Dracula: Chapter 22

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Chapter 22
 
Summary: Seward and Van Helsing report to the others that they found Renfield dead, his body bruised, his neck broken. The attendant outside Renfield’s room heard at least one voice—he was unsure if he heard two—before Renfield cried out “God!” repeatedly. Planning their next actions, the men agree to include Mina in their plans and confidences completely. For her part, Mina has made up her mind to kill herself should she discover that she has become a vampire and would be a danger to other people. Van Helsing urges her to instead struggle for life. He attempts to offer Mina protection by blessing her on her forhead using a consecreated Host; remarkably, however, the wafer burns Mina’s skin. Her encounter with Dracula has contaminated her—irrevocably, perhaps, or at least until the vampire has been destroyed.
 
Van Helsing states that, because the group did not disturb the boxes of earth they have thus far located, Count Dracula is not aware of their specific plans against him (although, of course, we know from the previous chapter that he is aware of the broad outlines of a plot to defeat him). Asserting that Dracula must remain, during the day, in whatever form he now occupies, Van Helsing concludes that the men have the day to sterilize the earth the vampire brought with him from his homeland. The men engage a locksmith’s services to gain entrance into Dracula’s house in Piccadilly. There, Van Helsing places a piece of consecrated Host into each of the Count’s earth-boxes, to make the soil unbearable to him and no longer a refuge: “He has chosen this earth because it has been holy. Thus we defeat him with his own weapon, for we make it more holy still.” The process is repeated at another of Dracula’s lairs, where the men find eight more of the nine boxes they still seek. They do also find, however, Dracula’s keys to the rest of his houses, with their addresses. Arthur and Quincy set out to find and sterilize the remaining earth-boxes; Seward, Harker and Van Helsing wait for their return—or for the return of Dracula.
 
Analysis: In this chapter, Van Helsing again sounds the theme of duty that he has sounded before—in this instance, as he attempts to dissuade Mina from her plans of suicide: “You must struggle and strive to live, though death would seem a boon unspeakable. You must fight Death himself… till this great evil be past” (p. 347). On the surface level of the plot, Mina must fight to stay alive because her death (and, specifically, her suicide—recall the connotations of the “suicide seat” in Whitby) would surely seal her fate as one of the “un-Dead.” On a deeper, thematic level, however, Van Helsing’s exhortation reaffirms the fact that Stoker’s text, for all of its fascination with the vampiric and the macabre, is not a celebration of death, but a summons to life. The echo of the theme of trust in this chapter reaffirms this orientation: the men decide (albeit somewhat belatedly, as Leonard Wolf rightly notes) to trust Mina with their plans; and Harker goes so far as to cast their entire ordeal as a test of trust in God: “it is in trouble and trial that our faith is tested—that we must keep on trusting; and that God will aid us up to the end” (p. 345). Harker’s words form a remarkably optimistic assessment of the situation, all things considered (e.g., Lucy’s death, Mina’s assault); and, likewise, readers may be taken aback to hear Mina’s assertion, “God can, if He wishes it, guard me as well alone as with any one present” (p. 351)—did God not wish to guard her earlier?  Such statements, at any rate, do reinforce the novel’s underlying thesis that we have a responsibility to trust the good and to trust each other. Such trust will be rewarded.
 
The thematic motif of keys reappears in this chapter, occupied as it is with the need for a locksmith. In this context, however, as the men enter Dracula’s house in Piccadilly, Stoker may be calling to mind the biblical description of Jesus’ work as plundering the “strong man”—that is, the Devil: “No man can enter into a strong man’s house, and spoil his goods, except he will first bind the strong man; and then he will spoil his house” (Mark 3:27). In other words, Jesus cannot be in league with Satan (as his critics in the gospel are at that point contending), because he successfully casts out demons. Rather, Jesus is able to free those who are demon-possessed because he has “tied up” the Devil himself. Similarly, Stoker’s text here encourages us to see Van Helsing and his companions as agents of good, the righteous who are, literally, entering into the strong man’s house in order to defeat him.
 
This chapter also contains a couple of notable moments involving Van Helsing. We have one of the most delightful instances of his inability to master completely the English tongue when he states, of Quincey Morris, “His head is what you call in plane with the horizon” (p. 350)—that is to say, the Texan is “level-headed.” A more serious gaffe, however, occurs when Van Helsing refers to Dracula’s assault on Mina in an off-handed, casual, perhaps even leering way: “‘Do you forget,’ he said, with actually a smile, ‘that last night he banqueted heavily, and will sleep late?’” (p. 351). As Leonard Wolf points out, the remark is “unbelievably cruel” (p. 351 n12). Wolf may be wrong, however, to suggest that the comment is in the same class as Van Helsing’s earlier discussion of King Laugh (Ch. 13). The latter actually emerges as a somewhat profound psychological, even theological, reflection on the power of light despite the presence of darkness; the former is, as Van Helsing himself acknowledges, little more than the product of “stupid old lips” and a “stupid old head” (p. 352). The moment also reveals that even Stoker, for all the heroism with which he has invested Van Helsing, either wished to hint that the hero, too, is fully human and fallible; or that the author is not entirely above the insensitive sexual prejudices of his time. The scarring from the Communion Host (pp. 352-53), after all, for all the theological and existential import with which Van Helsing invests it, can also be read as yet another expression of the Victorian attitude that rape victims were made “unclean” by their ordeals (p. 353).
 
 

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