Dracula, the great epistolary novel

Here is how the most famous (sorry, Frankenstein) horror novel ever written begins:

3 May. Bistritz.–Left Munich at 8:35 P.M., on 1st May, arriving at Vienna early next morning; should have arrived at 6:46, but train was an hour late. Buda-Pesth seems a wonderful place, from the glimpse which I got of it from the train and the little I could walk through the streets. 

I remember reading that first page of Dracula in my hometown’s public library and thinking with disgust, “It’s an epistolary novel?!” Course I didn’t actually think that. At twelve or so, I wouldn’t have been able to pick an “epistolary novel” out in a lineup. But I knew what I was looking at: chapter after chapter of diary and letter entries. This wasn’t a great swashbuckling narrative of the vampire count facing off against Van Helsing and all that. This was, ugh, journal entries. I put the book back on the shelf.

The epistolary novel. Frankly, I don’t have any time for it. Something about the structure of it nettles. Maybe it is because I overthink the whole thing and keep wondering “What possible  person would ever sit down and write all of these entries, just the way they are written?” For me, the style nearly always comes off as artificial, and in cases where the writing is natural (Dangerous Liaisons comes to mind) you can’t help but be tempted to skip. And skip and skip. By employing a style that, by its very nature, cannot be committed strictly to the concerns of the plot, epistolary novels inevitably suffer from terrible word count creep. 

There are a fair number of epistolaries on the Master List. Some I have read (The MoonstoneHerzogThe Color Purple) and some I haven’t (Clarissa… how I dread you). I would have to say that Moonstone is the only instance of this form that I have ever enjoyed from a purely stylistic perspective. That book is a feast. But Dracula? Could this massively notorious story work in the epistolary form?

It has been quite a few years since I first put that library copy of Dracula back on the shelf and went in search of some Batman comics. Will it be worth the wait? 

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