How do you write descriptions of the natural landscape without being dull?
I really admire the detailed descriptions that contribute to the profound gothic beauty in the novels of Ann Radcliffe. All great novels establish a sense of place. But I have to acknowledge that not all readers are in love with nature. I was shocked to learn that a friend of mine, who is a voracious reader, always skips any description that is longer than a sentence or two; and those long passages in Ann Radcliffe’s novels were controversial even in 1797, before psychiatrists discovered attention deficit disorder and readers discovered just how much could be compressed into 140 words on Twitter.
Maybe it helps if you were read to as a child, which I was. I like to close my eyes and picture what is being described. As you get older you learn to visualise with your eyes open while you are reading; but for the past year I have been listening to two or three novels a month on my mp3 player, sometimes with my eyes shut and sometimes with them open.
I listened to this passage from Dracula while I was walking to work and I was so impressed I walked the long way round so I could savour it. Then I sought it out and read it online.
It owes something to Ann Radcliffe, but it’s much finer. There is so much more going on in the approach to Castle Dracula than in the approach to Castle Udolpho. For a writer who is often dismissed as a minor literary figure, Stoker is astonishingly good at everything. I really admire the little ironies and touches of dark humour in this passage as well as the thrilling visual sweep that has inspired so many films.