DRACULA IN LOVE
BY KAREN ESSEX
London, 1890. Mina Murray, the rosy-cheeked, quintessentially pure Victorian heroine, becomes Count Dracula’s object of desire. To preserve her chastity, five male “defenders” rush in to rescue her from the vampire’s evil clutches. This is the version of the story we've been told. But now, from Mina’s own pen, we discover that the story is vastly different when told from the female point of view.
In this captivating, bold act of storytelling, award-winning author Karen Essex breathes startling new life into the characters of Bram Stoker's Dracula, transporting the reader into the erotic and bizarre underbelly of the original story. While loosely following the events of its classic predecessor, Dracula in Love deviates from the path at every turn.
The result is a darkly haunting, propulsive, and rapturous tale of immortal love and possession.
From the shadowy banks of the river Thames to the wild and windswept Yorkshire coast, Dracula’s eternal muse—the most famous woman in vampire lore—vividly recounts the joys and terrors of a passionate affair that has linked her and the Count through the centuries, and her rebellion against her own frightening preternatural powers.
Mina’s version of this gothic vampire tale is a visceral journey into Victorian England’s dimly lit bedrooms, mist-filled cemeteries, and terrifying asylum chambers, revealing the dark secrets and mysteries locked within. Time falls away as she is swept into a mythical voyage far beyond mortal comprehension, where she must finally make the decision she has been avoiding for almost a millennium.
Stoker’s Dracula offered one side of the story, in which Mina was a victim bearing no responsibility for the unfolding events. Now, for the first time, the truth of her secret history, and of vampirism itself, is revealed. What this flesh and blood woman has to say is more sensual, more devious, and more enthralling than the Victorians could have expressed or perhaps even imagined.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Karen Essex is an award-winning novelist and journalist and a screenwriter. She is the author of the national and international best-selling novel, Leonardo’s Swans (Doubleday 2006), about the rivalries among the powerful women painted by the great master when he was employed by the Duke of Milan. Continuing in the theme of women’s influence upon culture and art, her latest novel, Stealing Athena, chronicles the story of the controversial Elgin Marbles from the points of view of two fascinating women, Mary Nisbet, Countess of Elgin, and Aspasia, mistress to Pericles.
Essex has also written two acclaimed biographical novels about the queen of Egypt, Kleopatra and Pharaoh, published in 2001 and 2002, which she adapted into a screenplay for Warner Bros. She also adapted Anne Rice’s novel The Mummy or Ramses the Damned into a screenplay for Titanic director James Cameron and 20th Century Fox, and has written a screenplay about Kamehameha, the first king of Hawaii, for Columbia/Tristar. She has written a dance movie for Jennifer Lopez Entertainment and Paramount Pictures, and continues to develop a variety of film projects.
Essex’s articles, essays and profiles have been published in Vogue, Playboy, The L. A. Weekly, L. A. Style, and many other periodicals. After being awarded highest honors from the Los Angeles Press Club for her thought-provoking cover story about the missing 1950s pinup icon Bettie Page, Essex co-authored the biography, Bettie Page: Life of a Pinup Legend. Essex is the first and only journalist with whom the reclusive Ms. Page has ever agreed to meet and cooperate.
Essex was born and raised in New Orleans. She was graduated from Tulane University, attended graduate school at Vanderbilt University, and received an MFA in Writing from Goddard College in Vermont. She’s appeared on The Today Show and A Word on Words hosted by John Seigenthaler, as well as other PBS and NPR programs. She’s lectured at the Chicago Museum of Art, and extensively at universities. Her books are taught in many college courses from creative writing to history to women’s studies.
Leonardo’s Swans, a runaway bestseller in Italy, won the prestigious 2007 Premio Roma for foreign fiction. Essex’s novels are published in twenty-seven languages. She lives in Los Angeles.AUTHOR'S GUEST POST: I am thrilled that Karen Essex agreed to do a guest post for my blog. She spent days working on this and I am so honored to present it to you here and now!
Dracula in Love:
Wherein the ladies regain their fangs.
