Mina's Child imagines a second generation springing from the "heroes"' in Bram Stoker's Dracula. In 1921, Mina and Jonathan Harker's daughter, Abree, a student at King's College, London, starts to question the extraordinary adventures her parents claim to have experienced in England and the Carpathians. Middle-aged Jonathan Harker is haunted by nightmares that Abree assumes to be about her brother, Quincey, killed in the Great War. As the Harkers follow the thread of their unease back to its source, they are haunted by memories of Lucy Westenra, fiancée to Arthur Holmwood, and the manner of Lucy's death. Having lost her brother, Quincey, in the Great War, Abree refuses to believe in a clear dividing line between good and evil. Abree suspects her parents' tales of glory hide a profound sense of guilt, particularly about the unexplained death of their friend, Lucy Westenra. The Harkers' maid, Jenny, it transpires, has reasons of her own to worry about the chaos in her employer's household. She is carrying Jonathan's child, but Harker plans to evade all such responsibilities. Jenny, suddenly unleashed as a destructive force against the household, decides to make the Harkers face their hypocrisy.
About the author
Paul Butler is the author of several critically acclaimed novels including Titanic Ashes, Cupids, Hero, 1892, NaGeira, Easton’s Gold, Easton, and Stoker’s Shadow. His work has appeared on the judges’ lists for Canada Reads, the Relit Longlist for three consecutive years, and he was a winner in the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador Arts and Letters Awards four times between 2003 and 2008 at which time he retired from the competition to be literary representative, and then chair, of the Arts and Letters Committee. A graduate of Norman Jewison’s Canadian Film Centre, Butler has written for the Globe and Mail, the Beaver, Books in Canada, Atlantic Books Today, and Canadian Geographic, and has also contributed to CBC Radio, local and national. He presently lives in Corner Brook, Newfoundland, where he works as an editor, runs online writing workshops, and holds an annual writing contest.
Excerpt: Mina's Child (by (author) Paul Butler)
But where was the prince in the title? Abree wondered. He had introduced himself merely with a name. It would have showed ill-breeding to do otherwise, of course, at least in England. But it would force her to call him a mere "mister" or "professor," which might prove an embarrassment later.
"Please," she said, "Professor Florescu"--she gave a nervous smile and turned to her mother--"this is my mother, Mrs. Jonathan Harker. I am Abree Harker."
He seemed delighted for a moment, as though the names--such plain names compared to his own--had sounded like the most sublime poetry in his ears.
"Mrs. Harker," he said gratefully, it seemed, "and Miss Harker. I am so delighted to make your acquaintance."
Abree could not think of anything to say. Mother seemed likewise lost for words, and Professor Florescu looked on them both, smiling and patient, in no special hurry either to break off conversation or to offer anything that might serve for small talk. Abree thought of his title again and of his origins.
"You are, I believe, from Bulgaria, Professor?" It was a slightly dangerous subject. Bulgaria had been an enemy three years ago. But the country was far enough away from the English map, Abree thought, for the detail to be at least half forgotten, and Mother was never parochial when it came to such things. In 1914, both her parents had been enraged at the looters and vandals who'd ransacked London shops owned by Germans.
"I was born a Hungarian, Miss Harker, from the provinceof Wallachia. But, unlike those of Great Britain, our borders move often. So it can be confusing to us as well as to those of other countries. Now I am a Romanian."
"What a beautiful country you belong to, Professor Florescu," said Mother breathlessly. Abree guessed her to be in the throes of a powerful emotion, a memory perhaps. A glance to her side revealed that her eyes had misted over.
Professor Florescu's face showed smiling appreciation but also curiosity. Abree thought of a handsome dark animal, an otter perhaps, wanting to burrow through the water after a shining fish but cautious lest some unseen danger lurk beneath the depths.
Mother seemed lost, oblivious to the fact that her statement required some explanation. Abree supplied it for her.
"My mother and father, Professor, travelled in the region long before the war."
"Really?" Now his brown eyes widened in admiration as well as surprise. Yet, there was something else in his expression, something she'd first noticed when he heard their names. Some of the surprise, at least, was feigned. Abree couldn't swear to this, and was not certain where the instinct came from, except that the response was a little too polished, a touch too steady.
"Yes, Professor Florescu," said Mother, her voice still husky. "It was just over thirty years ago, quite the most memorable journey of our lives."
"A honeymoon perhaps?" he asked.
"Oh no," she said rather too quickly, "but an experience nevertheless, one we can never forget."
He looked at her, smiling steadily, waiting for more. But Mother was clearly not going to supply it. "And what brings you to London, Mr. Florescu? You are a professor, I gather?"
"I have the privilege of teaching history here, Mrs. Harker. I find there is so much energy of enquiry in young minds today. We have an extraordinary opportunity."
Abree felt a nudge and wondered whether Mother wanted them to move on. But a glance revealed that she had merely turned to Abree, a sad, sentimental smile upon her face. "You are so right, Mr. Florescu," said Mother. "We have such hope in our children, and there is such a responsibility placed upon their shoulders."
It occurred to Abree that Professor Florecsu must be older than she had thought him. He still did not look more than thirty-five, but the ease with which he and her mother had fallen into the nuance of codes and hidden meanings about young people suggested they recognized each other as generational peers. She searched for lines upon his face. His expression reflected her mother's sense of transience and loss, and there were indeed grooves leading down from the sides of his nose to the corners of his mouth, and spiders' web networks of lines radiating from his eyes, especially when he smiled plaintively as now.
