We lived in Hampton, Virginia until I was four years old and then we moved temporarily to Huntingdon County Pennsylvania. My older brothers had been there before so they were prepared for the mountains bringing twilight early compared with the lowlands of the Tidewater Peninsula. The transition in my young mind was like stepping from golden sunshine near a sparkling sea to the shadows of a cool and mysterious cave sheltered by enormous fir trees. The threat of bear attacks punctuated with a reminder that mountain lions could be hiding in every shadow was a reminder not to be out after dark. In Hampton, enormous predators were sharks and unless you waded too far out at the beach sandspurs were the biggest terror.
Reading Bram Stoker’s epistolary novel Dracula reminded me in the first few pages of Jonathan Harker’s journal what it would be like to travel from the comfortable familiarity of established London to the mountains of remote European villages where language was yet another barrier. Here too was another similarity, for while my parents grew up Huntingdon County their language was a bit different than the Tidewater dialect I was accustomed to from our neighbors and my classmates in Pre-K. I was told I was the one that talked funny.
Old barns had Pennsylvania Dutch Hex symbols painted on their facades and buck antlers hung in rows on the wall of an old smokehouse of the ancestral home of my maternal Grandmother’s family. Her people had been living and farming on Piney Ridge since the early 1800’s, and here too I felt about as old as a six week old kitten in a foreign land.
Reading the novel Dracula magnified the fact that though we have all seen film adaptations of this particular novel over the course of film history beginning in the age of silent films, few of these filmmakers ever troubled to bring out the true heroine of the novel; technology and scientific advancements. Beginning with the Kodak Camera used to photograph Count Dracula’s property in London to convey something of his newest acquisition to the blood transfusions to attempt to save Lucy Westenra from a mysterious wasting disease; technology is the best weapon against their unseen foe.
Being the only daughter in a family with four sons I was reminded often what a girl can’t do, and yet even in the latter 1800’s Bram Stoker was so generous as to create a modern heroine in Wilhelmina Murray. He allows her, an unmarried woman, to travel un-chaperoned to the distant and mysterious Buda-Pest to collect her fiancé invalid Jonathan Harker who is suffering with brain fever and unable to travel alone. Dracula was published in March of 1897. Women did not receive the right to vote in England until 1918 and that was with the stipulation that they be over the age of 30 and the owner of land. Mina Murray was none of these.
All the horror associations around the novel Dracula were more inventions of film than the work of the epistolary novel, because it was with science, technology and teamwork they were able to defeat a vampire fiend and coincidently these are the tools we need to defeat a pandemic too.