Language in Bram Stoker’s Dracula

Bram Stoker

In the story of Jonah and Anna-Belle, I introduced someone called Dr Van Helsing. As I explained at the time, this character was based on the Dr Abraham Van Helsing, who is a major protagonist in the novel, Dracula, written by the Irish writer, Bram Stoker, and originally published in 1897. One should not underestimate the influence of this inspired and seminal work of Gothic fiction. An important element of Stoker’s story is psychiatry, and the lunatic asylum in Whitby where Dr John Seward, one of Dr Van Helsing’s former pupils, treats a patient called Renfield, a mad man under the control of Count Dracula. Renfield’s consumption of flies and spiders is itself a parody of vampirism.

In Samuel Beckett’s first novel Murphy, published in 1938, the eponymous hero is employed for a brief period in the Bedlam asylum where he strikes up a friendship with one of the maddest residents. Beckett’s novel also parodies horoscopes, and in my story of Jonah and Anna-Belle I sought to bring the two elements together in a similar manner. I was further inspired by a real daily horoscope I read for my own birth sign which alluded to vampirism, and advised me to be on my guard. This explains the insanity. Not my own, as one reader cheekily suggested, but fictional.

However, the point of this post is really to give an example of the defective grasp of the English language that Stoker bestows on the Dutch Dr Van Helsing, all part of the fun: after all, Stoker gives the doctor his own name, Abraham. Those who have not read the original text of this classic are really missing out on a comic masterpiece.

In the extract below, Dr Van Helsing is describing, in a memorandum to John Seward, the trip he made in the company of Mina Murray, Jonathan Harker’s fiancée, to Count Dracula’s castle in Transylvania. I attempted to capture something of the flavour of this language in the diction of my own Dr Van Helsing.

So we came down this road; when we meet other ways—not always were we sure that they were roads at all, for they be neglect and light snow have fallen—the horses know and they only. I give rein to them, and they go on so patient. By-and-by we find all the things which Jonathan have note in that wonderful diary of him. Then we go on for long, long hours and hours. At the first, I tell Madam Mina to sleep; she try, and she succeed. She sleep all the time; till at the last, I feel myself to suspicious grow, and attempt to wake her. But she sleep on, and I may not wake her though I try. I do not wish to try too hard lest I harm her; for I know that she have suffer much, and sleep at times be all-in-all to her. I think I drowse myself, for all of sudden I feel guilt, as though I have done something; I find myself bolt up, with the reins in my hand, and the good horses go along jog, jog, just as ever. I look down and find Madam Mina still sleep. It is now not far off sunset time, and over the snow the light of the sun flow in big yellow flood, so that we throw great long shadow on where the mountain rise so steep. For we are going up, and up; and all is oh! so wild and rocky, as though it were the end of the world.

Then I arouse Madam Mina. This time she wake with not much trouble, and then I try to put her to hypnotic sleep. But she sleep not, being as though I were not. Still I try and try, till all at once I find her and myself in dark; so I look round, and find that the sun have gone down. Madam Mina laugh, and I turn and look at her. She is now quite awake, and look so well as I never saw her since that night at Carfax when we first enter the Count’s house. I am amaze, and not at ease then; but she is so bright and tender and thoughtful for me that I forget all fear. I light a fire, for we have brought supply of wood with us, and she prepare food while I undo the horses and set them, tethered in shelter, to feed. Then when I return to the fire she have my supper ready. I go to help her; but she smile, and tell me that she have eat already—that she was so hungry that she would not wait. I like it not, and I have grave doubts; but I fear to affright her, and so I am silent of it. She help me and I eat alone; and then we wrap in fur and lie beside the fire, and I tell her to sleep while I watch. But presently I forget all of watching; and when I sudden remember that I watch, I find her lying quiet, but awake, and looking at me with so bright eyes. Once, twice more the same occur, and I get much sleep till before morning. When I wake I try to hypnotise her; but alas! though she shut her eyes obedient, she may not sleep. The sun rise up, and up, and up; and then sleep come to her too late, but so heavy that she will not wake. I have to lift her up, and place her sleeping in the carriage when I have harnessed the horses and made all ready. Madam still sleep, and she look in her sleep more healthy and more redder than before. And I like it not. And I am afraid, afraid, afraid!—I am afraid of all things—even to think but I must go on my way. The stake we play for is life and death, or more than these, and we must not flinch.