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Chapter 6

Stanley Stepanic, Professor of Slavic Languages & Literatures at the University of Virginia, explains Chapter 6 in Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula.

Dracula | Chapter 6 : Mina Murray's Journal | Summary

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Summary

On July 24th Mina joins Lucy and her mother at the seaside resort of Whitby. Mina adds to her journal on August 1st. She, Lucy, and friends talk in a hilltop churchyard popular with tourists; old men, Mina notes, are drawn to Lucy's sweet nature. One, Mr. Swales, speaks at length about local ghost stories and scolds preachers for using the stories to scare people into obedient behavior. Even the sentiments on the tombstones are lies, he claims, since half the graves are empty, the stones placed in honor of people who died at sea or abroad. When Mina objects that the stones comfort grieving families, Mr. Swales points to a stone that speaks of a beloved son lost. In fact the mother and son hated each other, and the son shot himself to keep the mother from inheriting from him. Lucy is dismayed to be sitting by the grave of a suicide.

A June 5th entry from Dr. Seward records his observations about patients. Currently, Renfield is catching flies. When Seward objects, Renfield agrees to get rid of the flies. On June 18th Seward reports that Renfield has collected large spiders, to which he feeds the flies; by July 1st, the spiders are so numerous that Seward orders Renfield to get rid of at least some of them. During this conversation, Seward sees Renfield catch a fly in midair and eat it. Flies, he claims, are "very good and very wholesome." Seward muses about why Renfield keeps a notebook filled with columns of "masses of figures."

On July 8th Seward outlines a plan to diagnose Resnfield. He observes Renfield secretly for a few days. During that time, Renfield catches and partially tames a sparrow. On July 19th Seward reports that Renfield has several sparrows, to which he has fed the spiders and flies. Now he begs for a kitten to play with and "feed—and feed—and feed!" When Seward, as a test, suggests a cat instead, Renfield is enthusiastic, but then Seward puts off getting the cat. That night, Seward finds Renfield sulking in a corner. When Seward again denies his request for a cat, Renfield chews his fingers in frustration.

The next morning, Renfield's mood is improved. He sets out sugar to lure flies and announces that the sparrows have flown away, but Seward notes feathers in the room and a drop of blood on the pillow. Later that morning, Renfield vomits feathers, evidence that he ate the birds. Late that night, Seward gives Renfield an opiate to make him sleep, a rather unethical approach in the situation. Seward examines Renfield's notebook and confirms his theory that Renfield is a "zoöphagous (life-eating) maniac." Renfield intends to feed flies to spiders, spiders to birds, and birds to a cat, and then eat the cat. Then, he believes, he will gain the cumulative life force of all the creatures. Seward wonders what the next step might have been and is tempted to let Renfield carry out his plan in order to advance science. His work is all he has because Lucy loves another man.

Mina's July 26th journal entry follows and reports her growing concern over Jonathan's absence. A letter from Mr. Hawkins has reached her, saying that Harker wrote to say that he was coming home soon. This second-hand communication is unlike Jonathan. Mina also worries about Lucy, who has inherited a tendency to walk in her sleep. Her mother locks her door at night to keep her safe. During the days, as Lucy plans her wedding and housekeeping, Mina thinks of the wealthy life Lucy and Arthur will have while she and Jonathan will have to scrape by. Holmwood, son of Lord Godalming, is the only heir to the family's title and land.

On July 27th Mina still has no word from Jonathan, and Lucy must bear her disappointment when Arthur postpones his visit to attend to his ill father. A week passes before Mina writes on August 3rd, worrying that Jonathan may be ill and that Lucy's sleep-walking is getting worse. By August 6th Mina's suspense over Jonathan's whereabouts deepens, and Lucy's odd nervousness increases, too. On a grey day, Mina walks above the harbor and meets with Mr. Swales again, who apologizes meekly for speaking irreverently about the dead. Old people, he explains, try to cheer themselves about death by joking about it. His own death can't be far off; he senses "something in that wind ... that sounds, and looks, and tastes, and smells like death." Whitby's coastguard passes, noting an unfamiliar ship near the harbor that moves strangely and "Russian, by the look of her."

Analysis

Chapter 6 follows Mina and Seward as each looks for answers to a mysterious problem. Each receives clues from an unexpected source. In Mina's case, the cryptically charming Mr. Swales unintentionally guides her thinking about Jonathan's absence and Lucy's sleepwalking behaviors. Mina notes that Mr. Swales is unconventional in his language, his attitude toward authority, and his treatment of Mina and Lucy. He doesn't regard them as fragile creatures to be spared truth and protected from unpleasant realities. He talks to them like reasoning, equal adults—that is, like men.

Mina learns from Mr. Swales that things people take as sacred can be thought of irreverently with no harm. He pokes fun at authority figures who try to scare thinking adults into acceptable behavior. He laughs at the superstitions associated with suicide, which for much of the Victorian period was illegal and disgraceful, and he says with gleeful innuendo that the buried man might be happy to "so trim a lass sittin' on his lap." But Mr. Swales is also attuned to the natural world. He feels Mina's worries, though she tries to hide them, as is proper, and he connects her fears to his impending death. Life, he says, is waiting, always waiting for the next thing to happen.

Meanwhile, Seward is seeking answers about Renfield's behavior. (Note that Seward's diary entry backs up to early June, not the only instance in the novel when the timeline is fractured.) Seward's heart is still broken; he writes that not even work fills his life with purpose now. He needs a "good, unselfish cause" to labor toward; meanwhile, he tries to solve the problem of Renfield's madness. Ironically, Seward feels lifeless, purposeless at the same time that Renfield has figured out, he thinks, how to bolster and sustain his own life. And gradually, as Renfield's behavior and ledger of lives consumed reveals his purpose, Seward begins to think lively thoughts as well. He's excited now about the prospect of moving his field forward with new insights. "Why not," he argues, "advance science in its most difficult and vital aspect—the knowledge of the brain?" Seward notes that vivisection, a controversial method, may be necessary and then draws back from the implied temptation. He's a decent man, but he lacks a worthy goal to direct his talents and energy and thus is vulnerable to such temptations. How much is a man's life worth to Renfield, Seward asks, before speaking of the day when the "Great Recorder sums me up and closes my ledger account with a balance to profit or loss." If work is salvation, especially for men in this culture, Seward is not as persuaded that his current work will save him as Renfield is of his project to prolong his life.

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