How a Substack newsletter breathed new life into Dracula
The novel opens on May 3, with Jonathan Harker, a young English lawyer, describing his travels to visit a mysterious client in Transylvania. “Dracula Daily” readers received this particular entry on the same date, with a flippant summary reading “Meet Jonathan Harker, on a fun road trip for work, as he collects new recipes.” With this introduction, the 19th-century opening Stoker wrote to set the scene comes across as a naive travel blog for 21st-century readers scrolling through on their phones.
The only difference between the original novel and the emailed content is that Kirkland chooses to publish the material in chronological order. For example, Jonathan Harker sees Count Dracula scale his castle wall in “lizard mode” for the third and final time on June 29. His fiancée, Mina Murray, writes a letter to her friend Lucy Westenra on May 9. In the novel, the description of Dracula’s strange outing is presented before Lucy’s gossipy letter. In “Dracula Daily”, it’s the opposite. The following sections are published in the same way.
Newsletter subscribers therefore consume the novel not only in a different format, but in a different order. Although faithful to the original text, “Dracula Daily” is, in a sense, a partial retelling of the book.
Protectively mocking “my homie Harker”
Upon its initial release, “Dracula” was rejected by some influential critics. One comment was that “the first part is going better.” And it’s these early entries that caught the attention of “Dracula Daily” audiences in 2022. They follow Jonathan Harker’s journey to meet Count Dracula to help him buy properties in England. It bears little resemblance to the sinister plot of a centuries-old undead vampire lord. For audiences in 1897, the novel was quite similar to earlier vampire literature, and these details were largely overlooked as part of the course.
But audiences today respond to Harker’s descriptions with more critical scrutiny. Readers laugh as Harker walks past what are obviously red flags. When the townspeople stare at him and talk among themselves about Satan, hell, werewolves, and vampires after hearing his travel plans, Harker simply adds a parenthetical note: “(Mem., I must interrogate the count on these superstitions).” To Harker, who doesn’t believe in vampires, that wouldn’t seem like a far-fetched idea.
I’ve taken over 300 very cool and cool screenshots and I need a power outlet so you know what, here are some of my favorites.
Post Type 1: Gently bullying Jonathan Harker for his food blogging tendencies. pic.twitter.com/pr8AhnYzkb
— Victor (@cobblystreet) May 8, 2022
Modern readers, even if approaching Stoker’s writing for the first time, are however well aware that Count Dracula is a bloodthirsty vampire with much more in mind than British real estate. Trained by social media to mockingly scrutinize online content, “Dracula Daily” readers revel in minor details that are easily mocked. For example, the fact that Dracula, claiming that there are servants in this distant vampire’s lair, secretly makes Jonathan Harker’s bed himself, is seen in a new and humorous light. “I appreciate Dracula’s efforts in running a one man hotel,” Tumblr user ashtry commented.
In Stoker’s day, one reviewer called the book’s descriptions “probably odd enough to appeal to those for whom they are designed” – meaning, essentially, trash written for trash. The Tumblr audience in particular seems to have picked up on this quality, approaching the material with a lot of snark. It was the mocking analysis of the novel by modern readers that sent “Dracula Daily” trending.
Consuming history as a social experience
Readers always interpret the style and meaning of a book through the lens of their own knowledge and experience. But the majority of previous renditions of “Dracula” I’ve seen have been in the hands of dedicated scholars and fans. The social media response to “Dracula Daily” is different, with mostly younger audiences riffing on the novel in new ways.
As audiences analyze the novel piece by piece, they engage each other with memes and artistic interpretations of the plot as it unfolds. For example, Harker’s depiction of Dracula descending his castle walls in “lizard fashion” sparked the visual art of lizard-inspired fashion looks.
No one told me that #DraculaDaily has periodic breaks of several days and I am livid with suspense.
(Yes, I know I can download the book for free and read it anytime. It’s not the same.)
— ????????????????️ (@QuondamProlix) May 15, 2022
Because “Dracula Daily” reveals the plot day by day, readers follow the story together and are all in the same place in the narrative at the same time. Like in the heyday of network radio or TV series, audiences can gather around the (now virtual) water cooler to discuss the latest reveal and speculate on what’s to come. Anyone could easily read ahead into the novel. But people are eagerly waiting for the next installment to hit their inboxes.
It’s like a chapter-by-chapter book club. The forced slow pacing leaves plenty of time for the ecosystem of memes and posts to flourish as the delicious dread builds on what Dracula will do next. As the plot unfolds, I look forward to continuing to be entertained by “Dracula Daily” audiences – at least until November 6, when the story wraps up for this year.
Stanley Stepanic is Assistant Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Virginia.
This article is republished from The conversation under Creative Commons license. Read the original article.