Dracula: Chapter 25

Chapter 25

Summary: Van Helsing continues his “interviews” with Mina at sunrise and sunset, “to her times of peculiar freedom; when her old self can be manifest without any controlling force subduing or restraining her, or inciting her to action.” During one such interview, after signs of a violent internal struggle, Mina implores the men to promise her that, should the need arise, they will kill her rather than let Dracula use her as a weapon against them. With understandable reluctance but with a firm sense of their solemn duty to rid the world of the vampire, all the men agree—save Mina’s husband, Jonathan. He never swears his oath; the most that Mina can accomplish is to make Van Helsing pledge that he will see to it that Jonathan, and none other, delivers the fatal stroke that would at last grant her peace. She further implores the men to read for her the office of the Burial of the Dead from the Book of Common Prayer.
The other hypnotic interviews continue to confirm that Dracula is at sea aboard the Czarina Catherine. When the vessel does not arrive at Varna as scheduled, however, the group’s suspicions begin to arise that their plans have somehow gone awry. At last, on October 28, news comes that the ship has docked at Galatz instead. Undaunted, the group makes plans to travel by rail to that seaport to carry out their mission. Van Helsing charges Arthur to make arrangements with the local authorities to board and search the Czarina Catherine. Meanwhile, he and Seward again confer about their doubts regarding Mina, who has just announced a shift within her that makes her feel freer than before. The two men hypothesize that Dracula has learned of their pursuit of him through Van Helsing’s hypnosis sessions with Mina. As feared, information is thus flowing in two directions. There remains, however, hope: the new freedom that Mina feels is due to the fact that Dracula no longer wants her. His ego is consuming him—a sure mark, says Van Helsing, of the vampire’s “child-brain.” In other words, Dracula is more concerned with escaping than with claiming Mina for his own. His retreat from England mirrors his retreat to his own land following his excursions into Turkey as a military leader, so long ago, that he related to Harker back in Transylvania; therefore, the party now knows that he will redouble his efforts in time to dominate England as he dominated his enemies of the past. Knowing his plans—both through his pattern of fixation on a single crime common to all criminals and the knowledge gained through his attempts to dominate Mina’s mind—Van Helsing is certain that Dracula can yet be defeated.

Analysis: This chapter contributes a new level of understanding to Van Helsing’s previous assessments of Count Dracula. True, the vampire is intelligent and accomplished; as all “child-brains” do, he has been advancing his knowledge and skill through instrumental experimentation. Nevertheless—and ironically, given his incredibly long “life”—Dracula remains a “child-brain,” and “child-brains” are inherently selfish. And so Van Helsing can assert, “I have hope that our man-brains, that have been of man so long and that have not lost the grace of God”—perhaps a reference to the traditional Christian belief that God’s creation of mankind “in his image” (Gen. 1:27) is a reference to the human capacity for reason—“will come higher than [Dracula’s] child-brain that lie in his tomb for centuries, that grow not yet to our stature, and that do only work selfish and therefore small” (p. 401, emphasis added). So while these comments do indeed cast a new light upon Van Helsing’s seeming “praise” of Dracula in the two preceding chapters, they also underscore the critical difference between the two impressive polymaths, a difference we have encountered before. Where Dracula is fundamentally selfish and seeks to dominate others, Van Helsing and his companions are fundamentally selfless and devote themselves to serving others: “We, however, are not selfish, and we believe that God is with us through all this blackness…” (p. 405). Dracula has not “grown to the stature” of true humans, as typified by Van Helsing and his companions; they, in turn, could be seen (especially by a Victorian Christian audience familiar with the Bible) as having, or at least being well on the way, to growing into “a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13, KJV). A modern translation of the Scripture such as the NRSV renders the phrase “maturity,” but the seventeenth-century choice of “perfect man” in the King James Version suits Stoker’s purpose more aptly. Dracula, as we have well established by now—through his combination of strength but weaknesses, through the constant comparison of him to brute animals—is far from the perfect man. Van Helsing, in contrast, usually represents an idealized perfect man, and he seems to bestow much of that perfection on those who join his holy mission to destroy the evil of the vampire. The key to perfection, to growing toward divine maturity, is selflessness. It is love, seen, for example, in the innumerable blood transfusions the men who loved Lucy gave to her before her death. But that underscores the point that it is an active love, a love willing to dare, to take risks.
Perhaps this qualification is what makes poor Jonathan Harker emerge in a less than favorable light in this chapter: no one doubts his love for Mina, but his love is increasingly leading him to a place of despair for Mina’s fate rather than the hope the other men harbor. According to the Bible, Jesus said, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Stoker’s text develops this theme one step further, and not without troubling implications: great love demands not only that the lovers be willing to lay down their lives for the beloved, but also that they be willing—as we saw with Lucy, and as we see in Mina’s attempt in this chapter to extract a solemn promise from the men who surround and love her—to sacrifice the beloved’s life for the good of the beloved. Thus readers see that even Victorian society was not immune to the controversy surrounding what Seward calls that “excellent and comforting word,” euthanasia (p. 397). According to Ian Dowbiggin in A Concise History of Euthanasia,
few [in educated 19th-century circles] wanted to return to the medieval punishments for killing oneself, and many believed suicides were more to be pitied than vilified, but few remained sympathetic to [older 18th-century] Enlightenment justifications of taking one’s life to escape the physical and emotional pain of disability, disease or impending death. The religious attitude toward suicide and euthanasia remained intact, despite the efforts of secularist eighteenth-century thinkers to normalize these acts. Dying continued to be seen as a test of courage and religious virtue. And euthanasia was still mainly understood to refer to a “good death” for Christians anxious to die in a state of grace (Dowbiggin, A Concise History of Euthanasia; Rowman & Littlefield, 2007; p. 38).
It would seem that Mina views the promise she makes the men make to her as akin to the latter category. She has no qualms, it seems, asking that her life be taken if Dracula will pervert her continued existence to a method of doing evil. (But note she does not turn to euthanasia as a method of first resort, and her determination to see the battle with the vampire through places her in the Victorian tradition of idealized heroism in the face of death: “I cannot believe that to die in such a case, when there is hope before us and a bitter task to be done, is God’s will. Therefore I, on my part, give up the certainty of eternal rest, and go out into the dark where may be the blackest things that the world or the nether world holds!”, p. 390). Seward’s diary, however, would hint that he is not as convinced about “euthanasia,” despite his professed gratitude for the word’s coinage. This conflict over the act’s morality places him squarely, then, in Victorian attitudes toward euthanasia.
The chapter concludes by pointing out one more way in which God may be at work through the events of the text. The two-way communication through Dracula’s mental contacts with Mina, tricking them into thinking he still sailed for Varna rather than Galatz where he plots his escape, may have been a disadvantage to the vampire hunters, but now it is turning to their advantage. And so Van Helsing postulates: Dracula’s “child-mind only saw so far; and it may be that, as ever is in God’s Providence, the very thing that the evil doer most reckoned on for his selfish good, turns out to be his chiefest harm” (p. 404). Although the professor then quotes the Psalmist to buttress his argument, he could also have pointed to Joseph from the Hebrew Scriptures, who declared to the brothers who years before had selfishly tried to kill him: “But as for you, ye thought evil against me; butGod meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive” (Gen. 50:20, KJV).