Dracula: Chapter 23

Chapter 23
Summary: Van Helsing, Seward and Jonathan, still waiting at Dracula’s house in Piccadilly, receive a telegram from Mina, informing them that she has sighted the vampire and he is headed in their direction. The next persons to arrive, however, are Arthur and Quincey, who report having found and destroyed six more earth-boxes. Now only one remains, its location still unknown. Shortly thereafter, Dracula arrives. Despite their best efforts, the men are unable to subdue and defeat him, although Seward’s wielding of a crucifix and consecrated host do cause the monster to cower. Temporarily stymied, Dracula vows that the men will regret their fight against him. He leaves, taking his money (that had been scattered during the fight) with him; but Van Helsing is certain that the vampire knows he is running out of time. The sun having set, the men return to Mina. Although she fervently thanks the men for their efforts to destroy the evil that has (literally) marked her, she also urges Jonathan to consider extending mercy to Dracula when they meet again, for she fears that she, too, some day, might need such pity extended to her.
Early in the morning, before sunrise, Mina summons Van Helsing that he might hypnotize her. She says she has urgent information. It appears that she is in some sort of contact with Dracula prior to sunrise. While hynoptized, she communicates that she (that is, Dracula, with whom she is in mystical contact) is aboard a ship. From this information, Van Helsing concludes that Dracula is fleeing England. He took his money in order to secure passage for himself and his last box of earth on a ship. When Mina asks why this turn of events does not mean that the group can abandon its pursuit of their enemy, Van Helsing solemnly reminds her that, while Dracula is eternal, she is not; and she must not be allowed to die—and thus become “un-Dead,” like Dracula himself.
Analysis: Even though Mina is the character currently being afflicted by Count Dracula, Seward notes in his diary how the strain and suspense of the hunt for the vampire is affecting Mina’s husband, Jonathan (who, as Leonard Wolf reminds readers in his notes, did have his own run-in with vampires while in Transylvania; p.359 n1). Harker, according to Seward, looks like “a drawn, haggard old man,” even though the man’s “energy is still intact; in fact, he is like a living flame” (p. 359). Seward hopes that this residual energy will sustain Harker until he can “wake again to the realities of life” (pp. 359-260). Thus Stoker presents another instance of liminality: Harker is both full of life but drained of it, awake yet in need of being awakened to reality. The description of Harker makes vivid the negative effect of Dracula’s domination, reminding readers (as though they need a reminder) of why this evil must be destroyed.
And yet Stoker also, in this chapter, takes pains to point out that Dracula need not have become the evil he now is. Departing from Stoker’s likely historical model of Vlad Tepes (see Analysis for Chapter 1), the text here presents Van Helsing describing Dracula, before his “fall” (not the text’s word), as “in life a most wonderful man. Soldier, statesman, and alchemist… He had a mighty brain…” (p. 360). Dracula before his days as a vampire, in other words, seems to have been something of an overachieving polymath—not, we must remember, unlike Van Helsing himself! Yet Dracula did dare to attend the Scholomance—the second time this nefarious institution has been mentioned (the first was in Chapter 18). “In suggesting an origin for Draculas vampirism, Bram Stoker drew upon an old folklore tradition of Translyvania, as passed to him in the writings of Emily Gerard, of the scholomance, or school of solomonari… The solomonari were basically wizards whose primary ability was affecting the weather, which they accomplish through their power over the balauri, or dragons [note: recall that the word ‘Dracula’ may be etymologically linked to dracul, or “dragon”]. By riding the dragon in the sky they bring rain or drought. The solomonari were thus the Romanian equivalent of the shaman…  The solomonari reportedly are trained at the scholomance, hidden at an unknown location variously said to be located in the mountains, the underground, or the other world… At any given time there are no more than 10 students in the school, or scoala balaurilor. The teacher is a dragon or the devil. The curriculum consists of a series of difficult physical tests and the mastery of nature. The magician must learn the language of the animals and the ability to transform into different animal forms” (J. Gordon Melton, The Vampire Book: The Encyclopedia of the Undead, 1999 ©Visible Ink Press. All rights reserved; located online at http:www.answers.com/topic/scholomance-1.) Clearly—and unfortunately for his victims—the Count must have been an exceptional student! Notice, for instance, the animalistic ways in which the text describes his attack on the men: “There was something so panther-like in the movement—something so unhuman… [His] evil smile… quickly passed into a cold stare of lion-like disdain” (pp. 364-65, emphasis added). Dracula has, in fact, been a life-long learner, as Van Helsing explains: the Count has acted in an almost scientific manner, through gradual experimentation, in his infiltration of London (p. 361). As Jonathan cries, “And this is all arrayed against my darling!” (p. 360). The text thus again sounds the “Strong Man” motif introduced in the previous chapter. Stoker may be subtly reminding readers of Dracula’s ultimately assured defeat, then, despite the way the vampire is portrayed by Van Helsing.
This chapter also continues to plant seeds of doubt in readers’ minds regarding the character of Jonathan Harker. He is, we are told, “quite broken down” (p. 366). Yet the most telling moment is his fervent declaration, “I care for nothing now… except to wipe out this brute from the face of creation. I would sell my soul to do it!” (p. 362). We cannot be sure, given the strong religious mores of Victorian society, that Harker’s language can be dismissed as idle, meaningless talk. His love for Mina is clouding his judgment and, quite possibly, threatening his eternal soul, which is why Van Helsing rebukes him—gently, yes, but still a rebuke. He assure Harker of God’s justice—thus extending the novel’s not unproblematic insistence on the good character of God, given that God seems absent from much of the events—we hear Mina again, for example, insist, “God will protect us if He so will it in His good intent” (p. 366). Or again, consider Harker’s theological reflection in response to Mina’s pleas for pity, “Surely God will not permit the world to be the poorer by the loss of such a creature [i.e., Dracula]” (p. 368). His sentiment seems reasonable enough—but Stoker has, slowly but surely, been introducing ambiguity surrounding God’s character, motives, and actions (or lack of action) by invoking the deity more frequently as the text moves toward its close. Of course it might be argued, and perhaps Stoker and his characters would, that God is active in the novel’s events, not directly, but indirectly, through those who are fighting Dracula. At any rate, Harker’s troubling state of mind will persist in this chapter: Mina will urge Jonathan to consider showing mercy to Dracula (“That poor soul who has wrought all this misery is the saddest case of all,” p. 367). (Of course, as Leonard Wolf points out, readers cannot be altogether sure that Dracula is not unduly influencing Mina at this point!)