So I did a lot of reading during my four-day vacation in Florida. One book I read was Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Taylor Marshall put the book on his list of his favorite Catholic novels other than Lord of the Rings, even though the book isn’t written by a Catholic.
I loved the book from beginning to end, but the one thing that sticks out at me is the character of Mina Harker, nee Murray. Despite of the way she was portrayed in adaptations and how she’s perceived in various literary analyses, Mina had all the makings of a modern woman even within the timeframe that the story was set in.
At the time that Bram Stoker wrote Dracula, the women’s sufferage movement was on the rise. Many people see Mina as the ideal Victorian woman, who was devoted to her fiancee and whose actions centered on pleasing him. Lucy, on the other hand, seemingly represented the progressive woman who charms many men and later turns into a vampire who goes after children.
However, there are many instances in the novel where Mina is proactive and takes action instead of just reacting to what’s going on around her.
If anyone was the real Damsel in Distress, it’s actually Jonathan, who almost falls victim to Dracula if not for a chance escape. His story takes up four chapters of what can be considered prologue.
When the novel shift’s to the letters and journal of Mina Murray, it establishes that she is a schoolteacher, which wasn’t something Victorian women normally did unless they were working class. Jonathan is an attorney, which puts them about the same class as Jane Austen was in her lifetime, meaning that Mina didn’t have to work for a living. She also studies shorthand and keeps up with her fiancee’s studies. It doesn’t sound like a modern thing to do, but being on equal terms with your marriage partner is actually a proto-feminist concept, dating back to when Jane Austen wrote about its importance in Pride and Prejudice.
Mina comments on articles about the New Woman and admits that while she may disagree with some aspects of that idea, her life is very similar to other aspects. I see that at Mina creating her own definition of feminism, even at a time when it was still in the process of becoming a reality. Later on, when Lucy starts sleepwalking, Mina is the one who keeps an eye on her friend. She keeps Lucy from sleepwalking.
In the edition of Dracula that I own, the introduction speculates that Lucy represents immature love in the sense that she acts like a player and goes between emotional extremes, never finding balance. Mina, however, is more emotionally composed. She still feels things, but doesn’t take things to extremes.
When she gets word about Jonathan’s whereabouts, she essentially comes to his rescue and nurses him back to health. Then, when Van Helsing comes into the picture, she gives him Jonathan’s journal in the hopes of furthering his research on Dracula. She takes notes and helps Van Helsing, Quincey, and Jonathan.
In a typical “Victorian Values” novel, keeping Mina out of the loop would’ve been better for her, but it actually made things worse because Dracula takes advantage of the situation and attacks her. He drinks from her and forces her to drink some of his blood as a way of controlling her.
To quote my friend Cordelia, who is a huge fan of Mina Harker, “Seriously, book can be renamed ‘We decided to hide things from Mina in order to protect her and now we are REALLY screwed until Mina saved us.'”
Although she can’t touch holy items and becomes scarred when Van Helsing places a communion host on her forehead, Mina refuses to stay a victim. She takes advantage of her psychic link with Dracula in order to find his location.
Tl;dr: Mina Harker is awesome and any movie that portrays her as a screaming damsel in distress who falls over her feet for Dracula won’t do her justice.