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Dracula in Love (2010)

Well, fast on the heels of finishing one of the most satisfying vampire novels I’ve read in some time, I read one of the least satisfying.

Karen Essex’s Dracula in Love: a Novel revisits Bram Stoker’s Dracula but claims to tell the story from Mina’s side. I liked the sort of more “realistic” version of the events that happened in Dracula —i.e. Lucy was in love with Morris Quince (Quincy Morris’s “real name”) and Arthur married her for her money; Jonathan was, in fact, simply having an affair when he went missing for all those weeks — but most of the story was this odd mishmash of wanting to decry the way women were treated in Victorian England (note: Seward’s asylum is filled with women who are considered insane because they are too interested in sex) and to suggest that Dracula and Mina had been star-crossed and immortal lovers from some 700 years ago. In fact, it was Mina, half-fairy and half-mortal, who “turns” Dracula way back when. The result is that as the consequence of choosing not to embrace immortal life for herself, Dracula must follow Mina every time she is born and re-born, hoping that THIS is the lifetime in which she will finally decide to follow him into immortal. The results, for me, are far less interesting that Bram Stoker’s original. Far.

Part of the problem for me was that I simply did not like the character of Mina Murray. I didn’t particularly like any of the characters, save for perhaps Bram Stoker, who has a clever cameo, and maybe love em’ and leave ‘em Morris Quince. I also thought that Essex’s version of what happens when the band of vampire hunters visit Lucy at her tomb and Arthur must kill her, really gets at the heart of how frightfully misogynistic the scene from Stoker’s Dracula really is. I think, perhaps, that Essex meant to make commentary on the oppressive force of female education in Victorian England, but the result is that Mina is a naive girl who keeps worrying about duty, propriety and whether or not those sexy dreams she keeps having means she is a debauched woman. The character of Dracula himself turns into proof in himself that she is certainly NOT the fierce woman that she was once supposed to be. And, of course, given Mina and Dracula’s star-crossedness, Mina once again chooses not to be with Dracula out of some odd sense of duty and so the book ends with a sort of “Well, see you next go round.”
Mina and Dracula from Coppola’s movie

Essex is not the first author to imagine that Dracula and Mina are lovers from long ago. Perhaps first to mind is Francis Ford Coppola’s version of Dracula from 1992. Coppola imagines that Mina is the reincarnation of Vlad Tepes’s long-lost wife. The story there is that Vlad went into some impossible battle and Turks sent back a false report that he had been killed. Vlad’s wife commits suicide in her despair and is thus damned by the Church, an act unforgiveably unjust in the eyes of Vlad-the-Crusader who has sacrificed ALL for the sake of the Holy Roman Empire and the Church. Vlad then curses God and, somehow, turns into a vampire. Thus, while Jonathan Harker is kept captive by Dracula’s brides back in Transylvania, the Count himself is off romancing Mina Murray in London. In what has got to be the most over-wrought scene of the movie, Mina figures it all out when Dracula visits her in her room at the asylum and she asks him to make her a vampire so they can be reunited once again. Which doesn’t work out so well.

Why is it, I wonder, that we are so captivated by the idea that Mina and Dracula must be some kind of immortal lovers? Or lovers of any kind? I suspect it is because we always superimpose a more modern interpretation of vampires over the character of Dracula that Stoker writes. In the original novel, Dracula is not at all attractive. He is repulsive. Thus, the true horror of his seduction is that his victims are unable to escape from desiring the very thing that disgusts them. That’s scary stuff. But if Dracula is actually the smokin’ hot vampire bad boy that we like to think that vampires are today, then why wouldn’t Mina prefer him to the sodgy and probably unfaithful Jonathan and his wacky bunch of male cohorts? And while I appreciate a delightfully Byronic vampire as much as the next person, the whole “this is Mina’s true version of events and she really wanted to ditch Jonathan and be with Dracula” thing strikes me as tedious and uninteresting.

But, see for yourself. It has a nice cover, at least. And the title is done in one of my favorite fonts. Escrita. Check it out. It’s a cool font.