Sunday, October 04, 2009

Bite-Sized Blogging: Dracula (Chapter 4)

3 October.


Continuing from the dreamily erotic ending of the last chapter ("languorous ecstasy," "a voluptuousness that was both thrilling and and repulsive," "some longing and at the same time some deadly fear"), Harker seems to have suddenly concluded that those women were awful, and that they "wanted to suck [his] blood." It's a remarkable shift, though he continues to equivocate by allowing that his "mind was not as usual."

Another shift is that of the narrative, which allows Stoker to cleverly "cheat" day-to-day conventions and to record only the juiciest (and soon to be bloodiest?) bits. The diary, which up until now has been a more-or-less daily occurrence, a labor of fastidious details designed to cling to some semblance of normality, now jumps whole weeks at a time. This has a nice flair of desperation to it--a panicked man's occasional bursts of energetic scratching at the wall--but at the same time, it's frustrating to lose our sense of day-to-day comparisons. That is, without seeing some of Harker's mundane rituals--his "cudgelling" of brains--it's hard to understand what he's clinging to. Or why the Count is still cat-and-mousing him: do they do nothing together any more? Further, if the Count has taken all of his clothes and papers, why not the diary, too?

On the other hand, at least things are happening, and to that end, I can handle the cheats:
  • I don't mind that Harker, essentially an educated banker, happens to be a hyper-poetic observer: "No man knows till he has suffered from the night how sweet and dear to his heart and eye the morning can be. When the sun grew so high this morning that is struck the top of the great gateway opposite my window, the high post which it touched seemed to me as if the dove from the ark had lighted there. My fear fell from me as if it had been a vaporous garment which dissolved in in the warmth."
  • I can deal with for-the-sake-of-narrative inconsistencies, as when Harker announces that going into the dim vaults "was a dread to my very soul," and yet then goes on to account for the "great boxes, of which there were fifty in all." I'm glad he had the nerves left to observe everything in such detail. Just like I'm glad it turns out that Harker can scale the outside of a castle, ala Dracula.
Now, I'm not a fan of classics, and this is precisely why: we are taught to be forgiving of styles because of how innovative they were at the time, regardless of how often they have been improved upon since. (You would not, say, continue to use the world's first vacuum cleaner if a modern version were available.) Gothic horror is heavy-handed and not my style ("basilisk horror"? really?), and yet, I'm willing to forgive all of this--because now I want to see how my expectations will differ. I've become, so to speak, engaged.

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