Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Contemplating the Moon---Dracula, the Character, and the Novel

Dracula's one of those books that you think you know well before you read it.

Because Dracula the character has been so completely, ruthlessly assimilated into our collective pop consciousness, it's easy to say just about every person in the western world who's walking and talking knows about him, however vaguely. And it's true--Dracula as an archetype/stereotype is around for most people from childhood on. He's one of the very first monsters we know the name of, and his visage has glowered from every conceivable consumer durable that can be manufactured, from movies to cereal to condoms to Sesame Street. Even if the name isn't used, "vampire" and "Dracula" have become synonymous.

But like most things we know, we don't really know much until we go to the source material. And Bram Stoker's novel Dracula is a book that managed to dip into a very deep well of the human heart and mind, not through its general use of a vampire antagonist but through his very specific creation, of one extraordinary man who longed for more, with such iron will and ferocious ambition that he outstripped his humanity.

I first read Dracula in college. I picked up the Bantam Books paperback that had "Man and Woman Contemplating the Moon" on it:

And, after being startled by the fact that the book "wasn't what I expected" (although what I did expect remains hazy to me) I devoured it, read my original copy to shreds and have read the book every year, around this time, ever since. Every time I do, new facets of this group of characters--a bunch of So Very Victorian Vampire Hunters, and their raging prey--get clearer to me.

(Okay, before we go any further: I'm going in depth here, talking about the entire book, INCLUDING the ending. So if you have for some reason eluded the story of Dracula thus far and want to keep it as a surprise, don't read any further, okay? Also, is it nice on your compound? Can I see your guns?)

All righty then...

First off, a few notes about the history of this book.

 Bram Stoker had a life that would have provided material for a dozen novels in and of itself. He was Irish, and grew up in a large family with a incredibly intelligent and driven mother. He was quite ill for much of his early childhood and spent most of his time in bed, reading or listening to his mother's ghost stories (if you want to prep for a career writing horror, listening to Irish ghost stories at an impressionable age is pretty much the way to go.)

As Bram got older his health improved, to the point where he became a champion athlete at Trinity College. While there, he also became interested in theater (oh, boy) and in adult life became the manager of the famous actor Sir Henry Irving and his theatrical troupe. He met and married Florence Balcome, traveled in his managerial capacity all over Europe (including Eastern Europe) and America, all the while writing short stories and working for the newspaper The Daily Telegraph. Because Irving was famous and celebrated, Stoker, as his manager, moved in higher society circles then one might expect for a man of his background.

So far, a pretty awesome life, yes? Well, of course. But, then again...

One of the many reasons Dracula, despite being constructed, carefully, as a "realistic" novel (more on that later) has strummed the darker strings of our collective heart so insistently is that it contains a near perfect portrayal of divided minds, divided psyches. Other writers, of course, have touched this point (notably Robert Louis Stevenson's Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde), but rather then one character or another being divided in Dracula, the novel itself induces the feeling of division, of realizing a part of you--a part you have refused to acknowledge--just might be choosing to go where it lists without your permission; to follow a tall man with dubious inclinations down a path to an oblivion that you've been taught is sinful, a blasphemy. And yet, you want to go. You can't help it. His red eyes again, they are just the same.

Dracula is one of those books that is the opposite of inevitable. Rather, when you read it you realize its existence is due to a very specific conflation of circumstances, that it couldn't have been conceived of by any other mind, written in any other time. So what was it about Bram Stoker that led him to write, as only his second major work, a book that placed a iron hand onto the popular imagination?

Stoker was, from the beginning, a man with at least two opinions on everything--feminism, writing, science, you name it. He started out as a feminist (influenced greatly by his mother, an ardent feminist thinker) but by the time he composed Dracula his fears of the "New Woman", and her presumed lack of need for a male, were quite clear on the pages. He was an intellectual who couldn't unglue the sticky fingers of superstition from his mind. He was the manager of a charismatic, successful actor who gave him access to the world but demanded uncompromising loyalty and devotion in return. And he was married to a celebrated beauty who had, it is rumored, a lack of interest in sex that bordered on a phobia (or to use a derogatory term, "frigid".) Let's put it this way--when Stoker began paying court to Florence Balcome, one of his chief rivals was Oscar Wilde.

To put things simply, Stoker was a man uneasy in his mind. And that uneasiness, the feeling that for all your thoughts and choices and free will, there is a cluster of dusky, hanging things tucked just out of sight behind you, is what gives Dracula its power.

As an example of this, let's look at the structure of the novel. It's one of the first surprises for most people coming to the book for the first time.

Dracula is what is called an "epistolary novel". That is, a novel told not from one point of view but several views trading off, in the form of letters, telegrams, newspaper clippings and journals that have been ostensibly gathered together as various facets of a story.

While the structure may seem old fashioned, it was quite modern when Stoker used it, and he chose it specifically for several reason; the most important of which was to lend an air of modern, scientific realism to the book. He was very careful in creating "believability"; using the methods his society saw as recognizable and trustworthy (like a newspaper report) in order to heighten the terror of the events described. Rather then being able to keep an emotional distance by reading about exotic lands and creepy castles in the third person, Johnathan Harker's journal, letters between best friends or "cuttings" from various newspapers made the tale seem all too possible, all too real, as though these things weren't born somewhere in an author's mind but really out there, notes and scraps telling a terrible story that needed only to be brought together in one volume for the full horror to come to light.

Using this structure also gave Stoker freedom to switch back and forth between characters and timelines, building to a climax for one character and then leaving the reader breathless about what had happened to him while the book abruptly switches to Mina Harker's journal or Dr. Seward's diary for another, seemingly unrelated story that slowly braid together into a collective whole.

The clashes and contrasts between the modern and ancient are a major theme in the novel, with its opening in Transylvania and Johnathan Harker, young solicitor's clerk and fiance of Mina Murray, heading deep into the Carpathian mountains in order to assist a client of his boss in purchasing an English estate.

Harker's journal presents a young and intelligent man who takes notes on everything he sees (as was considered de rigueur for the intellectual  traveler in Stoker's time), from the "costuming" of the peasants to reminders to get recipes for the local dishes so Mina can cook them for him back in England (hmph.) As he cheerfully records the "charming superstitions" of the locals, while they increasingly panic over the news that he's headed to Castle Dracula and practically force crucifixes around his neck and wild roses into his luggage, the reader is realizing that this happy, frank, relatable man that most would enjoy having as a friend or marrying to their daughter is about to be plunged into something he is not remotely ready for--and it is his very modernity, his urban intellectualism and touristy interest in the "quaintness" of his surroundings, that is endangering him.

Sure enough, Harker is soon at the Borgo Pass, where a mysterious coachman plops him into his carriage with grim glee as his fellow travelers practically break their fingers crossing themselves and heading the hell out of there. His constant diary entries, trying to record what's happening, only highlight the irrational terror of the ride:

Soon we were hemmed in with trees, which in places arched right over the roadway till we passed as through a tunnel; and again great frowning rocks guarded us boldly on either side. Though we were in shelter, we could hear the rising wind, for it moaned and whistled through the rocks, and the branches of the trees crashed together as we swept along. It grew colder and colder still, and fine, powdery snow began to fall, so that soon we and all around us were covered with a white blanket. The keen wind still carried the howling of the dogs, though this grew fainter as we went on our way. The baying of the wolves sounded nearer and nearer, as though they were closing round on us from every side. I grew dreadfully afraid, and the horses shared my fear. The driver, however, was not in the least disturbed; he kept turning his head to left and right, but I could not see anything through the darkness...
Suddenly, away on our left, I saw a faint flickering blue flame. The driver saw it at the same moment; he at once checked the horses, and, jumping to the ground, disappeared into the darkness. I did not know what to do, the less as the howling of the wolves grew closer; but while I wondered the driver suddenly appeared again, and without a word took his seat, and we resumed our journey. I think I must have fallen asleep and kept dreaming of the incident, for it seemed to be repeated endlessly, and now looking back, it is like a sort of awful nightmare.[...]
At last there came a time when the driver went further afield than he had yet gone, and during his absence, the horses began to tremble worse than ever and to snort and scream with fright. I could not see any cause for it, for the howling of the wolves had ceased altogether; but just then the moon, sailing through the black clouds, appeared behind the jagged crest of a beetling, pine-clad rock, and by its light I saw around us a ring of wolves, with white teeth and lolling red tongues, with long, sinewy limbs and shaggy hair. They were a hundred times more terrible in the grim silence which held them than even when they howled. For myself, I felt a sort of paralysis of fear. It is only when a man feels himself face to face with such horrors that he can understand their true import.

