One of my personal traditions is that, every October, I re-read Bram Stoker’s Dracula. It’s such a rich novel that I usually find at least one detail I’d never noticed before. This year, though, in addition to reading the actual novel, I’ve been reading a children’s version to my daughter (after all, what else can follow Frankenstein?).
It’s easy to mock these child-friendly versions of favorite stories, particularly when the original was plainly written for adults. But to me, they serve an important purpose. They familiarize kids with the basic plots of classic literature, so that later when they encounter the originals in school, they don’t have to wade, blank-eyed with incomprehension, through dense, often outdated prose (I’m looking at you, Silas Marner). It’s easy to mock some of these (there’s even a kids’ version of Moby Dick that has “Call me Ishmael” as the second line, which I wrote about here), but I’ve always enjoyed reading them aloud to my kids. (For insight into the process of writing these, see my interview with Tania Zamorsky, who also wrote a kids’ version of Dracula, here.)
Anyway, in this edition (part of the Great Illustrated Classics series), the story had reached the point where Dracula first accosts Lucy in Whitby. Her friend Mina finds her sleepwalking in a local cemetery, and brings her home. This leads to the following passage:
“Mina put her shoes on Lucy’s feet. She smeared her own feet with mud so that, in case they met anyone, it would look as if she were wearing shoes.” (p. 67-8)
Now, I had no recollection of that from the original text; it seemed such an odd thing to invent, though, that I checked. And sure enough, there it was:
“When I had her carefully wrapped up I put my shoes on her feet and then began very gently to wake her…As we passed along, the gravel hurt my feet, and Lucy noticed me wince. She stopped and wanted to insist upon my taking my shoes; but I would not. However, when we got to the pathway outside the churchyard, where there was a puddle of water, remaining from the storm, I daubed my feet with mud, using each foot in turn on the other, so that as we went home, no one, in case we should meet any one, should notice my bare feet.” (p. 105 of the McNally/Florescu annotated edition)
Okay, it’s there. But it’s such an odd detail to emphasize that I’m now fascinated by it. Why, out of all the myriad aspects of this passage, did the adapter pick this to emphasize? Because by simply repeating it, it’s robbed of its context. The reason for Mina’s odd interest in footwear appears in the next paragraph:
“I was filled with anxiety about Lucy, not only for her health, lest she should suffer from the exposure, but for her reputation in case the story should get wind. When we got in, and had washed our feet, and had said a prayer of thankfulness together, I tucked her into bed. Before falling asleep she asked—even implored—me not to say a word to any one, even her mother, about her sleep-walking adventure. I hesitated at first to promise; but on thinking of the state of her mother’s health, and how the knowledge of such a thing would fret her, and thinking, too, of how such a story might become distorted—nay, infallibly would—in case it should leak out, I thought it wiser to do so.” (p. 105 of the McNally/Florescu annotated edition)
The novel is set in Victorian England, where propriety most definitely did not include young unmarried women wandering about graveyards in the middle of the night clad only in their robes and nightgowns. A robe might pass as a cloak in the darkness, but pale bare feet would be a dead giveaway. It’s a reflection of the novel’s (unconscious? opinions vary) theme of women needing protection at all times, because they simply can’t be trusted with their own agency—a defining aspect of the Victorian world view, and Bram Stoker was nothing if not solidly, stolidly Victorian.
So whenever I read the Whitby scene, which marks Dracula’s arrival in England, I’ll now picture Mina with her mud shoes. It’s just one more bit of weirdness in a novel delightfully full of them.
(Title paraphrased from Elvis Costello, with apologies.)