Dracula: Chapter 27

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Chapter 27
Summary: Van Helsing and Mina approach Castle Dracula, meeting with many superstitious members of the local populace along the way. As they draw ever closer to the vampire’s home, Van Helsing discovers that he is unable to hypnotize Mina any longer. Disturbingly, she knows the way through the Borgo Pass to the castle—ostensibly because she has read the diary her husband kept, but also because the vampire’s influence over her has grown so great. Further evidence of this fact are her increasingly well appearance and her lengthening periods of sleep. When the pair moves into wilderness land, Van Helsing draws around Mina a “magic ring” to protect her from evil. The professor, alas, is in somewhat more danger: as they appeared to Jonathan Harker before, so do Dracula’s “brides” now appear to Van Helsing, enticing him to succumb to their lustful but lethal advances. The wielding of the Eucharistic Wafer repels them—but, once Van Helsing has broken into Castle Dracula, he sees the vampiric brides again, lying in their crypts, and he struggles mightily, just as did Harker, to resist the temptation to submit to them. Fortunately—Van Helsing implicitly attributes the timing to God’s providence—he hears Mina, left behind safe in the magic ring, cry out, and he is renewed in his mission.  He locates Dracula’s tomb and inserts the Communion Wafer, banishing the vampire from his final refuge forever. He also stakes and beheads each of Dracula’s three brides.
Late in the afternoon of November 6 (a little over six months after Jonathan’s first trip to Transylvania), amidst a swirling snowstorm and the increasingly loud howling of wild wolves, Mina and Van Helsing watch as gypsies are bringing a large box—the last earth-box, containing Dracula—toward the Castle. They are pursued, however, by Quincey Morris, Dr. Sewad, Harker and Arthur. The men surround the gypsies, attacking the cart. Harker and Morris pry open its lid; Jonathan slits Dracula’s throat, and Morris plunges his knife into Dracula’s chest. The vampire crumbles to dust. Morris, however, has been fatally wounded in the struggle against the gypsies, and dies of blood loss. He does not expire, however, before seeing that Mina has been freed from Dracula’s curse. The mark on her brow has vanished.
Analysis: “The stake we play for is life and death,” Van Helsing writes in his memorandum (p. 431), and certainly his words function as an apt summation of this final chapter of Dracula. Stoker brings his major themes and motifs to a fitting climax in these pages. For instance, we visit again the liminal existence of the vampire and those who are touched by them: Mina appears increasingly healthy as she and Van Helsing approach Castle Dracula—“She… look so well as I never saw her since that night at Carfax when we first enter the Count’s house” (p. 431)—even though she is, in fact, quite sick. Indeed, her soul is still in mortal peril. To borrow the language of the King James Bible, Mina is still caught in a “sickness… unto death” (John 11:4—Jesus’ words about the illness of Lazarus, that ultimately glorified God; in Mina’s case, however, her sickness, if unstopped, will ultimately glorify only Dracula, the text’s stand-in for the Devil). That this malady should manifest itself in the masquerade of good health is an especially egregious insult, indicative of the limbo between health and sickness, life and death that the novel as a whole has explored. Van Helsing, too, enters the liminal space between sanity and madness now familiar to Stoker’s readers: “Let me be accurate in everything, for though you and I have seen some strange things together, you may at the first think that I… am mad” (p. 431).
