Makeup Blog: Stoker

1 Jun

In the San Francisco Chronicle’s review of Dracula, the writer focuses heavily on the realistic and believable nature of the text, stating that “the story is told in such a realistic way that one actually accepts its wildest flights of fancy as real facts” (Stoker 367). The critic clearly felt that Stoker had a way of making the unreal seem plausible and that though the reader is aware that vampires are not real, they are still willing to accept the facts of this novel to be true because of the way it is written. These elements of realness can be attributed to several characteristics of the text, most prominently the incorporation of modern technologies, such as phonograph recordings. By using a number of different mediums to communicate the plot of the story, Stoker creates an entire world for the reader to enter, making the text seem more realistic.

The medium of a diary is interesting in the case of Dracula, because the text is essentially a fantasy tale, but the format of a diary implies an intimacy and an honesty between the reader and the characters who is writing. A reader is more likely to trust a narrator who is writing or recording something simply to remember it, rather than a narrator who is aware that they are speaking to an audience. For example, Jonathan Harker’s journal begins as a very fact-based piece of writing, serving the purpose of documenting where he is and how he had gotten there. The first sentence, reading “Left Munich at 8:35 p.m. on 1st May, arriving at Vienna early next morning, should have arrived at 6:46, but train was an hour late” (9). The attention to specific, concrete details sets the tone for the novel being realistic and feeling almost like a written documentary. Beginning the novel this way also plants a level of trust within the reader for Jonathan Harker. His concentration on stating things factually and directly displays that he is not likely to exaggerate or romanticize the events that he records, but rather that he will tend to write them exactly as they happened. A diary could be considered risky as a source of truth, as diaries are generally a place where people express themselves and record their emotions, but in Jonathan Harker’s case, the diary is more of a scientific document than a work of sentiment. 

Another element that enhances the believability of the novel is the use of the phonograph. The phonograph is something material and concrete that the reader can clearly see is being referenced int he text. Before Dr. Seward’s diary entry even begins, the reader is informed that he keeps his diary recorded with a phonograph. The scientific nature of Jonathan Harker’s journal is maintained through Dr. Seward’s contributions as well, because his job is to observe people and write very specifically about their behavior. His role as a doctor makes him appear to be unbiased to the situations that he witnesses, as the emotional or sentimental opinion of a doctor is irrelevant to the process of medical evaluation. The manner in which Dr. Seward’s testimonies are recorded, even if they were simply written, is very obviously technical. Within his first entry, Dr. Seward is going over his notes on a patient, R.M. Renfield. In talking about Renfield, Dr. Seward is strictly concerned with the facts, stating that he has “sanguine temperament; great physical strength; morbidly excitable; [and] periods of gloom” (62). Like Jonathan Harker, Dr. Seward mentions nothing about how he feels about the situation and makes no effort to narrate the information he is providing beyond the straight facts.

A third characteristic of the text that separates it from the realm of fantasy is the incorporation of newspaper clippings. One of these clippings is found in Mina Murray’s journal and documents the progression of a storm. The actual content, though valuable to the novel itself, is not as important to the realness as is the fact that the clipping is from a newspaper. Despite the fact that the clipping is fabricated, the knowledge that it came from a newspaper gives it some validity as a source of information. The presence of a newspaper clipping brings in a familiar element of the real world and makes it a part of this fantasy world, bringing a sense of actuality to the rest of the novel. Just like Dr. Seward’s phonograph, the newspaper clipping gives the reader something concrete on which the information they are receiving is based. 

The scientific feel of the novel, in addition to the incorporation of technologies and media such as phonographs and newspapers bring the reader a realistic tone that the critic from the San Francisco Chronicle picked up on. These real-world media give validity to Stoker’s writing, despite the fact that it is clearly based in fantasy. 

 

–Madeline Turner

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