Good evening everybody! Tonight, we’re going to be looking at the three characters who get screwed over the most in this adaptation of Bram Stoker’s legendary tome: Jonathan Harker, Lucy Westenra and Dr. Seward. Mina and Van Helsing will get their own analyses over the week.
Join me under the cut!
Lucy, arguably, gets the worst of it in Dracula (1931), out of all the characters altered or changed.
And that’s because she just straight up disappears shortly after Drac himself appears. No, seriously. She has like, two, maybe three scenes. There’s the opera scene, one other where she’s discussing Drac with Mina and I think there’s a scene of her being turned? But yeah. That’s it.
And, unfortunately, this is not the last time Lucy’s character gets screwed over. Lucy, in fact, gets pretty much screwed in every Dracula adaptation ever, from the constant amalgamation with Mina (which also screws over Mina, incidentally) to the overly sexualized depiction of Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992). And I’m a guy who liked Lucy in that movie!
But here’s the thing. Lucy, in the original novel, is Mina’s Best Friend, a spoiled sweet girl with a big heart. Case in point, her reaction to the three marriage proposals. Lucy, aware that she can only choose one, claims that this manifestly unfair, that it will hurt two of her suitors immensely and demands to know why. Why does she have to inflict such pain and misery on two men, two men whom she knows to be good and honest and true? Why can she not, instead, take all three and spare everyone the potential agony.
This scene has, by and large, been traditionally interpreted as Lucy not fitting in with Late Victorian ideas on sexuality, i.e. that she is polyamorous or a slut. And I don’t have a problem with that interpretation per se, so long as it’s drawn from Lucy’s innate (and canonical) goodness. And isn’t, you know, justification for her violent rape at the hands of Dracula. Which, yes, Dracula’s attacks are written as.
And unfortunately, that is all too often how Lucy’s desires are written. As justification for Dracula’s attacks. Which isn’t what Bram Stoker wrote, it’s clearly not what he intended, and it’s really creepy in your own writing.
On the plus side, Lucy gets spared that treatment in this movie. ‘Cause, uh, she disappears entirely from it shortly after appearing.
Jonathan, buddy, what did they do to you?
In the original novel, Jonathan was the hero of the story. He was a little bland, sure, with none of the early feminism of Mina, the quirky awesomeness of Van Helsing, or the almost manic intensity of Jack Seward, but he was still the hero. A brave, capable, loving man who escaped from Drac’s castle alone and unaided, took up the kukri against Drac when he returned, and generally kicked ass. Not bad for a lawyer. I dare say even Richard Sharpe would be impressed.
And most of that goes out the window in this movie. Here he’s Jack Seward’s lackey, reduced to whining at Mina or threatening her and doubting the professor. Though at least he gets to go out and rescue the girl at the end. With some help, of course.
This isn’t, I’ll argue, the point in Dracula fandom history where Jonathan gets reduced to the romantic false lead against the vampire himself. That came later. Jonathan gets a kind of redemption in the Hammer version of the story, and he (and some expies of him) kind of come and go as the hero of the story. But by the time Alan Moore, himself in the running as ‘worst comic book writer ever’, wrote his terrible League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Jonathan Harker had become a villain. At least in the eyes of the fandom.
Dr. John Seward
Finally, a character who doesn’t get totally screwed over! Right?
Sort of. On the one hand, Jack retains his position as the head of a sanitarium, he’s still a skilled doctor, albeit out of his element in dealing with the supernatural, and he’s able to keep up with Van Helsing.
On the other hand, he’s been aged up quite a bit, and is now the guardian of both Lucy and Mina. In a way, this kind of makes sense. Jack Seward was, by Lucy’s own admission (the part where she suggests that he’s perfect for Mina if she hadn’t already found Jonathan) never a serious contender for Lucy’s heart, plus he was her doctor. Aging him up removes any potential worries about impropriety towards Lucy, and reinforces that kind of authority over her. Which is detrimental to Lucy and Mina’s characters, and I don’t think it does any favours for Jack, either. In the book, he was young, handsome, and implied to be a semi-retired badass.
Which brings me to my next point. Jack really suffers from the loss of his two best friends from the book: Quincey Morris and Arthur Holmwood, Lord Godalming.
Like all the best Best Friends in fiction, Quincey and Arthur do a lot to flesh out Jack’s character. It’s in his communications with them, seeking both commiseration and to congratulate, that we get this hint that Jack is an adventurer in his own right, albeit one who’s left the saddle so to speak. It is also in that same scene that we get a sense of his compassion and decency: he doesn’t resent Arthur’s good fortune, but instead goes drinking with him as a form of congratulations. There’s not even an ‘if you do anything to hurt her’ threat. Which is, uh, rather more graceful than most men in fiction today.
Either way, some of Jack’s compassion and decency is lost in this film because of that. It’s not a complete loss, and Jack still comes across as a decent man, especially in his interactions with Renfield. Indeed, that’s one of the parts that’s arguably improved from the book: Jack, in the book, is rather condescending and patronizing towards Renfield. Here, while he still clearly doesn’t understand Renfield and is a little creeped out by him, Jack treats Renfield much more like a person and less like a specimen to study.
The other part that Jack loses out on is his morphine addiction and the resultant intensity that comes across in his entries. Granted, this is played up in Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) where Richard E. Grant gives a quite intense, almost hammy performance (given that he’s going up against Anthony Hopkins, his performance would have to be hammy just to be seen as subtle and not wooden). But it’s there a bit in the novel, too, and this movie’s loss of that bit of characterization ultimately makes Jack much blander than he was in the novel.
On the plus side, at least he’s actually in the movie. And not nearly as demoted to extra as in Bram Stoker’s Dracula.