Scariest of all is the moment when Harker realizes that the coach is merely racing back and forth over the same stretch of road and not actually going anywhere. As the helplessness of his crazy situation sinks in, the reader also starts abandoning the notion that there is any way out of this.

The coachman finally gets tired of whatever he's playing at and drives to the castle. Stoker takes the gothic tradition of the "haunted mansion" and shoves it firmly backwards. Rather then having a mad family or retainers living in Castle Dracula, it is clear from the outset that nobody (save apparently the Count himself) has occupied this place for centuries. It's not so much falling apart as it is sinking down into a well of time, into a past so ancient it is impossible to feel a connection with it. Its construction of stone insures it will physically be around for some while yet, but any kind of human comfort is steadily rotting away--faded tapestries, threadbare furniture, and dust, dust, dust--piled in heaps and mountains on every surface.

This is the past, where we like our evil stories to stay--far away from us. But Dracula, as we will see, has other plans.

Jonathan's meeting of the Count is quite extraordinary. He's left outside a giant oaken door in the middle of a pitch black courtyard, with nowhere to go and seemingly no way to get anybody's attention. Then, the giant panels creak back and standing there is the Count, who says the following line:

Welcome to my house! Enter freely and of your own will!"

That's quite an invitation--formal, courteous, and specific. You have to choose to enter this place, this duality of desire between the mind's rational choices and its darker ones. And once again, it's rationality that pushes Harker, and the reader, over that threshold--he's got no other practical course of action. What, he's going to march down a mountain in the middle of the night? Summon help? Go to a hotel? It's either stay outside in the cold with those chop-licking wolves, or chose what this man is offering you.

So in we go, and it's time to get to know our host.

Although Dracula has been assimilated (and in most cases thoroughly debased) into pop culture, that distorted caricature has little to nothing to do with Stoker's creation. He put a lot of thought into what kind of monster Dracula is, and how he got that way. It's significant that of all the divided souls in the world of this book, his is the most profoundly split. Rather then being "merely" a representation of id gone berserk or personification of sexual longing in a repressive age or what have you, Dracula is a character with a past, who has made and is making choices, and is, like the other characters, on the run from parts of himself. That he is a creature of will and decision is the most important thing about him--without it, he would simply be a collection of appetites, with no force of personality behind his deeds, and horror would find no footing with him and his dark red eyes.

The count marches Johnathan through a series of corridors and stairs until they arrive at a clean, cheerful dining room/lounge with a tasty dinner ready and waiting. Harker, cold, tired and bewildered, has his spirits mightily lifted by prospect of food, drink, and "normality" reasserting itself. The Count excuses himself from dinner (of course) but sits with Johnathan as he eats, and afterwards offers a cigar (that epitome of accoutrements for the civilized gentleman) and a conversation that runs until the dawn.

This discussion, in which the Count outlines the vast, bloody, and epic history of his "race"--that is, the family Dracula--is one of the most important in the book, although it may not seem so on first reading. His vast descriptions of the mighty Draculas of the past (that is, his own deeds, performed far back on the road of time) outline a man who still, despite his strange allegiances made to eternity, has the pride of a living person in his outstanding ancestry, a time in which deeds were performed, wars fought, and giants strode in a way that simply can no longer be compassed by the modern world, even in this antique relic of a land where he once held sway above all. In his own mind, the most important fact about Dracula is not that he is a vampire, but that he is a Count. He is nobility, ruler, boyar, and his own overwhelming pride in that fact, his utter inability to give up that power but instead to reach beyond the limits of life to grasp still more of it, has led to his present situation--a king of an empty castle.

Oh, sure, the peasants still quake in their shoes at the mention of his name (and with good reason), string garlic around and hang crucifixes in every window, but that's not the same. A conqueror is never going to be content with the quiet of passing centuries, of being a wolf among such thoroughly intimidated sheep. Like all those who shook their fists to curse God, but not die, he's looking towards vaster horizons and greener pastures. He's looking to London. And nice, intelligent, modern Johnathan Harker, the embodiment of the up to date modern man (he even keeps his journal in shorthand) is going to provide the final touches to his plan.

Harker's adventures and terrors in Castle Dracula make up the first part of the book, and there are many, but one episode, with its lurid tints of sexuality and what it means when eroticism is completely split from life, is the most memorable.

Johnathan, who has quickly figured out that he's not going anywhere before the Count's through with him, and probably not even then, is exploring the castle, trying to get some bearings and figure out why the hell he never sees Dracula during the day and why the guy never seems to eat, ends up in a part of the building that was clearly some kind of women's quarters back in the century. Defiantly (Drac warned him about falling asleep anywhere but his own room)  he drowses off there. He awakens to a scenario that, while it probably would cost quite a pretty penny in a Victorian brothel, nearly puts an end to him.

I was not alone. The room was the same, unchanged in any way since I came into it; I could see along the floor, in the brilliant moonlight, my own footsteps marked where I had disturbed the long accumulation of dust. In the moonlight opposite me were three young women, ladies by their dress and manner. I thought at the time that I must be dreaming when I saw them, for, though the moonlight was behind them, they threw no shadow on the floor. They came close to me, and looked at me for some time, and then whispered together. Two were dark, and had high aquiline noses, like the Count, and great dark, piercing eyes that seemed to be almost red when contrasted with the pale yellow moon. The other was fair, as fair as can be, with great wavy masses of golden hair and eyes like pale sapphires. I seemed somehow to know her face, and to know it in connection with some dreamy fear, but I could not recollect at the moment how or where. All three had brilliant white teeth that shone like pearls against the ruby of their voluptuous lips. There was something about them that made me uneasy, some longing and at the same time some deadly fear. I felt in my heart a wicked, burning desire that they would kiss me with those red lips. It is not good to note this down, lest some day it should meet Mina’s eyes and cause her pain; but it is the truth. They whispered together, and then they all three laughed—such a silvery, musical laugh, but as hard as though the sound never could have come through the softness of human lips. It was like the intolerable, tingling sweetness of water-glasses when played on by a cunning hand. The fair girl shook her head coquettishly, and the other two urged her on. One said:—

“Go on! You are first, and we shall follow; yours is the right to begin.” The other added:—
“He is young and strong; there are kisses for us all.” I lay quiet, looking out under my eyelashes in an agony of delightful anticipation. The fair girl advanced and bent over me till I could feel the movement of her breath upon me. Sweet it was in one sense, honey-sweet, and sent the same tingling through the nerves as her voice, but with a bitter underlying the sweet, a bitter offensiveness, as one smells in blood.
I was afraid to raise my eyelids, but looked out and saw perfectly under the lashes. The girl went on her knees, and bent over me, simply gloating. There was a deliberate voluptuousness which was both thrilling and repulsive, and as she arched her neck she actually licked her lips like an animal, till I could see in the moonlight the moisture shining on the scarlet lips and on the red tongue as it lapped the white sharp teeth. Lower and lower went her head as the lips went below the range of my mouth and chin and seemed about to fasten on my throat. Then she paused, and I could hear the churning sound of her tongue as it licked her teeth and lips, and could feel the hot breath on my neck. Then the skin of my throat began to tingle as one’s flesh does when the hand that is to tickle it approaches nearer—nearer. I could feel the soft, shivering touch of the lips on the super-sensitive skin of my throat, and the hard dents of two sharp teeth, just touching and pausing there. I closed my eyes in a languorous ecstasy and waited—waited with beating heart.

