|Publisher:||Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.04(w) x 7.98(h) x 0.86(d)|
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29 June 1890
In the beginning, there was the voice.
That was how it began on that first evening, with a masculine voice calling out to me in my sleep; a disembodied voice slithering into my dream, a voice of deep timbre and tones, of sensuous growls, and of low, hollow moans--a voice laden with promise and with love. It was as familiar to me as my own, and yet I knew not whether it came from inside my head, from outside me, or from somewhere not of this earth. Hushed like wind through a valley and smooth like velvet, it beckoned me, and I neither had, nor wanted, power against it. The voice was my master.
I have been looking for you, I said.
No, we have been looking for each other.
Then came hands, no, not exactly hands, but touch--the essence of touch, caressing my face, my neck, and my arms, making my skin tingle and awakening something long dormant inside me. Smooth lips gently kissed me and then pulled ever so slightly away. Come, Mina, the lips whispered, and I felt warm breath as the words came out. You called to me, did you not?
Eager to discover the owner of those lips, the giver of that touch, I moved into the darkness, unaware where I was, or where I was being led, or by whom. But I knew that when we were finally united, it would be a homecoming. I felt as if my body were wrapped in warm skins and lifted into the air. Drifting through darkness and toward the unknown, I was not exactly flying but safely held aloft as I floated through nothingness. Something like fur tickled me beneath my chin and all around my neck and back.
After what seemed like a timeless journey, my bare feet touched mossy ground. Excited and intensely alive, my body was unfamiliar to me, except my heart, which beat with a new ferocity. The rest of me was some tingling mass of energy as I ran toward the hands and the lips with their promises of touch, of kisses, and of love. I saw nothing but felt hands come out of the darkness again and begin to stroke my hair and caress me with great tenderness.
But as I surrendered to the touch and the sensation, the sumptuous fur that had enveloped me dropped away, and the hands on my body turned rough. Suddenly I was clothed not in fur but in something wet. I began to shiver violently. Frigid air blasted my face, replacing sweet warmth. The dampness around me seeped through to my skin, chilling me to the bone. Someone--or something; could it be an animal?--pulled my garment up above my knees. A hand--yes, it was unmistakably a hand but not the hand that had touched me before--a hand so cold that it must belong to the dead crept up my leg, pushed my thighs apart, and found the only warm spot left on my body. I gasped and tried to scream but choked on my own voice as the icy fingers reached that inviolate place.
"Getting you ready is all." This voice was crass and mocking and not at all like the voice of devotion that had found me in my sleep.
I knew that I needed to resist, but I could not locate my limbs. I willed my legs to kick, my arms to rise, my fists to tighten, my muscles to gather their strength to fight this thing attacking me, but all the power in my body seemed to have disappeared. I wondered if I were dead and if this thing on top of me was the devil.
Yet I could not give up. Surely this mind that could think was still attached to a body. I opened my mouth to scream, but nothing escaped, not even a vibration. I took a breath, and a foul, sour smell shot up into my nostrils making me gag but letting me know that I was still alive. A warm, wet drop fell upon my eye, as if someone had spit on me.
I opened my eyes. I was not dreaming. No, the creature on top of me, reeking of stale beer and dripping his saliva onto my face, was all too real. But where was I? Who was this man, pushing my legs apart with his knees, this fiend with a coarse, unshaven face and bulbous eyes so red that I expected them to start bleeding? He pulled his icy finger out of me, shocking me as much with the withdrawal as he had with the insertion, and began to fumble with the buttons on his trousers. I rolled back and forth on the wet grass trying to get away, but with his free hand he gathered my nightdress at the neck, choking me.
"Stay put or you will be sorry you were ever born," he said.
I realized what was happening and I remember wondering what my fiance would say when I told him--if I ever told him, if I lived to tell him--that I had been raped while wandering, insensible, in the middle of the night. In my mind, I saw Jonathan receive the news, his stricken face turning white, shying away from me in disgust. How could any man, even one as kind as Jonathan, look upon a woman the same way after this kind of shame? At that moment, I knew that I must free myself from my tormenter. My life, or more than my life--as I thought back in those more innocent days--was at stake.
I tried to scream, but the stranger's fingers were at my throat. He undid the last button on his trousers, and his manhood shot into freedom, red, stiff, and ugly. He took his hand from my neck and put it over my mouth, but I bit hard at it, harder than I thought I was capable of, as if I had grown new teeth. Cursing me, he withdrew his hand.
