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Chapter 9

Stanley Stepanic, Professor of Slavic Languages & Literatures at the University of Virginia, explains Chapter 9 in Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula.

Dracula | Chapter 9 : Letter, Mina Harker to Lucy Westenra | Summary

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Summary

On August 24th Mina writes to Lucy from Buda-Pesth, where she finds Jonathan thin and sick. He seems uncertain of himself and has no memory of recent events, or perhaps he says this so Mina won't ask about them. When Mina asks Sister Agatha, she crosses herself and says only God understands words spoken in delirium. But, she assures Mina, Jonathan has been faithful to her. When he wakes, Jonathan hands his notebook to Mina because spouses shouldn't have secrets. Because he can't tell whether the experiences he recorded are real or delusion, he doesn't want to discuss them unless necessary.

A chaplain marries Mina and Jonathan that afternoon. As her wedding gift, Mina wraps Jonathan's notebook in white paper and a blue ribbon and seals it, impressing her wedding ring in wax. The notebook symbolizes their trust; she vows never to read it unless pressing need compels her.

On August 30th Lucy replies sweetly to Mina's letter. She's sleeping soundly and gaining back some weight. She and Arthur spend all day together and will be married on September 28th. Even Mrs. Westenra is doing better.

An entry from Dr. Seward's diary follows, dated August 20th. After Renfield's capture, his violent behavior subsides into patience. Seward agrees to remove the straight-jacket ("straight-waistcoat"). He tries to draw Renfield out by discussing getting a cat, but Renfield is done with that plan and says only that he will wait. For three days, Renfield repeats a pattern: he is calm by day, becomes frantic at night, and collapses at dawn. Seward decides to let him escape and follow him to gather information on what is affecting his behavior. On August 23rd Seward reports that Renfield races past the attendant through the open door and returns to the door of Carfax's chapel. Following Renfield's gaze, Seward sees a large bat flying west—straight on, not in the erratic pattern of bats catching insects. After the bat is out of sight, Renfield passively returns to his room.

Lucy begins her own diary, after Mina's example, on August 24th at her home in Hillingham. The dreams that disturbed her sleep at Whitby have started again. She makes an excuse to sleep in her mother's room, but Mrs. Westenra refuses her request, probably to keep Lucy from seeing how ill she has become. Lucy has another bad night, waking to hear something scratching at the window and rising the next morning tired and pale.

On August 31st Holmwood writes in desperation to ask Seward to examine Lucy. He asks Seward to come on a pretense of a lunch visit, because if Mrs. Westenra learns of Lucy's problems, the knowledge might kill her.

The next day, Holmwood follows his letter with a telegram, telling Seward that he must hurry to his ailing father's side and asking for a full report, which Seward sends in a letter dated September 2nd. Miss Westenra has no identifiable physical ailment. Lucy pretends to feel well so that her mother won't worry, suggesting that she knows her mother's secret, and allows Seward's examination only to comfort Holmwood. She seems colorless, yet a sample of her blood shows no anemia. Seward, stumped, consults with his former teacher, Professor Van Helsing of Amsterdam, an expert in little-known diseases. Seward describes Van Helsing as a philosopher and respected scientist.

On the same day, Van Helsing writes a brief note to Dr. Seward, agreeing to come to his aid at once. It's the least he can do for the friend who, during an earlier adventure, "suck[ed] the poison of the gangrene from that knife" another man let slip.

Seward writes to Holmwood again, on September 3rd, after Van Helsing examines Lucy. Van Helsing worries that Lucy's condition may be a matter of "life and death, perhaps more." Lucy feigns good spirits during the examination, but she doesn't fool Van Helsing, who sends Seward away so Lucy will talk freely. Van Helsing confirms that no physical condition is to blame for Lucy's health. Should Lucy decline, Seward will inform Holmwood.

On September 4th Seward reports that Renfield became so violent around noon, he had to be harshly restrained. Now, later in the day, Renfield sulks in a corner a while and then happily returns to catching and eating flies. Renfield apologizes for his behavior, saying he needs his notebook back to keep count. Seward grants this request and tries to get Renfield to talk. Renfield will say only that he's been deserted and must look after himself. Puzzled, Seward gives Renfield the sugar he wants and leaves him to his flies.

At sunset, however, Renfield begins shouting. As the sun drops, he relaxes. Then he calmly brushes the sugar off the windowsill, throws away the flies and their box, and closes the window, done with such things. Seward wonders whether the sun is affecting Renfield, as the moon does lunatics.

Seward also sends telegrams on September 4th and 5th, telling Van Helsing that Lucy seems better. But on the 6th, he writes, "Come at once."

Analysis

Mina's worry about Jonathan's fragile state may seem to contradict the model of English masculinity presented in the novel generally. The excuse is the terrible shock Jonathan has experienced, which has left him "so thin and pale and weak-looking." But what troubles Mina more than his physical condition is his mental state. Jonathan has lost his "resolution" and "quiet dignity," desirable and necessary traits for successful men in this culture. Later, when Mina begs Van Helsing to help her husband, she reiterates her fear that he's lost his resolve. Steadiness, sincerity, and drive are traits available to any man, regardless of age or class—they are the mirror of stereotypical feminine traits of fickleness and flightiness. That Mina has these masculine traits in abundance is clear throughout the novel and especially in this chapter, where she shoulders the burden of caring for her weakened husband while respecting his secrets. Mina ends her letter to Lucy by urging her spoiled younger friend to prepare to set aside girlish pleasures and take up her wifely duty—the greatest gift a wife can give her husband. But Lucy's reply reveals her still as the flighty, romantic girl sending her friend "oceans of love and millions of kisses." Like Mina, she ends her letter to return to her lover, but Mina goes to aid Jonathan, while pampered Lucy goes to play with her fiancé. The contrast of earnest Mina and sweetly frivolous Lucy correlates to Lucy's passive succumbing to Dracula's attack and Mina's later rebellion against his blood in her body.

Lucy's childish ways, in fact, set up a contrast that suggests Dracula's curse is already at work in her. First, she's unwilling to tell the men responsible for her well-being—her fiancé and her doctor—what's happening to her. She tries to hide her symptoms, though she's exhausted, and she must be persuaded to allow an examination. It's not in Lucy's sweet, confiding nature to hide things, yet she does so. This is not to say that Lucy knows what's happening to her, but her behavior is subtly rebellious, suggesting that she's beginning to belong more to Dracula and less to Holmwood. Dracula is a killer, but worse, he is a perverter of innocence and a thief of the pure and valued bride.

The chapter also features tempting hints—at least for the vampire-savvy reader—of what's to come. Renfield's sudden change of mood, his claim that Seward has no significance, and especially his willingness to return quietly to his room suggest the power that Dracula, now nearby at Carfax, has over his devotee. And Stoker brilliantly includes a detail Seward fails to understand. He sees a large bat flying not erratically, as bats do, but "straight on, as if it ... had some intention of its own." And it introduces, finally, the novel's most formidable male protagonist, Abraham Van Helsing, a man Seward admires as having "an absolutely open mind ... with an iron nerve," a cool head, and the trait poor Harker lacks—"indomitable resolution." The description sounds formidable, but right away readers see other, less intimidating traits. Van Helsing is a deeply loyal man; he travels immediately from Amsterdam, over 300 miles away, to help the student and friend to whom he feels indebted. When he needs to be, he's kind and grandfatherly, as when he wins Lucy's confidence, capably hiding his deep concern that her illness is "no jest, but life and death, perhaps more"—another hint that Dracula, though absent, is at work in the chapter.

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