These women, Dracula's brides that he's collected over the span of years and obviously tired of, are the embodiment of the "fallen woman" of Stoker's day. Although lovely and seductive, they have no reason to exist. They apparently just hang around the castle night after night, decade after decade, waiting for their master to feed them and snap at his hands, mocking his idea of love. He, just as clearly, is sick to death of them (hah) and has absolutely no plans to take them along with him to the big city. They don't seem to care much about that-- as the opposite of a "good" wife and mother, they are the representation of a female evil, an essential selfishness; eagerly grabbing up the sack that contains Dracula's idea of a light supper (hint; a peasant mother is at this moment pelting towards the castle, wailing in rage) and easily appeased at being abandoned in this rock pile as long as they all get a crack at the tender young specimen of manhood "sleeping" on the sofa over there (who is taking desperate mental notes and trying not to pass out from terror.)

Dracula's brides are the inverse of the Victorian "angel" wife and mother--thoroughly debased, vicious and wicked, their allure is great but, as the ultimate teases, the follow through is not bliss but a chomp to the neck and a bleak unlife of wandering the dark, hunting former fellows for eternity. They are both the shortsightedness lust produces and its lingering regrets, for their hapless human victims and Dracula himself, whose eternal life means, inevitably, the dying out of great passions and not so eternal loves.

Johnathan, desperate not to be a midnight snack and to stop Dracula's march forward into the modern age, is planning a last chance escape when the novel abruptly leaves him leaning out a window over a cliff face and moves, like a spyglass swiveling to a new fixed point, to the England and girl he left behind--Mina Murray, Harker's fiancee' and the emotional still point of the turning world of the novel.

Mina is an interesting creation, and quite clearly a male one. She is highly intelligent ("A man's brain", says the vampire's main nemesis, Abraham Van Helsing, approvingly), loyal and loving, modest and uncaring for material wealth (although she is very plainly drawn as a woman of modest means but complete command of the etiquette and nuances of her society--a lady) whose highest goal is to be a devoted and equal partner to her future husband. She keeps her journal in shorthand as well (she learned in the first place so as to be helpful to Johnathan in his solicitor's work) and takes careful notes on everything she sees. As her portion of the story begins, she is in Whitby, a seaside resort, as a kind of companion/guest of her friends, Lucy Westenra and her mother.

Despite Mina's status as a former working woman (she was a schoolteacher; indeed, Lucy is a former pupil of the finishing school where she taught) and firm stance in nineteenth century modernity--she not only writes shorthand, she types! the equivalent in Stoker's day of knowing Excel--Stoker is very careful to make sure his audience knows Mina is not one of those dreadful New Women who were running around and demanding things like having the vote and not wearing steel cages as underwear. She's not a depraved creature of lust nor a "sexless" harpy of the future--she's the angel of the book.

Angelic status or not, however, Mina is luckily a full blooded (heh) character, whose sharp mind and ready wit outline all she is seeing and experiencing with her friends as she waits patiently for Johnathan to wrap up his legal dealings and return to her. Stoker does a lot with Mina's status as unrealizing witness in this section--everything she notes, whether it's the fact that the girls' favorite seat in the local cemetery is a suicide's grave (which becomes important later), or the articles in the local paper about a great local storm that washed a foreign ship up on the beach and turned out to be steered by a dead man--all are threads in Stoker's story. He's making Mina's innocence a measure of accuracy in everything she records: the audience realizes that since she doesn't know the import of what she's writing down, she can't possibly infuse it with prejudice or personal theories, and the growing realization that not only has Dracula succeeded in his grand plan, he's already targeting sweet, naive Lucy as his latest bride becomes more and more horrible for that.

Where Mina's innocence is that of a recording seraphim, Lucy's is much more down to earth. She is the light of the west, a dawn in all senses of the word. Several years younger then Mina, she's fresh from the schoolroom and debutante balls and ready and willing to be courted by the several young men who are circling her young, newly ripened beauty like moths do a flame. Stoker contrasts her with Mina, who's "taken" and therefore not in such immediate danger, to show how the most valued member of a society--a young virgin choosing a good husband and beginning her transformation to "angelic" status--is the most threatened by what Dracula represents. Where Lucy is a verdant field, her attractions those of youth and fertility, Dracula comes with his perversion of all that--he changes life not to death, death in the natural cycle of things, but into unlife, the field salted and sere, a field where nothing (children) will ever grow.

Lucy, while not stupid, is clearly no Mina. She's full of young animal life, her form is functional to the extreme. Her big ambition is to get married and have children and be utterly charming--that's it.

 Her letter to Lucy in which she describes getting three proposals in one day (and in which Stoker ingeniously introduces most of the rest of the main characters--Arthur Holmwood, Johnathan Seward, and Quincey Morris-- as the eager pursuers) is a comic episode; Lucy is utterly without guile, but no girl can get three proposals in a day without getting a bit of a swelled head, after all--but also is intended to touch the heart of the reader, to point out that this sweet young thing is the one most imperiled, without knowing it, and her loss is the loss of something we supposedly cherish the most.

Lucy's seduction (to make sure everybody gets that she's entirely innocent--to use a gross modernism, a "rape rape"--it takes place while she is sleepwalking, in a dream state) is the  first extended period of horror in the novel.

Whereas Johnathan's narrow escape is structured like an adventure story, Lucy's vanishing is a long drawn out tragedy--frilled with Victorianisms and lurid tints to be sure, but a tragedy all the same. Right after a foreign ship's crash onto Whitby's beach (the ship's called the Demeter, in a nice nod to a mythological version of bereft mothers and stolen daughters), where the girls are vacationing with Lucy's mother, Lucy sleepwalks, as is her apparently inherited (from her dead father, according to Mrs. Westenra) wont out of her house, across town to the cemetery and the favorite seat of her waking life--the suicide's grave. Mina, searching frantically around for her, puts two and two together and heads to the graveyard herself, where she spots Lucy--and for a moment, something else. Something tall and black and bending over a helpless and prostrate Lucy--but then it's gone.

Mina gets herself and Lucy home safely, giving thanks that nobody saw a well bred young girl wandering around in her nightgown  (horrors!) and writes up the incident, making sure to note that Lucy's mother isn't to be told under any circumstances, as she's got a bad heart and any shock could finish her off (Stoker sure doesn't leave loose ends, does he?) Everything seems fine at first, but Lucy starts changing.

She's acting the same, or trying to, but she's getting thinner, and paler. She has a hard time breathing sometimes, and her sleepwalking increases. Mina doesn't know why a sleeping Lucy wants to leave their shared bedroom so badly, but it's clear she wants to go somewhere, and wants it a lot.