Similarly, the novel’s preoccupation with sacred symbols makes a return in the closing chapter—although, interestingly, Van Helsing uses the Christian symbol par excellence, the Eucharistic Host, in what seems to be a thoroughly pagan way, to construct a magic ring around Mina: “…over the ring I passed some of the Wafer…” (p. 432-433). Although the juxtaposition might at first seem jarring, Stoker may be suggesting that the two symbols are not entirely disparate.  The Wafer, of course, is circular, and so it shares the deep meanings of the magic ring. The circle is “arguably the most important and most widespread geometric symbol… the circle is the ultimate, the perfect form… In magic lore the circle (drawn around the conjuring magician and not to be crossed throughout the ceremony) is supposed to serve as protection against evil spirits” (Hans Biedermann, Encyclopedia of Symbolism, Meridian Books, 1994; pp. 69, 70).  Note, then, that Van Helsing draws the circle not around himself, as the “conjuring magician” of traditional magic lore, but around Mina. He is using the ancient alchemical shape to protect someone else, someone for whom he cares; and he does so using the Wafer—which, of course, in Roman Catholic doctrine is no mere “symbol” at all (as Roman Catholic author Flannery O’Connor is said to have commented about the Eucharist, “Well, if it’s just a symbol, then to hell with it!”), but the actual bodily presence of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ can “cross the circle,” violating the ancient magical prohibition (and, incidentally, echoing his power to bind the Strong Man, which we have seen mirrored in the events of Stoker’s text earlier in this Analysis). The circle of the Wafer, then, both shares in and elevates the meaning of the circle of the magic ring.
Victorian sensibilities—in particular, Victorian anxieties—about female sexuality also make a strong reappearance in this last chapter. Note that Van Helsing must fight down “the very instinct of man in me” (p. 437)—a fairly explicit mention of the repression of normal human sexuality. And note further how the destruction of the three vampire brides mirrors the destruction of the Un-dead Lucy in its gory details—“the horrid screeching as the stake drove home; the plunging of writhing form, and lips of bloody foam” (p. 438)—details that act as a parody of intercourse and orgasmic climax. It is the pure Madam Mina—although not entirely pure, for she has been bitten by Dracula—whom Van Helsing hears and who thus empowers him to accomplish his mission. Mina thus assumes the status of a kind of perfect woman: sexual only by dint of being female, saintly even as she is stained. Readers can have no doubt of the conflicted attitudes toward sexuality of the Victorian age.
At the moment of Dracula’s destruction, readers should not fail to note that Stoker returns to the possibility raised by Mina earlier in the text: the idea that Dracula, for all his evil deeds, may not be altogether unworthy of pity: “I shall be glad as long as I live,” Mina reflects, “that even in that moment of final dissolution, there was in the face a look of peace, such as I never could have imagined might have rested there” (p. 443). This small but powerful touch reinforces the novel’s central struggle between good and evil, for it suggests that even the villain is a victim (although by no means an innocent one as were his victims, particularly Lucy and Mina). And just as Mina is glad to see a look of peace on Dracula’s face before he is destroyed, so, too, is Morris glad to see that “the snow is not more stainless than [Mina’s] forehead” (p. 444) before he dies. Morris’ death serves as Stoker’s finishing flourish on his theme of self-sacrifice, rather than domination, as the way to live—even though self-sacrifice can lead to death. “I am only too happy to have been of any service,” the gallant Texan declares as he dies (p. 444)—and we may well imagine the emphasis falls on the final word. (Also, it may bring a wry smile, despite the circumstances, to readers’ lips to realize that—appropriately enough for a novel about vampires—Morris dies of blood loss!)
As Leonard Wolf notes, this chapter begins with Stoker’s “balancing [of] his opening and closing action” as “Mina and Dr. Van Helsing retrace Jonathan’s route to Dracula’s castle” (p. 427 n2). Similarly, the local population’s superstition-filled reactions to Mina (e.g., the evil eye, the extra garlic in the food) mirror their reactions to Harker in the first chapter. Structurally, Stoker is signaling that his novel is drawing to a close—and yet, intriguingly, the book’s close is in these ways (and others: most notably, Van Helsing’s near-succumbing to Dracula’s “brides”) like its opening. Does Stoker’s structure here subvert the face message of his text—namely, that Dracula is no longer a threat? Might it be read as a hint that the threat goes on? (Certainly, countless later interpreters of the novel in print, on stage, and on screen have chosen to continue the story in an astonishing variety of ways!) Or does the near-circular nature of the text (one thinks of a 20th-century example of the same textual dynamic, T.S. Eliot’s poem “Little Coker,” with its recurring line, “In my end is my beginning”) signal to readers that the true “immortal” of Stoker’s Dracula is not the title character, but the text itself?

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