Dracula | Study Guide

Bram Stoker

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Dracula | Discussion Questions 11 - 20


In Chapter 8 of Dracula, what does the imagery and sensory detail in Lucy's description of her nighttime walk to the churchyard suggest about Dracula's assault on Lucy?

In Chapter 8 Mina and Lucy, who is pale but cheerful, visit their favorite spot in the churchyard and discuss for the first time the night Lucy walked to the tomb there in her sleep. Lucy teases that she went barefoot so she wouldn't disturb Geordie, the suicide buried there. Earlier, when Lucy sat on the tomb slab, the irreverent Mr. Swales joked that Geordie wouldn't mind a pretty girl sitting in his lap, so to speak. The two images—the bare feet, and the lap—set a sexualized tone for Lucy's description; modest Victorian girls would not have had bare feet in public. Lucy reports having been strangely drawn to the slab and feeling fearful yet excited. As Dracula sucked her blood from her throat (though she and Mina have no knowledge, at this time, of what happened), she recalls suddenly that "once the West Lighthouse was right under me"—not under the current churchyard, but under Lucy. She then experiences an "agonizing feeling" as if shaken by an earthquake. She describes Dracula not as a person or a man but as "something long and dark" that meets her at the tomb. Details and imagery combine to suggest that Dracula's assault on Lucy may be focused on her throat (itself a sensual area) but is figuratively a sexual assault that violates her purity and destroys her apparent innocence. He is making her his bride, consummating the bond by taking her blood for the first time.

In Chapters 8 and 9 of Dracula, who won't share information, and how does this reluctance to share information help Dracula?

Who chooses to share information—and when, and with whom—is a question for much of the novel. In Chapters 8 and 9, many instances occur when, had characters shared information, outcomes might have differed. Not until characters share what they know and feel freely, so that information can be organized, do Dracula's enemies have a chance of defeating him. In these chapters, in contrast: Lucy tries to hide her troubled nights and tiredness from her fiancé so he won't worry. Holmwood, not fooled by Lucy's efforts, asks Seward to help but hides the problem from Mrs. Westenra so her heart won't give out. Mrs. Westenra tries to hide her heart diagnosis from Lucy so as not to mar her happy engagement. Sister Agatha won't tell Mina what Jonathan said while feverish, though she clearly suspects what has happened. Jonathan hands his journal to Mina, saying spouses should have no secrets by implying that he doesn't want her to read it because the events might not have happened. Hints of this unwillingness to tell what someone knows are in the novel's first chapter, when villagers offer Harker crucifixes and words of blessing but won't explain their actions. They probably act out of fear of retaliation; they know Dracula's predations and his control of the wolves. This may be Sister Agatha's motivation, too. But the others are motivated by their perception of friends and family as weak and unable to bear the truth. Their refusal to share information allows Dracula to prey on Lucy, transforming her into his creature.

In Chapter 9 of Dracula, what contrasts are revealed in the exchange of letters between Mina and Lucy and what roles does Mina play in Lucy's life?

Readers learn that, while Mina and Lucy are friends and confidantes, they differ in critical ways: Class: Mina, a teacher's assistant and aspiring legal secretary, doesn't come from a moneyed family. She has nothing but herself to offer Jonathan, she says—no dowry or family connections. Lucy has money and is about to marry into aristocracy and even more money. Age and maturity: Mina is older than Lucy (though many film adaptations lessen or eliminate this age gap) and was once her teacher. She considers herself Lucy's dear friend but also her role model. Expectations: Mina's marriage, she writes, will involve work, duty, and care, beginning with the care of her ailing husband. But she knows that Lucy, sheltered by wealth and privilege, can expect a "long day of sunshine, with no harsh wind." Lucy's reply confirms this expectation. She and Arthur spend their days taking walks, riding and boating, and playing tennis. Staff meet their household needs but the chores will fall to Mina in her home. Thoughtfulness: Mina's letter is long, detailed, carefully organized, and focused on others—Jonathan, Sister Agatha, and Lucy. Lucy's reply is short, shallow, and rather self-centered. Sentences like "By the way, I forgot to tell you" characterize its organization. Mina makes her letter's purpose clear—to prepare Lucy to take up her wifely duties, as Mina herself does when she closes her letter by writing, "I must attend to my husband."

