?  What about initiating sex, can a woman do that, or does that make her ‘a slut’?  If a woman is raped, is she somehow complicit in the rape?  Is she permanently tainted, even if she is innocent of “provoking” the rape?  What is the role of men in relationships?  These are all issues that are in the headlines, on the web, and in discussion every day today and they are all addressed in Dracula.  My answers differ pretty dramatically from Bram Stoker’s.  But the fact remains that we are still arguing today about the roles of women in the workforce and the family, the dynamics of male/female relationships, and women’s rights to control their sexuality and their bodies.

1901 cover of Dracula

1901 Cover. This was the first paperback edition.

Dracula is crammed full of images and sequences that stick in the mind, which is part of why filmmakers love to adapt it – and the more films are made of Dracula, the more influential it becomes.  And the plot never lets up.  None of the movies are particularly faithful to the book (including Bram Stoker’s Dracula, directed by Francis Ford Coppola.  It’s not Bram Stoker’s Dracula, believe me).  But the movies keep the book alive in the popular imagination, and the themes make it stick.  And oh yeah, weighty subtext aside, the idea of a supernatural figure that drains your blood while you’re asleep is still really scary!

Friday Book Club: A Short Film About Annabel Lee, Plus Links!

Annabel Lee

Art by luciediamonds

This short film was part of The Poe Project:  a chance for Sacramento area filmmakers to submit short films inspired by the works of Edgar Allan Poe.  This film imagines the story of Annabel Lee, based on Poe’s poem of that name:

During our real live book club, the one where we are face to face as opposed to online, we had a great discussion about the issue of race in Poe’s works.  One of our members sent these links to some thought provoking essays on race in Poe’s stories.  Check them out!

“Edgar Allan Poe’s True Horror:  Racism” by Andrew Belonsky, deathantaxesmag.com

“Tell-Tale Art:  Antebellum Racism in the Fiction of Poe”, by John Adam Shelton

Starting next Friday, we’ll be examining Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula.  Be prepared to think about the roles of women in Victorian times, Victorian fears about immigration, Victorian fears about disease, and how those fears still apply today.  Or, you know, just hang out for the excitement of the gory, creepy, disturbing story that has influenced culture from the Victorian Age right up until today!

Introducing Friday Book Club!

SWT-Book-ClubsWelcome to a new feature of Geek Girl In Love – Book Club!  I lead a monthly book club at the Arden-Dimick Branch of the Sacramento Public Library.  Every Friday on this blog, I’ll be posting something relevant to the book we are reading that month, and hoping for some online discussion.  You should be able to enjoy and participate online even if you haven’t read the book.  If you are in the Sacramento area, join us in person at Arden Dimick Library, on the third Sunday of each month, at 2PM.  Otherwise, hang out here for bookish chit-chat.

Our first series is on Gothic Literature.  September is all about Edgar Allan Poe – expect the first post on Friday, September 6th.  In October we are reading Dracula, and in November we are reading Miss Peregrine’s Home for Unusual Children.  We will take a break in December but be back in January with a three-month series on humor – we’ll need it, after all that goth!

Incidentally, some of you had a confusing sneak preview of the Poe entries earlier this month due to technical difficulties.  Once again, this blogger learns a valuable lesson about not performing tasks that require attention to detail after 11PM.  Hopefully now I have my dates sorted out, and in the meantime, a few of you had a head start – yay?

So dust off your Poe, if you are so inclined, and get out that black lipstick you had back in the 1990’s (who, me?) and get ready for a creepy Autumn, to be followed by a funny Spring.  I’m excited!  Life of Poe, coming your way next Friday!