Dracula: Chapter 17

Chapter 17

Summary: While Jonathan is in Whitby, tracing the progress of the fifty boxes of earth shipped aboard the Demeter, Mina goes to the asylum to meet Seward. She listens to the phonograph rolls of Seward’s diary, in order to learn more about Lucy’s death, while he reads her and her husband’s diaries. Jonathan returns, having learned from the men who transported them that all fifty boxes were placed in the ruined chapel of the abandoned estate, Carfax. He and his wife begin arranging everyone’s diaries and documents in chronological order, that all parties involved might have a clearer idea of the task that lies before them in defeating Count Dracula. In the meantime, Renfield, seemingly calm and collected, has begin to speak of going home. Seward chooses instead to keep Renfield under close observation, supervised by an attendant with a straitjacket at the ready.

Analysis: The brevity with which this chapter’s action may be summarized belies its symbolic and thematic import. First, the chapter mirrors within the text what Stoker has, by his technique of chronological interlacing, been allowing readers outside of the text to do all along. As Mina tells Seward, “In this matter dates are everything, and I think that if we get all our material ready, and have every item put in chronological order, we shall have done much” (p. 272). The characters in the novel are now experiencing the same revelation that readers of the novel have experienced (for instance, Seward now grasps the significance of the dates of Renfield’s outbursts, p. 274). As a mosaic picture is formed when individual stones are brought together into the whole, as the various characters’ fragmented experiences of these strange events are linked together in an orderly fashion, a full picture emerges of what Mina calls the “cruel and dreadful task” now lying before them. This chapter, then, encapsulates in itself Stoker’s narrative technique as a whole.
More importantly, perhaps, this chapter makes a thematic argument that “reading” the words of another is a way to gain knowledge of the other. The term “reading” must be used with qualification, of course, since Mina technically listens to Seward’s phonograpic diary; nonetheless, the basic point holds true. “You do not know me,” Mina initially tells Seward; “When you have read those papers—my own diary and my husband’s also, which I have typed—you will know me better.” In parallel fashion, Seward tells Mina that, once she listens to his phonograph rolls, “you will know me better” (p. 270). This phonographic diary, especially, seems to possess revelatory power in regards to the one who recorded it: after listening to it, Mina says she knows “the anguish of [Seward’s] heart” (p. 271). And note how, while Mina and Seward begin their process of mutual “reading” in separate rooms (p. 270), they move, after Mina has listened to Seward’s recordings, into the same room to continue the process (p. 272). Being able to read everyone’s individual accounts as a collective whole, then, not only yields the practical result of better informing the characters of what they face; it binds them together in a very intimate way. As Mina declares, “We need have no secrets amongst us; working together and with absolute trust, we can surely be stronger than if some us were in the dark” (p. 271). Count Dracula’s “relationships” (if one can call them that) with his minions are based on deceit and domination; in contrast, true human relationships among the living must, as Mina recognizes and articulates throughout this chapter, be based on honesty and respect (and such related qualities as “esteem and gratitude,” p. 279). As we have seen, trust has been an important theme in Stoker’s novel (most recently, Van Helsing’s efforts to gain the belief and trust of Seward and Holmwood). Trust, Stoker could be arguing, is essential for the defeat of “the dark.” Human relationships depend upon it. That trust can be engendered, to some degree, by reading the truthful texts that each other produces (as opposed to deceitful texts—note how Jonathan catches a glimpse, in Mr. Billington’s office, of “one of the letters which I had seen on the Count’s table before I knew of his diabolical plans,” p. 275). The proper use of words, Stoker may be arguing, is to convey truthfully the contents of the heart (“I wish I could comfort all who suffer from the heart,” p. 279)—and thus prove, as Mina decides after her encounters with Seward’s words, that “the world seems full of good men—even if there are monsters in it” (p. 273). This kind of communication, in other words, becomes a survival strategy for humanity.