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Chapter 7

Stanley Stepanic, Professor of Slavic Languages & Literatures at the University of Virginia, explains Chapter 7 in Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula.

Dracula | Chapter 7 : Cutting from "The Dailygraph," 8 August | Summary

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Summary

Mina pastes an article by a Whitby correspondent in her journal. The article describes a sudden August storm and its odd aftermath. The day ended in a beautiful sunset that many tourists rushed outside to see. A single ship unwisely stayed out of the harbor as the air grew heavy. Just after midnight, the storm broke. Tourists were herded inside as waves battered the shore and thick fog rolled in like the "clammy hands of death." Men hauled in small boats and turned the searchlight to watch the lone ship, now near a dangerous reef. High tides miraculously lifted the ship into the harbor, stranding it on a sandbar. As the damaged ship wrecked, a huge dog bounded from the deck and raced across the beach into the darkness. The coast guard boarded the ship, followed by the reporter, to find a man tied to the whesettel. His bound hands gripped a crucifix, and in his pocket was a corked bottle with an addendum to the ship's log. Who owns the ship now is a legal question yet to be decided.

The correspondent's thoughts concerning the shipwreck continue in the next cutting from August 9th. The Russian ship, the Demeter, carries some silver sand and many boxes of soil. The cargo's recipient, a lawyer named S.F. Billington, takes possession of it. The Russian consul claims the ship and pays the harbor fees. In the morning after the storm, a coal merchant's dog is found dead, its belly and throat torn out. The correspondent reports later that an inspector allowed them to look at the Demeter's logbook and the addendum, which the Russian consul translates. The translation is then provided. The captain first states his desire to record odd events that occurred between their departure on July 6th and his last entry on August 4th:

The crew of nine loads cargo and sets sale, paying customary bribes along the way. The seasoned crew seems anxious, crossing themselves and quarreling. On July 16th a crewman goes missing, and another refuses to sleep below. Another crewman reports that he saw a strange man aboard, but a search finds nothing the next day. In rough weather, the ship enters British waters; another crewman disappears. For days, storms wrack the ship. When yet another crewman vanishes, the captain and first mate arm themselves.

As the ship nears England, two more men go missing. Heavy fog sets in, dragging down morale. At midnight on August 2nd, the captain hears a cry. He and the mate run to the deck to find the watchman gone. The next night, the captain goes to relieve the steersman but finds no one at the wheel. The panicked mate goes below to open the boxes while the confused captain steers. After some time, the mate runs past him, screaming that the "sea will save me from Him," and leaps overboard. The captain assumes the mate has gone mad and killed the crew.

On August 4th the captain finally sees the strange man. He now envies the mate his death in the wholesome sea, but he refuses to leave his ship. He ties his hands to the wheel, crucifix between them, and prays to die with honor.

The correspondent writes that while no one will ever know who killed the crew, the captain is to be buried as a hero in the churchyard.

Mina's August 8th entry describes Lucy's restless behavior on the night of the storm. In the morning, the waves are still fierce, and Mina's anxiety about Jonathan's absence increases. Mina writes again on August 10th to describe the captain's moving funeral, Lucy's continued restlessness, and the discovery of Mr. Swales' body in the churchyard. The doctor guesses that Mr. Swales saw something that horrified him, fell back, and broke his neck. Also, a man who often visits the churchyard with his dog attended the funeral, but the usually gentle dog began to howl. When the man forced the dog to sit on the very seat where Mr. Swales died, it trembled so pitiably that sensitive Lucy is nearly overwhelmed.

Analysis

Chapter 7 is the first example of Mina's ability to research and document events, a skill that becomes increasingly vital as the plot develops. It's easy to see why she'd clip and paste the lengthy articles written by a correspondent working for The Dailygraph into her journal. They feature destails of the Demeter's disappearance, as well as its log, translated by the Russian consul. Stoker doesn't explain; readers need to know what happened on the ship, even if these articles are a bit contrived.

What is not contrived, however, is the marvelously detailed description of the sunset, the storm, and the ship. Stoker demonstrates his eye for visual detail, describing, for example, "myriad clouds of every sunset-colour—flame, purple, pink, green, violet, and all the tints of gold" set off against masses of "absolute blackness." The sky displays both great beauty and great threat, appropriately, since Dracula is arriving in high summer to bring a deadly plague of violence. In energetic detail, the report describes the daring rescue of small ships fleeing the storm as well as the stunned reaction to the Russian ship's bizarre arrival, which readers infer Dracula has arranged because he's not allowed to cross open water.

Also convincing is the captain's log, which reveals him to be a diligent man who grieves the puzzling deaths of his crew. But more important for readers, the log builds suspense by adding the crew's superstitions and fears to what readers already know about Dracula. The men cross themselves; they're panicky, they can't sleep, and some refuse to go below where the boxes of earth are, but none will explain their fears to the captain. This is the first strong example of what will be a persistent problem in the novel—the refusal, for whatever reason, to share information. The first mate's insistence on opening all the boxes to "find It" and his decision to die honorably in the sea rather than be contaminated by "It" mean that he has suspected for some time what's happening to the men. Because information is withheld, the captain understands too late to do anything other than die with honor. The first mate's death, readers may notice, is the second mention of suicide in the Whitby section of the novel. He chooses to "die like a sailor in blue water" rather than be touched by Dracula. That the captain approves of this suicide—a shameful act at this time—speaks powerfully to Dracula's vileness.

Yet despite the log, despite omens and premonitions, a dead old man, a frightened dog, and a ghost ship steered by a dead captain, Mina has no clue about what's coming. Because readers do, suspense builds.

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