"Now you are really going to get it," he said, pulling my thighs apart. He stared and then looked at my face with his glowing red eyes. Mirth had replaced his anger and determination.
"What's this? A devil's mark?"
He meant the wine-colored birthmark on my inner thigh that rose in two points like angels' wings. I tried to clench my legs together, but he was the stronger. "You'll be a feisty one."
I started kicking and flailing with all my strength until my surroundings were a blur. I saw nothing but flashes of the smug look on his ugly face against a dark sky. I tried to find my voice, because I had remembered reading that a woman's best defense against an attacker was her shrill scream. At last and with persistent effort I felt a tremor rise inside my chest, snake through my throat, and find its way out of my mouth and into the cold night air.
"Get your filthy hands off me," I yelled, and then I screamed again.
"Shut up, little whore." The fiend hissed, raising his hand away from me to slap my face. I winced, my courage draining out of me like so much air as I shrank from him. But the blow did not come. Instead, I heard a heavy thud against my attacker's back, and something picked him up from behind and pulled him off me. I saw the shock and terror on his face as he was swiftly lifted away from me and thrown like a heap of rubbish on the ground.
I sat up. I could not see the face of my rescuer, but he wore the tall hat of a gentleman and a black evening cape lined in shimmery pale gray satin. In his hand was a walking stick, which he used to deliver blow after sickening blow to my assailant. It all happened very quickly, as if time had sped up. My rescuer was a whir of motion, a dervish, battering the attacker until he lay still on the ground.
The gentleman did not even stop to consider the limp thing he had beaten but suddenly faced me as I sat in wonder. Had I blinked and missed the act of his turning toward me? The thought crossing my mind was that I had been attacked by a fiend and saved by a phantom. The angle of the brim of his hat obscured his face, and his features were in shadow because the moonlight illuminated him from behind. Strangely, as if we were old friends, he opened his arms as if to welcome me. He was familiar to me, but I could not place him.
At that point, I could only imagine that he had the same ambition as the first attacker, and I gathered my nightdress around me and began to crawl away. The walking stick in his right hand bore the bulbous head of a golden dragon, mouth wide-open, baring long, pointy teeth. Slinking backward on my hands and knees, I waited for him to advance upon me, but he stood motionless, arms stretched out as if in surrender. He was a tall man, and, if posture may give away age, I would have to say that he had the lean physique of youth but the stance of a man of maturity. I thought for a moment that I should get hold of my senses and thank him, but the stories in the newspapers of girls being abducted in the night by well-dressed men were fresh in my mind. The potential danger in remaining vulnerable to him far outweighed my curiosity, and when I thought my legs would carry me, I stood up and ran away.
I soon realized that I was on the banks of the Thames, and that it must be minutes before dawn, that time when the world takes on an eerie color, like that of gray pearls; that strange time when the sky is a luminescent brew of moonlight and dawn. A cold air passed my face, and thunder shattered the silence. I felt drops of rain trickle upon me and I could not resist the urge to turn around to see if my savior had decided to pursue me. He had looked so benevolent with his arms stretched out to me, like the image of the Christ welcoming his flock. I wished, in part, that he had followed me so that I might find out who he was and how he came to be on the deserted riverbank at this hour. But the feral nature of his swift assault upon my attacker made me rethink my wishes.
I needn't have worried; he was no longer in the place I had left him. In the distance, I saw a shiny black coach with unlit lanterns and two strong black steeds to lead it. Thunder crashed again, and lightning darted through the open sky. The horses neighed, one rearing on its hind legs, while the other seemed to call out to the heavens. I tried to see if my savior was seated in the carriage, but its closed curtains guaranteed the privacy of whoever was inside. With no one I could see at the reins, an explosive round of thunder sent the horses bolting, and the huge coach, glimmering in the burgeoning light of dawn, sped away.
I did not know exactly where I was but knew that if I ran downriver I would soon be in the area of the school, where I worked as assistant headmistress, and safe in my living quarters. I had to remember how to breathe as I ran away from the scene of my potential disgrace. Though it was summer, the air was frigid, and the light rain that fell upon me only made me colder. Each breath chilled and choked me as I ran along the embankment until I saw a familiar landmark and turned abruptly toward the Strand.
