Dracula: Chapter 20

Chapter 20

Summary: Harker continues his search for Dracula’s earthen boxes. By bribing various manual laborers who worked with the boxes with money and alcohol, he discovers where several of the boxes have gone since their arrival at Carfax; most importantly, Harker learns that nine “main heavy” boxes were removed to a house in Piccadilly—an indication that Dracula’s ability to move about the city is increasing. Even more troubling, the laborer who moved boxes to Piccadilly, as well to a house in Purfleet, tells Harker that, at the boxes’ destinations, the man who hired him was himself waiting to help unload the heavy cargo. The man was unnaturally strong and so thin “you would think he couldn’t throw a shadow.” This man, Harker knows, is Count Dracula. The men’s plan now is to finish accounting for all the missing boxes and to “sterilize all the imported earth” within them, so that Dracula can no longer take refuge in them. Then they will be able to destroy the vampire.
Meanwhile, Seward has a troubling interview with Renfield. The patient’s cryptic comments eventually lead Seward to realize that Renfield “has assurance of some kind that he will acquire some higher life,” but “dreads the consequence—the burden of [another’s] soul.” Seward now knows that Renfield has had contact of some kind with Dracula, and fears that some human life is in danger. Later, to Seward’s amazement, he finds that Renfield has resumed his old practice of spreading out sugar to catch flies—a practice he had some time ago abandoned. The next day, an attendant informs Seward that Renfield has met with some kind of accident. The patient has been found lying face-down on the floor, covered in blood. Seward goes to investigate.

Analysis: Readers may be forgiven their frustration at Seward’s apparent slowness to grasp the full gravity of the situation with Renfield. “His is a curious case indeed,” the doctor comments, remarkably casually given the circumstances; “we must watch him to-night” (p. 326). Seward intuits something of the close connection between Renfield and Dracula—“Merciful God! the Count has been to him, and there is some new scheme of terror afoot!”—but he fails to fully grasp that Mina is in danger. Seward does at least serve to sound, yet again, the novel’s theme of liminality, this time the ambiguous space between reason and sanity: “I sometimes think we must be all mad and that we shall wake to sanity in strait-waistcoats” (p. 327). Harker, too, for all of his success in discerning the destination of earthen boxes from Carfax, does not discern the true nature of his wife’s troubles. “The dear girl was more affectionate with me than ever,” he reports on the evening of October 2, “and clung to me as though she would detain me… Thank God, the ceasing of telling things has made no difference between us” (p. 320). As readers, we cannot help but suspect that Harker is completely misinterpreting Mina’s display of affection, especially when we remember the grasping, wanton nature of Dracula’s “brides” (which surely Harker himself remembers!), or the desire that Lucy demonstrated when in thrall to Dracula.
Renfield compares himself to Enoch, “[b]ecause he walked with God” (p. 322). The allusion is to a mysterious biblical figure mentioned in Genesis 5:21-24, one of very few biblical characters who does not die but is rather assumed or “translated” bodily into heaven. Enoch was a popular subject in extra-canonical, apocalyptic books, as his “walking with God” was assumed to have given him special spiritual knowledge. Renfield, however, inverts this expectation: “I am not even concerned in [God’s] especially spiritual doings.” He instead professes interest in “things purely terrestrial” (p. 322). This inversion not only recalls Van Helsing’s similar inversion in the previous chapter (“Our enemy is not merely spiritual,” p. 300), but also reinforces the idea that Dracula’s schemes are very earth-bound (as even all of those earthen boxes silently testify!) and are imminently, physically dangerous.