How do Seward, Lucy, and Van Helsing view Lucy's apparent illness in Chapters 10 and 11 of Dracula, and how does each character's view reflect his or her social status?

Seward is a well-trained doctor, a man of science, ambitious to make his mark in his profession. He views Lucy's illness as he does Renfield's madness; both are problems to analyze and solve rationally. Seward notes symptoms, traces causes and effects, and calls in a consult when he's stumped. He's also a man in love with his patient who struggles to remain objective. Seward exercises authority of Lucy and her mother as a man in a respected profession. Lucy, though she is beautiful and wealthy, is also young and a woman. She's particularly vulnerable to attack because she's not under a man's protection as is proper. Her father is dead, and Holmwood is not yet her husband. Lucy senses this weakness (and readers suspect it's one reason Dracula chooses her to transform) and is deeply grateful for the men who step in as surrogates, especially for the fatherly Van Helsing, with his gifts of garlic bouquets and presence by her bed at night. However, Lucy also feels guilt over her illness because, for Victorian women, "sickness and weakness are selfish things" that distract attention from the needs of others. Mina will later express the same guilt. Van Helsing is the authority without parallel here and throughout the novel. He entertains no challenges to his unorthodox treatment plan, nor does he feel the need to explain it. When Seward questions him, Van Helsing demands patience and trust rather than providing answers. When Lucy laughs at the garlic, he scolds and then placates her as if she's a child. Van Helsing clearly knows what's wrong with Lucy, but his control and authority, as a recognized expert and older male, are so complete that he can withhold information from her, her mother, and her doctor.

Based on Chapters 10 and 11 of Dracula, in what ways do readers realize Van Helsing is a fitting adversary for Dracula?

Even this early in the novel, readers see that Stoker has created a well-matched foe for Dracula in Van Helsing. The opponents have much in common: Both are distinguished, older men (in Dracula's case, centuries old). Both are intelligent, scholarly, and resourceful, as readers see in their emphasis on research, preparation, and adaptability. Both study history, to different ends. For Dracula, history justifies his rule; for Van Helsing, history reveals Dracula's powers and weaknesses. Both cast themselves in roles of importance. This last comparison is especially significant as the adversaries take up the banners of good and evil to decide, in essence, England's future. Earlier in the novel, Dracula compares himself in an allusion to Abraham, biblical founder of nations; and Renfield hails him as the Master who brings in the new age and rewards his disciples. Van Helsing's speech in the September 7th entry similarly uses biblical allusion to state his importance. He compares himself to a Christ-like teacher and Seward, his student, to a disciple, by adapting the parable of the sower and the seed (Luke 8). "I have sown my seed, and Nature has her work to do in making it sprout" he says confidently (and cryptically); his actions will, readers infer, succeed. Also, Van Helsing's expertise in the blood transfusions (though medically inaccurate by modern standards) echoes Renfield's conviction that blood is life and power, power Van Helsing harnesses to save Lucy and Dracula exploits in his quest for a new kingdom.

In Chapter 11 of Dracula, what do the zookeeper's comments about animals reveal about which animals are vilified and which receive human sympathy in the novel?