Lucy's altered state doesn't go unnoticed by her new fiance' Arthur Holmwood either. In fact, he's so worried that he contacts his old pal (and unsuccessful proposer to Lucy), John Seward, to take a look at her. John's a doctor, and while his professional life is devoted to running a big, modern lunatic asylum, he's still a medical professional, and Arthur's intended clearly needs help.

John still cares for Lucy and Arthur is an dear friend, so he swallows his pride and goes to see her. She's changed, all right. So changed that John, completely at sea as to what might have suddenly altered a healthy, happy young girl so strangely, feels compelled to call in a second opinion. This is Lucy, so he wants the best--his old friend, teacher, and mentor from medical school.

Enter Abraham Van Helsing.

If Dracula is a man who sold his humanity to stand outside it, Van Helsing lives completely in the thick of things. He's Dutch, both a lawyer and a doctor, speaks any language needed and is generally a font of knowledge, wisdom and kindness to everyone who knows him. Where Dracula hoards piles of old, stained gold and sterile, voracious brides, Van Helsing is continually giving--his time, his knowledge and his skills go to his patients and his former students. His personal tragedies--his only son, it appears, is dead, and his wife has "lost her wits" irrevocably--which might have led another personality to despair or desperate acts, have been channeled into assisting his fellow man in every way he can. Stoker's point is clear. Dracula is the bad version of power and of fatherhood, of patronage--power turned on itself for the mere continuation of its own existence. Van Helsing is the good father (and the only father figure in the novel who isn't dead), a man who cheerfully shows up at a summons of an friend--who once saved his life; Seward sucked the infected blood from a festering wound on his hand years ago, in a reversal of the vampire's act--all the way from Amsterdam (then, as now, Amsterdam was considered a hotbed of liberal forward thinking) to assist complete strangers with a level of devotion that would be absurd if Van Helsing were a less vivid, larger-than-life creation. Having lost his own personal family, he has deliberately chosen to be a paterfamilias to the family of man.

Lucy's decline is a series of heartbreaking almosts and near-misses--she'll seem to improve, then the next morning be on the verge of death--and Stoker uses the passing tense days and nights to make the reader realize that Dracula is just playing with all the participants, out of apparently sheer malicious joy. He could have turned Lucy at once, but instead he draws it out, and the desperate interference of Seward and Van Helsing, with the former having no clue why his mentor insists on having garlic flowers strewn around Lucy's room, manages to move the girl steadily into the Count's grip. Even a series of blood transfusions (from all the young men, including the third proposer Quincey Morris and Van Helsing himself) end up serving no greater purpose then extending poor Lucy's end by a few days.

After the seeming inevitable, Stoker gets down to business. Van Helsing, who has realized from the start what he is fighting, tells Seward what is going on, with the latter reacting the way you'd expect a reasonable man to do--his first thought is that his teacher and mentor has lost it. But no--through a protracted series of visits to Lucy's family crypt and the eventual bringing in of Arthur Holmwood, her heartbroken intended, and Quincey to the plot, Van Helsing demonstrates, using empirical methods, that Lucy is indeed far more active than would be expected of a dead woman. And what's worse (especially to a Victorian reader) her hunting grounds are the alleys and streets containing the young children of lower-class London. Since she's new at it, she hasn't killed any of them yet, but it's only a matter of time. This inversion of what Lucy was supposed to be (wife and mother) into a demonic mockery of that state is so ghastly that, after a midnight visit where she nearly entices Arthur over to her arms, the men agree that this abomination must end.

Lucy's true death is as vivid as a penny dreadful postcard, and Freud would have danced a caper of joy upon reading it. Having assembled at her coffin, as she lays there blooming with horrid, unnatural beauty, Van Helsing offers Arthur the chance to be the one to do the dreadful deed. After all:

 So that, my friend, it will be a blessed hand for her that shall strike the blow that sets her free. To this I am willing; but is there none amongst us who has a better right? Will it be no joy to think of hereafter in the silence of the night when sleep is not: ‘It was my hand that sent her to the stars; it was the hand of him that loved her best; the hand that of all she would herself have chosen, had it been to her to choose?’ 

Well, when you put it that way...

Arthur manages to go through with it, but it's plenty bloody and gruesome--enough to satisfy the not-so-respectable appetites of his readership.

Arthur took the stake and the hammer, and when once his mind was set on action his hands never trembled nor even quivered. Van Helsing opened his missal and began to read, and Quincey and I followed as well as we could. Arthur placed the point over the heart, and as I looked I could see its dint in the white flesh. Then he struck with all his might.
The Thing in the coffin writhed; and a hideous, blood-curdling screech came from the opened red lips. The body shook and quivered and twisted in wild contortions; the sharp white teeth champed together till the lips were cut, and the mouth was smeared with a crimson foam. But Arthur never faltered. He looked like a figure of Thor as his untrembling arm rose and fell, driving deeper and deeper the mercy-bearing stake, whilst the blood from the pierced heart welled and spurted up around it. His face was set, and high duty seemed to shine through it; the sight of it gave us courage so that our voices seemed to ring through the little vault.
And then the writhing and quivering of the body became less, and the teeth seemed to champ, and the face to quiver. Finally it lay still. The terrible task was over.


And now, the loop formed by these several journals and notebooks and pasted clippings begins to draw close, bringing together the two disparate groups of the Harkers (Mina and Johnathan now being married) and the ragtag bundle of vampire hunters, with Van Helsing as the retort flask in between.

Van Helsing, having twigged pretty early on in Lucy's illness what was happening, has been feverishly tracing the girl's steps in order to figure out when and where she encountered the vampire, and having read her letters, finds the name of her beloved friend, Mina. Quickly figuring that Mina and Lucy had until recently been together, he realizes that this young woman has valuable information, whether she knows it or not.

Mina, having nursed Johnathan back to health after an attack of "brain fever" and married him in Transylvania, is settling down into a new life of prosperity, as Harker has inherited his own mentor's personal wealth and legal firm after the sudden passing of the latter (another among many of the dead fathers in the book--Arthur Holmwood's father also has recently passed). Her only worry is Johnathan's mental health--he can't quite remember what happened to him and she's afraid to ask, lest his illness return, but he's recently had a terrible shock after he and she saw a tall, dark man in London after the funeral--and she's quite worked up about it when she gets a letter from Van Helsing, asking to meet with her. Eager to consult with this great doctor about her husband, Mina agrees. To be prepared, she reads her husband's journal of his ordeal, and typewrites her own up as well, so as to show to Van Helsing as soon as he arrives.

Van Helsing is beyond thrilled to read her accounts and through several letters and meetings, the Harkers are pledged to help rid the world of the Count. The novel now swings into high gear, as the action moves to John Seward's asylum, and its neighboring estate, a big, ruined place called Carfax that's just been recently purchased by a mysterious foreign gentleman.

The asylum setting is important not only for its nearest neighbor but for one of its most particular,peculiar inmates; Mr. Renfield, a masterful creation by Stoker who not only embodies the characteristics of the typical "Victorian" madman, but goes far beyond them, becoming the banner carrier for all those who have given in to their irrational sides, the most monstrous evolution of selfish desire.

Renfield's been showing up in Seward's super modern version of a diary (he keeps it on wax phonograph cylinder) from Seward's first appearance in the book. He's a real case, all right--his madness has bloomed in the form of a belief that to devour life is to absorb that life and thus extend his own existence indefinitely. (Hmmmm. That sounds familiar, doesn't it?) He uses a strange mathematics to calculate these lives--so many flies equal a spider, so many spiders a sparrow, and so on. And yes, that means he's regularly dining on creepy crawlies, ewwww. His use of Biblical justification for this is an interesting twist--Stoker is seemingly saying that while blind, unthinking faith degenerates to superstitions and helplessness, a la the Transylvanian peasantry, to allow selfishness into Scriptural understanding leads down even darker roads, no matter how logical it may initially seem. Seward considers him quite interesting but not part of the bizarre cyclone his life has been swept up in--at first.

