Bram Stoker's Dracula has fascinated me since I first read it in 1983. Not for the subject matter, but for the atmosphere of dread and horror that Stoker managed to convey. In the ensuing decades I have picked up a lot of good literary commentary on the book, including fascinating analyses of where Stoker got his information and how he put the book together, all because I am interested in finding out how this dull, conventional, Irish theater manager could have told a story with so many levels and in places with such skill. For this reason, annotated versions of the book have been an obsession of mine going back to the mid-80s.
This version is a little different, however, in that the annotation by creative writing professor Mort Castle doesn't explain the people and places that Stoker was referring to, but instead uses the text to teach writing students how Stoker was telling the story in order to convey what he was doing as a writer.
While I appreciated the intent of the edition, and did learn a lot from it, the book left something to be desired for two reasons. First of all, putting the invitations in a tiny font in red ink made them very difficult to read. I often spent more time trying to find the tiny red circles in the text indicating what sentence the annotation pertaining to that I did reading the annotation.
More importantly, it doesn't appear that anyone reviewed the annotations to make sure that they were clear. In numerous places, the annotations took the form of exclamations or comments that were potentially intended sarcastically, but the reader couldn't be sure. Therefore the entire intent of the annotation was lost because the meaning wasn't clear. A sentence like "are we being treated to a little more of Stoker's humor?" would work well in a classroom followed up by an explanation of the relevant passage. But in an annotation, it is often unclear whether the question is rhetorical or actual.
But even with those shortcomings, the annotations help point out where Stoker was enhancing the tale with ambiguity, humor, foreshadowing, and especially towards the end, simply staying out of the way of the action. In doing so, it explains to the would-be writers reading it some of the tools they have available, and how to use them. It doesn't shy away from noting where Stoker made what Castle believes to be in error, and could have made a point better, and this is very useful as well.
Over and over it praised – and rightfully so from a writing perspective – Stoker's decision to present the story in an epistolary format where multiple narrators and sources present bits and pieces of the story. From the first time I read years ago it this tool – which I had never seen before – impressed me enormously, and it was interesting seeing a writing professor explain why it was so effective.
So this is something of a specialty Dracula, but if you're interested in an exposition of the book as an exercise in writing, this is the one to get.