I think it will be obvious from my other two posts that I think the first part of Dracula – the part where Jonathon Harker goes to give legal advice to the sinister Count and comes increasingly to suspect that he is being kept a prisoner – is the best part of the novel.
It isn’t that the remainder of the novel isn’t an enthralling Gothic adventure story, for it is. It is brilliantly researched, evocative, and makes for a wonderful read. The ever present menace of the scheming, demonic Count, his marking down Lucy Westenra as prey, Mina Harker noticing Jonathan’s horror at seeing the vampire Count in central London, the friends’ horrified destruction of a female vampire, Dracula’s scorn at the idea that these presumptuous humans could possibly defeat him, the collusion of the unfortunate Renfield, Dr Seward’s patient, the nightmare visit of the friends to the terrible cellar of the Count’s house, the fearsome Count’s preying on the women, all make for a gripping read.
Nevertheless I don’t think the atmosphere of the first part of the novel can be surpassed. It is only at the end, when Van Helsing and Mina Harker (who has now been brought into a horrible telepathic relationship with the wicked vampire) that the ambiance of subtle menace returns quite so strongly as in those inspired first chapters.
As the book comes to its climax, they are chasing the Count back to his home land as he travels by river. Time is of the essence, for now Mina too is threatened by the vampire infection.
The resourceful Van Helsing is, of course, implacable and fearless in his pursuit of Dracula, withstanding terrors that make a shiver run down the reader’s spine; he knows that if the Count calls Mina to him, then she must go and has to protect them both:
‘We were near the top of a steep rising hill on summit of which was such a castle as Jonathon tells us of in his diary…..I drew a ring so big for her comfort…and over the ring I passed some of the Wafer, and broke it so fine that all was well guarded…Presently the horses began to scream and tore at their tethers till I came to them and quieted them…In the cold hour the fire began to die, and I was about stepping forth to replenish it , for now the snow came in flying sweeps and with it a chill mist…the mist began to wheel and circle round, till I could get as though a shadowy glimpse of those women that would have kissed him (Jonathon Harker)…I knew the swaying round forms, the bright hard eyes, the white teeth, the ruddy colour., the voluptuous lips…’
You don’t get better Gothic horror than this wonderfully chilling depiction. I think all writers of Gothic, like myself, yearn to be able to bring off such a sinister ambiance. I won’t write a spoiler for those who haven’t read the original story, but the culmination of this novel is all that you could wish.