Ok, so I’m way ahead of the reading schedule and trying to slow myself down. Part of the additional material in my edition (Norton Critical) is a selection of reviews that came out when the novel was published. As I read through them, some favorable and some not, I remembered that there had been some forum discussion as to whether readers would have known what they were in for. Without the internet, massive marketing efforts, and splashy dust jackets with glowing praise, how would the Victorian book reading public know what to buy? I’m not a scholar on these things and welcome comments from those who have a better grasp of this, but I think they would have depended on reviews, word of mouth, and the knowledge of the booksellers. Based on the reviews collected in mine, they would most definitely have known what Dracula was about.
The Daily Mail, June 1, 1897, describes it as quite a page turner (exactly the problem for me!), references such works as Frankenstein and The Fall of the House of Usher, and warns readers that
Persons of small courage and weak nerves should confine their reading of these gruesome pages strictly to the hours between dawn and sunset.
The Spectator on July 31, 1897 declared that
Mr. Bram Stoker gives us the impression – we may be doing him an injustice – of having deliberately laid himself out in Dracula to eclipse all previous efforts in the domain of the horrible…
And most interestingly to me, Bookman in August 1897 states
It is something of a triumph for the writer that neither the improbability, nor the unnecessary number of hideous incidents recounted of the man-vampire, are long foremost on the reader’s mind, but that the interest of the danger, of the complications, of the pursuit of the villain, of human skill and courage pitted against inhuman wrong and superhuman strength, rises always to the top.
Bookman also issues a warning to “Keep Dracula out of the way of nervous children…”
Add to the prominence of newspapers and journals in disseminating information the importance of personal letters. People were prolific letter writers at the time and the postal service, in London at least, was incredibly efficient (I believe two deliveries a day at some point). I’ll leave it up to Infinite Detox to craft one of his outstanding parodies – perhaps two victorian maidens writing breathlessly to each other about the delicious new novel Dracula?
All of this is simply to say that I believe, for the most part, readers of the time were not picking the novel blindly, but were guided by reviews and commentary and were ready for the story within.
In my effort not to spoil anything, I’m still avoiding the critical commentary in my edition. So to help me stick to the schedule I’m going to spend some time trying to read similar and contemporary works. I’ve ordered H. Rider Haggard’s She (1887), from my library and will also look for H. G. Well’s The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896). If I come up with some great discussion points I’ll let you know.