I heard the wheels of a carriage behind me, but when I turned to see if I was being followed, the street was empty but for a few hansom cabs parked in front of the hotels. The cabmen huddled beneath the oilcloth coats that protected them from the drizzle, perhaps waiting to whisk clients off to catch early trains. A lone flower cart rolled past me on its way to market, the white lilies trembling in their pots, nodding to me as if to say good morning.
I calculated by the changing light in the sky that it was not yet five o'clock, when things would begin to stir both in town and at the school. I had to be in my room before that time. There would be no explanation short of a bout of madness that I could offer for arriving at the premises at this hour and in my nightdress that would satisfy Miss Hadley, the headmistress.
In truth, there was no explanation that I could possibly give, not even to myself, of how I came to wander out of doors in the middle of the night, only to have been nearly raped by a stranger on the banks of the river just before dawn and saved by either a saint or a demon in gentleman's evening clothes. How had either of those men found me? I recalled the earlier dream, and the contrast of the velvet voice and tender hands with the brutality of the man who had tried to violate me. Perhaps he was the punishment meted out for that wickedly sweet dream. A woman who would leave her bed, no matter how involuntarily, to pursue a seductive, disembodied voice would surely get what she was asking for. How could I have done that, considering that I was engaged to a wonderful man like Jonathan? The shame of it burned through me.
My thoughts were again interrupted by the unmistakable clatter of carriage wheels. I looked in all directions but did not see any vehicle coming toward me. The sound had emphatically been there, no mistake about it, but it was distant, as if it came from inside a crater. I attributed it to the way that sound carried in this city; conversations and noises from far away were carried into one's own parlor on random gusts of wind. Still, I could not shake the feeling that I was being followed.
Shivering, I slipped down the alley parallel to the old mansion that housed Miss Hadley's School for Young Ladies of Accomplishment, retracing the steps I must have taken earlier. The back door was unlocked; I must have left it so. I closed it with great care and quietly climbed the rear staircase, hoping not to disturb any of the boarding students in their dormitory beds or, worse yet, Headmistress. Mercifully, the cleaning and kitchen staff lived off the premises and did not arrive until 5:30 in the morning. After fifteen years living in the building, I knew every single spot where the stairs creaked, and, like a child playing a game of hopscotch, I sidestepped each telltale place as delicately as I could and reached the third story where I lived with barely a sound made.
Reading Group Guide
The questions, discussion topics, and suggestions for further reading that follow are designed to enhance your group's discussion of Dracula in Love, Karen Essex's imaginative retelling of a timeless classic.
1. In the prologue, Mina Murray writes, “The truth is we must fear monsters less and be warier of our own kind.” What “monsters” evoke fear in the book? Which humans evoke fear?
2. How does feminism play into Mina’s choices? Miss Hadley’s? Lucy’s? Kate’s? How are these women similar? Which of the women do you ultimately consider more liberated?
3. How does Mina evolve throughout the story? What changes her? Where does she get her true power? Do you agree with her choices?
4. In some ways, the book is an exploration of free will versus fate. Are there any victims in the story, and why are they victims? To what or whom are they victims? Do you believe what Dracula says, that a person cannot be made to do something s/he has not chosen on some level?
5. Did Dracula in Love deepen your understanding of the roots of vampirism?
6. Discuss the different elements of vampire folklore in the book (i.e. The Lamia, the story of Lilith, the Sidhe, the ghost tales of Whitby) and the ways in which they have contributed to modern day vampire myths.
7. Victorian ideology and customs are strongly painted in the book. In what ways, does Mina accept them and give in to them? In what ways, does she reject them?
8. How do the vampires differ from vampires in other vampire books, films, and television shows, whether classic or contemporary?
9. Discuss sexuality as it pertains to different characters in the book. (Mina and Jonathan. Mina and the Count. Lucy and Arthur. Lucy and Morris. Mina and John Seward. Jonathan and the Lamia.)
10. What symptoms and behaviors deemed a patient “insane” in Lindenwood? How does the characterization of the insane relate to Victorian ideology?
11. In what ways does Dracula in Love reflect the Victorian obsession with Darwin’s theory of evolution and other scientific and medical advancements of the time? What 20th century events does it foreshadow?
12. What are the most poignant ways in which Dracula in Love differs from Bram Stoker’s Dracula? Do you find one account more credible than the other?
(For a complete list of available reading group guides, and to sign up for the Reading Group Center enewsletter, visit www.readinggroupcenter.com)