Thomas Bilder, the zookeeper whose affection for Bersicker puzzles the interviewer, claims that "there's a deal of the same nature in us as in them theer animiles" and treats the animals in his care with the same courtesy he extends to humans. Animals do in fact reflect human concerns throughout the novel; some evoke sympathy and compassion, others disgust and fear. Prey animals, horses in particular, receive sympathetic treatment. Harker shares the fear of the horses during his night drive to Castle Dracula. The wolves' howls terrify him, too, and he tries unsuccessfully to calm the horses as the pack draws near. Van Helsing feels helpless sympathy for the horses on which the bride-maidens feed during the cold night on the mountain. He knows that he is as likely to be prey—of wolves or vampires—as they are. Companion and work animals, especially dogs, also receive sympathy. Dogs help humans as the wolves do Dracula. So, when merchant's dog is found ripped open, having fought, readers assume, with Dracula after he escapes the Demeter as a "fierce brute" of a dog, Mina is saddened by its fate; and when Holmwood's terriers drive the rats out of the Carfax chapel, they receive praise. Renfield's sparrows, too, are his pets—or so Seward thinks when he alludes to the verse in Matthew about the fall of each sparrow (10:29), yet they meet an unnatural fate, as do Dracula's prey. Animals allied with Dracula—namely, wolves—inspire fear (except in Dracula, who regards them affectionately as "children of the night"). At Dracula's command wolves threaten Harker, reducing him to screams of fear; and Bersicker breaks Lucy's window, undeterred by the garlic, causing Mrs. Westenra's heart attack and permitting the attack that seals Lucy's fate. The people in the Transylvanian villages fear the wolves; such fear is perhaps ancestral, and Stoker capitalizes on it. Finally, vermin—flies, spiders, rats, and bats—evoke characters' disgust. These animals, in Victorian times, were vectors of disease. They invade human spaces; their waste or bites bring infection. So they are fitting proxies for the repellant evil Dracula brings to England.

How do the deaths of parents and surrogate parents in Chapters 11 and 12 of Dracula affect the characters, develop the novel's themes, and advance the plot?

Chapters 11 and 12 of Dracula reports three deaths of parents and surrogate parents. Each death shapes characters, themes, and plots in its own way. The death of Mr. Hawkins occurs suddenly; Mina writes in a letter to Lucy that she and Jonathan feel "as though we had lost a father." Mr. Hawkins, a bachelor, had recently made the Harkers his heirs. He promoted Jonathan, a young, inexperienced lawyer, to partner. With his death, the Harkers inherit a business and a home, to Mina's great relief. For Jonathan, Mr. Hawkins' death thrusts duties on him for which he is neither professionally nor mentally prepared. Because his weeks in Castle Dracula robbed him of his strength, Harker doesn't exhibit the fortitude expected of Victorian men. Mina can only maintain "a brave and cheerful appearance" while her husband struggles with new responsibilities. The death of Lord Godalming is expected. Arthur Holmwood has been with his father when he also needed and wanted to be with Lucy. Holmwood is a dutiful son whose allegiance lies with his father, and he doesn't shirk it. On his father's death, Holmwood inherits wealth and influence, which he uses without hesitation in the conflict against Dracula. But no amount of money or social status, he finds, can save Lucy. Holmwood is the golden son to whom everything, even Lucy's love, comes easily; yet even his privileges don't shield him from Dracula's evil. Mrs. Westenra's death is directly linked to Dracula's predations. Her heart had been failing, but the shock of the wolf breaking the window to allow Dracula access to Lucy's bedroom strikes the final blow. Not only is Lucy deprived of a beloved mother, but the manner of her death opens Lucy to attack. Mrs. Westenra's dying motions pull the garlic off Lucy, and her head, as she collapses, strikes Lucy's so that Lucy is stunned. Losing parents to early deaths is a common challenge in 19th-century novels. The deaths in Chapters 11 and 12 create voids that highlight Dracula's power to overcome the most loving and attentive parent's care and provision.

In Chapter 13 of Dracula, what can be inferred from the details of the Harkers' sighting of Dracula, and what is the effect of having to infer this information?

