Welcome to the spookiest time of the year!
Last year I lead a local book group through reading Dracula by Bram Stoker and had a blast! I thought that this year I would share some of the questions I used to prompt discussion among group members! I hope you enjoy the questions and that they make you want to revisit the book! I would welcome any discussion that they inspire!
(Note that Dracula is written in the format of an epistolary novel–a book made up of a collection of letters–and so each chapter will contain several letters.)
Things to think about from chapters 1 & 2:
–What indications do the locals give to Jonathan that his travels may end poorly?
–How does Jonathan respond to these indications? Why?
–How would you describe the appearance of castle? Who lives in the castle?
–Pay close attention to the description of Dracula. How is it similar to your expectations? How is it different?
Things to think about from _Dracula_ chapters 3 & 4:
–How much of Dracula’s family history is really his family history, and how much is his personal history?
–The scene at the end of chapter three is one of the most famous from the story. What does it tell us about other vampires? What does it tell us about Dracula?
–Harker is finally able to piece together all of Dracula’s plans. Does he get them right? What does he leave out or get wrong? Pay attention to these kinds of questions as you keep reading. Remember the Neil Gaiman quote, none of the narrators have all of the facts, so we have to work with what they give us.
–How is the end of chapter 4 enhanced because we are reading Harker’s journal?
Things to think about from _Dracula_ chapters 5 & 6:
–There is a dramatic shift in the narrative in chapter five. We suddenly start hearing multiple narrators. Each person who writes will be an important character in the story, so remember who is who. Their writing helps to develop their characters!
–We hear from women for the first time in the story. How does Stoker define their roles in society and relationships here? Do they accept those roles or push against them?
–Whitby is a city on the northeast coast of England (in Yorkshire). A lot of chapter 6 takes place here. Why is it dangerous for Lucy to sleepwalk? (PS. if you don’t understand every word of Mr. Swales, that’s okay! Just try to get the general idea!)
–Dr. Seward seems very preoccupied with his latest patient in this chapter. Why is Renfield important in this part of the story?
Things to think about from _Dracula_ chapters 7 & 8:
–The captain’s account of the ship’s voyage is haunting. Are his rationalizations of what is going on throughout his account believable?
–Mina begins to log Lucy’s illness. What seems to influence when Lucy feels ill or when she seems better?
–We glimpse back to Seward and Renfield again: Renfield escapes and goes to meet his master. How does he know that his master is there? How does this affect him?
–Okay, time to take stock: by the end of chapter 8, what powers have we seen Dracula use?
Things to think about from _Dracula_ chapters 9 & 10:
–The arrival of Van Helsing! This character has seen almost as many appearances in popular culture as Dracula himself. Pay close attention to what he actually looks like and how he acts.
–The end of chapter nine is a good place to take inventory of the cast of the story. All of the important characters have been introduced and their relationships to one another are set, though they will continue to change a bit.
–Blood transfusion was a relatively new concept at the time _Dracula_ was written. Whether or not blood typing was an understood science, it is clear that Stoker was uninformed about it. This is just one of the things we will have to accept in order to get into the story.
–We know a lot more about Lucy’s illness than any of the other characters. Remember, none of them have read Harker’s journal! When does Van Helsing suspect something unnatural? Why doesn’t he tell Seward of his suspicions immediately?
Things to think about from _Dracula_ chapters 11 & 12:
–We have already seen things ascribed to fate/chance/luck. That will continue throughout the story. How does this idea relate to the religious theme in the story?
–When we see the zookeeper is interviewed by the newspaper reporter, it is one of several times where Stoker portrays a difference in class between two characters in some very overt ways. What kind of social commentary does Stoker make in this interaction? What other places do you see different classes interacting?
–A change comes over Lucy after the tragic night. She seems more solid when asleep and more ethereal when awake. What does this change mean? Why is it described in this way?
— At the end of 12 there is no doubt that Van Helsing suspects that Lucy’s death is not the end of the ordeal. Yet he still does not tell anyone else what he suspects. Why? Perhaps more importantly: is he right to do this?
Things to think about from _Dracula_ chapters 13 & 14:
–Van Helsing tells Seward he wants to mangle Lucy’s body. Is it believable that Seward would agree to this without knowing why?
