*This post was originally scheduled to appear during our Dracula Event back in October but due to personal reasons and scheduling conflicts needed to be rescheduled. It has been years since I read Mina by Marie Kiraly but it has remained one of my all-time favorite novels. I've included both covers for the book- the reissue is very seductive while the original is mysterious. Which do you like better? I am very pleased to welcome Elaine to Bite Club for a discussion about Mina and her influence in the classic Stoker tale. Without further ado...
-By Elaine Bergstrom
I’m sure that I met Mina Harker early in my reading life. As a lover of all literature dark
and mysterious, I must have read Dracula but, frankly, it did not hold my interest enough
for me to even recall reading it. It’s likely that at the time I first read it, I was too young
to understand its subtext – the message Stoker was imparting, likely unconsciously.
Instead, I knew the Mina that Lugosi’s film made famous – pale, sweet and perfectly
Victorian – and every future Mina as envisioned by Hollywood directors. Oddly, one of
the lesser of the Dracula films, the 1979 version directed by John Badham and starring
Frank Langella, first hinted at the novel’s subtext – moving the story forward by just a
few years and making Mina and Lucy a pair of would-be suffragettes, chafing under the
strict Victorian moral code.
Thirteen years later, just divorced and with a few vampire novels of my own written, I
was asked by my publisher to do a newspaper interview, giving comments on Dracula for
a feature on the upcoming Coppola film. The reporter and I shared a common opinion –
that after everything Mina went through she would have a difficult time returning to the
life of a perfect Victorian wife.
With an idea of what my next novel would be about, I went back and read Dracula and
numerous accounts of Victorian life. And then I understood who Mina was, and why
it was likely that Victorian women shared copies of the novel, reading it in secret lest
their proper Victorian husbands find it scandalous. Not that there weren’t many husbands
feeling oppressed by a society that turned its back on sexual urges – the word “leg” was
considered impolite to say in polite company – and created a wealth of pornographic
writing so men and women could satisfy those urged in private, and likely alone.
As for the women, they were condemned to a life or rectitude as either a good wife and
mother, a nursemaid to her family, a worker in the accepted fields of teaching, serving or,
for some, the womanly arts of sewing and needlework; or to the fallen role of a mistress,
prostitute or, for those with talent, an actress. They possessed no right to inherit, to
control their own funds (should they have any), no recourse to divorce if their husbands
were brutes or unfaithful.
But Mina was a woman with one foot firmly in the Victorian era and the other in the
future when women would finally come into their own as partners to their men. She
ventured alone to Eastern Europe (an incredible act in that time) to nurse her fiancé back
to health and marry him. She returned to England, only to find herself, after an incredible
struggle, bound emotionally to the Count. And even though she was considered someone
to be protected by Jonathan, Van Helsing and the others, she was their partner in the
struggle to destroy the vampire.
And in that struggle of good and evil, in which she moves beyond the customary role of
polite women, it is her spirit which guides the book. She links her mind with Dracula’s
so that she and the others can find him, she ventures with Van Helsing to the vampires’
mountain lair, and in the epilogue to the novel, it is disclosed that the band even returns
to those mountains to see them in a new and better light. True to the style in which the
novel was written, the final words are from Jonathan, who comments on the lack of
proof for their adventure and that the journals will be a legacy to their son, We want no
proofs. We ask none to believe us! This boy will some day know what a brave and gallant
woman his mother is. Already he knows her sweetness and loving care. Later on he will
understand how some men so loved her, that they did dare much for her sake.
But of course, what did she dare for them?
Book description for Mina:
In Bram Stoker's immortal novel, Mina Harker became a living, breathing object of obsession- only to fall prey to her stalker's seductive powers. There was only one way to save her soul-by destroying the life of Count Dracula, the creature who controlled and consumed her. But was the spell really broken? Could Mina return to the ordinary turns of a day, and to the restraints of a Victorian marriage, after the pleasures of such exquisite darkness?
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