Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Bite-Sized Blogging: Dracula (Chapter 6)

7 October.

I wrote earlier of the danger of an unreliable narrator ("How well the man reasoned," writes Seward. "Lunatics always do within their own scope."). I spoke also of Stoker's manipulations: the way in which he translates Harker (and presumably Mina's) shorthands for one, but also how he chooses to reveal certain things. (It's also interesting what Stoker doesn't bother to translate--Mina's horrendous rendering of Mr. Swales's horrendous accent.)

For instance: what journal entries have we not been exposed to? I assumed, earlier, that Harker simply stopped recording the cat-and-mouse temptations of the Count, but maybe he clung fastidiously to his details after all, and Stoker just decided to cut to the good bits. I bring this up because Chapter 6 begins on July 24th, and for all we know, this seems as if it's the first time that Mina starts worrying about Harker (who was only supposed to be gone for a few days--at first--and then, coerced into writing letters, still should have been home shortly after June 29th).

The same goes for Dr. Seward's Diary entries, which are intensely focused on one patient, and which--despite being written weeks apart--seem as if no time has passed at all. 5 June: "He has at present such a quantity [of flies] that I have had myself to expostulate." 18 June: "He has turned his mind now to spiders, and has got several very big fellows in a box." 1 July: "His spiders are now becoming as a great a nuisance as his flies...." For the record, my expectations of what an asylum is like have now been shattered, too. (Also, is the chronology screwy or is Seward still pining over losing Lucy two months after being rejected?)

Now, if one agrees that Stoker is manipulating the text, part of the game becomes trying to figure out why he left certain sections in. The abrupt shift to Mina and Lucy and Lucy's coterie of suitors is for the means of suspense (Mina: "This suspense is getting dreadful"). There's also a bit of the author's smug self-satisfaction, in that he gets to know more than we do. But lingering on in details in the graveyard, as he does: why?

Well, first there seems to be a dig at Mr. Melville ("I thought he would be a good person to learn interesting things from, so I asked him if he would mind telling me something about the whale fishing in the old days"), and then we get the meatier bit--on the subject of legends: "It be all fool-talk, lock, stock, and barrel, that's what it be and nowt else. These bans an' wafts an' boh-bhosts an 'bar-guests an' bogles an' all anent them is only fit to set bairs an' dizzy women a'beldering'...invented...to get folks to do somethin' that they don't other incline to."

So here's the question: in choosing a supernatural menace for his otherwise realistic novel, what is it Stoker is trying to get us to do that we would not otherwise do?

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