It is often the case with men, Abree thought, that when they remain slim and keep their hair, they seem to retain their youth and vigour for decades. The qualities that delineate women's youth are, by contrast, too narrow to survive the years. This idea, real enough and true enough, made Abree despise herself. These were her parents' generation's judgments, not hers, and yet they were in her, like tumours. The pantomime horse came back into her mind. No one had put her in the back end of the costume. She had done it to herself. She was an imposter belonging to nineteenth-century complacency and inaction. She was woman preserved under glass. It was a mistake that she was living in this age. This age was a time of change. Change required courage, not just the kind of courage to make Father's eyebrow arch as she announced she would go to a decidedly non-militant lecture on women's suffrage, but something much more, something that required shattering the glass that surrounded her. Women just like her, daughters of solicitors or doctors, had nursed wounded soldiers and influenza patients. They chained themselves to the railings of public buildings and threw themselves before the King's horse while Abree was, for the most part, meekly waiting until she was thirty, when she might legally cast her vote.
Professor Florescu and Mother continued to talk while Abree drifted into her own thoughts. She felt like blaming all these failures on what had happened to Quincey, but she knew that wasn't it. Others had lost brothers, and husbands, and sons. So what was wrong with her? Mother glanced at her and smiled. She and Professor Florescu thought they were talking about her, but they weren't, not really. They were talking about people, men and women, who took their responsibilities seriously. They were talking about people like Helen.
At last, Mr. Florescu bowed again. Mother, ever resourceful, carried Father's card and often issued invitations on his behalf. She pressed this card into Professor Florescu's hand almost fondly. He bowed to them both again, looking delighted with his new acquaintanceship. Abree managed a smile, but she was worried. Mother seemed blind to any similarity between the Wallachian professor and her dead son. But perhaps Father would see it, and the door had been opened to the possibility, perhaps even a likelihood, of a meeting.
Mother was strangely silent when they returned home. Abree closed the front door as Mother took off her gloves. Only when Abree turned did she notice that Mother's fingers were trembling as she returned the garden gate key to its hook.
Jenny had appeared pale-cheeked and expressionless at the sound of the front door. She took Mother's scarf.
"We'll have tea in the drawing room, please," Mother told her.
Jenny gave a swift curtsey and ghosted off in the direction of the kitchen.
"You'll join me, won't you?" Mother asked Abree. Abree could think of no reason not to. Obviously, Keats and Whitman could wait a little longer. Perhaps they would wait forever.
In a few moments Abree was circling the drawing room, catching sight of the photo-less mantelpiece again, hearing the hollow tock of the grandfather clock. Mother sat in the centre of the settee. Abree took the chair opposite.
"A charming young man, didn't you think so?" Mother said. "Thank you for introducing him to me."
"I didn't know him before today," Abree said, "but it seemed silly to walk by without saying hello, considering the circumstances."
Mother smiled complacency. "You girls, you and Helen, you seem so modest, so shy, and yet you take life on your own terms."
"It must be so very liberating, not to have to wait for someone else to introduce you."
Abree couldn't think of anything to say. There seemed to be a criticism, as well as a compliment, somewhere in Mother's words.
Mother seemed to read her thoughts. "Or perhaps there was never anything to be liberated from. A change in the times, I suppose."
"We all need liberating, Mother," Abree said and wished she hadn't. It seemed pretentious and angry and she had no idea where it had sprung from. She knew her face must have coloured as she could feel the heat. "Anyway," she added, "I've never been to Wallachia."
This was even worse. She shrank into her chair while mother looked at her calmly. A smile played on Mother's lips.
The door opened and Jenny came in with the tea trolley.
She rubbed her hand down her pinny and seemed ready to serve, but Mother pre-empted her.
"We can see to the tea, thank you, Jenny," Mother said.
Jenny wheeled the trolley closer to Mother, then turned and slipped from the room.
Mother picked up the strainer and started to pour, her hand steady, almost artificially so. "I suppose that there are fewermen now, fewer young men I mean, and this is why your generation of women is thrust into the spotlight." She moved the spout from one cup to the other, the echo of hot tea on china still ringing through the room. She poured again.
"I suppose so," said Abree.
Mother's dark eyes caught Abree's as she finished pouring the second cup. "You take milk, don't you?"
"Yes, thank you." Abree collected her cup and sat down again.
"I went to Wallachia," Mother said in an unusually measured tone, "because your father and his friends had to go there, and I was safest with them. It may be hard for you to see now, but Abree, your father was, and is, a courageous man." Mother tilted her head, listening. "I do believe he's here. Ring for another cup, Abree dear."
There had indeed been a sudden change in the atmosphere of the room, a shift in the air. Abree heard a faint thud from the hallway.
"Paul Butler has turned the Dracula myth inside out, exposing the convenient lies of foreign evil and women's demonic sexuality. A compelling look at how false stories become our own undoing--and just a fantastic read."
--Leslie Vryenhoek, author of We All Will Be Received
"In Mina's Child, Paul Butler takes a fresh look at the familiar story of Bram Stoker's Dracula, pulling the characters into the twentieth century and re-examining the tale under the critical gaze of a new generation. Through the eyes of Abree Harker we see the old story in a new and harsher light, uncovering a tale that is, in some ways, perhaps more chilling than gothic horror. Readers will find it hard to forget Mina's Child
--Trudy Morgan Cole, author of A Roll of the Bones