Orphaned at a young age and possessing a troubled history of otherworldly visitations, sleepwalking and dubious Irish heritage, Mina Murray has risen to become a respected governess, engaged to an up and coming solicitor, Jonathan Harker. She expects to love this one man for the rest of her life and anticipates raising a family with him. When a handsome stranger makes unexplained appearances wherever she goes, Mina discovers the world she thought she knew is not what she assumed.
Vampire stories and re-imaginings of the Dracula mythology have taken a prominent place in today’s literature. Having already read one such re-telling of the epic vampire story, it was hard for me to read another within a short time span. I put off reading Dracula in Love, Karen Essex’ re-working of the classic tale from Mina’s perspective, until I could read it as its own project and not in comparison to anything else. It’s unfortunate that it took me so long to clear the lingering Dracula cobwebs because Essex’s rendering is thus far my favorite of the vampire tales, excepting the original, which I still have’t read.
I loved how Essex opens up the story to include the flavor and issues of the day. Through Mina’s friend, the invented character Kate Reed, Essex explores women beginning to assert themselves, seeking places in the work force, and challenging sexual stereotypes which have kept them at the physical, financial and emotional mercy of men. She also touches upon the spiritualism movement, in full swing at the time, preying upon the grief-stricken families. Mina’s position as a governess in an all female institution which teaches its students old school charm and manners, puts her in conflict with herself – her feelings of what constitutes good breeding and decorum war with the curiosity calling her to more fully explore her world and the ardent awakening of her body and desires.
As much as this is a novel exploring the origins of vampire lore, the possibilities that could have spawned such creatures and their tenuous relationships with human beings, it is also about the nature of the relationships between men and women, the powerlessness that being a woman can engender, and the dangers faced by women at the hands those who would seek to exploit the weakness of their position as well as those who mean well but cause harm. I liked that Mina had to delve into her own history in order to find her power, and to navigate the complexities of choosing between two men who support the needs of different aspects of herself. Essex’ writing is of the quality that can be embraced and sunken into, and I liked that with the exception a few characters, each thought of themselves as the hero in another’s story, or at least not always the villain. Far from being out off by the mythologies and fairytales Essex posits, I was intrigued by their incorporation into Mina’s story.
This was my first foray into Essex’s work and it won’t be my last. I have a habit of collecting books by authors whose novels sound fascinating – the ones I think I will enjoy. I am happy that I have at least two others of hers on my shelf, and I look forward to having the opportunity to read them.