–The stories of the ‘bloofer lady’ start to spread in the Hampstead area of London. Who does this lady attack? Why?
–Jonathan sees Dracula in London and hasn’t slept well since, so Mina decides to read his journal. What are her reactions like?
–Mina and Van Helsing begin to add up all of the pieces. How does this change Van Helsing’s approach to Lucy/Dracula? How does it impact Mina and Jonathan?
Things to think about from _Dracula_ chapters 15 & 16:
—Van Helsing finally starts proving his suspicions to Seward. What kind of evidence does he present and how receptive is Seward to his theories?
–Van Helsing uses sacramental/spiritually significant items to keep Lucy in or out of her tomb. Why/how does this work?
–How is Lucy’s character different now from before?
–The group is about to prepare for an even bigger challenge. Pay attention to how their approach to confronting Dracula is different than their approach to confronting Lucy. Why?
Things to think about from _Dracula_ chapters 17 & 18:
–Pay close attention to the way the men treat Mina in these two chapters (look esp. closely at Van Helsing’s “man’s brain” comments). Do you think Stoker wants his readers to approve or disapprove of this treatment?
–The entire group shares notes. Who takes the lead in this part of the story?
–Mina meets Renfield. He is surprisingly polite, but warns her. Why does he warn her here? What is his purpose? What is the purpose to the story? Later he begs to leave but won’t say why. remember this section.
–The group meets to discuss Dracula and his powers. this is a good final place to take stock. Where have we seen each of the powers they talk about?
Things to think about from _Dracula_ chapters 19 & 20:
–The men go to investigate Carfax abbey. They only find some of the count’s boxes, how does this change their plans?
–Mina feels odd and has strange drams in her sleep. We have seen this before!
–Renfield is more erratic than ever, and then has a gruesome “accident”. Why does he die here and not later?
–By the end of the chapter, everyone is working on their own part of the plan to confront Dracula. How does this compare to what Van Helsing said at the outset: they would need to stick together and use all of their resources? How is it still true to his intent? How is it different?
Things to think about from _Dracula_ chapters 21 & 22:
–Renfield’s confession: is this the most sane we have seen Renfield? What is the difference between sanity and madness in this book?
–What is the purpose of the ‘baptism of blood’? Did Dracula baptize Lucy too? How do you know?
–What does Mina’s condition mean to her? To the others?
–The group plans to break into Carfax. Note the subtle critiques of classism that occur while they carry out this plan: what makes the plan seem respectable to others (like the locksmith or police)? what does this indicate about that kind of respectability?
Things to think about from _Dracula_ chapters 23 & 24:
–Remember that Mina’s ordeal is the worst thing going right now: who is reacting to it the worst? Who is bearing up pretty well?
–The confrontation at Carfax: victory? defeat? stalemate? You decide!
–Originally the group decided not to tell Mina what was going on. This decision led to her ‘baptism’ by Dracula. Now that Dracula can interact with Mina’s mind the group once again excludes her from their deliberations. How are these two exclusions the same? How are they different?
–Hypnosis was cutting edge science at the time (as was trepanning, phonographs, etc). How do the protagonists incorporate both new technology and old beliefs in their fight against Dracula?
Things to think about from _Dracula_ chapters 25 & 26:
–The group goes on a road trip! There is a lot of what some people might call ‘hurry up and wait’ in these chapters. How does the flow of the book change? Do you like this change?
–Mina is changing. What is different about the way she acts now as opposed to when she was first under Dracula’s influence?
–They take an account about Dracula’s arrival in Galatz. What elements of his arrival here are similar to his arrival at Whitby?
–Now the group splits up to chase Dracula in three different routes. How does the ‘compiled documents’ style of the book enable this? Do you like how the narrative jumps around here?
Things to think about from _Dracula_ chapter 27:
–How close is Mina to becoming a vampire?
–How do you like the pace of the ending?
–How do you like the results?
–The introduction I posted by Niel Gaiman suggests that Dracula may not be vanquished. What do you think?
I should also include a shout-out to to the fantastic close read seminar and adaptation discussion series that Mythgard Academy did a few years ago!