Dracula: Chapter 7

Chapter 7

Summary: On the night of August 7-8, a terrific thunderstorm gathers and breaks over Whitby. During the height of the storm, a Russian schooner, the Demeter, speeds into the harbor, and is driven ashore seemingly by the force of the storm itself. Bizarrely, a corpse is lashed to the helm: “A great awe came on all as they realized that the ship, as if by a miracle, had found the harbour, unsteered save by the hand of a dead man!” As soon as the ship comes to rest, a large dog bounds to the deck and jumps to land, running away; although the people of Whitby will later make efforts to find the dog, they will not succeed. A surgeon boards the Demeter to investigate the corpse at the helm. He determines that the pilot appears to have lashed his own hands to the wheel, and finds, between the dead man’s hands and the wood of the wheel, a crucifix. The Demeter carries no cargo save for large boxes filled with dirt.
The Board of Trade inspector allows Mina Murray to read the journal of the Demeter. Within the pages of the ship’s log, the captain relates how fear and madness overtook his crew, and how men mysteriously vanished—at first, one by one; then, several overnight, until the first mate jumps overboard and the captain alone is left. On August 4, the captain records discovering why his first mate chose to drown himself: “I saw It—Him!” But the captain resolved to stay with his duty, tying his hands to the helm and, along with his hands, “that which He—It!—dare not touch.”
Mina and Lucy (whose sleepwalking episodes have become more frequent—she got up twice the night of August 8 and dressed herself, so that Mina had to get her back into bed) attend the funeral of the sea captain, sitting at Lucy’s favorite seat over the suicide’s grave. The morning of the funeral, Mr. Swales had been found dead, knocked off that same seat, his neck broken, a look of terror frozen on his face. During the funeral, the dog of one of the other mourners, whom Mina has never heard make a noise, spends the entire time a few yards distant barking, refusing to come to its master, who sits with Lucy and Mina at the “suicide seat.” The master eventually grabs the dog and forces it to stay, but it spends the rest of the service trembling in silence.

Analysis: Stoker’s vivid depiction of the storm at the beginning of the chapter contains some of his finest descriptive writing, language that reinforces his thematic concerns—for example: “[M]asses of sea-fog came drifting inland—white, wet clouds, which swept by in a ghostly fashion, so dank and damp and cold that it needed but little effort of imagination to think that the spirits of those lost at sea were touching their living brethren with the clammy hands of death, and many a one shuddered as the wreaths of sea-mist swept by” (p. 104). Stoker not only conveys the gloom of the storm but also evokes the supernatural, the power of the human imagination, and the blurring of the boundary between the living and the dead. The storm is a liminal event in which those two worlds intersect. Storms are also, of course, a primeval, archetypal symbol of chaos and disorder—and Dracula will soon introduce much of each into ostensibly calm and ordered Victorian England!
Dracula arrives, of course, as a large dog; this chapter thus reinforces the connection between Dracula and wild animals. The dog cannot later be located. The only trace Dracula-as-dog leaves of his presence is the body of the “half-bred mastiff” he slays (presumably; p. 108). Ironically, the SPCA (the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, “organized in England in 1824, primarily to prevent carriage horse abuse in the days before automobiles… [later] the Society expanded to include dogs and other animals in its fight against cruelty,” http:www.spca.com/pages/history) wants to find the dog, in order “to befriend the animal” (p. 108). If the Society only knew the dog’s true nature, no doubt they would not be so keen on caring for it!
Although it is unclear why a Board of Trade inspector should allow Mina access to the Demeter’s journal, this forced plot device is soon forgotten as readers, along with Mina, become engrossed in the terrifying tale that unfolds in the vessel’s official log. Stoker heightens suspense by only gradually confirming readers’ fears that Dracula was aboard the vessel: the log entries move from brief notices of “All correct” (July 11, p. 109), to the customs officers in the Dardanelles wanting the Demeter to leave quickly (July 12, pp. 109-110), to a small mention of the crew seeming scared (July 13, p. 110), to Petrofsky having gone missing (July 16, p. 110). Only then do we read of any stranger aboard, and he is only vaguely described as a suspected presence (July 17, p. 110). This suspicion is enough for the captain to order a search, which (of course) yields no results; thus, Stoker can, after a partial easing of tension, begin to ratchet it up again as more crewmen go missing, until only the captain and his mate remain as the ship nears England (August 2, p. 112). The storm and fog that buffet the ship from without mirror, symbolically, the dread gathering within, the fear that causes the captain to declare, “God has deserted us” (p. 112). Truly, more than he knows, he and his crew are lost (i.e., doomed to die). Biblically literate readers may find in the Demeter’s experience ironic echoes of Psalm 107, in which merchant sailors “go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters; [they] see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep. For he commandeth, and raiseth the stormy wind, which lifteth up the waves thereof. They mount up to the heaven, they go down again to the depths: their soul is melted because of trouble. They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wit’s end. Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and he bringeth them out of their distresses. He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still. Then are they glad because they be quiet; so he bringeth them unto their desired haven” (Ps. 107:24-30, KJV).  The Demeter ultimately reaches its “desired haven,” but not safely; her crew is at it’s “wit’s end,” and for good reason; their companion is not the God who can still the seas, but, as the captain calls Dracula, “this fiend or monster” (August 4, p. 114) who, as already noted, brings a storm of death with him to England’s shores. The mate and the captain both call upon God, but the text gives no comfort that God heard their cries.
Stoker’s setting of Swales’ death on the “suicide seat” (see Ch. 6 and Analysis above) may also evoke traditional theological assumptions of godforsakenness, given the long-held doctrine that God rejects suicides. More to the point, as Leonard Wolf points out, “In folklore, suicides often become vampires,” p. 117 n35). Professor Barbara Gates writes, “We know that [Victorians] openly mourned death and sensationalized murder, but they seem to have deeply feared suicide and to have concealed it whenever possible… For most Victorians there was something subversive about suicide, something that demanded suppression and swift entombment” (Gates, Introduction, Victorian Suicide: Mad Crimes and Sad Histories, Princeton University Press, 1988; available online at http:www.victorianweb.org/books/suicide/intro.html). Certainly these attitudes seem to inform the “suicide seat” in Stoker’s Dracula. As noted earlier, the fact of the deceased’s suicide was suppressed on the headstone; and, in this chapter (as well as the next, q.v.), his grave becomes a location of further evil, a place to which Dracula is either drawn or actively chooses to find his way.
Victorian attitudes toward and burgeoning medical and psychiatric knowledge of sleepwalking also informs the events of Dracula, as seen in this chapter and elsewhere in the text. According to Joel Peter Eigen, “[T]he well-documented Victorian passion for order, discipline, and authority lent an urgeny to mapping out the universe of ‘autonomous’ activity… Existing studies of Victorian mental medicine and the era’s obsessive preoccupation with self-control depict the unconscious states of sleepwalking, epilepsy, and absence as periods in which the person has been somehow ‘switched off,’ leaving no room for purposeful activity… [In somnambulism,] one meets the mysterious specter of the double: an alter presence that manifested behavior and attitudes sharply discrepant from, and often in direct opposition to, the ‘host’” (Eigen, Unconscious Crime: Mental Absence and Criminal Responsibility in Victorian England, Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003; pp. 16, 17). Given this idea that sleepwalkers manifest a threat to social order and personal well-being, it is no wonder that Mina reacts to Lucy’s sleepwalking with alarm and does her best to arrest it. As we shall see, of course, her efforts do not prove sufficient against Count Dracula’s stronger will.