Throughout history, women’s stories had been untold and mistold. Women’s contributions have been left out completely or they have been misrepresented. This has happened in real life but also in literature. Many novels and works of fiction from yesteryear feature terrible female representation. Kiran Millwood Hargrave is trying to change that starting with Dracula’s brides.
“Power has made them beasts. There’s a story of a Voievod in Northern Wallachia who had a particular liking for young Traveller girls with talent. They called him the Dragon, and it is said he made them perform until they were husks, the prettiest expected to do more than perform: he ruined them, then drank their blood, and so was immortal. It sounds like stories, but Old Charani said all stories have their roots in truth, however deeply buried.”Text copyright © Kiran Millwood Hargrave, 2019
Inspiration for The Deathless Girls
In 1897, Bram Stoker wrote Dracula, a gothic vampire novel. The book which is a cult classic focuses on Count Dracula who wants to move from Transylvania to England so that he may find new victims and spread the undead curse. The book recounts the attempts by a group of people led by hunter, Van Helsing to stop Dracula from turning people, especially women into vampires.
In 2019, Kiran Millwood Hargrave took the popular story and wrote a feminist retelling. The product of her book is The Deathless Girls. Hargrave is a 29-year-old British writer. Her first novel The Girl of Ink and Stars had four reprints within the first three months of publication. The Deathless Girls is her first young adult novel.
The Bellatrix Series
Both Hargrave’s book and Becoming Dinah by Kit de Waal form part of the Bellatrix series. This is a new collection of young adult books by women writers. The stories cover a variety of genres from thriller and romance “but linked by a passion for telling her whole story.” The series attempts to cover the millions of stories of women in literature and life that have been untold, mis-told or unheard.
Hargrave’s book focuses on the “brides of Dracula” while de Waal’s book is a reimagining of Moby Dick. Both of the books take characters and situations which were not amplified in the originals and delves into them in greater detail. What results is a fuller history and tale of underrepresented female characters.
The Brides’ of Dracula reimagined
The book centers around twin sisters Lil and Kazzy. On the eve of their 17th birthday and the divining (the day they will find out their future), they’re captured by the evil ruler Boyar Valcar. Their entire Traveller community’s destroyed, and the pair along with a few other survivors are sold as slaves. They’re forced to work as slaves in the kitchen of the ruler’s castle. This seems like the worst fate to befall the sisters.
However, in the kitchen, Lil meets Mira, a fellow slave. The two of them grow closer, and their relationship is the one source of light within the darkness of the book.
However, the worst is still on its way. There is the mysterious Dragon who visits the castle. He takes with him “gifts” from amongst the girls working in the kitchen. When Kizzy is taken by the Dragon, the sisters are separated but their fates remain inextricably intertwined. Before their fate is properly set in stone, the sisters are forced to make difficult decisions about their sisterly, and romantic love, and their mortality.
Feminism, and Magic
In Dracula, the female characters are often displayed and written about with very little agency. Even though Mina in the book plays a huge role, she is still relegated to the background for most of the story. The “brides of Dracula” as the three female vampire “sisters” who reside with Dracula are not given any lines at all. Hargrave attempts to change all of that. In the book, not only are readers taken through the origin story of the “brides”, they are shown as people with full agency.
In Dracula, the “brides” are shown as very powerful and seductive beings. However, Hargrave shows that they aren’t just powerful because Dracula made them vampires. Instead, their true power comes from the choices they made. Stoker depicts them as bloodthirsty women who feed on the innocent and helpless. Hargrave instead shows them as women who take revenge on all the evil men in the world.
This idea of fully developed female characters defines the book. It’s a women-centered book. This is seen in the bond between the sisters to Mira and Lil’s relationship, and the way the girls working in the kitchen navigate the unsafe space together.
Besides the obvious vampire magic in the book, there is the magic the sisters were spoken to get on the birthday. Despite not going through the ceremony these abilities manifest in other ways as the book progresses.
For too long, literature has been dominated by men who create women characters for the male gaze. The female characters have been one-dimensional and over-sexualised. Many authors, especially women have been destroying this boring and tiring storytelling. With The Deathless Girls Hargrave joins this rich, new storytelling tradition being created.
Published by Hachette Children’s Group, The Deathless Girls is available in South Africa through Pan Macmillan publishers.