On May 3rd, Jonathan Harker took out his journal to write about his recent travels through Eastern Europe. He was delighted to write about discovering the exotic foreign spice known as “paprika” and lamented train delays and poor weather. It would be the world’s most boring Victorian travel journal if not for one thing: May 3rd of Jonathan Harker’s journal is actually the first page of Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
It’s also the date in which the first Dracula Daily email went out, a newsletter that helpfully emails you a chunk of Dracula on the day in which it happens in the novel. The internet took one look at this and fell upon it like ravenous wolves, creating an outpouring of memes about one British idiot’s travels to meet the most famous vampire in history. As one Twitter user so succinctly says, “Dracula is currently trending at #1 on Tumblr, outpacing a Marvel movie with the weekly advertising budget of god, Amphibia’s penultimate episode, and the announcement of the new Doctor for Doctor Who.” It’s an incredible, insane feat for a 125 year old story. How in the blazes did a novel from 1897 take the internet by storm?
Listen, first of all, what you need to know if you’ve never read it is that Dracula is a bonkers novel. Just an absolute shitpost of a story. It’s draped in the gravitas of most “classic novels” (most of which are also batshit crazy, but that’s a story for another day) and many people who haven’t really read it just consider it to be a staid pillar of a novel in the English Literary canon. Friends, it is not.
Dracula is a hilarious mess of Victorian eccentricities, a comedy of manners, closer to the oddity of Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula (with Keanu Reeves’ terrible accent and everything) than the elegant, erudite horror of Bela Lugosi. It’s full of bad Victorian science, utterly baffling characters, and frequently bizarre narrative choices. Sure, you can write a lot about the way it deals with women’s sexuality and Victorian ideas about immigration and race, but it’s also full of awkward, hilarious scenes that could be straight out of the mind of Mel Brooks. It makes a strange sort of sense that Dracula memes are everywhere right now–the entire book is intensely meme-able. It’s such a silly novel that the Icelandic translator in 1899 decided to “fix” all the inconsistencies in the story and craft an entirely new novel instead. And no one caught on that the Icelandic version of Dracula was a completely different story until 2017!
This might be the first time reading Dracula for a lot of people and everyone has suddenly realized the novel is much more silly than popular culture made it seem. It’s written in the epistolary style, meaning it’s told completely through journal entries and letters. This increases the hilarity of the story because we see just how unobservant Jonathan Harker is when introduced to Dracula. Instead of seeing danger and signs of the supernatural, he’s more focused on the food he’s being served or the impolite peasants with the gall to hand him crucifixes and beg him not to go to Dracula’s castle. Jonathan Harker might just be one of the dumbest men alive. The storied Count is no better, struggling to act like a normal person (honestly? same) and treating Harker like a strange new pet. This is meme catnip, however, and the brave shitposters of the internet took it upon themselves to hot-take this insane novel to hell and back.
Thanks to Dracula Daily, we’re getting brand new memes pretty much every single day. Most of them can be found on Tumblr, which itself has risen a little from its own grave, catching a slight resurgence (after shooting itself in the foot with its porn ban several years ago) because people were looking around for other social media places to lifeboat to once a billionaire bought Twitter in a mid-life crisis fit of pique. Tumblr has always been a fandom darling of a platform and a complete wild west wasteland that’s spawned many of the craziest and most enduring memes. If you’re mostly on Twitter or Instagram you will often see Tumblr posts reposted as images, often in 100+ long tweet threads or Instagram slideshows that get thousands of shares themselves. Tumblr is the unsung hero of the internet’s meme economy and Dracula Daily is really finally giving it its due. As one poster put it, “Somehow, in 2022, Tumblr University finally exists, but the only offering is a semester long English course about Dracula and everyone is enrolled.”
If your groupchat is anything like mine, it’s become chock-full of reaction images, gifs, and utterly perfect text images of people reacting to Dracula for the first time. There are Spongebob memes, people calling Jonathan Harker their “poor little meow meow” and their “blorbo,” shipping wars already starting, and, naturally, a gif of Dracula as Mrs. Doubtfire trying to cook for this weird new human staying with him. We’re only four days into the novel so far. May 15th is when Jonathan Harker catches Dracula spider-climbing on his castle walls (which Harker, an idiot with the self preservation instincts of a sea cucumber, chalks up to being an eccentricity of someone who isn’t as modern as he is, as if scaling walls is just a silly fad those strange people in this remote, backwards country hasn’t realized isn’t still cool). There’s still a whole cast of characters to meet, like Mina Harker (the one person in the novel in possession of a single brain cell), Professor Abraham Van Helsing (who dishes out bad medical advice along with bad vampire hunting advice), and that lovable scamp Renfield (Dracula’s thrall who eats bugs because sure, why not).
Dracula Daily is a fantastic idea. Emailing easily-read bitesized chunks of a classic novel all at the same time turns the internet into one giant book club. Of course people would reach for memes (arguably the native language of the internet) as a means of discussion. Everyone is, literally and proverbially, on the same page. It’s a fantastic way to consume a classic novel, an undertaking that can feel sort of daunting, and what’s more, it echoes what it would have been like to be a Victorian reacting to the novel as it published serially as well. Serial publication was an extremely common form of distribution at the time, and each new chapter would be the talk of the town when it came out. From an academic perspective, I find it fascinating that we’ve cycled back around to that format, but from an Extremely Online reader’s perspective, it’s incredibly exciting as well. I know lightning doesn’t strike twice but I’d love to see this trend continue with other meme-able classic novels, perhaps Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice or Charles Dicken’s David Copperfield.
If you want to get into the action, I strongly encourage you to sign up for the Daily Dracula emails and join us in enjoying (and lovingly mocking) a classic horror novel. The novel itself concludes in November and I don’t know if the internet can sustain this kind of interest for that long, so you better get in now while the memes are still piping hot.
God, I can’t wait for everyone to find out there’s an American cowboy in the novel for absolutely no goddamn reason. That’s going to be such a good day for memes.