Dracula: Chapter 24

Chapter 24

Summary: Van Helsing reports that he investigated what ships were scheduled to be sailing to Transylvania. He found only one, the Czarina Catherine. Van Helsing and Arthur spoke with the dockmaster, who told them that a “tall man, thin and pale,” garbed all in black except for a straw hat, hurriedly booked passage on the ship. He had a large box with him to be placed on the vessel. Now, Dracula is on his way to the mouth of the Danube. The group must meet the ship there and attack Dracula while he is in his box, during the daylight.

Meanwhile, Seward is beginning to have doubts about the men’s current policy of keeping Mina in their confidences, given that she has undergone “the Vampire’s baptism of blood.” As it turns out, Van Helsing has noted more and more the characteristics of vampirism appearing in Mina. He also fears that the mystic contact she had with Dracula may work both ways, and the vampire would have knowledge of their plans and acts. He and Seward agree (again) to keep Mina ignorant. Interestingly, however, Mina herself decides she should no longer participate in the planning, a decision that gives her husband some pause.
The group has a window of two weeks to reach Varna, at the mouth of the Danube, in order to intercept the Czarina Catherine. Van Helsing informs Jonathan that he (Jonathan), however, must stay behind to care for Mina. Later that night, Mina makes Jonathan promise—as he once made her promise not to read his Transylvanian diary—that he will tell her nothing of the plans against Dracula—presumably, that she might not unwittingly betray those plans to the enemy. Mina sleeps peacefully, and seems more peaceful and energetic the next day—a sign that Dracula is growing more physically distant. But, unexpectedly, Mina then awakens Jonathan early the next morning, announcing that she must accompany the men to Varna. She thinks her connection to the Count may actually prove useful. Not without some reluctance, which he confides to the men, Van Helsing agrees. He reviews the plan of what must happen when the group reaches Varna: they will board the ship and place a wild rose on Dracula’s box, for superstition holds that this will confine the creature. Then, when none are looking, they will open the box, “and all will be well.” Nevertheless, Harker draws up his last will and testament, as do the others, before the group’s departure.

Analysis: Not unlike the previous one, this chapter continues to develop the possibility that Van Helsing is a foil to Dracula. The professor himself catalogues the ways in which Dracula is exceptional: “Look at his persistence and endurance… He find in patience just how is his strength, and what are his powers. He study new tongues. He learn new social life; new environment of old ways, the politic, the law, the finance, the science…” (p. 379). Note also how Mina describes Van Helsing’s agitation during their meeting: “He answered in growing passion… he grew more angry and more forceful, till in the end we could not but see wherein was at least some of that personal dominance which made him so long a master amongst men” (p. 378). Surely it is no coincidence that Stoker is invoking, for Van Helsing, the same language of “dominance” and “mastery” that characterized Dracula’s conception of himself in Chapter 2. And while Van Helsing’s first words following this description—his insistence that the pursuit of Dracula is necessary for Mina’s sake and for the sake of all humanity—may mitigate our impression of him at that point, it is worth nothing that Van Helsing, for all his heroism, and the vampire, for all its evilness, may not be much apart in their status as masters of men. It would seem, however, that Stoker expects readers to regard Van Helsing favorably, since his mastery is, unlike Dracula’s, geared toward the good of others and not of himself alone. Van Helsing does not pursue power for himself; rather, he seeks to free others from the power of evil (e.g., he and his companions “are willing to peril even our own souls for the safety of the one we love,” p. 380). All the same: readers are right to be skeptical of those “masters of men” in the real world who claim, as Van Helsing does in this chapter, to be “ministers of God’s own wish… that the world… will not be given over to monsters” (p. 379). As this Analysis has suggested previously, mastery of men may define a monster more than any amount of shapeshifting, blood-sucking, or occult natural forces ever can. And, to be fair, Van Helsing’s “praise” of Dracula also lets Stoker reinforce the vampire’s role as anti-Christ: “Oh, if such a one was to come from God, and not the Devil, what a force for good might he not be in this old world of ours” (p. 380). (Not coincidentally, it is also in this chapter that we see Van Hesling [so speculates Seward] going off “to pray alone” [p. 382], just as Christ did in Gethsemane before his Passion.)
Harker’s description of the morning after which the group has learned of Dracula’s departure in terms that hearken back to Van Helsing’s discourse on “King Laugh,” for, like the emergence of joy amidst all circumstances to the contrary, Harker is so relieved by Dracula’s leaving that the whole experience, even his own ordeal in Transylvania, momentarily seems “like a long-forgotten dream” (p. 374). The moment is fleeting, however, for the scar on Mina’s forehead is a visual reminder that all is not well. “Alas!” Harker laments. “How can I disbelieve!… Whilst [Mina’s mark] lasts, there can be no disbelief” (p. 374). Stoker here may be alluding, again to the story of Doubting Thomas in John 20. Thomas would not believe that Jesus had been raised from death to new life unless he saw the scars in Jesus’ nails and side; similarly, but ironically, Harker cannot believe in a new life for himself and Mina because he sees Mina’s scar. The possibility that Harker’s journal entry may be meant to carry biblical overtones seems likely given that the incident also prompts Harker to reflect on what or who is guiding them in their hunt of Dracula: “There is something of a guiding purpose manifest throughout, which is comforting. Mina says that perhaps we are the instruments of ultimate good” (p. 374).
Although, according to the dockmaster’s report, Count Dracula is still very much a Strong Man with whom to be reckoned, we also are given some tantalizing hints that he is already somewhat diminished. As Leonard Wolf notes, “Dracula’s straw hat is another of Stoker’s masterful touches. The disordered King Vampire, in flight, is shorn of his dignity as he is made to run” (p. 376 n9). This image may lend some credence to Harker’s faith in a guiding purpose. It may function as a visual clue toward Dracula’s ultimate downfall.