Summary: On the night of September 30-October 1, the men investigate the chapel at Carfax, leaving Mina behind to (as they suppose) sleep, all of them being agreed that it is best for Mina not to become involved in the quest to destroy Dracula, nor even to know all the specifics of their task. Van Helsing equips each of the men with a crucifix, a wreath of garlic, and a portion of a consecrated Host (cf. Ch. 16), and they set off for the ruined estate. In the foul-smelling chapel, they discover that 21 of the 50 earth-filled boxes shipped to Carfax are now gone. Arthur and Jonathan both think, for an instant, that they see their enemy’s face; but they quickly dismiss the possibility as a wild imagining, for “there could be no hiding-place even for him.” There is, however, a large number of rats: the rats begin scampering across the chapel floor. Yet Seward is prepared for this event: he blows on a shrill whistle, summoning three terriers. The dogs hesitate mysteriously at the threshold; but, when Arthur lifts them into the chapel, they begin to chase the rats away. By the time the sunrise approaches, the men have found nothing unusual in the rest of the house, and are satisfied that their first night of adventure has been a successful one, for they now have some idea of how many lairs Dracula has created across London; and they know, since the dogs were able to chase the rats away, that the vampire must at this time be elsewhere, since his mastery over “the brute beasts” is not total. When they return to the asylum, however, they hear a distant screaming and Renfield howling in his cell. They also discover Mina pale and breathing softly in her sleep.
For her part, Mina experienced a terrible night. She heard the barking and howling of dogs “and a lot of queer sounds, like praying on a very tumultuous scale, from Mr. Renfield’s room.” A strange mist crept into her room—a thin stream at first, but later thicker, a veritable fog—even though Mina had not opened her window at all. As the mist became more pronounced, so did Renfield’s noises—a kind of “passionate entreaty.” Mina heard the sounds of struggle from Renfield’s cell; she assumed the asylum aides were restraining the patient. Frightened, Mina went to bed, and, though she has no clear memory of falling asleep, knows she must have because she records what she believes was her troubling dream: surrounded by cold air and succumbing to total lethargy, she watched the mist concentrate itself into “a sort of pillar of cloud” in her room. Within the cloudy pillar she seems to see two fiery red eyes. She remembers Lucy reporting having seen similar eyes in Whitby; and she recalls her husband’s experience in Dracula’s castle in Transylvania. Before she lost all consciousness, she saw “a livid white face.” She awakens feeling completely unrefreshed; and, refusing to give concern to the men, she keeps her “dream” to herself.
Analysis: This chapter sounds one of the novel’s important themes: the significance of duty. As we have heard Van Helsing state on previous occasions, it is man’s good and proper duty to fight evil (“Devils or no devils, or all the devils at once…,” Ch. 11; p. 173; “Well, the devil may work against us for all he’s worth, but God sends us men when we want them,” Ch. 12; p. 189). Here again, as the men steel themselves to hunt down Dracula, Van Helsing encourages Seward, “Friend John, have no fear. We are trying to do our duty in a very sad and terrible case; we can only do as we deem best. What else have we to hope for, except the pity of the good God?” (p. 300). On the one hand, then, Van Helsing articulates what seems to be a very noble and positive sentiment; and, indeed, readers will know from their own experience that the performance of duty—the doing of what one deems best—can be, in many cases, the most appropriate and morally correct course of action. On the other hand, Stoker may intend for readers to perceive a level of irony not only in Van Helsing’s words but also in the men’s actions as they do what they “deem best.” For part of what they “deem best” is to keep Mina out of their counsels and actions. They rely on chauvinistic, Victorian presuppositions of a woman’s place (contra the ideology of the New Woman which we have seen even Mina herself mock in earlier portions of the text; e.g., Ch. 8), and, wishing to spare Mina mental trouble or physical harm, they keep her in the dark about what is really going on (a turn of events in itself ironic because, of course, Mina proved instrumental in helping the men piece together the true chain of events to this point!). This decision by the men, however, results precisely in harm to Mina: because she is left unattended Dracula is able to molest her; and because Van Helsing agrees to give her the sleeping draught on the next night, she is rendered vulnerable to the vampire yet again. As a further irony, Mina herself approves the men’s plan to leave her out of the action: “They all agreed that it was best that I should not be drawn further into this awful work, and I acquiesced” (p. 308). Even more, Mina chooses a comparable course of action when choosing to keep the men ignorant of her troubled sleep: “I must hide it from Jonathan, for if he knew… the dear fellow would fret his heart out” (p. 309). The dynamics at work thus bear out Mina’s words, which emerge in this light as nearly a maxim from Stoker himself: “Everything that one does seems, no matter how right it may be, to bring on the very thing which is most to be deplored” (p. 309). This conclusion sounds an intriguing note of moral ambiguity in a novel that, in so much of the rest of its plot, traffics in the clear difference between right and wrong. The undeniable truth that actions intended for the right so often lead to the wrong thus introduces yet one more area of liminality into the text.
Leonard Wolf helpfully interprets Mina’s sleep on that night: “Mina, the morning after the Count’s first nuptial visit, is depressed, and guilt-ridden, unlike Lucy, who, it will be remembered, slept well for the first time in many weeks. Surely this is because Mina is a married woman” (p. 309 n17). The fact that Dracula visits Mina on the first night of the men’s adventures only intensifies the irony in Van Helsing’s assertion that the exploit was “eminently successful,” as Wolf also notes. After all, Dracula was not at Carfax because he was at Seward’s home, essentially raping Mina! (Note her telling, albeit unconscious, choice of words: “I lay still and endured; that was all,” p. 310).
In addition to the biblical parody that Mina herself notes—the mist in her room (i.e., Dracula) becoming “a pillar of cloud,” and thus ironically recalling Exodus 40:34-38; while God as a pillar of cloud led the Hebrew slaves to freedom, Count Dracula as a pillar of cloud enslaves and oppresses—Stoker engages in another instance of biblical parody within this chapter. Commenting on Dracula’s abilities, Van Helsing states, “Our enemey is not merely spiritual” (p. 300). The Professor’s words immediately call to mind the apostle’s in Ephesians 6:12: “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (KJV). While the biblical text encourages Christians to not mistakenly regard their true foe as physical, Van Helsing urges his companions to not mistakenly forget their true foe’s very physical capabilities! Both Harker and Mina apparently do forget, however, because neither one grasps the significance of Dracula’s ability to travel in a non-corporeal form: Jonathan, on Arthur’s suggestion, attributes his sight of Dracula’s face in the shadows to his imagination (p. 303); and Mina fails to realize the significance of the thick mist she sees creeping into her room: she believes she is dreaming, and similarly concludes, “It is wonderful what tricks our dreams play us, and how conveniently we can imagine” (p. 310). Here again, Stoker may be making the point, as he so often has Van Helsing do, that we must keep an open mind, and cannot dismiss all fantastic possibilities as products of our own imagination. The dynamic is reminiscent of Hamlet’s words, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,/Than are dreamt of in your philosophy” (Hamlet, I.1.v)—certainly an apt summary of one of Stoker’s main themes, as well (again, see Van Helsing’s discourse which begins “There are such beings,” Ch. 18; p. 286).