Dracula Daily Reminds Us Why We Can Never Get Enough of the Count

If you’ve reared your head online since the 3rd of May this year, you may have noticed a surprising new anxiety sweeping people’s feeds: How fares our friend Jonathan Harker?

No, we haven’t all suddenly become pen pals with the same random guy: we’re talking about the protagonist of Dracula, the epistolary Gothic horror novel, which is being emailed out as a Substack created by Matt Kirkland. To keep pace with the events of the novel, the newsletter will run from Harker’s first diary entry in May through to November 7th, and—contrary to its name—it does not update daily, only on the dates which correspond to a part of the book.

Since its publication at the tail-end of the Victorian era, Dracula—written by Irish author Bram Stoker—has become a wildly popular Gothic staple, casting a long, sinister shadow over pop culture that stretches far beyond the novel itself. The name ‘Dracula’ today is practically synonymous with the word ‘vampire,’ despite its etymology putting it closer to the word ‘dragon.’ At Halloween, supermarket aisles are crammed with capes, wigs, and plastic white fangs for children to dress up in (despite being too young to read the book itself).

A portion of this renown can be attributed to the iconic 1931 film starring Bela Lugosi; one of the earliest of dozens of spin-offs and adaptations of Dracula which have appeared over the years. But the film is far from the only retelling which has kept the tale of Count Dracula alive for 125 years; he has made hundreds of appearances onscreen, in comedy and romance and gritty horror; in books and plays and even in ballet. Most recently, several adaptations seeking to explore the untold tale of the three unnamed women in Dracula’s castle—called the “weird sisters” in the novel, but popularly known as the Brides of Dracula—have seen enormous success. Among these are the dark, queer indie-published sensation that is S.T. Gibson’s A Dowry of Blood and the sapphic YA bestseller The Deathless Girls by Kiran Millwood Hargrave, written as part of Hachette UK’s Bellatrix collection, which focuses on reclaiming and retelling the stories of forgotten girls and women in literature and history.

The port town of Whitby has also become a cultural landmark associated with the novel, as it is the place where Stoker found much inspiration for his novel, and the place where Dracula first sets foot in England. Playing host to the Whitby Goth Weekend, and boasting an immersive Dracula Experience, the town keenly embraces its role in the evolution of the book. Excitingly, on the 26th of May this year, fans of Dracula and its various iterations gathered in the sunny seaside location to mark the book’s 125th anniversary…and while they were there, they broke the Guinness World Record for the largest gathering of people dressed as vampires, with a turnout of 1,369 fanged participants!

Dracula Daily, which first began in 2021 and is now in its second iteration, has seen an explosion of popularity this year—and with good reason. Not only does the novel, formatted as a series of letters and diary entries, lend itself naturally to the bite-sized newsletter format, but the fun, communal aspect of the project and the easy digestibility of each update has created a truly special book-club atmosphere in online circles; it’s proven to be an ingenious method of disseminating and appreciating classic literature in the 21st century. From a rough 1.6k subscriber count in 2021, there are now over 200,000 people reading along with each instalment.

With this surge of new readership has come a revived interest in the characters of the book itself, often ignored by pop culture in favour of the more mysterious, dramatic figure of the Count. Among these are the solicitor Jonathan Harker—the first narrator we meet, and a fascinating male inversion of the Gothic ingénue—and his pragmatic schoolteacher fiancée, Mina Murray, whose down-to-earth intelligence and affection for those she loves have fast won over the internet’s hearts. Then there is Lucy Westenra (Mina’s chipper, wealthy best friend) and Lucy’s three suitors, each of whom is more bizarre than the last. Reading along with Dracula Daily is a reminder (or a revelation, for those who haven’t read the book before) that the characters of the novel are funny, larger-than-life, endearingly human… yet, in a novel that truly has worked to earn its place on the horror shelf, these traits only make you fear for their well-being all the more.

If you’re late to join the bandwagon, you need not worry about missing out on the chapters which have already been sent; there’s an archive where you can catch up for free! (Or, alternately, you can probably find a hard copy of Dracula wherever you prefer to buy your books.) One key difference to remember, though—if you’re doing a read-along with the original text—is that Dracula itself isn’t told in exact chronological order. By following the Substack, we’re getting to experience the novel in a uniquely linear way, just as the characters of the novel would be experiencing it themselves.

The best news of all is that Dracula Daily is not the only literary newsletter out there. If your undying thirst has yet to be slaked and you would like to see more classics in your inbox, you may enjoy one (or more!) of the following:

  • Carmilla Quarterly – a four-part Substack serialisation of Sheridan LeFanu’s Carmilla, perfect for vampire-lovers (see also Anne M. Pillsworth and Ruthanna Emry’s recent discussion of the novel here on the site);
  • Frankenstein Weekly – a weekly serialisation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein;
  • The Penny Dreadful – which plans to revisit public-domain penny Gothics of the late Victorian era; and,
  • Whale Weekly – a weekly serialisation of Moby Dick, set to begin in December 2022 and continue over a course of three whole years!

Holly Kybett Smith is a writer based in the south of England, where she is currently studying for her MA in Victorian Gothic. A keen lover of historical and speculative fiction, she specialises in all things dark, whimsical and weird. Her work has been featured in Issue #2 of the New Gothic Review.

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