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Chapter 18

Stanley Stepanic, Professor of Slavic Languages & Literatures at the University of Virginia, explains Chapter 18 in Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula.

Dracula | Chapter 18 : Dr. Seward's Diary | Summary

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Summary

Seward's September 30th entry describes how he finds Morris and Holmwood at the asylum studying the transcripts Harker's exemplary wife made. While Harker is out interviewing the carriers Renfield attacked, Mina asks to visit Seward's patient. Renfield straightens his room by gobbling up his current supply of flies and spiders before Seward can stop him; then Mina enters and greets Renfield politely. Renfield wonders why the Harkers are visiting and urges Mina to leave the asylum. Seward ends the interview quickly to pick up Van Helsing at the station. As Mina leaves Renfield says earnestly, "I pray God I may never see your sweet face again." At the station, Van Helsing greets Seward and catches up on progress. Van Helsing praises Mina's cleverness. God has sent her to help them, he believes, but she can have no part in the dangerous events ahead.

At the asylum Mina confesses that she left some information out of the record and hands Van Helsing a piece of paper. He tells her that she doesn't have to include this information, though it would only increase the love her husband and friends feel for her. Mina adds the information, and after dinner all retire to review the records before a strategy meeting later that evening.

Mina's September 30th detailed entry reports on the meeting. At last Helsing reveals what he knows of vampires in general and Dracula in particular. A vampire gains power from every victim; Dracula likely has the strength of 20 men and certainly has centuries of experience. He is a necromancer, able to command the dead and to change into certain forms to travel. He can control storms and fog; he can command lesser creatures. He can even appear and vanish under certain conditions. If they fail to kill him, Dracula will make them Un-Dead creatures that kill for him, and heaven will be closed against them forever. In all this, Van Helsing never says Dracula's name.

Everyone agrees to the risks. Van Helsing lays his crucifix on the table, and they join hands. Mina's heart feels cold, but she doesn't draw back. Then Van Helsing lists the groups' assets. They are allies; Dracula has none, only underlings and animals. They have scientific knowledge and can act day or night, and theirs is a selfless goal. They know vampire lore and what they themselves have witnessed. For his part, Dracula can command wolves, is terribly strong, and can appear in a mist or dust in the moonlight, as a bat or a wolf. He can see in the dark and enter a room through a crevice.

But Dracula has limitations, too. He's vulnerable by day, and his powers of transformation are partial. He can't enter a place unless invited, and he can't cross running water. All sacred things repel him, as do garlic and wild rose. If they can catch him in his lair, they can destroy him. Van Helsing's research suggests that this vampire is Dracula, a "voivode," or war leader, against the Turks in his real life. Dracula is intelligent and determined; he descends from noble leaders who studied with Satan himself. Dracula's own descendants include good men and women whose bodies, paradoxically, sanctify the earth "where alone this foulness can dwell." That is why Dracula had to bring the crates of soil, from the chapel where these people were buried, to England.

Morris has been watching the window and now quietly leaves. Van Helsing lays out his plan to check how many boxes of earth are still at Carfax but is interrupted by a bullet that shatters the window and lodges in the far wall. They hear Morris apologize from outside. Returning to the room, he explains that he saw a huge bat on the windowsill and took a shot at it but missed. Van Helsing continues: They must locate any missing boxes in order to trap Dracula while he rests in a box or sterilize the soil in each box, making it uninhabitable. Morris suggests searching Carfax that night, and Mina is sent to bed, where she pretends to sleep so Jonathan won't worry.

Early in the morning of October 1st, Seward adds to his journal. As the men prepare to leave the asylum, Renfield's attendant tells Seward that Renfield is agitated and wants to speak with him. The four men find Renfield anxious but rational. Sounding sane and gentlemanly, he begs to go home and has a kind word for each man. Seward, stunned by Renfield's transformation, feels compelled to let him leave, but he recalls Renfield's shifting moods and proposes discussing the matter in the morning. Renfield wants to go immediately. When Van Helsing asks Renfield to prove his sanity by explaining his reasons, Renfield says he's not free to tell. The men turn to leave, but Renfield kneels and pleads. Seward orders Renfield to his bed, and Renfield, defeated, obeys. But as the men leave, he tells Seward to remember later how he tried to warn him.

Analysis

In Chapter 18 Van Helsing finally names his enemy and praises him as a brave mortal man with a "mighty brain" and "iron resolution," that quality men must have, as readers have seen throughout the novel, to be respected by other men and trusted by women. Through Van Helsing's detailed explanation of Dracula's past, abilities, and weaknesses, Stoker lays down vampire lore that later novelists and screenwriters have relied on for decades. Stoker found many of the details in sources he studied, but it's likely that he created some that then became part of vampire mythology, such as Dracula's now-iconic ability to shapeshift into a bat.

Mina was at the center of Chapter 17, but in Chapter 18 she is pushed to the outer edge of the circle of Dracula's foes. Even before he speaks to Mina, Van Helsing persuades Seward to exclude her, going forward, because she may turn weak. When Van Helsing asks who will fight Dracula with him, Harker takes his wife's hand and says, "I answer for Mina and myself." And after the war council, Van Helsing tells Mina, "You are too precious to us" to risk. He doesn't mention his concern about her courage failing but instead frames the decision to exclude her in typically chivalrous terms, which galls Mina. She ends her long entry with a chafed comment: "Manlike, they have told me to go to bed"—as if she can sleep. Yet she doesn't object to the decision, which is supported by the Victorian idea of separate spheres for masculine and feminine life—the idea that men are innately active, public beings while women are passive and must be sheltered in the home. Later, readers realize the irony: had Mina been included in the hunt, she would not have been alone at the asylum and vulnerable to Dracula's attack.

Chapter 18 also develops Renfield's role and foreshadows the coming disaster. Twice, Seward interviews his patient; twice, he misses hints observant readers see. The first interview begins with a lie—Seward claims Mina is visiting all the patients—and an assumption that Renfield responds warmly to Mina's natural demeanor because "easiness is one of the qualities mad people most respect." "Don't stay," Renfield immediately tells Mina before describing his supposedly former belief about prolonging his life by consuming the blood of living things. During the second interview, during which Renfield calmly addresses each man with details about his life and achievements, Renfield begs Seward to see that he is "no lunatic in a mad fit, but a sane man fighting for his soul." Seward recently helped free Lucy's soul from damnation, yet Renfield's words slip past him. Twice, Renfield ran to Carfax's chapel, which the men now know to be Dracula's lair; he's admitted to eating living things for their blood; he's called Dracula his master. Van Helsing has just told the men that Dracula must be invited into a house, and Renfield begs to go "out of this house at once," even if it means going to jail in shackles.

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