I spent my weekend volunteering with a wonderful foundation I’ve been involved with for many years, The “Negro Spiritual” Scholarship Foundation. They present an annual concert of spirituals and this year I was serving as a backstage manager. This meant I spent a large portion of my weekend at rehearsal and the performance listening to some really sublime music. Why do I tell you this? Because when I got home each evening I plunged back into the world of Dracula (well, for a few pages at least before I fell dead asleep!). What a stunning contrast and it crystalized for me one of the things I’m finding quite striking about the novel. I was moving between a world of light and beauty and a world of dark and gathering evil, just as Jonathan Harker does in the first sections.
I admit that for whatever reason – other versions, skewed memories, etc. – I expected it to be fall/winter when he travels to Transylvania. You know, the dark glowering sky, bare trees, leaves blowing, early dusk, but what do we get?
I soon lost sight and recollection of ghostly fears in the beauty of the scene as we drove along, although had I known the language, or rather languages, which my fellow-passengers were speaking, I might not have been able to throw them off so easily. Before us lay a green sloping land full of forests and woods, with here and there steep hills, crowned with clumps of trees or with farmhouses, the blank gable end to the road. There was everywhere a bewildering mass of fruit blossom – apple, plum, pear, cherry; and as we drove by I could see the green grass under the trees spangled with the fallen petals.
He goes on to describe the beauties of the region until darkness begins to fall and the gloom begins to close in. We get, as Jonathan does, little glimpses of the darkness. This is not the overt pleading of the townspeople for him not to go on, nor is it the obvious fear of his fellow travelers. This is much more subtle and so, to me, much, much scarier. Dracula’s castle is like a malignancy nestled in a jeweled setting. Once Jonathan is in residence/captivity, he can look out at the stunning view but he can no longer be a part of it.
As the main action shifts to Whitby, we see the same juxtaposition of beautiful scenery with the growing sense of the evil to come. Lucy and Mina talk about the lovely views from the cliff top, etc. and yet we know what is coming.
It also makes perfect sense to me that Dracula should plan his move for the spring and summer. Its the time of year that brings a return to life, a rush to procreate and then to ripen. It’s always been thought of as a lustful time – of course it’s when he goes in search of the ripening maidens.
This all may be very obvious, but it’s working for me. The beauty without serves to heighten the evil within. It’s infinitely scarier than the usual Halloween vision!