The various participants in the plot to run Dracula to ground having assembled, Van Helsing gives them the groundwork of who and what they're hunting. He goes considerably into the general background of vampires, and how, as he puts it, "he is everywhere that man has been", a dark shadow borne out of the rages and battles that man has fought in order to enlarge himself. Significantly, Van Helsing and the novel in general do not state specifically how Count Dracula became what he is, merely observing that his extraordinary will and mental powers must have led him, somehow or other, to a dark path of attempting to expand himself without changing or growing, in direct contradiction not only to the regular run of humanity but nature itself--the essence of unnaturalness.

(But even if we'll never know how Dracula came to be, it's horribly clear how he extends his own range--to be bitten by Dracula is to become as he is, whether right away, or later. )

These meetings are all very organized, with Mina as minute taker, so the record is kept up to the minute and the reader is pulled along, the immediacy rushing the action onward during what could have been quite a hill of exposition. There's a lot of debate about how much Mina (who has become both the emotional and sacred heart of the group--each of the men, having met her, are proclaiming their undying devotion to her service within ten minutes--chastely, of course. This is an update of a band of medieval knights pledging their shields to a lady's protection) is to be "allowed" to know--despite her amazing-for-a-woman mind, she's a female, after all, and who knows how much she can take before just falling into little bitty pieces? It doesn't take these forward thinking collection of men long to decide she's going to be kept in safe ignorance until all is well, so there.

Well, that was the wrong tack, and Stoker proves it forthwith.

Now, as to Mr. Renfield. Well, his particular...leanings make him super vulnerable to dire influences, especially an influence that can promise him his heart's desire, an eternal extention of life. And Renfield, seemingly powerless in his locked cell, with his ravings and mutterings and calculations and boxes full of flies, actually is in a very, very desirable position for a vampire who's just realized that he's being tracked--that of an inmate of the house of his enemy, willingly living there or not. Van Helsing's researches have turned up, among other bits of lore, the well-known trope that an undead cannot enter a dwelling unless he's been invited. But who would be crazy enough to invite a vampire into their home? Who, indeed?

Mina soon becomes tired and pale in the mornings, but the men, although they notice it, assume it's worry and being kept in the dark and plan to pack her back to her own home, where she'll be safe and happy. Even though, at this point, they know they are fighting a vampire, and the same pattern of "illness" that Lucy, whom they gorily put an end to not more then three weeks ago, is obviously manifesting. The first symptoms of which were noted and recorded by Mina herself.

 The pattern of "protection"--Mina is among a group of good men devoted to her safety, therefore she is secure--casts a completely recognizable (to a Victorian female reader especially) veil of self induced false security over them; until the night the group heads over to Carfax to "sterilize" Dracula's collection of giant boxes full of dirt from his home cemetery (regular dirt won't do--despite his allergy to holy symbols, the Count must have blessed earth to lay his head on. As Van Helsing puts it: "this evil is rooted deep in all good--in soil devoid of holy memories it cannot rest.")

 While they're away, Dracula steps up his game.

The scene of Mina's assault by Count Dracula has been one of the most persistently misrepresented in modern culture. The gothic romanticism of a "vampire wedding" is nowhere to be found in the actual writing, which makes clear that what is happening is a brutal rape:

The moonlight was so bright that through the thick yellow blind the room was light enough to see. On the bed beside the window lay Jonathan Harker, his face flushed and breathing heavily as though in a stupor. Kneeling on the near edge of the bed facing outwards was the white-clad figure of his wife. By her side stood a tall, thin man, clad in black. His face was turned from us, but the instant we saw we all recognised the Count—in every way, even to the scar on his forehead. With his left hand he held both Mrs. Harker’s hands, keeping them away with her arms at full tension; his right hand gripped her by the back of the neck, forcing her face down on his bosom. Her white nightdress was smeared with blood, and a thin stream trickled down the man’s bare breast which was shown by his torn-open dress. The attitude of the two had a terrible resemblance to a child forcing a kitten’s nose into a saucer of milk to compel it to drink. As we burst into the room, the Count turned his face, and the hellish look that I had heard described seemed to leap into it. His eyes flamed red with devilish passion; the great nostrils of the white aquiline nose opened wide and quivered at the edge; and the white sharp teeth, behind the full lips of the blood-dripping mouth, champed together like those of a wild beast. With a wrench, which threw his victim back upon the bed as though hurled from a height, he turned and sprang at us. But by this time the Professor had gained his feet, and was holding towards him the envelope which contained the Sacred Wafer. The Count suddenly stopped, just as poor Lucy had done outside the tomb, and cowered back. Further and further back he cowered, as we, lifting our crucifixes, advanced. The moonlight suddenly failed, as a great black cloud sailed across the sky; and when the gaslight sprang up under Quincey’s match, we saw nothing but a faint vapour. This, as we looked, trailed under the door, which with the recoil from its bursting open, had swung back to its old position. Van Helsing, Art, and I moved forward to Mrs. Harker, who by this time had drawn her breath and with it had given a scream so wild, so ear-piercing, so despairing that it seems to me now that it will ring in my ears till my dying day. For a few seconds she lay in her helpless attitude and disarray. Her face was ghastly, with a pallor which was accentuated by the blood which smeared her lips and cheeks and chin; from her throat trickled a thin stream of blood; her eyes were mad with terror. Then she put before her face her poor crushed hands, which bore on their whiteness the red mark of the Count’s terrible grip, and from behind them came a low desolate wail which made the terrible scream seem only the quick expression of an endless grief.

There is nothing here of overwhelming attraction, of the lure of the forbidden or enticement into a dark pact. Mina's status as the "angel" of this group requires her "degradation" by the enemy, forcing upon her not only Lucy's fate, but even an even worse one, that of becoming the instrument of vengeance wielded by her despoiler.

“Unclean, unclean! I must touch him or kiss him no more. Oh, that it should be that it is I who am now his worst enemy, and whom he may have most cause to fear.” 

The psychological understanding behind what has happened to Mina, her violation and the taking over not only of her body, but her thoughts, her will, by a vicious monster who has no personal interest in her at all but sees her only as his "bountiful winepress for a while" is acute. Not only the horror of the act itself, but the disgust it inspires, the desperation that comes with realizing that the people you love must see you differently, as tainted and unclean, ruined, with no way back to your former state, is so striking that even with the Victorian trimmings on the scene, the stark despair of the house and its group of hunters is unmitigated. When Van Helsing, attempting to rally the group together, tries to perform a blessing with a portion of the Host, the wafer literally brands her forehead, driving her to the edge, wailing that her polluted flesh will not be acknowledged even by God.

But Mina preserveres, as she must. In an extraordinary scene, she gathers the group and asks them to promise, should they determine she has been so changed by her "baptism of blood" that she's a danger, they will kill her as they did Lucy. The men are horrified but agree.

