I shall gladly learn . . . it may help me on other occasions.
I hope to God it will not!
So this was the final novel by horror icon Bram Stoker, written while Stoker was terminally ill, from syphilis, some scholars believe. And it is a strange book for certain. The gist of it revolves around the fact that this highborn lady in England is capable of transforming into a giant white snake. I mean . . . that’s kind of it. It’s a book that I really kind of feel at a loss to talk about even having read it. It’s such a disconnected jumble and it’s far, far too long. I read Stoker’s original published version in a Penguin edition, but in later printings it was often heavily abridged and, frankly, for once I’m on the side of the editors because this thing is a trainwreck. The main characters are forever gathering around the breakfast table to talk at great length about psychic abilities and snake legends and how they’re going to get off their butts and actually do something just as soon as they finish eating their waffles or whatever. And there’s a black character here that is just . . . I mean, Stoker has something to prove here; there’s a solid half a page in here of Stoker just essentially going on a racist tirade about black people that’s just hilarious and disturbing at the same time. But anyway the book is deeply symbolic, drenched in sex, just as Dracula was or, really, even more so. I mean, at one point, the great white snake rises up over some trees and it’s literally described as a “tall, white shaft.” The way in which Lady Arabella functions in the book is of great interest really; there’s a well in her basement from which various strange liquids ooze and smells rise, which is obviously very vaginal (there’s a great scene where a guy gets killed by being pushed into it; Stoker’s got some deep seated fears going on here). But at the same time, as Stoker’s characters fear Lady Arabella’s womanhood, she is also able to transform into that “tall white shaft,” the massive white snake of the title, which is obviously symbolic of her usurping their manhood. It’s kind of indicative of misogyny, even still currently, that it attacks women both for owning their womanhood and for usurping manhood. Stoker is terrified of women in a real double bind of a way; he’s terrified of being seduced by their womanhood and of being replaced by their rising equality with men. As such, this book has a lot of interesting themes and such, but it’s really just often painfully boring. There are a few nice horror moments, like a scene where the black servant carries a bunch of small black snakes in his arms or a scene where nature begins to go a bit crazy and a character realizes that his kite is blowing against the wind. But on the whole, it’s just a long, long series of dull conversations being had by bland, underwritten characters. 1 star.
tl;dr – Stoker’s final novel has interesting symbolism and reveals the author’s psychology in tantalizing ways, but it’s ultimately just a tedious, dull read. 1 star.