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?
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.