Friday, 27 July 2007

Book Club Debate No.1: Dracula

Last night I hosted the first Library of Secrets Book Club Debate, in Whitstable. We had a 16 strong crowd of Library members come along to the Umbrella Community Centre to debate Dracula. The brilliant Helen Brown chaired the debate, which started by gleaning peoples general opinions about the book. The majority ruled that Dracula was an unexpected delight that was very contemporary in its style and approach. All written through diary extracts and letters between the main characters, it sets a lively pace to the book which is easily translatable in to the filmic genre through which it has been so popularly portrayed. This is no surprise when considering that Bram Stoker worked with Henry Irving in the theatre and was exposed on a daily basis to this very immediate approach to telling a story. This might also explain his decision to involve so many characters and not have just one person telling the story, allowing different interpretations of events and different opinions to move the story along. Some members found the style difficult to read and an immediate turn off, but others among us felt that it reflected a very contemporary desire to broadcast yourself, for instance as I am doing right now by blogging. Dracula after all is a very technologically advanced novel, Mina Harker uses a typewriter, Dr. Seward uses a phonograph and Van Helsing experiments quite haphazardly with blood transfusions. This focus on technology and science reflects the fin de siecle mood of the time Bram Stoker was writing in (1887), these medical and scientific advances are just one of the many aspects that add to the anarchy and melt down of a move towards a new dawn, a new century. The book reflects a blurring of gender boundaries and roles, as women were starting to claw out emancipation from the patriarchal shackles of the time whilst men were being confronted with the coining of the term Homosexuality. This sets the tone for a book that deals with threat and invasion of the British Empire, which considering its state of flux was in a pretty weak position. However morality, piousness and religion save the day as the demonic Dracula and his harpy’s are kept at bay with crucifixs, communion wafers and holy water. Helen suggested that Bram Stoker was having a bit of a giggle with the reader, considering his Irish protestant upbringing.
The discussion lead us to consider how much Draclua reflects our own times, with the ‘threat of terror’ and the ‘axis of evil’ as well as the influx of immigration from Eastern Europe. One member who really disliked the book, brought up how racist and offensive she found the depiction of the East. The group agreed and I myself being of Hungarian descent found the charicature of Dracula reflecting the current prejudices surrounding Eastern European migration in to Britain today.

Pete Doherty was cast as a good modern day Count, as Helen suggested he sculks around at night, looks abit like the undead and has added to his fame by having had a girlfriend that is idolised for looking like a skeleton.

One of the Book Club members, Emily Turner, has written a fantastic review of the evening’s events and describes more succinctly the ins and outs of the debate. Please read at

Many thanks to Helen Brown and all the Book Club Members for making it such a great evening!

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