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Chapter 20

Stanley Stepanic, Professor of Slavic Languages & Literatures at the University of Virginia, explains Chapter 20 in Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula.

Dracula | Chapter 20 : Jonathan Harker's Journal | Summary

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Summary

Jonathan records, on the evening of October 1st, his meetings with the men who carted the boxes to Carfax, Joseph Smollet and Thomas Snelling. Snelling, when Harker arrives, is too drunk to help, but Smollet is a dependable worker who provides Harker with vital information. Six boxes each went to buildings in east and southeast London; from these points, Harker assumes, Dracula had the boxes delivered to a dozen carefully chosen places around London. Smollet agrees to find and mail to Harker the address of a man who might know more.

That evening, Harker gets Smollet's letter with Sam Bloxam's address. He leaves quietly so Mina can sleep on but decides to send her home to Exeter, where chores and work can occupy her mind and the exclusion from planning will sting less. Smollet's misspelled directions cause some trouble, but Harker finally locates Bloxam at a cold storage warehouse. Bloxam reports moving nine boxes from Carfax to a house in Piccadilly, a popular shopping and entertainment district in London. An older man of surprising strength helped load the boxes. Bloxam describes the boarded-up house so well that Harker finds it easily. He gets the real estate agency's name, but the agency's pompous clerk keeps his client's information private. When Harker suggests that Lord Godalming is interested in the house, the clerk agrees to communicate any appropriate information directly to Holmwood. Harker returns to the asylum full of news that must wait till Mina retires.

Dr. Seward's October 1st entry records his concerns about Renfield's moods. He visits him in the morning and finds him looking down with disdain on mere mortals' concerns. Yet he collapses quickly into a submissive mood and then refuses to talk. Later, he seems troubled by the idea that in taking a life, even of a fly, he must also take its soul. Twice Renfield complains that insects offer so little life force: "You might as well ask a man to eat molecules with a pair of chop-sticks," he gripes. When Seward suggests an elephant, Renfield explodes in anger, then apologizes. He faces a difficult problem; Seward should forgive and pity him. Seward leaves Renfield in this mood and pieces clues together. Dracula, he guesses, has assigned Renfield some murderous task. Alarmed, Seward takes Van Helsing to visit Renfield, who is setting out sugar to catch more flies. He ignores his visitors, singing as he tucks a scrap of paper into his notebook.

A letter arrives from the real estate agency identifying the buyer of the house in Piccadilly as a Count de Ville but offering no further information.

On October 2nd Seward assigns an attendant to listen, from the hall outside Renfield's room, for anything odd and report it to him. After dinner, Mina retires, and the men exchange information. Seward checks on Renfield and sees him sleeping quietly. In the morning, the attendant reports only that Renfield woke after midnight to pray. However, the man admits to nodding off. That evening Seward considers whether Renfield's moods shadow Dracula's actions when a frantic scream comes from Renfield's room, and an attendant runs in to report an accident. Renfield is on the floor, covered in blood.

Analysis

Mina is less and less present in this chapter, which consists of a brief business letter, an entry by Harker, and two by Seward. Harker's interactions with Mina happen mostly while she sleeps and he tries not to wake her, but even when awake, Mina says little about Dracula or the hunt and "actually shudders" if someone says his name. Harker hates to see her suffering, but his solution is not to challenge Van Helsing's decision to exclude Mina from the collaboration and friendship that sustain the men but to send her home to the empty house in Exeter, where she'll be entirely secluded. At dinner one evening, Mina makes a "gallant effort" to seem cheerful, which breaks Harker's heart—it's the only vaguely heroic action she can now take. She seems resigned to being sent to bed after dinner, perhaps too tired to object even in her private writings. Their estranged confidence may be why Harker misses clues, as Seward did in previous chapters, like Mina's trembling at Dracula's name and her attempt to keep her husband with her in their room. Or perhaps he's distracted. He knows his "dear girl" wants him to stay with her, but "there was much to be talked of," so he hurries back to the men and basks in Van Helsing's praise of his investigations. Thoughtful readers not only feel the tension growing between Mina and Jonathan but may also predict his future remorse over this behavior. Harker's voice strengthens as Mina's fades in these chapters. By the end of the chapter, Mina takes herself to bed after dinner, and the men hardly notice.

The other significant development in this chapter is Renfield's case, as Seward reports on it. Readers may notice that Seward thinks of Renfield not quite as a man, somewhat as a patient, but really more of a case study or project that might make Seward's name for him in the field. Now Renfield is also a source of information about Dracula and his plans. Renfield rushes from one mood to another, first despising Seward as unworthy of his time, then claiming he has powerful friends. Renfield compares himself to Enoch—another of the novel's many biblical allusions, this time to a section of Genesis that describes a man who lived 365 years and then was transported to heaven without dying. To Renfield, Dracula is the deity who will ensure his servant's long life and avoidance of death. But Seward's questioning troubles Renfield, who drops his tone of "ineffably benign superiority" when Seward asks how someone can get the life of a creature's blood without also getting its soul. The fate of the soul, being eternal, is a subject for Dracula's vampire women, for Lucy, for the sailors on the Demeter, and for Dracula himself. Seward poses a ridiculous idea: the souls of every fly, spider, and bird Renfield has consumed may surround him even now. Renfield shuts his eyes tightly and pushes his fingers into his ears at the thought, causing Seward to drop this line of argument. "To hell with you and your souls!" Renfield yells, but later he asks Seward to pity him as he struggles, Seward assumes, with the terrible thought of "being burdened with the 'soul' of anything." Seward comes away more persuaded that Dracula wants to use Renfield to murder someone, yet he still doesn't think of the threat as within the walls of his asylum—at least until the attendant rushes in, as the chapter ends, to report that Renfield is injured, lying in blood.

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