Mina’s Child by Paul Butler: Bram Stoker’s Dracula, 30 Years Later

Having loved Paul Butler’s The Widow’s Fire, I jumped at the chance to read his newest despite the fact that it’s a spin-off of Dracula; a book I never thought I’d read. Vampires? Not interested. But I put my prejudices aside and got out my cute little edition of Bram Stoker’s classic (which of course I have even though I didn’t ever think I’d read it. But you never know, right? And here I am…)

Over and over in life I am reminded of this lesson – that I will love just about any book if it’s well-written. Even one about vampires. (Which means that someday I might have to crack open my copy of Frankenstein.)

What a delight Dracula was to read. The structure is brilliant, the characters are hilarious, and the atmosphere is thrilling.

But what does it have to do with Mina’s Child?

Mina’s Child takes place about thirty years (one generation) after the story of Dracula. The child born at the end of Dracula, who brought so much joy, has died in the war. The grief over Quincey’s death and the appearance of a mysterious man (behaving in a creepy manner) has brought up thoughts and questions about the past; the past that Mina has always glamourized to the point of what Abree finds “absurd”. “A secret quest for justice or honour was her parents’ delusion, and they were welcome to it.”

The world has changed rapidly since 1890 – there’s war, there’s industrialization, and there’s a women’s movement. Quincey’s younger sister Abree is trying to breakaway from her parents to navigate this new world. Raised by Victorian parents, Abree lacks confidence in herself; she distrusts “her right to study and argue”.

These were her parents’ generations’s judgments, not hers, and yet they were in her, like tumours.

Jonathan’s grief seems to be undoing him, while Mina and Abree struggle to understand one another.

Jonathan had once believed courage and manly virtue would accrue through his life like interest in a savings bank. But this, his present self, this shameful creature hiding out in his bedroom, seemed to prove the opposite.

Thinking, the way Abree did it, was corrosive. One chose a side, one’s own side–husband, family, children, neighbours–and one defended it. What could be simpler, more straightforward, and, in the end, more morally sound? People win and people lose. This was natural law the world over… There was no such thing as right or wrong. Only children believe in such concepts. There was merely loyalty and disloyalty.

What really happened all those years ago? Why are Abree’s parents so affected by the past? Why did Dr. Seward commit suicide? What ever happened to Dr. Van Helsing? What are the papers Arthur keeps in his safe?

The difference between what is and what should be was the source of all misery and every misunderstanding.

Some good lines…

Refinement demanded an intricate knowledge of all things unrefined.

Time can shed wisdom as easy as gather it.

Sometimes it seemed as though the only unexpected thing about life was its dreadful predictability.

As he did with Persuasion in The Widow’s Fire, Paul Butler shines new light on the story of Dracula, presenting to us a whole new way of looking at it.

I have enjoyed both of these experiences so much, my question for Paul is: Which book will you transform next?

Thank you to Paul Butler and Inanna Publications for sending me a copy of this book!

Further Reading: Enjoy this interview with Paul Butler at All Lit Up!

I was interested in the way Stoker’s characters would modernize if pushed forward a generation. I thought of Jonathan and Mina Harker in the 1920s mired in middle-aged self-doubt with grown children to challenge their judgements. When you read Dracula today, on one level it’s still an exciting story with starling ideas and imagery. But it also feels as though it’s the last gasp of undiluted Victorian values, particularly with regard to sexuality and gender roles. Move the characters on from 1897, the year of Dracula’s publication, to 1921, the year in which Mina’s Child is set, and the story becomes about an extraordinary set of out-of-date values. Thematically speaking, these values, the ones held by the ‘heroes’ – Jonathan Harker, Arthur Holmwood, Dr Seward, Quincey Morris and even Van Helsing become the most monstrous aspects of the story.

19 thoughts on “Mina’s Child by Paul Butler: Bram Stoker’s Dracula, 30 Years Later

  1. madamebibilophile says:

    This does sound interesting. The context of the changes in women’s lives in that period is really appealing and an unusual way to explore it! I’ve had a copy of Dracula for years and never got to it – I really should…

    • Naomi says:

      I was surprised by how much I liked Dracula. And, although Mina’s Child can probably be read without having read Dracula, I am so glad I read Dracula first!
      The exploration in women’s lives in this book was SO interesting.

  2. paulfrancisbutler says:

    Thanks so much for this thoughtful article on Dracula and Mina’s Child, Naomi! Great insight and understanding as always!

    With regard to your question about other literary works which might be revisited from a different angle, I have sometimes wondered about Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, whether his redemption after so many years of being an exploitative moneylender is really 100 per cent justified. I think it’s a question rather than any kind of judgement but the happiness he feels at the end, while having a biblical resonance (lost sheep etc), does also seem a bit glib. What about all the people who might have lost their homes, their health, their loved ones and whose stories in the novella are subbordinated in importance to Scrooge’s redemption? What if he finds his spiritual reclamation somewhat harder long-term than Dickens implies? I would hesitiate from writing such a novel because I do love the Dickens story, am quite sentimental about it, in fact, and also I don’t want to seem like a literary vandal! But I have always wondered where such a story might go!

    • Naomi says:

      My pleasure, Paul! 🙂

      I like all the points you’ve made about Scrooge. I’ve also wondered how realistic it is that he go from a lifetime of scrooginess (that’s a word, right?) to such a great/happy guy. But then I tell myself it’s a story of a Christmas miracle. But, as you say, what about all those other characters? Go for it, Paul! If anyone can tackle Scrooge, you can!

    • Naomi says:

      That’s what I said when I read his spin-off of Persuasion. But I’ve loved them both! He comes at them from a completely different perspective.

  3. Rebecca Foster says:

    We read Dracula on my MA in Victorian literature course, and I remember being surprised by how fun and readable it was — it’s a classic I would widely recommend, even to people who don’t think they like Victorian novels. I’m glad you found it so rewarding and enjoyed this follow-up, too. I bet I’d like it if I could hold of it.

    • Naomi says:

      For so long I couldn’t understand the appeal of Dracula to so many people – but now I get it! The structure was also so clever, made up entirely of diary entries and letters. And Mina’s Child adds even more to the fun! I wish it was easier for you to get!

  4. buriedinprint says:

    I wasn’t put off by the vampires, I just thought that the language and structure of Dracula was going to make it a long slog…and how wrong I was! Glad to hear that you enjoyed it as well. Now…when are you reading Frankenstein? Such a profoundly important work in fiction and written by a woman at a time when that was more uncommon…surely the least you can do is read it, no? *looks innocent* (I”m curious about this one…I might give it a try after all. I’m reading Antigone and Home Fire just now, as a retelling project. Perhaps this will be next on that list.)

    • Naomi says:

      I’m glad I was able to tempt you! I recently lent it to a co-worker whose favourite book is Dracula, and she liked it, too. Her biggest complaint is that when you’re such a big fan of the original it’s hard to see it in a different way. (Not hard as in challenging, hard as in she didn’t want to!)

      I know! I should read Frankenstein! The good news is, I’m not nearly as uninterested in it as I was before. Maybe after the busy Fall season of reading!

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