Monday, January 22, 2018

Constructing Horror in Dracula: Novel, Stage & Screen – review

Author: Wayne Pigeon-Coote

First published: 2016

Contains spoilers

The blurb: Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) creates a set of horrors that elicit a range of disturbing interpretations from readers, and in turn the novel poses significant challenges for the shaping of stage and screen adaptations: it is however a durable and versatile cultural commodity. This work identifies the horrors of vampirism in Dracula and how these are constructed to engage with themes of sexuality, disease and race. It shows that Dracula’s horrors are defamiliarizing, foreign and supernatural, yet came uncannily close to home for contemporary readers. It demonstrates the impact of the novel’s violent and sexualized content, and ponderous epistolary form, on the process of adapting it for the stage. It also evidences the tradition of including a love-story component between vampire and victim, and how this impacts upon the construction of horror in film adaptations.

The Review: This reference work by Wayne Pigeon-Coote straddles a line between an academic paper and full-length work, coming in at just 50 pages.

It is perhaps in this limited size that a weakness creeps into the work for the book is unable to fully take in the breadth of Dracula studies (though even a fuller tome would struggle to do that), especially as the author bravely tackles the novel, stage versions and films over the three chapters. Indeed it is difficult in the allotted space to take in the breadth of the topics identified within the blurb, so rich is the material and discourse.

The book is well referenced and the arguments crisp and thought through – not that I agreed with every assertion but I could certainly appreciate the arguments behind them.

When it came to Stoker’s novel, the author’s look at New Woman is interesting, however I would have liked to have seen an exploration of Mina as New Woman as well as Lucy – the two characters offering different sides of the movement’s coin. I’ll add that I subscribe, personally, to the reading of the staking of Lucy as an act of symbolic sexual violence – underpinned by the multiple paganic hammer blows – but understand why this author focuses on it as more of an ordeal for the men, even if my reading differs.

I have to admit that I am less than familiar than I would like with the form of Dracula as a staged production and I found the chapter enlightening. However, I am, of course, very familiar with the films covered. Those being Nosferatu, The Horror of Dracula and Dracula (1992).

Within a thoughtful discussion there was perhaps mileage, when discussing Horror of Dracula and “the enemy within”, to draw the reader's attention to the cultured tones of Lee’s English accent delivering Dracula’s dialogue.

When it came to the 1992 film I think a trick was perhaps missed – whilst exploring the love story side – by not also touching on the 1973 Dan Curtis’ directed Dracula, which introduced the trope of reincarnated love into the cinematic Dracula lore and, itself, sourced that from Curtis’ own Dark Shadows. Perhaps then, just as Dracula (the novel) can be identified as a primary progenitor of the vampire genre going forward, we can also identify Dracula cannibalising aspects of its media children to evolve and develop new tropes?

If I have mentioned missed opportunities, perhaps an area of exploration or two, it is because this work demands a larger study by the author. However, within the self-imposed limitations I was very impressed and it deserves a solid 8 out of 10.


Zahir Blue said...

Sounds most interesting, especially for myself as a playwright interested in writing my own adaptation of DRACULA. Thank you!

Taliesin_ttlg said...

No worries. And, let me say, knowing what you did with Carmilla for the stage I'd be excited to see your Dracula :)