Dracula: A Love Letter to Letters
May 2, 2023
Here’s something that a lot of people forget about Bram Stoker’s Dracula – it’s an epistolary novel, a.k.a. a novel made up of letters and other kinds of writing (like newspaper articles and diary entries.)
The story is pieced together from these documents, so it’s not just a straight narrative from one perspective. We see Mina’s personal thoughts as she records them in her diary, yes, but we also see things like the letters Dracula forces Jonathan to write, Dr. Seward’s asylum patient notes, and the newspaper article that’s printed after the Demeter crashes in Whitby.
If Bram Stoker were writing Dracula today, it would probably be made out of emails, tweets, texts, and TikToks.
(… can you imagine Lucy’s TikToks? We can.)
Writing the novel this way allows Stoker to explore multiple viewpoints. Though the book starts with Jonathan’s perspective, we’re not locked into it for the whole text. Instead, we get to see, and really be WITH, Van Helsing’s more scientific approach, Lucy’s strange descent into monstrosity, and so much more. It’s like a puzzle the reader has to piece together.
In our vampire series for Wondrium, The Real History of Dracula, we talk about how… unsettling this choice is for a supernatural story. It creates this weird tension between the suspension of disbelief you basically have to have to read a story about vampires and the HYPER-real feeling things like letters and newspaper clippings give that same story. These are documents that seem to be pulled from the real world – the effect is that it makes you feel like all the events are really happening (which totally ups the creepy factor!)
It’s kinda like The Blair Witch Project (1999) – that film is made SO much scarier by the fact that it’s set up as if it’s found footage of a would-be documentary. It’s all made up by its creators, but – like Stoker – those creators knew that a story can be way more frightening if you pretend like you’re not creating at all… just compiling evidence.
Okay, so there’s also, of course, the pretty hilarious idea that all the characters in Dracula consistently find time to write super long diary entries and letters with near photographic memory, but that’s another issue entirely. It still works!
All of this means that the letters, etc. that make up Dracula are pretty fun though… and, in a way, it makes us long for the very nearly lost art of letter writing. Let’s face it, once we had email and text messaging, the writing really was on the wall (and not on the page) for sitting down and writing someone a long letter about what you did that day. But when you’re reading Dracula, it’s hard to miss the appeal. Lucy’s love confessions, Mina’s longing for letters from Jonathan, and – maybe especially – the delightful sign off “your friend, Dracula,” all inspire a nostalgia for an art that has mostly gone by the wayside.
We actually have a friend, the amazing poet Kim Malinowski, who is doing her part to bring the practice back – she asked her friends for their addresses so that she could write them real letters (remember penpals??), and she received a HUGE number of responses. She’s writing a ton of letters each month now, but she’s loving it. There really is something beautiful about receiving something in the mail from someone who specifically thought of you and took the time to write to you about their world (and ask you about yours.)
In a small, admittedly digital, way, that’s what we like to think we’re doing with our weekly missives to you. Reaching out (across oceans of time…?) and saying hi!
We hope you’ve gotten a chance to check out The Real History of Dracula! We’re ridiculously proud of it, and it’s been getting some really stellar reviews (and hey, remember – if you write us a review on Wondrium, Audible, AND/OR The Great Courses, take a screenshot and send it to us, because we’ll send you back an exclusive Dracula grimoire page!)