Ordinary Human Language

by Brian Crane


I’d never actually read this novel, so around Halloween I picked it up. I liked it, especially the late confrontation in Dracula’s home and the long race back to his castle.

The novel revels in technical intelligence and skill with tools, which makes sense because the gothic is generally about the pre-modern threatening the modern. It also identifies this modernity with women (and again, women standing as signs of what men desire and fear is a common trope). As a result, the gothic threat to industrial modernity plays out here as a foreign man stalking and violating upstanding British women.

Fine. whatever. Charlie Hebdo, etc. etc.

What caught me off guard is how overtly and directly the novel portrays the men in the story—despite their certainty that women need their protection—as completely lost. Mina more or less saves herself and all of London by working through them. Yet the men seem to believe—to actually believe—that she’s desperately in need of their help. But their help is comically, stupidly sexist: despite the fact that she’s the only one who ever figures anything out,1 they keep locking her in her room to save her from the horrific details of the situation and then when they fuck up and make things worse, they let her out, tell her how bad things have gotten, and she fixes everything and gets them going again. It’s exhausting.

The final race to the castle under threat of sunset, which is narrated from a distance and at a breakneck pace, pulls off something of a miracle by allowing these foolish men to kill Dracula at the last moment and in a satisfying, redeeming way. My uninformed, out-of-context read is that Stoker identifies with Mina, is disappointed by the men around him and that the final scene (and not the portrait of Mina) is the novel’s wish: it imagines a world where the lame men of modern London get it together and act heroically, proving themselves dashingly worthy of the Minas who love them.

1 But what about Van Helsing? Well, he doesn’t figure things out so much as provide the knowledge necessary to establish the situation and advance the plot. In archetypal terms (ack! lol), he’s the magician rather than the hero. ↩

Posted January 14, 2015