“Ah no! for my mind is made up!”
“To what?” he asked gently, whilst we were all very still; for each in our own way we had a sort of vague idea of what she meant. Her answer came with direct simplicity, as though she were simply stating a fact:—
“Because if I find in myself—and I shall watch keenly for it—a sign of harm to any that I love, I shall die!”
“You would not kill yourself?” he asked, hoarsely.
“I would; if there were no friend who loved me, who would save me such a pain, and so desperate an effort!” She looked at him meaningly as she spoke. He was sitting down; but now he rose and came close to her and put his hand on her head as he said solemnly:
“My child, there is such an one if it were for your good. For myself I could hold it in my account with God to find such an euthanasia for you, even at this moment if it were best. Nay, were it safe! But my child——” For a moment he seemed choked, and a great sob rose in his throat; he gulped it down and went on:—
“There are here some who would stand between you and death. You must not die. You must not die by any hand; but least of all by your own. Until the other, who has fouled your sweet life, is true dead you must not die; for if he is still with the quick Un-Dead, your death would make you even as he is. No, you must live! You must struggle and strive to live, though death would seem a boon unspeakable. You must fight Death himself, though he come to you in pain or in joy; by the day, or the night; in safety or in peril! On your living soul I charge you that you do not die—nay, nor think of death—till this great evil be past.”

The men now focus on chasing down the rest of Dracula's hidey-boxes, and through several professional means (Johnathan's legal knowledge and status of "man of business" is extremely helpful; Stoker is making a sly point that the burgeoning middle class is finding new paths to power that don't involve birthright but ability) and manage to get all but the last box. They also come within a cat's whisker of being torn apart by their enraged antagonist:

I could not but admire, even at such a moment, the way in which a dominant spirit asserted itself. In all our hunting parties and adventures in different parts of the world, Quincey Morris had always been the one to arrange the plan of action, and Arthur and I had been accustomed to obey him implicitly. Now, the old habit seemed to be renewed instinctively. With a swift glance around the room, he at once laid out our plan of attack, and, without speaking a word, with a gesture, placed us each in position. Van Helsing, Harker, and I were just behind the door, so that when it was opened the Professor could guard it whilst we two stepped between the incomer and the door. Godalming behind and Quincey in front stood just out of sight ready to move in front of the window. We waited in a suspense that made the seconds pass with nightmare slowness. The slow, careful steps came along the hall; the Count was evidently prepared for some surprise—at least he feared it.

Suddenly with a single bound he leaped into the room, winning a way past us before any of us could raise a hand to stay him. There was something so panther-like in the movement—something so unhuman, that it seemed to sober us all from the shock of his coming. The first to act was Harker, who, with a quick movement, threw himself before the door leading into the room in the front of the house. As the Count saw us, a horrible sort of snarl passed over his face, showing the eye-teeth long and pointed; but the evil smile as quickly passed into a cold stare of lion-like disdain. His expression again changed as, with a single impulse, we all advanced upon him. It was a pity that we had not some better organised plan of attack, for even at the moment I wondered what we were to do. I did not myself know whether our lethal weapons would avail us anything. Harker evidently meant to try the matter, for he had ready his great Kukri knife and made a fierce and sudden cut at him. The blow was a powerful one; only the diabolical quickness of the Count’s leap back saved him. A second less and the trenchant blade had shorne through his heart. As it was, the point just cut the cloth of his coat, making a wide gap whence a bundle of bank-notes and a stream of gold fell out. The expression of the Count’s face was so hellish, that for a moment I feared for Harker, though I saw him throw the terrible knife aloft again for another stroke. Instinctively I moved forward with a protective impulse, holding the Crucifix and Wafer in my left hand. I felt a mighty power fly along my arm; and it was without surprise that I saw the monster cower back before a similar movement made spontaneously by each one of us. It would be impossible to describe the expression of hate and baffled malignity—of anger and hellish rage—which came over the Count’s face. His waxen hue became greenish-yellow by the contrast of his burning eyes, and the red scar on the forehead showed on the pallid skin like a palpitating wound. The next instant, with a sinuous dive he swept under Harker’s arm, ere his blow could fall, and, grasping a handful of the money from the floor, dashed across the room, threw himself at the window. Amid the crash and glitter of the falling glass, he tumbled into the flagged area below. Through the sound of the shivering glass I could hear the “ting” of the gold, as some of the sovereigns fell on the flagging.

Damn, so close.

Heading back to the asylum to tell Mina the good and (really) bad news, the men try to focus and organize themselves into hunting down the Count and his final earth box, before he slips from their grasp. Mina, although the victim in the group, now steps forward to regain her angelic status. Listening to the men hotly discussing their intentions, She clears her voice and leads them back to the path of righteousness with an extraordinary request:

“Jonathan,” she said, and the word sounded like music on her lips it was so full of love and tenderness, “Jonathan dear, and you all my true, true friends, I want you to bear something in mind through all this dreadful time. I know that you must fight—that you must destroy even as you destroyed the false Lucy so that the true Lucy might live hereafter; but it is not a work of hate. That poor soul who has wrought all this misery is the saddest case of all. Just think what will be his joy when he, too, is destroyed in his worser part that his better part may have spiritual immortality. You must be pitiful to him, too, though it may not hold your hands from his destruction.”
As she spoke I could see her husband’s face darken and draw together, as though the passion in him were shrivelling his being to its core. Instinctively the clasp on his wife’s hand grew closer, till his knuckles looked white. She did not flinch from the pain which I knew she must have suffered, but looked at him with eyes that were more appealing than ever. As she stopped speaking he leaped to his feet, almost tearing his hand from hers as he spoke:—
“May God give him into my hand just for long enough to destroy that earthly life of him which we are aiming at. If beyond it I could send his soul for ever and ever to burning hell I would do it!”
“Oh, hush! oh, hush! in the name of the good God. Don’t say such things, Jonathan, my husband; or you will crush me with fear and horror. Just think, my dear—I have been thinking all this long, long day of it—that ... perhaps ... some day ... I, too, may need such pity; and that some other like you—and with equal cause for anger—may deny it to me! "

This insight is amazing. Despite the setup so far being a group of "knights of progress" pledged to fight an evil and thus, with no other rationale, being considered "good", Mina brings personal responsibility to the table. The need, no matter how impossible it seems, to kill Dracula without hating him. These vicious, violent monsters, who brutally rob humankind of its members for no reason, must be pitied and not hated, or the evil cannot be stopped.

But even the deepest insight and forgiveness can't change what Mina has been so brutally transformed into, with or without her  conscious mind's permission or desire. The curse in Mina is still waiting. She could live a blameless life until the day she dies, but Dracula's blood in her veins means she will not rest in peace.

And frankly, that's the best case scenario. Much more likely is the one where she, under influence from the Count, will turn on all of them and be drawn to his side to assist him in his escape, and in darker things. The exchange of blood has turned Mina into a kind of two-way radio; Dracula can come to her in spirit and learn everything she knows Both the men and she realize this, and at first the group, and then Mina, tries to keep separated from the others so she won't know anything to tell. But soon enough the other side of the coin comes in handy-- Dracula may be able to use her, but she realizes that at sunrise and sunset (the points of the day when a vampire's powers are weakest) she is not only free of his influence, but the connection works both ways. She quickly recruits Van Helsing to hypnotize her (more for the time super-modern science wizardry) so that she can travel to the Count in thought and do what she does best--take notes.

The Count and his last remaining earth chest are clearly retreating out of London, and the group prepares to follow. The original intention is to leave Mina in England, but the Count's hold on her scotches that plan--as long as she belongs to him, however unwillingly, she has to do anything he commands her to do. And Mina on her own could do a lot more damage to their quest then if she's among them, ready to be hypnotized and closely watched for any--changes.

When this course of action becomes clear, Mina once again takes center stage.