Anyone who has read my books knows that I am all about restoring grrrrl power to the historical record. This time around, I thought I’d tackle a work of fiction.
From the first time I read Bram Stoker’s Dracula in my teens, I just knew that Mina Harker, Dracula’s obsession, was not satisfied with her role as the quintessential Victorian virgin. I knew that there had to be more to her than that. (I knew that there had to be more to any woman than that.) Little did I dream that many years later, I would actually be a novelist and have the opportunity to revise the story, retelling it from Mina’s perspective.
I want to state outright: I revere Mr. Stoker. Dracula was a brilliant creation, a haunting and harrowing story, especially considering that so much of what we now know as the “vampire” sprang from his brain. His fantastic book has spawned thousands of variations in movies, books, graphic novels, illustration, and on and on. But when it came to the women, he wrote like a man of his time, constructing the typical paradigm of bad girl (Lucy Westenra who succumbs to the vampire’s seduction) versus the good girl (Mina Harker who does not). The vampire’s seduction was a thinly veiled metaphor for—yes, you guessed it—sex.
My ambition for Dracula in Love was to turn the original story inside out and expose its underbelly or its “subconscious mind.” I wanted to give Mina and Lucy rich, full lives, as well as plausible inner lives, that made sense with the era in which they lived, but also reflected the breadth of women’s desires.
My original literary conceit for the book was that women had a lot more to fear from Victorian culture than from vampires! Surprisingly, my research also turned up a wealth of information that became a major theme: Vampires have a long, rich history dating back to pre-biblical times: moreover, many of the blood drinkers of myth were female, symbolic of feminine magic and power. I decided to illuminate these historical sources for the vampire, and while doing so, revisit the lost landscape of female magical power.
As I dug deeper into world mythologies, I became fascinated by these bloodsucking goddesses and monsters from myth and lore. These are the true bad girls of mythology—the fearsome Indian goddess Kali who punished and possessed her enemies by drinking their blood; the vengeful, child-eating, blood-drinking Lamia of Greece and North Africa who so captivated the pre-Raphaelite artists popular in Stoker’s day; Lilith, Adam’s first Mesopotamian wife who drank blood in vengeance; and the blood-lusting warrior fairy queens of Ireland. I wanted these sultry sirens in my book, and by God, I did get them in there!
So if the original blood-drinkers were females, then why did Stoker create Dracula as a male? For one thing, mythological stories rarely follow a straight line. Myths are reinvented in every culture, adapted to the needs and beliefs of the people and the times. Through the millennia, concepts of vampires shape-shifted. They were thought to be spirits of women who had been witches; angry plague victims risen from the dead; victims of crime come back to suck the blood of the perpetrators; and succubi who visited men in the night, draining them of their life force (the male spirits who did similar harm to slumbering females are known as incubi).
Then, in what might be construed as a strange twist of fate, to accommodate the Victorian mentality, writers like Mr. Stoker turned the predatory vampire into a male, giving him the supernatural power, with women becoming his victims. The Victorians lived in fear of unleashed female sexuality. To their minds, women were pure and innocent creatures who must remain protected, shielded from worldly life. If women succumbed to sexual lust, ordered Victorian society would combust.
Moreover, sex is power, which was the very last thing the Victorians wanted women to possess. As someone who has made an exhaustive study of women’s history, I cannot think of any period in which women were thought to be as frail as during the Victorian era. I’m certain this was a reaction to the vocal and persistent cries of feminism that escalated as the century came to its end.
As a result, suddenly it was the male vampire roaming the foggy, narrow streets of London threatening lovely young ladies like Lucy Westenra who succumbed to Dracula’s kiss, or the more pious Mina, who resisted him. With Dracula in Love, it was my joy and privilege to infiltrate the original story and promote anarchy. I wanted to turn the old paradigms upside down, and return the ladies to that place of power, lost somewhere in the centuries since Lilith and the Lamia roamed the earth taking their bloody revenge, causing men to quake with fear, and maybe, just maybe, quiver with a tinge of excitement.
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