Monsters & Madness

Secret Lives in Victorian Literature

The Many Narrators of Dracula

If several people witness a car accident–or anything really–they will all come away with slightly different accounts, with stories that are the truth as that person sees it.

 

The story of Dracula is told in so many different voices and modes that it comes across like the aftermath of a tragedy, like a compilation of evidence. There is something forensic about the storytelling, as if the writer is trying to construct a story from what was left behind after this series of climactic events.

This approach allows exposition to enter the story even though each specific single character could not learn the whole story.

 

The vast number of narrators telling the story distances the reader. The first part, when Jonathan alone is narrating, is more traditional–a first person narrative told in the diary style. After that, there are many limited-perspective narrators whose stories, taken all together, combine to tell a full story. However, the reader can never get attached to one character because the story jumps around. Interestingly, like in Lady Audley’s Secret, the only character we don’t really get to see into the mind of is the villain, which keeps that villain mysterious and foreboding.

 

The main voices belong to Jonathan and Mina Harker, Lucy Westenra, and Dr. John Seward, with many additions by other characters, some of which remain nameless, such as the authors of newspaper articles. Although the voices of each narrator are not very different, there are noticeable variations. This story is told via clippings from different types of media. Dr. Seward keeps a phonograph diary. Mina and Lucy’s perspectives are told through a combination of their diaries and letters, while Jonathan keeps only a diary. There are other unique narrators: letters between more minor characters, such as Arthur and Quincey, and newspaper clippings, for example.

 

This is not to say that the story is told dispassionately. Collections of evidence will include facts, yes, but they also include very emotional accounts. Jonathan, in the initial chapters, talks about his emotions a lot. In later chapters, Seward (a doctor) takes somewhat of a logical approach (as with his patient Renfield), but he reacts utterly irrationally when faced with the prospect of decapitating Lucy. Van Helsing is the most logic-based narrator, despite being viewed by John Seward as crazy. Seward, it must be pointed out,  seems logical but really is driven by his emotions in most situations–which we see when he breaks the Hippocratic oath by sharing information about Lucy with Quincey . “As he spoke the poor fellow looked terribly anxious.He was in a torture of suspense regarding the woman he loved, and his utter ignorance of the terribly mystery that seemed to surround her which intensified his pain. His very heart was bleeding, and it took all the man-hood of him — and there was a royal lot of it, too — to keep him from breaking down. I paused before answering, for I felt that I must not betray anything which the Professor wished kept secret; but already he knew so much, and guessed so much, that there could be no reason for not answering, so I answered in the same phrase: ‘That’s so’” (162-3). Van Helsing seems to be the one character who can think with his head and nothing else. This may even be why Seward views him as insane: in a world where evil is made flesh, logic seems madness.

The fragmenting of the story into a variety of narrators also illustrates Dracula’s spreading influence. While in his castle, only one narrator was needed. Once he is in England, the evil spreads, and there is a resulting cacophony of voices.

1 Comment

  1. I really enjoyed reading your blogpost and the way you offered an overview of the different (types of) narrators in the story. I especially liked your idea of a collage that allows the reader to gain a certain degree of insight into the story’s plot that a single narrator could probably not have granted. When I first thought about the narrative situation of Stoker’s Dracula, it also raised questions of reliability for me. How reliable are these narrators and does the fact that in this text we have a number of different narrators increase our capability of judging this reliability? We have discussed in class how the nameless narrator in Lady Audley’s Secret and Dr. Watson can be considered unreliable for varying reasons. Can similar reasons be found in this case as well? Does the form of a journal, for example, imply a higher degree of truthful accounts of events?

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