“Then I shall tell you plainly what I want, for there must be no doubtful matter in this connection between us now. You must promise me, one and all—even you, my beloved husband—that, should the time come, you will kill me.”
“What is that time?” The voice was Quincey’s, but it was low and strained.
“When you shall be convinced that I am so changed that it is better that I die that I may live. When I am thus dead in the flesh, then you will, without a moment’s delay, drive a stake through me and cut off my head; or do whatever else may be wanting to give me rest!”
Quincey was the first to rise after the pause. He knelt down before her and taking her hand in his said solemnly:—
“I’m only a rough fellow, who hasn’t, perhaps, lived as a man should to win such a distinction, but I swear to you by all that I hold sacred and dear that, should the time ever come, I shall not flinch from the duty that you have set us. And I promise you, too, that I shall make all certain, for if I am only doubtful I shall take it that the time has come!”
“My true friend!” was all she could say amid her fast-falling tears, as, bending over, she kissed his hand.
“I swear the same, my dear Madam Mina!” said Van Helsing.
“And I!” said Lord Godalming, each of them in turn kneeling to her to take the oath. I followed, myself. Then her husband turned to her wan-eyed and with a greenish pallor which subdued the snowy whiteness of his hair, and asked:—
“And must I, too, make such a promise, oh, my wife?”
“You too, my dearest,” she said, with infinite yearning of pity in her voice and eyes. “You must not shrink. You are nearest and dearest and all the world to me; our souls are knit into one, for all life and all time. Think, dear, that there have been times when brave men have killed their wives and their womenkind, to keep them from falling into the hands of the enemy. Their hands did not falter any the more because those that they loved implored them to slay them. It is men’s duty towards those whom they love, in such times of sore trial! And oh, my dear, if it is to be that I must meet death at any hand, let it be at the hand of him that loves me best. Dr. Van Helsing, I have not forgotten your mercy in poor Lucy’s case to him who loved”—she stopped with a flying blush, and changed her phrase—“to him who had best right to give her peace. If that time shall come again, I look to you to make it a happy memory of my husband’s life that it was his loving hand which set me free from the awful thrall upon me.”
“Again I swear!” came the Professor’s resonant voice. Mrs. Harker smiled, positively smiled, as with a sigh of relief she leaned back and said:—
“And now one word of warning, a warning which you must never forget: this time, if it ever come, may come quickly and unexpectedly, and in such case you must lose no time in using your opportunity. At such a time I myself might be—nay! if the time ever comes, shall be—leagued with your enemy against you.”

Well, it seems like everything's covered. Certainly, no group could be more devoted, more bonded, then this one. But, not quite.

At Mina's request, she requests the reading of the Service of the Burial of the Dead--a touch that may seem to take the melodrama just a little bit far, especially as described by Seward in his cylinder diary:

“How can I—how could any one—tell of that strange scene, its solemnity, its gloom, its sadness, its horror; and, withal, its sweetness. Even a sceptic, who can see nothing but a travesty of bitter truth in anything holy or emotional, would have been melted to the heart had he seen that little group of loving and devoted friends kneeling round that stricken and sorrowing lady; or heard the tender passion of her husband’s voice, as in tones so broken with emotion that often he had to pause, he read the simple and beautiful service from the Burial of the Dead. I—I cannot go on—words—and—v-voice—f-fail m-me!”

But her reasoning is sound. If the only reason they're doing this is to fight death, it's futile. Death would come for them even if they had never run into the Count. It's the acceptance of death's sway and the faith in something beyond it that doesn't require the unnatural choices that Dracula made that uplift humans into something beyond fear, superstition, and hate.

Well, that's all fine and good, but where to start looking for him? Even if Mina tracks him down mentally she's only able to "see" his immediate surroundings, and  it's a big continent. The guy has the will and resources to go anywhere he wants--or just hide in his earth box for fifty years until his pursuers are dead, then start all over again. How do you find a vampire in a haystack the size of Europe?

Mina to the rescue again! Reviewing their copious notes, she finds Johnathan's account of his first conversation with Dracula, back at the castle, and the following line:

Was it not this Dracula, indeed, who inspired that other of his race who in a later age again and again brought his forces over the great river into Turkey-land; who, when he was beaten back, came again, and again, and again, though he had to come alone from the bloody field where his troops were being slaughtered, since he knew that he alone could ultimately triumph! 

Ah-hah. She shares her insights with the group--that Dracula is retreating back to his own place after his defeat, and after a great deal of fashionable Victorian gabbling about phrenology (which, again, was very, very moderne during Stoker's time--the equivalent of the hundreds of miracle diets on the market these days, and as with as little actual science to back it up), the fearless vampire hunters are on the track once more.

The action for the final part of the novel in now moving back to Transylvania, retreating, as is its titular character, back to its own place.

After many false starts, near misses and another stroke of Mina insight, determining how Dracula (who eluded them at the dock where his ship landed) is heading back towards his castle, and the group splits apart, some going down the river in pursuit of the boat his box is on, some following the river along the shore, and Mina and Van Helsing heading towards the castle, so if the Count slips past the first two gangs they'll be there as a last resort.

Alone in the Eastern European wilderness, Van Helsing, for the first time, takes over recording duties, as Mina is acting pretty strange. She sleeps all day, and won't eat at all. Plus, it's getting harder and harder to hypnotize her the closer they get. It's almost like she's hearing things he can't.

Finally, the endgame comes. Mina and Van Helsing, camped near the castle, are visited by Dracula's three exes, who are just absolutely thrilled to have a new playmate show up. They try all night to entice the two, but the indefatigable Van Helsing has had the foresight to block their path with some crumbled up Hosts in a circle around them, and holds them off.

Leaving Mina within the circle, he heads off to take care of the vampire brides. And even he, with his science and rationality and everything he's gone through, has a tough time:

I knew that there were at least three graves to find—graves that are inhabit; so I search, and search, and I find one of them. She lay in her Vampire sleep, so full of life and voluptuous beauty that I shudder as though I have come to do murder. Ah, I doubt not that in old time, when such things were, many a man who set forth to do such a task as mine, found at the last his heart fail him, and then his nerve. So he delay, and delay, and delay, till the mere beauty and the fascination of the wanton Un-Dead have hypnotise him; and he remain on and on, till sunset come, and the Vampire sleep be over. Then the beautiful eyes of the fair woman open and look love, and the voluptuous mouth present to a kiss—and man is weak. And there remain one more victim in the Vampire fold; one more to swell the grim and grisly ranks of the Un-Dead!...
There is some fascination, surely, when I am moved by the mere presence of such an one, even lying as she lay in a tomb fretted with age and heavy with the dust of centuries, though there be that horrid odour such as the lairs of the Count have had. Yes, I was moved—I, Van Helsing, with all my purpose and with my motive for hate—I was moved to a yearning for delay which seemed to paralyse my faculties and to clog my very soul. It may have been that the need of natural sleep, and the strange oppression of the air were beginning to overcome me. Certain it was that I was lapsing into sleep, the open-eyed sleep of one who yields to a sweet fascination, when there came through the snow-stilled air a long, low wail, so full of woe and pity that it woke me like the sound of a clarion. For it was the voice of my dear Madam Mina that I heard.
Then I braced myself again to my horrid task, and found by wrenching away tomb-tops one other of the sisters, the other dark one. I dared not pause to look on her as I had on her sister, lest once more I should begin to be enthrall; but I go on searching until, presently, I find in a high great tomb as if made to one much beloved that other fair sister which, like Jonathan I had seen to gather herself out of the atoms of the mist. She was so fair to look on, so radiantly beautiful, so exquisitely voluptuous, that the very instinct of man in me, which calls some of my sex to love and to protect one of hers, made my head whirl with new emotion. But God be thanked, that soul-wail of my dear Madam Mina had not died out of my ears; and, before the spell could be wrought further upon me, I had nerved myself to my wild work. By this time I had searched all the tombs in the chapel, so far as I could tell; and as there had been only three of these Un-Dead phantoms around us in the night, I took it that there were no more of active Un-Dead existent. There was one great tomb more lordly than all the rest; huge it was, and nobly proportioned. On it was but one word
This then was the Un-Dead home of the King-Vampire, to whom so many more were due. Its emptiness spoke eloquent to make certain what I knew. Before I began to restore these women to their dead selves through my awful work, I laid in Dracula’s tomb some of the Wafer, and so banished him from it, Un-Dead, for ever.
Then began my terrible task, and I dreaded it. Had it been but one, it had been easy, comparative. But three! To begin twice more after I had been through a deed of horror; for if it was terrible with the sweet Miss Lucy, what would it not be with these strange ones who had survived through centuries, and who had been strengthened by the passing of the years; who would, if they could, have fought for their foul lives....
Oh, my friend John, but it was butcher work; had I not been nerved by thoughts of other dead, and of the living over whom hung such a pall of fear, I could not have gone on. I tremble and tremble even yet, though till all was over, God be thanked, my nerve did stand. Had I not seen the repose in the first place, and the gladness that stole over it just ere the final dissolution came, as realisation that the soul had been won, I could not have gone further with my butchery. I could not have endured the horrid screeching as the stake drove home; the plunging of writhing form, and lips of bloody foam. I should have fled in terror and left my work undone. But it is over! And the poor souls, I can pity them now and weep, as I think of them placid each in her full sleep of death for a short moment ere fading. For, friend John, hardly had my knife severed the head of each, before the whole body began to melt away and crumble in to its native dust, as though the death that should have come centuries agone had at last assert himself and say at once and loud “I am here!”