When the Harkers went to London for Mr. Hawkins' funeral in Chapter 13, Jonathan suffered some sort of relapse of his earlier illness for reasons Mina cannot grasp. As often in Dracula, readers know more than a character does. Mina sees a "tall, thin man with a beaky nose" who himself is watching a pretty young woman. Mina describes the man's face: "not a good face ... hard, and cruel, and sensual," with long, pointed teeth. What Jonathan sees "the man himself," a cryptic statement he makes while "very greatly terrified." When the tall man's carriage follows the young woman's carriage away from the park, Jonathan explains that, though the tall man seemed too young, he looked like the Count. "If I only knew!" he says repeatedly, evidence of his continued mental distress, and Mina has him sit on a bench, where he sleeps for a time and wakes having forgotten the incident. Mina decides it's time to read his journal. What readers can infer, but neither Mina nor Jonathan can guess, is that Dracula has succeeded in his move to London and is actively seeking prey. Dracula has recently taken prey, since he looks young. The pretty young woman in the carriage will be Dracula's next victim. Readers are in a position to piece together events far sooner than any character. Van Helsing knows (but is still cryptically secretive) about Dracula's attacks on Lucy, but not about his activities in London. Seward knows about Renfield's rapturous devotion to a "master" and his desire for blood. And now readers know that Dracula is killing in London. Because readers must pick up each clue, from various characters' perspectives, to create the more complete story, readers are in the same position as the characters. Forcing readers to infer creates suspense and allies them with Team Van Helsing.

In Chapter 13 of Dracula, what beliefs does Van Helsing reveal after the funeral for Lucy and her mother, and how does his speech about the transfusions foreshadow later events?

In Chapter 13, Van Helsing behaves inappropriately during the funeral. His face colors as he represses laughter when Holmwood says that he feels married to Lucy because she received a blood transfusion from him. In the carriage afterward, Van Helsing laughs, cries, and does both at once, like a woman would, Seward observes as he shuts the curtains in embarrassment and scolds Van Helsing as he would a hysterical woman. Van Helsing's explanation is, as usual, "logical and forceful and mysterious." He argues that the laughter he experienced—"King Laugh," he calls it—arrives when it chooses, even at unsuitable times his grief for Lucy and also for Holmwood, who looks like Van Helsing's own son might have looked had he lived, is real and deep the irony of Holmwood's statement is that it mocks all those who grieve Lucy as an innocent and pure maiden, since she had transfusions from four men Van Helsing's comments foreshadow the corruption that Dracula has already caused in Lucy and her predatory acts on children. Though Seward won't understand till he sees Mina forced to consume Dracula's blood, Lucy has received a fifth transfusion, from Dracula himself, and is already his bride in the making. This is Dracula's method for enslaving women, and it both echoes and perverts Holmwood's romantic idea of mystical marriage through blood.

In Chapter 14 of Dracula, how do the examples Van Helsing uses in his lecture on the limits of science simultaneously undermine and uphold his central claim?

Van Helsing's central claim is that scientists are driven by a need to explain everything, so what they can't explain, they dismiss as nonexistent or unimportant. Seward hasn't figured out what's happened to Lucy because, Van Helsing says, he allows the scientist's reliance on measurable evidence to blind him to the facts. (Van Helsing glosses over his refusal to share these facts, readers note.) Van Helsing then tosses out a volley of examples of the "mysteries of life": How did the biblical character Methuselah live almost 900 years? Why do "the qualities of brutes" exist in some men but not in others? How can a bat drain all the blood from a large animal like a cow, or a spider grow so big that it drinks the oil from lamps? Why do parrots die of injury but not of illness? And so on till Seward, his mind "crowded with ... impossible impossibilities," interrupts his teacher. On the one hand, Van Helsing's examples prompt Seward to entertain new (though incorrect) explanations of Lucy's illness and death, so the examples support Van Helsing's claim. On the other, many of Van Helsing's examples are, even for his time, pseudo-science and legend. They confirm the necessity of relying on evidence-based science. This tension between lore and data, between superstition and evidence, threads the novel.

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