Why Whitby?

the river esk flowing through the coastal town of whitby with the landmark abbey standing on top of the hill

The River Esk flowing through the coastal town of Whitby with the landmark abbey standing on top of the hill by photoeverywhere.co.uk

Having finally read Bram Stoker’s Dracula I have to say I’m a little disappointed and am left with several questions.

The story is told through diary entries and letters and telegrams sent between characters. We start with Jonathan Harker’s description of his journey to Transylvania, a business trip for the firm of solicitors he works for, on acquiring some property for the Count. His situation quickly becomes desperate as he becomes a prisoner in the castle and soon catches on that Count Dracula is not what he seems. We leave Harker, trapped and in mortal danger, and go to Whitby, where Mina and Lucy are taking a short holiday and the story then bounces back and forth between the various characters. This soon begins to annoy as it makes for very disjointed reading. Although the entries are in chronological order, the constant jumping from one person’s point of view to another leaves you with the feeling that Stoker could not decide who the book was really about or indeed whose story it is. The only person whose point of view is not expressed is the eponymous character. Dracula himself.

None of the characters, except Dracula, could tell the entire story by themselves, so why did Stoker do this?

Did he want us to feel buffeted about by the events, as if in the storm that brought the Demeter to Whitby? Or could he just not decide whom should tell it? Was Dracula’s too dark a mind for him to enter and narrate from? Or did he fear readers would sympathise more with Dracula if they had heard his reasons for his actions? – after all the vampire has become a symbol of romance, though Stoker never portrays Dracula this way.

A bigger question is why Dracula headed for Whitby with his fifty boxes of earth and didn’t just go straight to London and Carfax, regain his strength and youth and then integrate into London society, if this is what he had been planning to do. In film adaptations we are told that Dracula believes Mina Murray, later Harker’s wife, to be the reincarnation of his long-dead wife. There is nothing in the book to suggest this. In fact, he treats Mina with as much contempt as he does everyone else. Apart from Stoker’s affection for Whitby, there seems no reason other than coincidence that brings the characters in to contact with Dracula. And yet the action was deliberate as he has already arranged for the boxes to be taken from Whitby to London. Would he be able to avoid customs checks here, is there no place closer to London to do this and why not use bribery as he does elsewhere? If anyone has an answer, please let me know.

Again, on the subject of Whitby, why does Dr. Seward travel all the way to Whitby to ask Lucy to marry him rather than asking for her hand whilst she is at home in London. Did the overseers of lunatic asylums generally go flitting about the country willy-nilly, leaving their patients in someone else’s care?

And then there’s Harker, who quickly realises he is being held prisoner, but rather politely refuses to bring this up with his host. I think after he realises the Count knows that he knows he might as well say something, but doesn’t. It’s all rather frustrating.

There are so many character flaws and plot holes that I wonder why the book has become such an icon of vampire mythology. After all, this was not the first book on the subject, as you can see from this excellent timeline by Roger Luckhurst.

Before Bram: a Timeline of Vampire Literature | OUPblog.

I’m glad I persevered and finished the book. There are some lovely descriptive passages, particularly of Whitby, a place I’ve always loved, but feel its place as a classic has been tarnished in the reading of it.

Nel Ashley is the author of Black Feather and Immortal, the second book in the Black Feather Series. She is currently working on her third novel, Dandelion Time, a time slip romance novel.

You can also connect with Nel on Facebook


One thought on “Why Whitby?

  1. Pingback: Reading the Vampire | Nel Ashley – Indie Author

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