This was my second time reading Dracula. The book benefits from the reread: I threw out my original review and started from scratch. A few points still niggle at me, but the structure benefits from hindsight. Stoker isn’t good at everything, but what he is good at he does as well as anybody.
The two major things I turned about on are the sharp shift from Transylvania to England and the epistolary form itself. I continue to regard the epistolary form with deep suspicion, but I now realize Stoker uses it to great effect, wringing serious tension out of it and using it to drip-drip-drip foreshadowing with great care. The form, then, is not unrelated to how I perceive the geographic shift on reread. Jarring to be sure, but intentionally so. And effectively so, at least the second time around.
The accents, though, remain terrible. (It does crack me up that every working class stiff the characters encounter tries to squeeze a little beer money out of them.)
Dracula is a surprisingly good pulp story. The usual suspects for its primary literary themes—sexuality, immigration—are strained. The story, though, holds up just fine. The real theme strikes me as simpler and more satisfying—less fruitful for freshman lecture halls and late-night weed-laced dorm room conversations. It’s a theme Brad Thor would appreciate. When a wolf circles, the sheep need sheepdogs.
I love Dracula. I don’t find his dozens upon dozens of imitators nearly so compelling. The initial portrayal is key. He is human enough to be inhuman, to be cruel. I prefer Stoker’s formulation of powers to the mix more commonly seen today. Give me a vampire who can turn into a wolf and squeeze through a cracked window like a gholam! A vampire should be an alpha predator. A vampire should not sparkle, or even be sexy.
With Dracula, any sexual nature is stripped of its sexiness, leaving just the horror of sexual violence. All indications are he prefers to prey on pretty women. He is happy to leave Harker to his three female underlings. He targets first Lucy, then Mina, and he is staring at a strikingly beautiful woman when Harker randomly encounters him on the streets of London. When the men begin to move against him, he strikes not at them but at Mina. His female underlings, like all predators, focus on the weak: before they are offered Harker, they are forced to subside on children.
Our heroes stand in sharp contrasts as paragons of manly virtue. (And Stoker knows that when you need the manliest of men, better to skip over Britain’s more usual source in Scotland and go straight to Texas.) Jonathan Harker, the striver from modest means, is the odd one out. Mina and Lucy’s friendship might bring them together, but Arthur, Quincey, and Seward would hardly embrace him fully under normal circumstances. He takes the preeminent role because sometimes having the most to lose makes all the difference in the world. When it comes time to plant a kukri knife in a vampire’s face, who do you want swinging the blade—the old hand at hunting or the husband about to lose his wife? Vampires are best hunted for reasons other than sport. (Note that the four can play these roles because Stoker limits his version of Van Helsing to mostly dispensing plot-necessary knowledge.)
4.5 of 5 Stars.
Dracula isn’t the very first vampire in fiction, though. Check out this post by PCBushi on Carmilla, a predecessor to Dracula.
 More accurately, the gholam squeezes through a cracked window like Dracula.