Because I don't remember being as impressed by her in middle school, the first time I read Dracula.
It's not that her character isn't problematic. She is, certainly. Mina is obviously a literary example of "The Cult of Domesticity," a campaign started by Queen Vee herself to make women feel special and empowered that they were so able to be protected and sheltered by the menfolk, while still finding time to do the darning. In the early sections with Lucy, Mina makes snide little remarks about the New Woman.
Some of the "New Women" writers will some day start an idea that men and women should be allowed to see each other asleep before proposing or accepting. But I suppose the "New Woman" won't condescend in future to accept. She will do the proposing herself. And a nice job she will make of it too!The copy I picked up at the library is apparently from the Young Adult section, and has some "Questions for Discussion" in the back. One of them is "How are Mina Harker and Lucy Westenra similar? How are they different? Can you see how they are friends? Do you relate to either one of them?"
Well, let's break this down. How are they similar? Well, in their sections together at least, they are the same character--virtuous, noble, beautiful, well-mannered, beloved, proper. How are they different? Lucy's rich, Mina's middle-class. Lucy doesn't work, Mina's a schoolteacher, thus she's probably a bit more educated. Oh, and Lucy sleepwalks.
All these are characteristics that differ only in the sense a brunette is different from a blonde; all surface.
So can I see how they are friends? Obviously, yes. They're the same person, after all. Do I relate to either of them? At this stage in the story, not very.
It's a sad, sorry road to go down to tear down female representations in this book; let's face it, save for Van Helsing, the male characters are all the same, too. Yes, even Quincey Morris, for all his American slang, is just like the others: virtuous, noble, brave. No one has a temper. No one cracks silly jokes. But you're missing the point attacking the story on this level, since it's all part of the allegory jazz Stoker was going for: virtue, though maybe not as exotic or enticing as the evil Dracula represents, wins every time and should win. Whether or not that makes you barf, it's how most stories end, even if they're not as black and white about it as Stoker.
Yet somehow, once Lucy dies and the characters team up to hunt down Count D, Mina is able to break through her revered angel role to take action that most heroines of her ilk would swoon at. She's still nauseatingly revered, but at least she earns it big-time. More than anything, she slowly reveals some god-damn depth.
Mina is incredibly intelligent and crafty. Who comes up with the idea to hypnotize her once Dracula does that voodoo he does so well on her, the hypnotic sessions thus enabling everyone to know where he's headed? Not Van Helsing. She does. She takes that very trauma and victimization Dracula wielded on her and turns the tables on him. That's frankly badass.
And who knows the train schedules by heart, so they can beat Dracula to his final destination? Mina. Yeah, she memorized it originally so she could faithfully trail her man, but she uses that knowledge for a higher purpose once the fight commences. Who organizes all the notes and transcribes everything into one fluid report? Muh-Muh-Mina. And who joins the gang in toting a gun and pointing it at the Count's purveyors at the end, standing in the bitter cold, Dracula's mark on her forehead? Wilhelmina.
That's all pretty revolutionary for a female character in 1897. So what happened to her character once women's rights got more into gear in the 20th and 21st century? No guns, no organizing search parties. She becomes instead Dracula's romantic interest, his mistress. What the hell?
Dammit, Coppola! And everyone else!
Frankly, I'd rather see her priggish and uptight, and remain that way. That may play right into her role as the Angel of the House, but at least she doesn't also become Angel of the House and Poster Child for Undead Erotica. In other words, modern interpretations such as Coppola's make her a victim not only of Dracula, but of the Madonna/Whore complex. This isn't sexual liberation here, since many times she's still hypnotized and manipulated by Dracula's power.
Stoker's Mina is far more effective, because she shows sympathy for Dracula without lusting for him. After displaying her wicked intelligence and hot secretarial skills, she then turns around and makes what I find a genuinely moving speech to the men, regardless of the Little Eva Syndrome that surrounds her character.
I know that you must fight. That you must destroy even as you destroyed the false Lucy so that the true Lucy might live hereafter. But it is not a work of hate. That poor soul who has wrought all this misery is the saddest case of all. Just think what will be his joy when he, too, is destroyed in his worser part that his better part may have spiritual immortality. You must be pitiful to him, too, though it may not hold your hands from his destruction.And at the bloody end, as she's poised with gun pointed at the gypsies, as she watches her husband brutally destroy Dracula:
I shall be glad as long as I live that even in that moment of final dissolution, there was in [Dracula's] face a look of peace, such as I never could have imagined might have rested there before.
To me, that impartial empathy for the Count speaks worlds more about her character, and makes her far more endearing, than any romance with him would have. And believe me, this is coming from someone who usually eats shit like that up. Yet this empathy never weakens her resolve, either.
Just as much as the shotgun and the leadership skills, I think her ability to understand there's a trapped soul within Dracula is Mina's most shocking and refreshing trait in this genre. Someone as deliberately malicious as Dracula is not supposed to earn any sympathy--not from a late Victorian audience, and certainly not from the leading lady. A well-meaning Quasimodo, yes; not a lecherous Claude Frollo. As for contemporary audiences, we've disappointedly proven that though we're more accepting of that kind of sympathy now, the lady can only feel it if she's also sexually attracted to the villain in question.
Mina's not a perfect representation of a female with stamina and brains, not by a long-shot. She still considers herself subservient to the strong menfolk for defending her, and her everyday interactions aren't what you'd call dynamic. But frankly--and hopefully this isn't equatable to turning a blind eye to racism in early Hollywood--she's the best you could ask for at the turn of the twentieth century, so far as literature of this type goes (remember, even the feminist Ann Veronica of H.G. Wells' book by the same name isn't all that much better).
So, graphic novelphiles, should I read League of Extraordinary Gentlemen? I love the idea of Mina leading the League, especially if it's mostly by her wits instead of any superpower. However, I find it too much an easy way out having Jonathan dump her and all that; in the original novel, he's completely devoted to her. Still, props to Alan Moore for recognizing Mina's potential. Plus, y'know, Invisible Man and Dr. Jeckyll/Mr. Hyde. That's cool, right?