Dracula: Chapter 6

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Chapter 6
 
Summary: Having continued his observations of and conversations with Renfield over a course of nearly three months, Dr. Seward comes to the conclusion that his patient is a “homicidal maniac,” but “of a peculiar kind.” He classifies Renfield as a “zoöphagous (life-eating) maniac,” who is trying to take into himself as much life as possible by eating living creatures—and those cumulatively. Renfield started by collecting flies, which he fed to spiders, which he fed to a bird; he then ate the bird, feathers and all, while it still lived.
 
In the seaside fishing resort of Whitby, Mina and Lucy, at last reunited, spend time among the ruins of the Abbey in conversation with three grizzled old fishermen. One of the men, Mr. Swales, is approaching a hundred years old. He tells them curious things about the Abbey’s graveyard: not only that many of the tombstones bear lies about the deceased but also that, in fact, many if not most of the graves are empty. Swales singles out one grave in particular, where there is a seat where Lucy is especially fond of sitting: the seat is over the grave of a suicide. This revelation makes Lucy upset, but Swales attempts to reassure her with humor: “It may make poor Geordie [the suicide] gladsome to have so trim a lass sittin’ on his lap. That won’t hurt ye. Why, I’ve sat here off an’ on for nigh twenty years past, an’ it hasn’t done me no harm.”
 
Mina, who is already worried because Harker has not yet returned from Transylvania and has only sent one brief letter regarding his return, has further concerns to cope with when Lucy begins sleepwalking. Mina must lock their door at night; even in her sleep, however, Lucy gropes about for the key.
 
Later, talking with Mina as they look out over the sea, Swales recants “all the wicked things I’ve been sayin’ about the dead, and such-like,” explaining his comments away as an old man’s attempts to avoid thinking about his own impending death. Peering through his spyglass, he notes a Russian ship on the horizon, erratically making her way toward the port.
 
Analysis: Fascinated with Renfield’s “zoöphagous” behavior, Seward sees in the case a chance to unlock secrets of the mind and advance his science—and, readers cannot help but suspect, his own reputation. Seward’s specific mentions of Burdon-Sanderson (“the physiologist who, with J.R. Page, first measured the electrical impulses that emanate from the heart,” Wolf, p. 95 n42) and James Frederick Ferrier (“a Scottish metaphysican whose theory of knowledge assumed a unity between the knowing subject and the object known,” Wolf, p. 95 n43) give us a glimpse of Seward’s ambition, and perhaps even a pride beginning to shade into hubris: after all, as Lucy wrote to Mina in the previous chapter (p. 73), Seward is a young man, presumably near the outset of his career: it may be too presumptuous (although it may also be a common feature of youthful enthusiasm and idealism) to expect that so soon he could ensconce himself alongside other scientific luminaries. His desire to “hold the key to the fancy of even one lunatic” also resonates with Dracula’s desire for mastery, for control, for “lordship.” Seward’s journal entries thus pose some intriguing and potentially troubling questions for readers about how this character will compare and contrast with the novel’s title character. Who, we may ask, is more to be feared in our real world, outside the text: the “undead” creature of legend and superstition, or living practitioners of science (and other disciplines) who allow ambition and pride to taint their actions? When we read Seward rationalizing the practice of vivisection—in this context, “surgical procedures performed upon a living animal for purpose of physiological or pathological investigation” (Saunders Comprehensive Veterinary Dictionary 3rd Edition, 2007; http:www.answers.com/topic/vivisection-5)— we may well wonder who is the real subject of Seward’s comment, “How well the man reasoned; lunatics always do within their own scope” (p. 95).
 
The seaside town of Whitby, where Mina and Lucy are staying in this chapter, continues the theme of liminality—of straddling thresholds—already established in the text, for Whitby seems to be a place of blurred borders: between the ocean and the land, of course, but also between the living and the dead. Much of the two women’s conversations with Swales and his “cronies” take place, of course, in a cemetery (which may put readers in mind of the abandoned chapel being used as a graveyard, or crypt, beneath Castle Dracula). The legend of the White Lady—according to Leonard Wolf, “the shade of St. Hilda, the daughter of the Abbey’s founder… St. Hilda, carrying her lamp, showed herself on particularly stormy nights, in the northern windows of the abbey to guide seamen safe to shore” (p. 85 n6)—also establishes Whitby as a place where the distinction between the living and the dead is confused at best; as does Swales’ insistence that so many of the graves in the churchyard are empty: “Why, there be scores of these lay-beds that be toom as old Dun’s ‘bacca-box on Friday night” (p. 89, and, incidentally, further characteristic of Stoker’s attention to dialect in the novel’s dialogue). In insisting that the graves are empty, Swales is referring to the fact that many of the bones ostensibly interred in the graveyard are actually somewhere else, “in the Greenland seas above… or where the currents may have drifted them” (p. 89); but given that Dracula is a vampire novel, of course, readers may be forgiven for thinking about the fact that vampires rise from their graves at night, leaving them empty. (Readers should also note Lucy’s sleepwalking as symbolic of a liminal existence: the threshold between sleep and wakefulness cannot be identified with any certainty, just as Harker could not identify the same threshold when faced with Dracula’s vampire brides in Ch. 3.)
 
Swales’ discussions of the graveyard are also of interest because of the way in which Swales views tombstones almost as “mirrors”—not that he uses the word, but that he appreciates the fact that tombstones and other monuments to the dead often reflect, not the “warts and all” truth about the deceased and their families, but only those aspects of the truth the deceased or their families wish to be preserved. (Lucy realizes this at some degree, as well, when she comments that the tombstones “please their relatives,” p. 89; but she does not draw the implications from this fact that Swales does.) Swales tells the two women at some length about the suicide who is buried without reference on the tombstone to the means of his death, his unhappy relationship to his mother, or his refusal to believe in the “glorious resurrection” of which his epitaph speaks (p. 90). Swales thus makes it clear that tombstones are nothing more than an image—and usually a false one, at that—of people as they wish to be seen, not as they actually were. For this reason, too, the graves at Whitby Abbey could be said to be “empty,” even if every one of them contained a body! The tombstones are, in their own way, no less an ambitious grasp for immortality than Seward’s desire to experiment upon Renfield; or, for that matter, Dracula’s quest to steal as much life from others as he can. For his part, when Swales relents of telling these things to Mina, he seems to propose a more honest approach when faced with human mortality: “Lord love ye, miss, I ain’t afraid of dyin’, not a bit; only I don’t want to die if I can help it. My time must be nigh at hand now, for I be aud, and a hundred years is too much for any man to expect… Some day the Angel of Death will sound his trumpet for me. But don’t ye dooal an’ greet, my deary!” (p. 99). In other words, although Swales does not welcome or seek to hasten his death, he realizes its place as the only fate people can reasonably expect; he acknowledges death’s place in the proper order of things, and does not go to any extremes to avoid it (as Dracula obviously does!). (The location of Lucy’s favorite seat will take on further importance as the novel progresses).
 
Note Stoker’s use of foreshadowing as the chapter draws to a close: Mina writes that “we are in for a storm” (p. 98)—words that will prove truer than she knows. The “brool” or low humming sound that fills the storm-charged air “sounds like some presage of doom” (p. 98). And Swales expicitly identifies “something in that wind… that sounds, and looks, and tastes, and smells like death” (p. 99). Stoker thus carefully prepares his readers not only for the discovery of why the ship approachng Whitby is sailing erratically into port but also for the death and blood about to be visited upon England by Count Dracula.
 

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