A Very Peculiar Man

Toward the end of chapter two, noting that he hasn’t yet seen the Count eat or drink, Harker remarks that Dracula is a very peculiar man. You said it, Bub. Parts of the first two chapters read to me the way the beginning of the movie Scream unfolds. Like the teenagers in the movie, Harker ignores many signs that things may be amiss. And, one assumes, things will wind up going as badly for Harker as for the teenagers. But there is a difference in what’s behind their attitudes, I think. The teenagers are carefree, daring, rash, and enjoying the gift of perceived immortality afforded to the youthful. Whether Harker is merely naive or is guilty of a rather less endearing tendency to write off the natives of the country he’s in as simple and superstitious I’m not entirely sure. Perhaps he’s both, for a tendency to underestimate people can itself be in a way naive.

In any case, it’s a little funny to read. Here’s my condensed treatment of Harker’s observations:

How strange: The landlord suddenly won’t speak to me about the Count even though it’s just achingly obvious that he can communicate adequately with me. Meh, it’s probably nothing.

What’s with the hysterical old lady with the crucifix?

Wonder why the coach driver and the landlady are whispering together about devils and hell and witches and looking at me frantically. Weirdos.

Wow, this coach driver sure is in a hurry. Sure wish he’d let me down to pee. And what’s with the blessings and gifts the other passengers are giving me?

My new driver sure has some crazy teeth.

Goddamn wolves!

Why are we driving around in circles? And what about these blue flames?

Those wolves sure seem to like my driver with the crazy teeth.

I think I blacked out for a while there. Anyway, we seem to be at the castle, but my driver just took off and left me here in the dark. Guess I’ll just wait here calmly.

This Dracula guy seems kind of dead.

Oh, and he sure has some crazy teeth and seems to love those wolves.

Dracula disappeared mysteriously for an hour, and when he came back, my dinner was ready. Oddly, there seem to be no servants at all.

I’m starting to feel a little lonely and creeped out.

Hey, Dracula seems not to have a reflection, and he grabbed my throat when he saw blood from where I cut myself shaving. Asshole. It’s ok, though — when he touched the crucifix that crazy old lady gave me, he backed off.

I still haven’t seen the Count eat or drink. He must be a very peculiar man!

Think I’ll have a look around. Wait a minute… this place feels a little like a prison. Wonder if something fishy’s going on here.

Did Stoker make Harker deliberately dim, I wonder, or is this a clumsy attempt to layer suspense in one detail at a time?

8 thoughts on “A Very Peculiar Man

  1. Jean October 3, 2009 / 8:49 am

    I think part of the problem is, we KNOW already that Dracula’s a bad guy, so we jump all over every little premonition of danger. It’s tough to imagine ourselves back in the period when this book was published, to read it with virgin eyes, and no preconceived notions.

    Admittedly, there is already a sense that “something” is amiss in the story, but it’s still only hinted at vaguely. Stoker is also trying to point out the difference between the educated, rational city boy from London, and the superstitious, ignorant, backwater peasants. I mean, who’s going to believe their silly warnings and proffered talismans?

  2. Aaron October 3, 2009 / 10:50 am

    Ditto what Jean said. Harker is a realist, and he does not believe in the supernatural. Therefore, he makes every attempt to base his observations in fact on what is discernible. It is we, the reader, who see how stupid he is, for we already know what Dracula is. There’s a line in Chapter 3 that I quoted over at my blog, in which Harker specifies that he’s attempting to write down *only* that which he can qualify…and then realizes that it’s getting harder and harder to do so, and that he can only blame so much on dreams.

  3. Daryl L. L. Houston October 3, 2009 / 1:30 pm

    But, but… Oh, ok, you guys have a point. Ugh, this is just the thing I wrote about being worried about in one of my fist Dracula posts, this having difficulty escaping what I know (or think I know) about the story. Thanks for the reality check.

  4. wheat October 5, 2009 / 10:22 am

    I’m not sure that all of Harker’s dimness can be explained away by our knowledge of vampire stories that came after Dracula. Rationalist or not–and that is, BTW, a good point about Harker’s character–wouldn’t the Count, with all his oddness, set off some alarm bells? Maybe the point is that Harker is focused so much on his work and on his thoughts of Mina that he isn’t really paying attention to what goes on around him. He notes it, but he doesn’t put two and two together until it’s too late.

    I feel less charitable toward Stoker than I did toward DFW. I found myself always defending DFW’s literary choices, even when they didn’t work out. With Stoker, I find myself chalking more up to sloppiness or incompetence, especially in the early chapters.

  5. Daryl L. L. Houston October 5, 2009 / 11:06 am

    Wheat, I have the same impulse as you with respect to charity. Of course, I was a big fan of Wallace’s going into #infsum, so I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. Still, I have this tendency to figure that more recent writers (starting with Modernists, I guess) are more careful about the construction of what they wrote even at a very granular level, that if there are mistakes or oddities, they signify and are intentional. I tend to figure that the older writers wrote for meaning and that story was mostly a framework across which to drape allegory or whatever, so that as long as the bad guy does bad things and is painted to be pretty much as bad as possible, the details and the care with which the story is stuck together is of lesser importance. Writers like Wallace attend as much to the fiction itself. The framework becomes not merely a prop or structure but a signifier, I think, and meaning becomes much more intricate and involved. But I fear that I may be simply doing to the older writers effectively what Harker does to the locals — assuming for whatever reason that they’re not as sophisticated as the writers I favor (and thus by extension me). It’s a sort of literary bigotry, in a way, and I’m trying really hard to keep it in check because I’m not entirely sure it’s fair.

  6. wheat October 5, 2009 / 11:18 am

    Daryl. I’m pretty much the same way. A big part of modernism was the attention to detail, to le mot juste, to experimentation in general, for its own sake, even. This isn’t to say that all writers before the advent of modernism were sloppy, but they certainly got a pass for being sloppy on the micro level, so long as they made good on the macro level.

    You can take this too far, of course. It’s easy enough to err in the opposite direction and assume that every keystroke of a modernist (or postmodernist) writer is rich with intentionality, when it could just as easily be sloppiness or a typesetting error.

  7. infinitedetox October 5, 2009 / 10:35 pm

    I find struggle with the same issues re: intentionality with just about everything I read. It’s really hard to point to the line that separates “extracting meaning from the story” from “shoehorning meaning into the story.”

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