Dracula: Chapter 14

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Chapter 14
 
Summary: Mina reads Jonathan’s journal, aghast at what her new husband suffered through—though whether it was reality or a fevered delusion, she knows not, until a letter from Van Helsing (who has discovered and read her letters to Lucy among the latter’s papers) leads her to fear Jonathan’s ordeal actually took place. Van Helsing requests a meeting, with Mina grants. Van Helsing inquires about Lucy’s sleepwalking in Whitby, and is grateful to find that Mina’s account confirms his suspicions. He tells Mina that her cooperation with his investigation gives him great hope, not only for his investigation of Lucy’s death, but for his prospects of helping Jonathan recover from the trauma he endured in Transylvania. When Van Helsing meets Jonathan, he inquires as to the young solicitor’s business with Count Dracula. He also spies, in The Westminster Gazette, an article regarding the “bloofer lady” and the abduction of children (see the end of Ch. 13). He reacts with alarm, and shows the notice to Seward upon his (Van Helsing’s) return to London. Van Helsing presses Seward to draw a connection between the marks on the children’s necks and the marks on Lucy’s. When Seward hazards to guess that the same creature who made Lucy’s marks made the children’s, Van Helsing corrects him: “It is worse, far, far worse… They were made by Miss Lucy!”
 
Analysis: Here, midway through Stoker’s text, he begins to draw together in a more decisive way the two plots he has largely been developing separately: Jonathan Harker’s encounter with Dracula and its aftermath, and Lucy Westenra’s transformation into a vampire at Dracula’s hands. It is a bridging chapter, and thus occupies a sort of liminal position of its own, straddling the two plots as it does. And while liminal confusion between consciousness and unconsciousness continues—Mina, for example, after her meeting with Van Helsing, confesses, “I feel like one in a dream” (p. 225)—this chapter also begins to show readers not just the negative, chaotic aspects of liminal existence, but also how such an existential posture may actually prove beneficial. Much of Van Helsing’s discourse in this chapter is given to the liminal space between knowing and unknowing, certainty and doubt; yet Van Helsing shows how this “middle ground” can be navigated by faith. “I have learned not to think little of any one’s belief,” he tells Mina, “no matter how strange it be” (p. 230; and perhaps not incidentally, a direct contrast to Jonathan Harker’s initial attitude toward the Transylvanians’ superstitions in Chapter 1!). More dramatically, and (as Leonard Wolf notes), in almost biblical fashion, Van Helsing parallels God’s speech out of the whirlwind to Job in Job 38-42 as he demands of Seward, “Do you know all the mystery of life and death?” (p. 236). He presses Seward “[t]o believe in things that [Seward] cannot”(p. 237)—in other words, to open his mind to new possibilities, no matter how fantastic they may seem or how opposed to reason and science, because only along such avenues will hopes of saving Lucy lie. Van Helsing’s  emphasis on faith also connects with prior emphases in the text on imagination. Heretofore, the imagination has been a source of threat: for example, on his trip to Castle Dracula, Harker heard “a wild howling… which seemed to come from all over the country, as far as the imagination could grasp it through the gloom of night” (Ch. 1, p. 17); or again, Mina spent much time in Whitby imagining what could have happened to Jonathan: “There was no letter for me. I hope there cannot be anything the matter with Jonathan” (Ch. 6, p. 91). Now, however, Van Helsing shows that the same imagination that can conceive of gloomy terrors can also conceive of ways to combat them.
 
Van Helsing at one point (p. 232) calls Harker a “physiognomist.”  Physiogonomy was “the study of the systematic correspondence of psychological characteristics to facial features or body structure. Because most efforts to specify such relationships have been discredited, physiognomy sometimes connotes pseudoscience or charlatanry. Physiognomy was regarded by those who cultivated it both as a mode of discriminating character by the outward appearance and as a method of divination from form and feature” (Encylcopedia Brittanica Online). However discredited phsyiogonomy may be as a scientific discipline, it remains for Stoker a useful literary technique: we have seen already how Count Dracula’s external appearance mirrors his internal evil; we have also see how Lucy’s sharpened, fang-like teeth indicate her new status as a vampire. There may also be an element of biblical parody in Stoker’s text: instead of actively being, as Saint Paul exhorts, renewed in the image of Christ, Lucy has passively been renewed in the image of the text’s “anti-Christ.” We learn at the end of this chapter that Lucy is now even acting like the vampire, biting holes in the abducted children’s necks. Van Helsing’s passing remark here, therefore, offers interpretive clues elsewhere in the book.
 
Mina’s decision to first present Van Helsing with only her shorthand diary of the time spent in Whitby with Lucy seems an odd choice. She explains it, not altogether convincingly, as her succumbing to “the temptation of mistfying him a bit—I suppose it is some of the taste of the original apple that remains still in our mouths…” (p. 227), a reference to the tale of the “forbidden fruit” of temptation in Genesis 3. Why, however, when she is so concerned about her husband’s well-being and finally has a meeting with a man who she believes can help Jonathan, if only to remove “the doubt which haunts him” (p. 226), should she do anything but be forthcoming with her information at once? Why, in the pursuit of clarifying doubt, should she wish to sow doubt of her own? And why should Van Helsing react as he does: not with the disappointment or anger we might expect from this man whom we have seen to be stern when the occasion warrants, but with praise of Mina as a “so clever woman” (p. 227)? Many readers might suppose Mina is correct to feel “almost ashamed” of her “little joke” (p. 228). The episode remains an ambiguous one; whether Stoker intended it to do so or not, it introduces a note of uncertainty into a character who, up until this point, we have had no reason to take at anything but face value as an intelligent, loyal, and capable woman. She may well be, as Van Helsing says, “one of the lights” in an otherwise dark world (p. 228)—indeed (in a clearly positive assessment of womanhood) “one of God’s women, fashioned by His own hand to show us men and other women that there is a heaven where we can enter, and that its light can be here on earth” (p. 233)—but she is perhaps not without shadows of her own (as, of course, are all human beings).
 
 

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