‘Dracula Daily’ Reanimates the Classic Vampire Novel in an Age of Memes and Snark
Stanley Stepanic, University of Virginia [This article first appeared in The Conversation, republished with permission]
If you’re an active social media user, you may have recently noticed an increase in posts about paprika, reflective shaving glasses and castle hospitality in Transylvania. One hundred and twenty-five years after its initial release, Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” is experiencing a revival.
The current popularity is due to an e-mail newsletter called “Dracula Daily”. The original 1897 version of “Dracula” was told in epistolary form, which means that the plot of the novel is presented through diary entries, letters, newspaper articles, etc. Matt Kirkland had a simple idea: release the “Dracula” novel by entry, by date. Subscribers to his Substack newsletter receive messages in their inbox day after day as the vampire’s story unfolds in real time. If there is no action on this date, no message is sent.
“Dracula Daily” became the the internet’s coolest book club, taking Tumblr, in particular, by storm. As a scholar of Dracula and vampires, I’m not surprised to see yet another example of the story’s persistence and tendency to find new life with modern audiences. Considered by many to be a classic of horror literature, Stoker’s “Dracula” is frequently referenced, discussed, and adapted. What makes the “Dracula Daily” phenomenon so interesting, however, is not just how it finds a new audience, but how the material is consumed by those fans.
Follow the action in real time
Stoker’s “Dracula” is not alone in using an epistolary style; it’s not even the first work of vampire fiction to do so. But by including the new technologies of his time – like the phonograph and the typewriter – Stoker gave his story a modern twist, much like it was written today using Reddit entries composed on a smartphone.
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 overture 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 meet 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.
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 time, 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” that 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.
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. As 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, Assistant Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures, University of Virginia
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.