Dracula | Study Guide

Bram Stoker

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Chapter 15

Stanley Stepanic, Professor of Slavic Languages & Literatures at the University of Virginia, explains Chapter 15 in Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula.

Dracula | Chapter 15 : Dr. Seward's Diary | Summary



Van Helsing's accusation infuriates Seward, but Van Helsing explains that his long path to the truth was meant to spare Seward pain. He asks Seward to let him prove his claim. They will examine a wounded child and then stay overnight near the Westenra tomb; Van Helsing has the key. They go to examine the child. Dr. Vincent, the attending, assumes that a southern species of bat must have been brought by sailors or escaped from a zoo and bitten the child. Van Helsing and Seward walk to the churchyard and enter the Westenra tomb. They pull the door open slightly and light a candle. Van Helsing unscrews the lid on Lucy's coffin and takes a saw to the lead liner. Seward is appalled by this desecration, then surprised when no foul odors come from the coffin. Van Helsing lowers the candle into the empty coffin. When Seward asserts that a grave robber took the body, Van Helsing sighs impatiently.

They replace the coffin lid and leave the tomb, locking the door, and hide nearby. The clock strikes the passing hours as Seward swings between anger and exhaustion. Just before dawn, a white-gowned figure glides toward the tomb. Seward loses sight of it as Van Helsing approaches, carrying a sleeping child. They were just in time to keep the child from harm, he says. Seward, frustrated, still doesn't know what's going on. To avoid inconvenient questions, they carry the child to the heath and watch from a distance until a policeman on rounds sees it. Then they quietly hurry home for a few hours' sleep.

In the afternoon of the 27th, Van Helsing and Seward sneak back into the tomb and open the coffin again. To Seward's shock, Lucy lies there, heartbreaking in her beauty, with red lips and blushing cheeks. Van Helsing draws Lucy's lips back to reveal sharp white canines. "Are you of belief now?" he asks, but Seward angrily tries to explain away what he sees. Finally, Van Helsing explains: Lucy was bitten multiple times by a vampire while in a trance, died in a trance, and now is Un-Dead in the same trance. She is not evil like the vampire but merely acts against the children in her trance, which makes what they must do all the harder: cut off her head, fill her mouth with garlic, and drive a stake through her body. Seward now abhors the Un-Dead thing Lucy has become and is ready to act. But Van Helsing changes his mind. He worries that Holmwood, who hasn't seen the evidence, will wonder forever whether beautiful Lucy was perhaps buried alive. Holmwood and Morris must help kill Lucy. That evening, Van Helsing leaves a note for Seward in his luggage. He plans to return to the tomb and place a crucifix and garlic on the door to make sure the Un-Dead can't leave it. That way, she'll be hungry the next night. Van Helsing isn't afraid of Lucy, but he knows the other Un-Dead is strong with Lucy's blood and the blood of the four transfusions. This Un-Dead played and won the game for Lucy and will soon seek out her tomb, perhaps with his wolf or other allies. If Van Helsing doesn't return, Seward must destroy this powerful Un-Dead.

Seward's diary entry of September 28th records his persistent doubts: is Van Helsing unhinged? Did he manipulate the corpse? Seward decides to observe his former teacher. The next day, when Morris and Holmwood arrive, Van Helsing asks them to trust him, even if they blame him later. Morris agrees, but Holmwood refuses to do anything against his honor or his Christian faith. Van Helsing wants to spare Holmwood suffering, but if they don't act, Lucy will walk "in paths of flame" as an Un-Dead. He asks, politely, for permission to cut off Lucy's head. Enraged, Holmwood rejects this desecration, but Van Helsing speaks sternly of duty. He begs Holmwood to witness what he must do to free the dead Un-Dead from her curse, as he promised Lucy he would, and Holmwood relents.


The admission Seward makes as this chapter begins is striking: "For a while sheer anger mastered me; it was as if [Van Helsing] had during her life struck Lucy on the face." Seward has been patient; he's trusted Van Helsing till now, despite the professor's unwillingness to share what he knows. Readers, too, have been patient. Dracula has been largely missing from the novel's pages for nearly 10 chapters, during which readers catch a single glimpse of him in London. Even as Van Helsing and the young men visit Lucy's tomb, Van Helsing doesn't name Dracula, though he finally speaks of "the vampire" and the "Un-Dead." The tension created by not knowing heightens suspense in the novel, with at least two results.

First, the tension puts readers in Seward's shoes, and later in Holmwood's and Morris's, while entrenching Van Helsing's position as the unquestionable alpha in this group of high-achieving, adventurous men. As the chapter opens, Seward asks outright, "Dr. Van Helsing, are you mad?" The two men investigate at the tomb, and though Seward is swayed by what he observes, he warns, "Do not press me too hard." And after he's slept, Seward's doubts recur. The affable Morris is willing to accept Van Helsing's scant explanation because "he's honest, and that's good enough for me." Holmwood, like Seward, struggles with the truth but from a different perspective. Seward, a man of science, seeks a "rational explanation of all these mysterious things," while Holmwood reacts as Lucy's lover and fiancé, defending her honor and purity and his own sense of propriety. Yet Van Helsing prevails over every doubt. With Seward, he appeals to data, evidence, and observation. With Holmwood, however, he appeals to his duty to Lucy, who asked him to give her peace, to Holmwood, and to society.

Second, the tension makes room for Gothic elements to reveal the story. The details of the tomb scenes are eerie and sensory, down to what Seward smells—or doesn't, in the case of Lucy's corpse. An excellent example of the Gothic mood occurs in Seward's description of the once-beautiful flowers brought to the funeral, now "lank and dead, their whites turning to rust and their greens to browns," evocative symbols of the brevity of life and the certainty of decay. In the tomb, "the spider and the beetle had resumed their accustomed dominance," and even stone and metal show the effects of decay. Meanwhile, Lucy is on the prowl, a ghostly white figure that "flitted," half-seen, among the trees. Stoker's choice of the verb flitted associates Lucy with her creator's bat form, another Gothic touch for a time when bats were hardly seen in a positive light. In the midst of this Gothic scene, when Van Helsing opens the coffin during the day to reveal Lucy, "more radiantly beautiful than ever," the false sense of unnatural life among the tomb's other residents appalls Seward more than anything he's seen. He can at last "loathe" the thing in the coffin.

Even the phrase Van Helsing uses to describes the vampires, "the dead Un-Dead," contributes to the eerie mood. The discomforting paradoxical phrase was one of Stoker's working titles for the novel.

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