Dracula | Study Guide

Bram Stoker

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Chapter 23

Stanley Stepanic, Professor of Slavic Languages & Literatures at the University of Virginia, explains Chapter 23 in Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula.

Dracula | Chapter 23 : Dr. Seward's Diary | Summary



Seward's October 3rd entry supplements Harker's. Seward records how Van Helsing tries to help Harker endure the lull before action by sharing what he's learned about Dracula. In life Dracula was a fearless military commander and a brilliant scholar even of demonic knowledge. Somehow, his consciousness persisted beyond his physical death, and he has spent centuries amassing power and knowledge. Perhaps, Van Helsing says, Dracula is the forerunner of a new species. Dracula planned his move to London carefully; he manipulated Renfield deftly. Yet Van Helsing bets they've outmaneuvered Dracula by sterilizing the boxes of earth.

A knock startles the men—Mina has sent a telegram informing them that Dracula is on his way south from Carfax. Harker is glad; he wants to face Dracula, even at the cost of his soul. But Van Helsing cautions Harker to trust God and avoid rash action. Holmwood and Morris return, having sterilized six more boxes. As Van Helsing tells them about the telegram, they hear a key turn in the lock. As often when they hunted together in the past, Morris takes charge, gesturing the men to positions as Dracula, alert to danger, slinks down the hall and springs into the room. His sneering expression causes the men to hesitate; then Harker attacks him with a kukri knife, but Dracula evades the blow. The blade tears his coat, and money and gold coins spill out. Seward advances, feeling a surge of power in his arm as he holds out the crucifix and wafer. Dracula cringes in pained hatred, then lunges to the floor, scooping up gold coins, and flings himself through a window. From the yard below, he boasts that Mina and Lucy belong to him, and soon many other women will do his bidding, too. Then he escapes.

Van Helsing gathers the remaining money and deeds; the hunt is on, and Dracula, he claims, is afraid. Sunset approaches, so they must return to the asylum to guard Mina. To encourage the men and Harker especially, Van Helsing reminds them that only one box of earth remains, and they will find it. At the asylum Mina puts on a brave face, praises the men's progress, and tries to ease Jonathan's extreme distress. She calls the men away from their hate-filled thoughts by asserting that the "poor soul who has wrought all this misery is the saddest case of all." Just as their dire work freed Lucy's soul for heaven, their destruction of Dracula's physical form will free his, captive to evil for so long. Harker leaps up and exclaims he'd rather send Dracula to deepest hell, but Mina prays for God to excuse his words, spoken under duress. Everyone cries over Mina's sweetness.

Van Helsing prepares Mina's room for the night and gives her a bell to ring in alarm; the younger men take shifts in the hallway, in case Dracula returns. Before he sleeps Harker adds an October 4th entry to his journal. He's exhausted but tortured by the threat of the hidden box of earth to Mina, whom he now loves and prizes more than ever. He drifts off while watching emotions cross Mina's face as she sleeps. He wakes suddenly—Mina has heard a sound in the hallway. It's just Morris, who assures them that they'll never be without a guard that night. The Harkers sleep nearly till dawn, when Mina asks to see Van Helsing. She somehow knows that if he hypnotizes her before dawn, she'll be able to speak. Van Helsing easily hypnotizes Mina and leads her to describe being below deck on a sailing ship. Then day breaks and Mina wakes. The men are all eagerness to get to the port till Van Helsing points out the futility of a random search. Dracula, he says, is like a fox gone to ground. They will rest, eat, and think about how to narrow the search. But they must find Dracula because he can live for centuries, and his blood is in Mina. When Mina grasps the implications, she faints.


Of the male characters, only Harker goes through changes as dramatic as those Lucy and Mina experience. He travels to Castle Dracula a fit young lawyer, just starting his career, and emerges a broken, haunted man. His first weeks back in England find him nervous, lacking resolve, and lost. When he learns that his journal records real events, he rebounds with energy and purpose. But the attacks on Mina have changed him utterly. Seward describes Harker as a "drawn, haggard old man," white-haired, with "hollow burning eyes and grief-written lines" on his face—yet with a spirit "like a Iiving flame." Harker has failed at his primary task—keeping his wife safe. Van Helsing keeps up a steady stream of chatter about Dracula to keep Harker from melting down, which gives Stoker the opportunity to incorporate more vampire lore. Readers can hear Van Helsing's grudging admiration for Dracula the mortal man willing to risk all for knowledge and power. Yet some memories were lost, Van Helsing says, in Dracula's transformation into a vampire, and he is "experimenting" to regain that knowledge. If he succeeds Dracula will usher in a "new order of beings, whose road must lead through Death, not Life," Van Helsing fears. His description of Dracula is oddly contradictory. Is the vampire a brute, more akin to animals than humans, or a child trying to learn, or a sophisticated prince of a nation? Perhaps all three, Van Helsing seems to suggest.

Quincey Morris's character undergoes some development in this chapter. So far readers have seen him as an easygoing, adventurous, gentlemanly Texan—the only representative in the novel of the United States, a country Stoker had traveled in and thought well of. Readers learn that, in their former adventures, Morris took the lead, quickly assessing situations and leading responses. When Dracula arrives at the Picadilly house, Morris gets everyone in position with glances and gestures—no words required. Had Dracula's powerful feline movements not surprised the men into a moment of inaction, the men might have destroyed him then. Regardless, Morris's strategy and courage foreshadow his later daring actions against Dracula.

But the most dramatic moment in this chapter comes when Dracula calls to the men from the courtyard, not at all intimidated by their attack. They are like "sheep in a butcher's" shop and will each pay for their deeds. (Readers should remember that Dracula somehow still doesn't know that Lucy has been released from his curse or that most of his boxes are poison to him now.) Dracula points out his great advantage: "Time is on my side." He's already transformed Lucy and begun transforming Mina, "your girls that you love," and he will transform many others to serve him. With a sneer, he escapes.

Mina's reaction to this news, when the men return, burnishes her reputation as a pearl among women. She praises their victories while softening the blow of Dracula's escape. She calls them away from the hate and anger that are as poisonous to them as Dracula's blood is in her. And she pities even her attacker and prays for all. Yet the chapter ends as Mina faces a difficult realization. As beloved and virtuous as she is, she's now also a conduit for Dracula's thought—an unwilling spy in their midst. Despite this setback, Chapter 23 is a turning point in the novel and perhaps even its climax, because Dracula the hunter has become Dracula the hunted. Note that there could conceivably be multiple climaxes to the novel, depending on the reader's interpretation.

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