Those crazy girls, they're the hardest to resist. Luckily, Van Helsing makes it back to Mina in order to get in position and wait for the master of the house to return.

And just in time, because there's a group of peasants on the horizon, and they're being chased by the erstwhile members of their group....

Stoker designs this scene as a pitched battle, because that's precisely what it is. The peasantry is pretty fierce in defending that big box they're hauling, and group has to fight hand to hand (including Mina, who gets her pistol ready) to reach it. The sun is setting, and along with it their chances. If  the sun goes down, Dracula's ability to change into bat or wolf will mean he will elude them again, this time where they cannot follow.

The leader, with a quick movement of his rein, threw his horse out in front, and pointing first to the sun—now close down on the hill tops—and then to the castle, said something which I did not understand. For answer, all four men of our party threw themselves from their horses and dashed towards the cart. I should have felt terrible fear at seeing Jonathan in such danger, but that the ardour of battle must have been upon me as well as the rest of them; I felt no fear, but only a wild, surging desire to do something. Seeing the quick movement of our parties, the leader of the gypsies gave a command; his men instantly formed round the cart in a sort of undisciplined endeavour, each one shouldering and pushing the other in his eagerness to carry out the order.
In the midst of this I could see that Jonathan on one side of the ring of men, and Quincey on the other, were forcing a way to the cart; it was evident that they were bent on finishing their task before the sun should set. Nothing seemed to stop or even to hinder them. Neither the levelled weapons nor the flashing knives of the gypsies in front, nor the howling of the wolves behind, appeared to even attract their attention. Jonathan’s impetuosity, and the manifest singleness of his purpose, seemed to overawe those in front of him; instinctively they cowered, aside and let him pass. In an instant he had jumped upon the cart, and, with a strength which seemed incredible, raised the great box, and flung it over the wheel to the ground. In the meantime, Mr. Morris had had to use force to pass through his side of the ring of Szgany. All the time I had been breathlessly watching Jonathan I had, with the tail of my eye, seen him pressing desperately forward, and had seen the knives of the gypsies flash as he won a way through them, and they cut at him. He had parried with his great bowie knife, and at first I thought that he too had come through in safety; but as he sprang beside Jonathan, who had by now jumped from the cart, I could see that with his left hand he was clutching at his side, and that the blood was spurting through his fingers. He did not delay notwithstanding this, for as Jonathan, with desperate energy, attacked one end of the chest, attempting to prize off the lid with his great Kukri knife, he attacked the other frantically with his bowie. Under the efforts of both men the lid began to yield; the nails drew with a quick screeching sound, and the top of the box was thrown back.
By this time the gypsies, seeing themselves covered by the Winchesters, and at the mercy of Lord Godalming and Dr. Seward, had given in and made no resistance. The sun was almost down on the mountain tops, and the shadows of the whole group fell long upon the snow. I saw the Count lying within the box upon the earth, some of which the rude falling from the cart had scattered over him. He was deathly pale, just like a waxen image, and the red eyes glared with the horrible vindictive look which I knew too well.
As I looked, the eyes saw the sinking sun, and the look of hate in them turned to triumph.
But, on the instant, came the sweep and flash of Jonathan’s great knife. I shrieked as I saw it shear through the throat; whilst at the same moment Mr. Morris’s bowie knife plunged into the heart.
It was like a miracle; but before our very eyes, and almost in the drawing of a breath, the whole body crumble into dust and passed from our sight.

Whew. But Dracula's end is not inglorious, for all that. As Mina says, quietly, in her record:

I shall be glad as long as I live that even in that moment of final dissolution, there was in the face a look of peace, such as I never could have imagined might have rested there.

After all Count Dracula's schemes and mechinations, the evil he did and the misery he spread, the thing he really sought came upon him in the last moments of his unlife, as he at long last rejoins the flow of nature, and time.

Dracula is a hugely successful novel because it is an alluring one. The nature of that allure is manifold and intricate, weaving deeply insightful notions about humanity through a story that is simultaneously quest, thriller, horror gothic, and beacon of progress. Its readers will be startled to find ideas they thought only they had coming from the mouth of the madman Renfield, or the pain of a sexual assault vividly and sympathetically rendered through the medium of a horror story. They may chuckle at the notion of phrenology and then guiltily finger the copper bracelet on their wrist, or snicker at Victorian notions of sexuality only to find they line up with their own far more then they would have thought.

But the beating heart of the book is its titular character--a man who sought monstrosity because of defiance, because of will, because of his belief that he deserved to continue without change, that he was so singular and special his mind and body were entitled to stand outside nature, not be subject to its laws. And who among us, facing injustice or illness or restriction of circumstance, hasn't felt the same?

 Dracula is the embodiment of humanity's cry of "It's Not Fair!" taken to the edge of a big, dramatic cliff, dancing there and demanding that the forces of the universe are not going to be allowed to turn a deaf ear to us; that they are going to listen, by God, and take responsibility for how helpless they've made us feel.

Inside our modern days, with technology refining itself into a new kind of magic, knowledge and discoveries expanding beyond the wildest dreams of Stoker and his time, there is still an antique land. Its roads lead past fears through the dark to a hulking stone edifice rearing up against the moon. And inside it is a tall, refined gentleman, waiting. He's set the table for dinner, he's been looking forward to greeting us, to talking with us, to telling us a story about a part of ourselves that we cannot outrun. His red eyes again, and they are just the same.

You can't imagine how much he's looked forward to this meeting. Enter freely, and of your own will.


  1. *Applause*

    This is the Dracula review I might have written last year, if I hadn't instead been going for bulk.

    ...and if I had more talent.

    Other than that, exactly this!

  2. Well that was fun, Snookums :-) I can't say my opinion of Stoker's Dracula was changed by it, but I did find your piece to be a lot of fun. It also brought up some interesting points. It's always a rare treat to encounter genuine affection and enthusiasm for the written word, both creating it an honoring those that have done so before. I like that you find such enduring value in the tale and thank you for sharing that :-)