Sunday, June 22, 2014

Dr. Jack Seward: The Old and New Personified in Bram Stoker’s 'Dracula'

A piece of literary analysis...

Published in 1897, at the end of the Victorian Age and on the cusp of the modern 20th century, Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a story that is acutely aware of its place in time. The world of Stoker’s Dracula was both an example of, and at odds with, the distinctly Victorian sensibilities that were commonplace even a few years earlier. The cultural and definitively British way of life was undergoing a change that began with the advent of the Industrial Revolution, but was also being hastened out the door by a move towards more modern, secular, and scientific worldviews.
The unshakeable conviction that the British way of life -- both at home and in England’s far-flung colonies -- was undeniably right and good and God-given was butting up against the realities of an evolving world. Science was supplanting faith, and the works of Charles Darwin and other scientists were challenging the world order. Stoker saw and recognized this, and created characters that were archetypes of proper subjects of Queen Victoria in the age named after her. All of these characters were essential to the story, but none more so than Dr. Jack Seward. Jack Seward was an everyman who represented both the old and the new, and embodied the best of both. His interactions with the other characters showed this time and again.
As Quincey wrote early in the novel, when he learned that Art had won Lucy’s hand:

My Dear Art, --
We’ve told yarns by the camp-fire in the prairies; and dressed one another’s wounds after trying a landing at the Marquesas, and drunk health on the shore of Titicaca… there will be only one other, our old pal at the Korea, Jack Seward (62).

It is in this throwaway line that Stoker tells us much about the man Seward is. While Jack Seward represents the modern, staid, conservative English physician, he is simultaneously revealed as typical colonial adventurer of Victorian England. Much like Arthur Conan Doyle’s Dr. Watson, he is a man of letters and education, but one who’s dabbled in the violent and the adventuresome life of a British gentleman. He’s hunted, presumably on safari, in far flung corners of the empire and participated in conflicts and imperial skirmishes.
While Dr. Seward would seem to be a quiet, contemplative physician; Stoker left us further clues to the contrary. Quincey Morris is the personification of the rough and tumble American frontiersman who moves effortlessly, if a bit crassly, amongst his very English compatriots, and we learn through him that Dr. Seward is -- in fact -- an adventurer in his own right. After beginning their pursuit of Dracula and their race to beat his ship to Varna, Quincey remarks:

I understand the count comes from wolf country, and it may be that he shall get there before us. I propose that we add Winchesters to our armament. I have a kind of belief in Winchesters when there is any trouble of that sort around. Do you remember Art, when we had that pack after us in Tobolsk (282)?

Even though he is speaking to Art, it is implied that Quincey, Art, and Jack Seward have all spent some time together in dangerous situations, and this is confirmed when, later, Seward says, “I think I had better go with Quincey. We have been accustomed to hunt together and we two, well armed, will be a match for whatever may come along” (307).
            Stoker created a complex character in Seward and throughout the novel we get hints like this -- hints about a life that is much more than that of a simple doctor. He is the very modern man of science who embraces the newest technology and, rather than write out his journal, records it on phonograph. He studies the unique eccentricities of his zoophagous patient, Renfield, and is excited about a possibly new diagnosis of insanity. He relies on modern chemistry and chloral hydrate to sleep, and although he successfully runs his hospital and has the prestige that comes from it, he still attempts to woo Lucy and improve his station and fortunes by asking for her hand.
            At odds with this very modern man of the 1890’s, he is also comfortable with all things traditionally Victorian. He defers to Art as Lord Godalming; as is only proper given their different stations. While Seward is a doctor with a very respectable post at his hospital, Art is still nobility and is treated as such by Seward. When faced with a medical problem that he is at a loss to explain with modern treatments, he defers to his mentor, Dr. Van Helsing, who relies as much on myth and folklore as medical procedures like blood transfusions.  Van Helsing represents the old world and is juxtaposed against the new world that Seward embraces. And, although he is proud of his modernity, he also always acts like a proper British gentleman when it comes to the woman in the novel. To save Art’s feelings and Lucy’s honor, he conspires with Van Helsing to lie about having transfused Lucy and to also cover up the death of Lucy’s mother, respectively (137). He is always polite and respectful to Mina, and his treatment of her is both brotherly and paternal.
            At the climax of the novel, as the foursome of heroes converge on the gypsies carrying Dracula to his castle, the majority of the action focuses on Jonathon, who is driven by his need to avenge his beloved Mina, and Quincey, who strikes the killing blow to Dracula. Art and Seward are reduced to standing guard over the gypsies with their rifles. However, this course of action does not in any way change the importance of Jack Seward to the novel. While the wild American and the wronged husband strike the final deathblows, Jack Seward upholds the traditionally Victorian values the so perfectly personified throughout. While he is a man of science and seeming frailty, he is in fact anything but. Seward faced the danger bravely and with stereotypical British resolve. He followed the lead of the others, and proves critical in stopping the threat that was Dracula.
            Quincey and Art had spent time with him in dangerous situations – as evidenced by the hints peppered throughout the novel by Stoker – and they trusted him to be there as he had in the past. That trust in his backbone and strength, and the manner of man Seward was, was critical in their triumph of good over evil… and the redemption of Mina. By extension, Jack was a critical piece in saving Mina. Additionally, he was an exemplification of both traditional Victorian values, and the emerging cultural, scientific, and social changes that were on the horizon for England. 

Work Cited:
Stoker, Bram. Dracula: Norton Critical Edition. Ed. Auerbach, Nina and Skal, David J.  New York.    W.W. Norton and Co. 1997. Print.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Box of Dread - June 2014 - Unboxing

Box of Dread - June 2014!

Box of Dread continues to be the best $20 a month I've spent. It's not crazy expensive stuff... but it's a surprise and it's a bunch of cool little things that add up to some groovy, geeky, horror-themed goodness.