Dracula: Chapter 13

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Chapter 13
 
Summary: Morticians prepare Lucy’s corpse for its burial. Van Helsing makes his own ministrations to the body, placing garlic flowers and a crucifix on it. One of the family maids, however, steals the crucifix—although without being aware of her theft. Holmwood learns that Lucy’s mother has left her entire estate to him (in anticipation, perhaps, of Arthur and Lucy’s planned marriage). Van Helsing asks Holmwood for permission to investigate the Westerna family’s papers as he continues his research into what has taken the lives of these two women.
 
In the meantime, Mina and Jonathan Harker have returned to London. During an outing near Hyde Park, Jonathan chances to see “a tall, thin man, with a beaky nose and black moustache and pointed beard” and pointed, animalistic teeth. Jonathan reacts very badly to the sight of this man; he grows weak and even losing consciousness for a time. He makes the comment that the man “has grown young.” Mina does not understand who this man is or how Jonathan knows him, but she begins to fear that she must break her oath to her new husband and read the contents of the journal he kept while in Transylvania.
 
A few days after Lucy is buried, sinister reports begin surfacing that a “bloofer lady”—a beautiful lady—is luring children away, late in the evenings. When the children are again found the next morning, their necks are strangely wounded. The police advise citizens to be alert for “any stray dog which may be about”…

Analysis: As Leonard Wolf points out, there existed a “late nineteenth-century cult of female invalidism… [that culminated] in the notion that a dead woman is more beautiful than a living one” (p. 211 n9). More to the point of Stoker’s novel, however, the repeated emphasis on Lucy’s post-mortem beauty further stresses that she now occupies that liminal territory between life and death—the realm occupied, of course, by vampires. Holmwood’s plaintive question to Seward—“Jack, is she really dead?” (p. 212)—is more than an expression of his grief. It is Stoker’s further notice to readers that Lucy occupies neither death nor life, but some monstrous in-between state of being. Another clue to Lucy’s “new” existence occurs when Van Helsing tells Seward, regarding the body, that Holmwood “will want to see her—to see it” (p. 208). On one level, Van Helsing is merely attempting to speak more accurately (i.e., the dead corpse is not identical to the dead person); on another, however, he speaks more accurately than he knows, and echoes the comments that Mina earlier read in the log of the Demeter: “It is here… On the watch last night I saw It, like a man…” (p. 113); “…I shall tie that which He—It!—dare not touch…” (p. 114). Just as the Demeter’s crew corrected their speech of Dracula to use the impersonal rather than the personal pronoun, so does Van Helsing now, when speaking of Lucy. This grammatical point underscores one of the novel’s themes: that vampires, in seeking to dominate others, reduce their victims to “it”s, to things. The vampire is a metaphor for any person so denying the humanity of another. The fact that each passing hour of “death” only “seem[s] to be enhancing [Lucy’s] loveliness” (p. 211) also underscores the evil of what Dracula does, since—late Victorian sensibilities notwithstanding—life is always more beautiful than death.
 
A further exploration of liminality that this chapter takes up is the inability to distinguish male from female. Although this theme has surfaced earlier in the novel, it has never been quite so apparent as when Jonathan, upon seeing Count Dracula again in Hyde Park, he swoons as Victorians might have expected women to swoon, and must lean on his wife for support—a reversal of (stereo)typical gender roles, certainly in 19th century Britain. Furthermore, Van Helsing’s outburst in the carriage after Lucy’s burial blurs gender lines: “He laughed till he cried… just as a woman does” (p. 217). If Dracula’s activity is able to sow chaos by weakening the boundaries between the living and the dead, why should he not also be able to do so by weakening the boundary between male and female? Stoker may be reinforcing his vision of Dracula as an anti-Christ, for Christ, in the Bible, creates such liminality for positive, rather than negative, purposes: e.g., “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
 
The most remarkable portion of this chapter is that very outburst of “hysterics” that affects Van Helsing following the funeral. His long speech about “King Laugh” is ambiguous at best, but perhaps it may be seen as an affirmation of life in the face of death, here at approximately the midway point of Stoker’s story. Consider, for instance, this key passage: “Oh, friend John, it is a strange world, a sad world, a world full of miseries, and woes, and troubles; and yet when King Laugh come he make them all dance to the tune he play. Bleeding hearts, and dry bones of the churchyard, and tears that burn as they fall—all dance together to the music that he make with that smileless mouth of him” (p. 218). Although Leonard Wolf interprets Van Helsing’s words to be a description of a danse macabre (“dance of death”), might it not be equally likely that Stoker has in mind the prophetic vision of Ezekiel: “The hand of the Lord was upon me, and carried me out in the spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley which was full of bones, and caused me to pass by them round about: and, behold, there were very many in the open valley; and, lo, they were very dry. And he said unto me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O Lord God, thou knowest. Again he said unto me, Prophesy upon these bones, and say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of the Lord…. So I prophesied as I was commanded: and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold a shaking, and the bones came together, bone to his bone… [And the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up upon their feet…” (from Ezekiel 37:1-10, KJV). As the Spirit of God animates the dry bones in Ezekiel’s vision (in context, an allegory of the exiles during the Babylonian Captivity), so does “King Laugh” in Van Helsing’s speech animate “dry bones” of ordinary men and women who have faced trials and tribulations. King Laugh, proclaims Van Helsing, is “good to come, and kind… he come like the sunshine” (light, of course, being a common image for the divine) “and he ease off the strain again; and we bear to go on with our labour, what it may be” (pp. 218-219). And Stoker leads us to believe that Van Helsing is not merely mouthing platitudes, for we learn—almost as afterthoughts!—that the physician (who, true to his character as a Renaissance man, we also learn  in this chapter is a lawyer, p. 206!) has not only lost a son of his own (“…mine own boy had I been so blessed that he live…,” p. 218) but also “lost” his wife, though not to death: she is in a mental asylum (“my poor wife dead to me, but alive by Church’s law, though no wits, all gone,” p. 219—a reference not only to the Roman Catholic ecclesiastical prohibition against divorce, but also yet another instance of liminal existence between life and death). The “King Laugh” discourse thus gives readers tantalizing glimpses into who Van Helsing is and what motivates him, what drives him in his fight against darkness and devils. (“King Laugh,” who comes unbidden and unexpected, may also be a figure antithetical to Count Dracula—who also moves as he wills, paying heed to none, but for death-dealing rather than life-dealing ends!)
 
And, despite Seward’s confident writing of “FINIS” in his diary, readers have every reason to expect that fight will go on. Note how Van Helsing continues to place garlic on Lucy’s corpse, and, of course, he places the crucifix around her neck. Wolf explains, “One would suppose that the spiritual damage to Lucy was already done, yet in Stoker’s myth-making, we are to understand there was still more evil for Dracula to accomplish…” (p. 209 n3).
 
 

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