Review of Dracula, My Love: The Secret Journals of Mina Harker by Syrie James
Dracula, My Love: The Secret Journals of Mina Harker
by Syrie James
The public domain is a wonderful concept. Copyright is a useful tool during a creator’s lifetime, but when a work passes into public domain, something special happens. Anyone can reproduce it and indeed use its characters and ideas without worrying about any associated legal encumbrances. In this way the public domain becomes a treasure trove of mutual cultural touchstones. Of course, to do this, one needs access to public domain materials. Hence why, in my review of Dracula, I praised Project Gutenberg for providing such access. It’s thanks to the public domain that Syrie James is able to create such an interesting book as Dracula, My Love.
You may also recall that my review of Dracula is not particularly favourable with regards to Stoker’s treatment of his women characters. This is but one area that James seeks to rectify as she retells the events of Dracula from Mina’s point of view. She also seeks to (possibly) clear Dracula’s name—he wasn’t a monster, as a matter of fact, merely misunderstood.
My expectations going into this were pretty low. I haven’t had a good track record with modern adaptations of classics; the prospect of a "romance" version of Dracula did not seem enticing. So I’m pleased to say that I was wrong. Dracula, My Love is very well-written. James has clearly paid close attention to her source material. She expands upon the characters of Mina and Dracula and manages to create a convincing romantic subplot in the interstices of the original story’s events.
I began reading this literally as soon as I finished Dracula. This was both annoying and useful, for James cribs many scenes, lines of dialogue, and even descriptions from the novel verbatim—as one might expect. So it was interesting to see the correspondences, even though at times it felt repetitive. Like its original, Dracula, My Love feels a little too long—but perhaps that was because I knew, this time, the general twists and turns of the plot, even if the exact details are somewhat different.
This book is essentially a second, secret journal that shadows the journal from Mina that Stoker presents in the original story. Herein Mina confesses that her interactions with Count Dracula go far beyond the dine-and-dash dramatics that Stoker describes. Rather, Mina meets Dracula while in Whitby, where he poses as the affable young Mr Wagner. She falls in love with Wagner, only learning his true identity much later into the book (though it is painfully obvious to the reader for the duration). This connection made, the novel slips into the standard mould of the romance plot in which the heroine is torn between two loves: the mysterious, sexually appealing Dracula, who offers Mina eternal life and eternal learning; and Jonathan, who has known Mina almost all her life, and who offers her a kind of stable existence impossible with the dynamic and terrifying Count.
James’ rendition of Mina is refreshing and illuminating. She makes Mina feel more real, certainly more of a person than Stoker’s Mina. Yet she is careful also not to let any modern anachronisms slip into Mina’s characterization either. The result is a heroine who is a complicated mixture of natural, human emotions and Victorian-inculcated morality. Though she shares the inexperience of Stoker’s Mina, she is far more frank and open with us about the extent of her longing for Dracula than her counterpart ever could have been. Her aspirations to "be a good wife" to Jonathan, to have children, maybe teach some piano on the side, are all quite normal considering her social standing and upbringing.
Yet, unlike Stoker’s Mina, these are not all she is. James includes an episode in which Mina discovers the identities of her parents, something that isn’t strictly necessary but goes a long way towards filling in the blanks of her past as well as demonstrating the kind of person Mina is in the present. Though she discovers that her father is now a man of some standing, she declines to make herself known to him. She says that having the mystery solved is satisfactory enough, and that announcing herself to him would only cause him pain.
Mina doesn’t want to bring pain either to Jonathan or to Dracula. It seems, for a time, that she and Dracula hit upon a plan that allows her the best of both worlds: he will wait for her while she lives a natural life with Jonathan, coming for her at the time of her death to make her into a vampire. It’s creepy and weird, but it makes a kind of ruthless sense. This plan is sabotaged by a conflux of circumstances that culminates in the climax of the original novel, only this time, Dracula fakes his death for the benefits of Van Helsing and company. Afterwards, he and Mina reunite in his castle for the true climax of the story, as she must make her choice once and for all.
James never definitively illustrates whether Dracula is, in fact, "good". It’s possible to read the story either way—he could still be a monster who has duped and misled Mina into loving him. Ultimately, though, James takes Stoker’s original story and adheres quite faithfully to the original sequence of events while putting her own spin on things. It’s a fascinating example of this type of literature, and as a romance novel it manages to be satisfying without being too over-the-top. I can’t speak for how a more experienced romance fan will find it, but aside from some overly flowery prose in the sex scenes, it’s tolerable.
If you haven’t read the original Dracula, you’ll not have any trouble following this story. If, like me, you’ve read Dracula quite recently, then you’ll have an added bonus of seeing the same things unfold, just rotated ninety degrees. And sometimes, that makes all the difference.