The first part of Dracula is Jonathan Harker’s Journal. This travel journal instantly draws the reader into the book; the effect of using a journal instead of the usual narrative is to make the prose seem more realistic and intimate. “3 May. Bistritz. ” Is the first sentence that the reader would see. To contemporary reader this is just a place name; however, to Victorian reader this name would conjure up connotations with the border of the mysterious and dangerous East and the civilised west. It was where paganism met Christianity and where the boundaries of the known and the unknown merged.
The theme of the unknown is native to gothic writing, this is why the setting of Transylvania is ideal for a gothic novel. Stoker further emphasises the crossing of West to East by using the bridge over the Danube as a metaphor “the most splendid bridges over the Danube, which is here of noble width and depth, took us among the traditions of Turkish rule”. Stoker uses personification when describing the bridge as noble, Harker views the bridge as noble because it is the last piece of Victorian ‘civilization’ he would see for a while.
The suspense begins when Harker cannot “put any light on the exact location of Castle Dracula”, as contemporary readers are views of Dracula as a whole allure to Halloween and vampires, whereas a Victorian reader would be in the dark of the story so would not jump to conclusions as the modern reader is inclined to. This idea also applies to Harker who presumes that Dracula is but an aristocratic count. A few paragraphs later Harker mentions the Carpathian Mountains as a horse shoe formation; this formation is used as a military tactic, there is a small gap to get into the horse shoe that is easily closed so it is an entrapment.
Easy to get into but hard to escape, isolation is a classic theme in Gothic novels. Harker also mentions it “the centre of some sort of imaginative whirlpool” Whirlpools are dangerous, individuals are dragged into them and cannot escape, therefore they drown. Castle Dracula is a metaphorical whirlpool and Harker is heading straight for it. Harker has all sorts of strange dreams, in gothic novels builds suspense is usually a bad omen. There was a dog howling all night at Harker’s Window, Dracula can take dog form and does so when he lands at Whitby, this may also be a forewarning.
Later on in the chapter when Harker makes inquiries about Dracula he is surprised that nobody wants to talk about Count Dracula, Stoker uses a certain type of language to create fear “He mumbled out that the money had been sent in a letter and that’s all he knew” the landlord is clearly scared to even talk about Dracula. They refuse to tell Harker about themselves and cross themselves almost desperately. Religious iconography is a common feature of gothic novels, the original being “The Monk”. This helps to build up suspense as the reader wonders what is going on.
It is at this point that Harker is clearly starting to worry “for it was all very mysterious and by not any means comforting”. In conclusion in the first couple of pages Stoker manages to set the scene using many different methods, it is clear that the novel will be gothic by Stokers descriptions. The foundations of suspense have been laid, and the reader is eager for more.