On 26th May 1897 the first edition of Dracula, by Bram Stoker, was published. It went on to become one of the most popular books ever written, but what did contemporary reviewers think of the book at the time? Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper were quick off the mark, with a review on 30th May 1897:
By no means can this be called a cheerful book, but it is one nevertheless, that most readers will peruse with intense interest, held to the end by that peculiar fascination which all supernatural subjects invariably excite in the human mind when they are treated by a writer who wields a vivid pen. Throughout the work, from a literary point of view, is of the highest character. Mr. Stoker has started with the tacit assumption that the horrible creatures he describes do really exist, and by so doing he shows that he has grasped the true spirit of all romance. The weirdness of the subject cannot fail to attract attention, and the manner in which the author has worked out his story, and made the strange old superstition such a seemingly possible factor in latter-day life, is certain to add considerably to his reputation.
The book kept reviewers talking for weeks after publication. The following quote is from the Hampshire Telegraph, from 10th July 1897. I have omitted a large description of the plot of the novel, together with a chunk of text from the book which was included with the review.
Most people are familiar with the stories of the awful doings in the Dark Ages of the werewolf and the Vampires; those strange beings from the other world which took human form and sucked away the lives of unwary men, women, and children as they slept in their beds. But the creatures were of German origin, for even in the good old days their habitat was among the out-of-the-world corners of Transylvania. Mr. Bram Stoker, in his new book “Dracula” (Archibald Constable and Co., Westminster, 6s.), treats of Vampires, however, as present-day troubles, and not merely as pests of gone ages. They are introduced to the reader in London, and are fully up-to-date with nineteenth century civilisation. The Vampires are indeed horrible, repulsive beings, according to Mr. Bram Stoker. They have human bodies, often of fascinating attractiveness, and yet there is in them a spectral character, being so shadowy that they are not reflected in a looking-glass. They generally dwell in the graves to which they were consigned in the regular way when they first assumed the semblance of death (or in specially prepared receptacles wherein they can fulfil the essentials of vampire life), but in the night time they roam about in search of throats from which to suck the blood which is essential to their awful existence, even as it is to the life of the great vampire bat of South America…
The story told in “Dracula” is about as weird and gruesome as any we have ever come across. Mr. Bram Stoker speaks as one sure of his ground, and he tells his tale with a fulness and tone betokening simple faith…
Altogether “Dracula” may be fairly described as the sensation of the period. It is full of horrors, which make one’s blood curdle to read them, but fortunately when he has done with his nineteenth-century vampires or werewolves, Mr. Bram Stoker consigns them to their original dust, and there let us hope they will remain.
The impossibilities of the subject are handled with such fertility and ingenuity that “Dracula” is not likely to leave room for imitators and Mr. Stoker’s vampire will remain unique amongst the terrors which paralyse our nerves at bed-time.
No room for “imitators” of Dracula? A unique attempt at a story about vampires? If only the writer knew what the future held…
Some of the above content originally appeared on our sister site, Windows into History and has been revised and updated. Content from that site is being moved and collated here. In the meantime, there are many more interesting history articles to be found there. RP
The uniqueness in the vampire story is an interesting subject indeed, considering all the directions that the genre has taken in this generation from Buffy The Vampire Slayer to Twilight. Last week I was reading a review of Dracula’s Daughter, a film that at the time helped me to rethink how much the vampire legacy could be significantly reshaped very early on with newer vampire characters. I therefore appreciate how vampires can be individuals like regular people and how some actors like Chloe Moretz in Let Me In and Lily Cole in The Moth Diaries can help to make us view them in fresh perspectives for this generation. I like to think that Bram Stoker would appreciate that too. Thanks very much, RP, for helping to reintroduce Dracula for the month of Halloween on the Junkyard. 🎃
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