The Common Good in the Midst of Evil

The primary discussion in the Carol A. Senf article, “Dracula: The Unseen Face in the Mirror,” is about good and evil as coexisting ideas rather than opposing forces. She wrote, “…the majority of literary critics read Dracula as a popular myth about the opposition of Good and Evil … my reading of Dracula is a departure from most standard interpretations in that it revolves, not around the conquest of Evil by Good, but on the similarities between the two” (421). She continues on to establish connections between the “good” narrators and the “evil” Dracula, pointing out that in multiple ways, the behaviors are exactly the same with the only difference lying in who is narrating the scene. Similarly, she mentions that “the only difference between Dracula and his opponents is the narrators’ ability to state individual desire in terms of what they believe is the common good” (427).

A particular passage of Dracula that confused me was not mentioned within Senf’s article, but the article can be applied to it. The passage is an exchange between Van Helsing and Mina:

“’Oh, Madam Mina, I will be grateful; you will do me much favour.’ I could not resist the temptation of mystifying him a bit – I suppose it is some of the taste of the original apple that remains still in our mouths – so I handed him the shorthand diary. He took it with a grateful bow, and said:-

‘May I read it?’

‘If you wish,’ I answered as demurely as I could. He opened it, and for an instant his face fell. Then he stood and bowed.” (195)

The reference to Adam and Eve stood out as feeling incongruous, even though the general topic of temptation seems to permeate the entirety of the text, especially when reading it through the lens of Senf’s argument with good and evil in conjunction. Senf claims that “By the conclusion of the novel, all the characters who have been accused of expressing individual desire have been appropriately punished: … even Mina Harker is ostracized for her momentary indiscretion.” Although this seemingly minor conversation was not the moment of indiscretion that gets Mina into trouble, the message underlying the text denotes the “evil” individual desire linked to Dracula rather than the “good” group Mina belongs to. She uses the word “temptation” in combination with the story of the fall, which both portray this idea of the desires of the individual. Her “temptation” was in momentarily fooling Van Helsing and, through that action, proving her own intelligence equivalent to that of her male counterparts. When he figures out that he cannot read it without her assistance, he is initially displeased, but quickly the displeasure turns to being impressed by her abilities. The word “demurely” adds to the subtext, seeming unnecessary in this interaction, indicating that what Mina is doing is wrong and something she should be shy about. Yet Mina gives into this temptation, generally regarded as falling into the category of “evil,” even though the action of handing over the diary for the benefit of the group is “good.” Looking at this in the terms of Senf’s argument, the motion aligns her with the group pursuing Dracula while the intention aligns her with Dracula himself.

A few lines after the passage above, Mina says, “By this time my little joke was over, and I was almost ashamed” (196). According to Senf, “The narrators insist that they are agents of God and are able to ignore their similarity to the vampire because their commitment to social values such as monogamy, proper English behavior, and the will of the majority” (430). Mina’s feeling of shame likely stems from the fact that she is committed to these upright behaviors. She knows that her game is postponing the mission of “the will of the majority,” even if only slightly, and by the action she is not accomplishing anything for the “common good,” only giving herself an ego boost. However, it is important to notice that despite having the feeling that she should not have tricked Van Helsing for selfish purposes, she is only “almost” ashamed. Not feeling fully ashamed is just one step closer to the “evil” of the vampire and one step away from the “good” of the group.

By making this comparison between Mina, Adam and Eve, and the fall in this seemingly insignificant moment within the text, Stoker could easily be making the claim that by succumbing to even the smallest of individual desire or wishing to elevate herself to the status of the men around her, Mina could risk the success of the entire operation, the “common good.”