How does Stoker bring the men who loved Lucy to the point where they willingly are complicit in her ultimate demise? That she had been torn, arguably flirting (to use a modern idea) with the three men, though in reality in a state of confusion as to which of them was to be her husband is evident from her correspondence with Mina. Again and again, van Helsing, the hardened warrior against the evil which is incarnate in the Count – he has, for example, brought the Consecrated Host from Amsterdam as he has an indulgence so to do and to use it in waging war against evil – refers to her in terms of almost paternal gentleness. It is when they are waiting for her return to her tomb after a night’s hunting,
“we could see that the lips were crimson with fresh blood, and that the stream had trickled over her chin and stained the purity of her lawn death-robe.”
Her purity of life, symbolised in the white shroud has been stained and corrupted by her feeding, the traces of death on her face and breast being her source of undead existence.
It is this horror which is the cause of even van Helsing’s “iron nerve” failing. This again gives us the juxtaposition of purity and corruption which is a leitmotiv of the oeuvre. As with the three female vampires, it is the absolute rejection of all that would have been seen as being womanly and fitting of her gender which brings the vampire hunters to that point where they can destroy her: her “eyes unclean and full of hell fire instead of the gentle orbs we knew.” It is a common proverb that the eyes are the window to the soul; in this, Stoker emphasises the corruption and damnation which the Count releases in all those whom he touches and turns. Again,
“her eyes blazed with unholy light, and the face became wreathed with a voluptuous smile.”
The sexualising of innocence and her using it as a weapon is something which we, as the readers, experiencing the whole episode through Jack Seward’s eyes and his description, are to find equally disturbing and repulsive. For us, however, it is the rejection of the symbolic motherhood which elicits the first response from Arthur, her beloved:
“With a careless motion, she flung to the ground, callous as a devil, the child that up to now she had clutched strenuously to her breast, growling over it as a dog growls over a bone.”
In this , we can again turn to the iconography of Roman Catholicism – the image of the Virgin Mary clutching the Infant Christ to her breast, the Holy Mother, nourishing and protecting the Child in the symbol of pure motherhood. Here, Lucy, in daemonic, unDead form, rejects the child, throwing it down and then being prepared to feed on that child rather than nourishing it. The love of the maternal instinct is replaced by “a cold-bloodedness in the act”. As she advances to Arthur, using the sexualised weapon of seduction which she now wields freely as the unDead, it is van Helsing who intervenes with his Crucifix, again Catholic weapons wielded by the only Catholic among the main combatants. It is evident, however, that this, while effective and therefore pure, is still not quite acceptable to the Protestantism of the Victorian era as it, as well as the Consecrated Host, are brought from abroad and are wielded by a foreigner, and alien in the society in which he fights, though, coming from the Netherlands, less strange, exotic and foreign than the Count. Moreover, he will not act of his own volition in the killing of Lucy – this can only come from Arthur – husband, and Englishman:
“Van Helsing broke the silence by asking Arthur, “Answer me, oh my friend! Am I to proceed in my work?”
“Do as you will, friend. Do as you will. There can be no horror like this ever any more.” And he groaned in spirit.”
Despite there being no alternative – how could Holmwood say no with the inevitable consequences of such, as she would turn each child on which she fed bit by bit to nosferatu? – van Helsing must nevertheless ask and receive permission, and it is Arthur who must hammer the stake home to grant his beloved the release and peace which she needs as van Helsing reads the requisite prayers and psalms from the Missal (note , the prayer book of the Roman Catholic Church and at that time in Latin). In the destruction of the evil and the driving out of the UnDead, Lucy is released and, in death, “…with her face of unequalled sweetness and purity.” This is the last image which Arthur and Quincey have – it is the two medics who complete the gory end which is necessary that she be not again summoned to UnDead by the Count.
The significance of the long episode of the horror and liberation of Lucy’s soul is made clear only at the end of the whole process – van Helsing:
“Shall you not all help me? We have learned to believe, all of us, is it not so? And since so, do we not see our duty? Yes! And do we not promise to go on to the bitter end?”
Each in turn, we took his hand, and the promise was made.”
It is the episode of Lucy’s death which seals the fellowship that will seek out and rid the the world of the evil which has come from the exotic East of Europe to corrupt and feed in the metropolis of London.
Some points to think about:
- Why is Harker, the Western protagonist of the first part of the novel, the one human male who is NOT present in this episode? What is the significance (other than that he is busy in the legal practice)? Why is he NOT involved in the fight against the evil which he as been instrumental in unleashing on the capital? Is this an incongruity in the gender expected roles of the late nineteenth century?
- How does the reliance on Catholic symbolism and ritual enhance the exotic and strangeness of the episode?
- To what extent do you think this would have been an effective literary and metaphorical device at the time of publication (1897)?
- In the same year as Dracula was published, Walter Walsh (The Secret History of the Oxford Movement) wrote: “The ‘woman drunken with the blood of the saints’ (Rev. xvii.6) has not lost her cruel nature…Her persecuting laws are still the same as when in the Dark Ages her infernal Inquisition performed, unhindered, its bloodthirsty work.” Taking that the ‘woman’ and the ‘she’ is the Whore of Babylon (taken as representing the Roman Catholic Church by evangelical Protestants), how does this contemporary view of Catholicism help us to understand the impact of the use of Catholicism to fight the ancient evil incarnate in Dracula himself?