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Dracula | Study Guide

Bram Stoker

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Chapter 16

Stanley Stepanic, Professor of Slavic Languages & Literatures at the University of Virginia, explains Chapter 16 in Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula.

Dracula | Chapter 16 : Dr. Seward's Diary | Summary



Seward's diary continues. Just before midnight, Van Helsing and the young men arrive at the tomb, where Seward confirms that Lucy's body was in the coffin the day before. Yet now, as Van Helsing removes the lid again, the coffin is empty. Van Helsing swears he didn't move the body. Earlier that night, he removed the garlic, permitting Lucy to walk again. When the men leave the tomb, Van Helsing crumbles a communion wafer into some putty and presses the mixture into the cracks around the tomb's door to prevent the Un-Dead from entering.

After a long wait, the men see a pale figure: Lucy, her hair turned dark, feeding on a child that cries out when she bites its throat. The men form a line to oppose Lucy as blood dribbles from her mouth, staining the purity of her white grave clothes. Holmwood nearly faints. As Un-Dead Lucy snarls at the men, Seward's love becomes loathing. She throws the child down, growls possessively over it, and then moves to embrace Arthur, murmuring enticingly, "My arms are hungry for you." Entranced, Arthur moves toward her until Van Helsing intervenes, holding his crucifix. Lucy flees toward the tomb, enraged, but the presence of the crushed wafer stops her. On his knees, Holmwood agrees to let Van Helsing act, and Van Helsing unseals the door just a crack, through which Lucy, impossibly, slips. Van Helsing seals the crack again and picks up the wounded child. They leave the child for police to find and go to rest before finishing their work by daylight.

Seward's September 29th entry finishes the story of Lucy's transformation. The four men slip into the tomb in the afternoon. Van Helsing lights candles and unscrews the coffin lid. Even Holmwood's love turns to disgust as they look on the thing that has Lucy's form but not her soul. Van Helsing assembles his tools: soldering iron, operating knives, and a wooden stake and hammer. He pauses to explain what the ancients understood about the Un-Dead, who are cursed to feed on the living for centuries. Van Helsing says they are called nosferatu in Eastern Europe, and they would, if unchecked, savage the world. If an Un-Dead feeds gradually on a victim, that victim will become Un-Dead as well. But if the Un-Dead is killed, the victim can survive. So by killing Lucy, Van Helsing will save the children she has fed on, and Lucy's soul will be released to blessedness rather than trapped in wickedness. Then he suggests that the one who loved Lucy most should free her. Trembling, Holmwood drives the wooden stake through Lucy's heart as Van Helsing reads the prayer for the dead over the Un-Dead, which shrieks, twists, and finally is still. Holmwood almost collapses, but his face brightens when a sacred peace adorns Lucy's purified beauty. He leaves the tomb, supported by Morris. Then Seward and Van Helsing finish the distasteful work, cutting off the stake's top but leaving the point in the body, severing the head from the body, and cramming garlic into its mouth before they screw the coffin lid back on. They lock the tomb and give Holmwood the key. Then Van Helsing warns them about the dangerous task ahead: "to find out the author of all this our sorrow and to stamp him out."


Chapter 16 ends the part of the novel that's focused on Lucy, which began in Chapter 5, and marks a defeat both for Dracula, whose latest bride is taken from him, and for Van Helsing, who failed to stop Lucy from becoming an Un-Dead. The chapter also clarifies why the battle matters so much. First, Dracula and Van Helsing are fighting over a woman, and in fact many women, if Dracula's plans succeed. Radiant Lucy, whom everyone (including Mina) loves, is an ideal woman till Dracula perverts her. Readers see this especially in the scene when the men confront Lucy outside the tomb. For Victorian women, marriage to a suitable man was the goal of young adulthood, and selfless devotion to the home and children was the expected focus of a woman's adult life. Lucy had been poised to enter this stage of her life, and her fitness for it is suggested in her sweet love and care for her mother, her tender remorse for the pain she causes Seward and Morris, and her sisterly love for Mina. Victorian poet Coventry Patmore describes the good woman as "the angel in the house," an idea promoted by many books of advice for women on maintaining their homes as sanctuaries from the rough-and-tumble world of men's work. But Dracula's assaults divert Lucy from this good path. Keeping this in mind, readers can see the horrid contrast in the scene in which Lucy carries the child with what she might have been. Her eyes, which had been "pure, gentle orbs," are "unclean and full of hell-fire." She wears her virginally white graveclothes, but they are stained with blood. Her sunny blonde hair has turned dark, and though she holds the child as a loving mother would cradle her own child, she bites its throat in a corrupted kiss that hurts it. No wonder Seward shudders in disgust—all that should be maternal in Lucy is ruined. Lucy flings the child down, "callous as a devil," and shifts from mother to wife, calling to Holmwood with a smile Seward calls "voluptuous" and "wanton." Mortal Lucy was pure and innocent, but Un-Dead Lucy acts like a whore—the vampire's whore, in fact. Later, in her coffin, Lucy's body has a "carnal and unspiritual" look, as if a "devilish mockery of Lucy's sweet purity." Stoker could hardly be clearer on the threat Dracula poses to women, to marriage and the family, to what many Victorians regarded the foundation of society—the home.

Also, the clash between Van Helsing and Dracula is a matter of good versus evil. Holmwood thanks Van Helsing, after Lucy is finally truly dead, for "the holy calm that lay like sunshine" on Lucy's face. He, Seward, and Morris understand at last the evil of the vampire. Before this moment, Van Helsing's actions puzzle them, but readers familiar with Christian ritual (and vampire lore) easily spot the signs that this battle is not between two men, or a man and a vampire, but between two ideologies. (Later, Van Helsing will explain that Dracula and his ancestors studied in the Scholomance, a Satanic school.) Two of the weapons Van Helsing wields against the vampires are the crucifix—the image of the crucified Christ—and the communion wafer, which, depending on theological stance, either represents or becomes the body of Christ during communion. Whether any priest would have given Van Helsing an indulgence (special permission) to use the wafer is a question critics debate, but its power over evil is clear, here and much more so later in the novel, to defeat the unholy Un-Dead. Holmwood carries out his terrible task, pounding the "mercy-bearing stake" into Lucy's chest in God's name, while Van Helsing reads from a book of Christian prayer. Destroying Lucy is a ritual suffused with Christian imagery and language, and the redemption of Lucy's soul, which takes its place "with the other Angels," is the goal.

Readers may notice that, unlike the other chapters that deal with Lucy, Chapter 16 contains only one voice—Seward's—in only one piece of writing. No letters from Mina, telegrams, or newspaper articles interrupt the single intense narrative of Lucy's second death and redemption, and the chapter ends with Van Helsing calling the young men to the grim work ahead: the destruction of the still unnamed vampire before he corrupts other women as he has Lucy.

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