Exploring various instances of the novel Dracula‘s undying afterlife, considering specific examples in literature and visual media of the rewriting (e.g. sequels, prequels, alternate histories, shifted narrative perspectives, supporting character foregroundings) and development (elaborations/variations on the vampiric-invasion “plot”) of Bram Stoker’s source text.
What if Lucy could compose her diary posthumously?
In her Stoker Award-winning 2019 story “The Eight People Who Murdered Me (Excerpt from Lucy Westenra’s Diary),” Gwendolyn Kiste scripts a radical, critical reworking of Stoker’s Dracula. Seizing on the character of Lucy (whom Kiste feels was too-soon discarded by Stoker’s narrative, and too easily forgotten by readers), Kiste allows Dracula’s first female victim (upon arrival in Whitby) to give her version of events. As signaled by the story title, undead Lucy’s diary provides a roll call of the culpable:
Dracula is never mentioned by name in Kiste’s story, but he is the primary addressee of Lucy’s exposé (“The teeth in the neck gambit obviously starts all of this,” Lucy begins. “Don’t think I’ll forget that. Don’t think for one moment you’re going to get off too easily. You might not be the only one to blame, but you’re still mostly to blame.”). Lucy recounts in full detail her first encounter with Dracula, his seduction and bloodsucking of her. Having ventured out into the night to escape a party hosted by her mother, Lucy doesn’t question the stranger’s intentions because he seems to represent an attractive alternative: “You look like an answer–an escape from the everyday, the humdrum of parlors and suitors and a future where I’ll surrender my name and freedom in exchange for a title.”
Lucy’s dissatisfaction with her status in late 19th Century English society (which limits her future to marriage and domesticity) is clear in the above quote. It also leads her to indict her own mother, who has failed to prepare her for adult life–to warn her about, and protect her from, the domineering natures of men (“She could have stitched crosses into all of my corsets and brewed me vervain tea until my blood was brimming with it and you wouldn’t have wanted me.”). Dracula represents a supernatural extreme, but the pointed, parenthetical comment with which Lucy closes this section takes issue with men in general: “My father with his bulging bank account and dirty fingernails is beyond mention. Sometimes, men can be far crueler than monsters.”
3.My Best Friend
Here Lucy targets Mina, who slept through Dracula’s invasion of their shared bedroom. Yet in this section Lucy really speaks from sense of regret (that the two young women gave up on their dreams, and failed to flee “this city of death”) and guilt over her own fatal mistake: “Mina isn’t like me. She wouldn’t go walking at midnight, and she would never have listened to your lies. That’s why she’ll survive. Proper young ladies like her always do. They learn from my example how not to die.” Through Lucy’s expression of internalized blame, Kiste critiques the sexual politics of a horror narrative such as Stoker’s–the notion that the “bad girl” must suffer for her perceived transgressions.
Lucy rues the rules of courtship, the requirement to choose a suitor and accept someone’s invitation to a “matrimonial funeral.” She laments the obtuseness of her suitors (“Nobody notices that my skin has gone pale, my eyes receded, and that perhaps I’m more in need of a passable doctor than an eligible bachelor”) and the vampiric effects of their pursuits (“They wear me down and wear me thin until I close my eyes”).
5.The Out-of-Town Doctor
The “worst of them,” according to Lucy. The scientifically-minded Van Helsing treats her like “a specimen in ajar.” He also directs the actions of the other men in Lucy’s life. Kiste obviates the sordidness of the Crew of Light’s attempt to save Lucy in Stoker’s novel: “The men pin me to the mattress. one after another, right down the line, their starched shirts unbuttoned, sweat beading in the curves of their upper lips, they pump their blood into my body, filling me up with them. A transfusion, they call it, although I’ve got another word for it.”
The essence of this section is captured by Lucy’s opening disclaimer: “For what it’s worth, I don’t believe this one. I won’t believe it, no matter how many times they tell me I should have known better.” Yet as Lucy continues to insist that she won’t “blame myself for what wasn’t my fault,” she suggests that the constant disapproval of those surrounding her has positioned her to do just that.
7.The Faceless Mob
Kiste invokes the angry-villager trope here as she rewrites the famous scene of Lucy’s staking in Stoker’s novel. First, Kiste establishes Lucy’s innocence by veering from Stoker’s “bloofer lady” plotline: “I haven’t left this tomb. Nestled here in an ivory dress meant for a wedding altar, I’ve been quiet and calm and nothing like you. I haven’t gone into the night and indulged this hunger that writhes inside my belly, the dubious gift you’ve given to me.” Lucy puts the lie (“They’ll say they were brave men who had no other choice”) to what the men record in their journals about their dispatching of her in her crypt. These cowards won’t even “dare to show their faces” as they resort to immolation (rather than the impalement employed in Dracula): “Instead, packing fodder waist-high around my tomb, they barricade me in and set me alight from the outside.”
8.No One at All
Don’t be misled by the section title: Lucy doesn’t conclude by disavowing her previous claims. Instead, she works to undercut Dracula’s mythic status by appropriating the resurrection to which he has been privileged: “In the legends about you, no one ever seems to question how you can always rise again. It’s easy to believe that a man of power could conjure himself from dust. But nobody expects the girls you destroy to do the same. We’re meant to be lost. Death is our birthright and our destiny.” But Lucy defies that fate, rising like a phoenix from the ashes of her crypt, fired with the desire to be recognized: “I won’t be a conquest or a footnote or an afterthought, and I won’t be the one who’s forgotten.” She aims to give painful reminder to the Crew of Light (“Since I don’t know which of them visited my crypt, it only seems fair to blame them all”). The first leg of Lucy’s vengeance tour, though, will take her to a certain “castle in the mountains,” where she plans to draw to a macabre close the dance that began on that fateful night when she first met Dracula in Whitby.
By centralizing Lucy, giving her a greater voice and the control over her own narrative, Kiste transforms Stoker’s character from a cast-aside victim into a feminist heroine. “The Eight People Who Murdered Me” is a tour de force of a story, and also serves as a forerunner of a more extensive revision of Stoker’s novel, as we will see in the next installment of Dracula Extrapolated.