I figured I didn't need to read Dracula since I'd seen every derivative B-rated horror movie out there with each stereotypically horrific blood-sucking vampire laid out in terrible ghastly pallor to entertain me. And I figured wrong. I recently re-read Salem's Lot by Stephen King and this time I bothered with the foreword; King's paean to Stoker was persuasive so when I finished, I picked up the classic tome.
Dracula begins slowly with the doings and social life of two young English girls; this was somewhat like an Austen novel, with all he conspiring about suitors and marriage. I was somewhat put off as my tastes in literature don't run that way, but I soldiered on. (Note to self: my next novel had better break this slow-start habit.) The story gradually became more interesting... and much to my surprise, by the climax the original characters stood proud and tall and had shouldered aside the insipid stereotypes that had been made of them; Mina and Lucy become more than simpering ankle-twisters, fleeing the nosferatu (although Lucy does in fact hurt her feet rescuing Mina). Renfield becomes a more sensitive and desperate soul, dealing with his own mental plight and eventually defending against evil - he transcends the grotesque side show that he could become, and was represented as, in other derivative works. Jonathan, Arthur, Quincey and John are not merely a musketeerish re-hash of old heroic boy bands, but instead have interesting dynamics going on between them. And Van Helsing is flawed and desperate and good-hearted and mysterious, not the inhumanly effective vampire-slayer portrayed in the common theatre.
And you twilight readers: please, get yourself a copy of Dracula. Please.
As a measure of the solid character work, check out this image of Sir Henry Irving. This man was the actor upon whom Stoker based his character Dracula - not that Irving was a blood-sucker, but just that Stoker used the mannerisms and affect as the basis of his title character. He really does look like he could be Dracula in life, doesn't he?
If you're looking for a good story, Dracula fits the bill. But even more, re-reading the original story banishes the weak stereotypical characters from the mind and lets Stoker's willful and red-blooded souls take their place. Willingly.