Not to brag, but I’ve driven cross-country twice. It’s been beautiful, and magical. Once I did it without a phone, and once I did it with all of my life belongings strapped into the back. It’s had its ups and downs, but what was the most mentally draining part was the sheer boredom of the miles of countless driving. Music is good, but the radio and iPod can only provide so much beat before you’re all head-banged out. On recommendation from a friend, however, I downloaded a couple of audio books to listen to. I listened to Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and Dracula in Love. There will be a review of the first to come, but for now, let’s focus on Dracula in Love.
I have to start by saying that I despised this book. I absolutely hated it. It frustrated and sickened me, the complete lack of strength, cunning, or bravery in the main character. She is merely a shell that is challenged and shaped by the male characters in the novel, particularly the Count and Jonathan. She does not do anything on her own, but is prompted by others, even by her friends Kate and Lucy, who are decidedly more spunky and progressive. In this way this book reminded me of the ever popular, also vampire-based tales of Stephanie Meyers. I gave this book my hopeful optimism however, and stuck through till the end. Having read the original, I was not surprised that the book followed the same story in a vague sense, although in the end (don’t read the following if you don’t want a spoiler) Mina chooses Jonathan over the Count, versus the opposite in Dracula.
That was perhaps one of the only things Mina does for herself in the book, and even then, one can argue she is going back to a life of tradition and social expectation/conventionality; the life she was raised to live. In that way among many others did this book annoy me. While the author has unquestionable talent in writing style and historical accuracy (with the exception of the practice of drinking blood, most of the action within the asylum were actual medical practices). These practices, along with many of the romantic scenes, were so sexual/violent to make one uncomfortable. Although I am marking this book as a young adult book because of the audience that this book is generally pointed towards, I thought it was very inappropriate for anyone under the age of at least 17. In addition, the nature of the sexual practices are very unconventionally traditional, praising a woman’s modesty while exposing her delicacy and fragility-exactly the type of attitude seen as antiquated and inappropriate in this day and age; especially with the book being published only last year. The degrading and demeaning attitude towards women’s rights, intelligence, and sexuality, while I understand it to be true to the time period and relevant to the story, infuriated me.
Rather than cheering on the main character of Mina, I hoped for her downfall. She is obviously painted to be a rather intelligent and resourceful young lady; but buries these characteristics in lieu of her “feminine wiles”. I was frustrated by this constantly. In a day and age when we’re supposed to “know better” about current gender issues, I found this book to be a step back: cheering on a heroine who, in essence, exists only as a foil and a plot device for the stronger, male characters of the book. Even Jonathan, the “hero” of the novel, comes across as a piggish, selfish man who is more worried about his own moral situations than Mina’s soul. This all constantly reminds me of the fine line between satire and truth.
Like a previous friend of mine who would make racist jokes in the belief that these would relieve racial tensions and prejudices, I found myself offended. While a social commentary or satire is intended to bring light to certain issues, there is a fine line between exaggerating the issues, and becoming propagandist with them. In this case, there is more desire to be found in this novel than admonishment or thoughtful criticism. I found nothing to thoughtfully criticize the sexist problems and issues addressed in this novel, and what’s possibly more horrible, is that these crude and gendered ideas are encouraged and seen as desirable, fueling my fiery rage. While making light of some issues can bring awareness and therefore action, making light of sensitive issues without intelligent insight is offensive and misleading. Therefore, while some may find the romantic “whisking away” of Mina to be sexual and completely arousing, I found it to be a disgusting and degrading narrative that did nothing for the respect and voice of female authors, and was a step back to the stone age in which courtship is defined with a wooden club to the head.
Karen Essex, please write something that women can be proud of reading.