Dracula: Chapter 9

Chapter 9

Summary: Mina makes her way to Hungary, where she finds Jonathan, still recovering in the hospital, “only a wreck of himself.” Nevertheless, the two are married there. Jonathan solemnly implores Mina not to read the journal he kept (while a prisoner in Castle Dracula); Mina agrees, and seals the book with wax and her wedding ring as a sign of her intention not to look its pages “unless it were for his own dear sake or for the sake of some stern duty.”
In the meantime, in England, Lucy grows worse, after an initial return to good health. Feeling week and “full of vague fear,” Lucy, unaware of her mother’s own terminal condition, resolves to try and be cheerful for her sake—but it is clear to Arthur that Lucy is unwell. Arthur writes to Seward, who agrees to examine Lucy (despite their awkward romantic past). Seward finds Lucy “somewhat bloodless,” but without the usual indicators of anemia; perplexed, he writes to his old instructor and friend, Professor Abraham Van Helsing of Amsterdam. When Van Helsing examines Lucy, he becomes quite concerned about her apparent loss of blood, and vows to keep a close watch on his patient.
Seward is also maintaining a close watch on his own patient, Renfield. The seeming madman has grown somewhat more docile in recent days, and Seward arranges for Renfield to have a chance to “escape,” so that Seward might learn something of Renfield’s mind. Unexpectedly, when given the opportunity to leave, Renfield does not take it; but no sooner has he been shut back up in a padded room than he makes a true escape. He is found where he was before, “pressed up against the old chapel door” on the grounds of the abandoned Carfax estate. He returns to the asylum quietly. Seward takes notice of Renfield eyeing “a big bat… flapping its silent and ghostly way to the west.” Over the next several days, Renfield has periods of rage that wax and wane. Seemingly despondent, the patient returns to his old practice of gathering flies. But, one night at midnight, he again declares he is “sick of all that rubbish” and empties his box of flies out the window. Seward tries to determine why Renfield’s fits seem tied to high noon, sunset and midnight. He also remains mindful of Lucy. Three days later, Seward urgently cables Van Helsing with the news that Lucy, who had been improving, has taken a “[t]errible change for the worse.”

Analysis: This chapter again demonstrates Stoker’s use of the technique of “interlacing” to advance his narrative. We read Lucy’s letter of August 20 from Whitby (Wolf argues convincingly that the usually careful Stoker has misdated this letter as “August 30,” p. 141 n7) in which she reports that she is “restored” and has “quite given up walking in [her] sleep” (p. 141)—unsurprising, since Dracula has moved on from that seaside town—only to learn that her condition has deteriorated when she is in closer geographical proximity to Dracula (August 24 and following). In the same chapter, we read of how Renfield’s madness goes stronger and weaker at various times: as Leonard Wolf explains, “Renfield’s rages correspond to the times when Dracula’s powers are limited” (p. 151 n28): high noon and sunset, for instance, are “times when Dracula’s power waxes and wanes” (p. 152 n30). Add in the formal similarities between two patients, who oscillate between health and sickness (Lucy’s mostly physical, Renfield’s mostly mental), both being cared for by Seward, and readers gain an appreciation for the effects to which Stoker uses interlacing. In placing these two “medical histories” side-by-side, readers gain a fuller picture of Dracula’s abilities and influence. (The third “medical history” in this chapter, of course, is Harker’s, at the Hospital of Saints Joseph and Mary; it, too, testifies to Dracula’s effects, but to a lesser degree at this point than the other two. Its inclusion here seems primarily to establish the secrecy with which Harker wants his journal to be treated.)
Lucy’s malady, of course, is blood-loss, but not anemia: instead, she is (unbeknownst to her, of course) losing blood to the vampire. Once more, Lucy is unable to distinguish consciousness from unconsciousness—on August 25 she writes, “I tried to keep awake, and succeeded for a while; but when the clock struck twelve”—note again the occurrence of midnight, significant for Lucy’s condition as it is for Renfield’s (cf. p. 152)—“it waked me from a doze, so I must have been falling asleep… More bad dreams. I wish I could remember them” (p. 144). Since her unremembered “dreams” end when she is awakened by the sound of “a sort of scratching or flapping at the window,” of course, we can only assume they are not dreams at all, but Dracula’s visitations.
This chapter marks the introduction of, arguably, the second most famous of the novel’s characters: Van Helsing, almost as well known even among those who have not read the book as Count Dracula himself (thanks in no small part to the big-budget but much-maligned 2004 film starring Hugh Jackman as the vampire hunter!). A quick search of Wikipedia will attest to Van Helsing’s iconic status in popular culture (http:en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abraham_Van_Helsing), but readers will do well to focus on Stoker’s original portrayal of the character, which is fascinating in itself because this extremely accomplished, wise man of science, by turns playful and flirtatious and solemn and stern, may be, to some degree, the author’s idealized portrait of himself: as Wolf notes, “If we have any doubts about whose side the author is on in the battle between darkness and light in this novel, we need only compare Van Helsing’s first name with Stoker’s own. ‘Bram’ is a contraction of ‘Abraham,’ which was also the name of Stoker’s father” (p. 148 n20). Van Helsing is friends with Seward because the latter apparently sucked gangrene out of a knife wound accidentally inflicted upon Van Helsing by their mutual friend, Quincey Morris of Texas (cf. Ch. 5). Van Helsing writes that he was on his way to visit Morris, in fact, when he received Seward’s summons to come examine Lucy. Wolf points out, “Blood sucking is the basis of [Van Helsing and Seward’s] bond of friendship” (p. 148 n21), and, of course, that fact is another instance of irony: whereas blood sucking in the one case led to life (Seward saving Van Helsing’s life), blood sucking in the other, of course, leads to death—or, rather, being “undead” (vampires feeding on the blood of the living).