Godless at Sea

The story of Dracula investigates the safety of the domestic, which is threatened by the unknown. This reflects the fears of the Victorian era, as imperialism raised worries about the dangers of the foreign. The character of Dracula is the centermost example of this binary, but it is explored as well in various other characters and scenes.

In Chapter 7, a newspaper excerpt provides the log of the Demeter, the mysterious ship that arrived in Whitby’s harbor after a horrendous storm. The log chronicles the ship’s journey, throughout which members of the crew disappeared one by one. At midnight on August 2nd, the captain writes that yet another crew member was lost. He also describes how the ship was wreathed in a dense fog that had seemingly followed them for days. Though the first mate once caught a glimpse of their surroundings through the fog, the ship was nearly completely lost. At the end of the entry, the captain writes that God had abandoned them (Stoker 94).

The repeated mention of the “fog,” which is impossible to see through and seems to move with them, indicates an element of mystery and eeriness, as well as a possibility of something supernatural. This is very evocative of the Gothic. By contrast, there is a repeated reference to “God” or “The Lord,” which sets up a binary against the idea of something potentially unholy. There are multiple sources of unholiness around the ship: the paranormal fog and the evil force that is lurking on board, Dracula. Since the beginning of the novel, Dracula has been set up as a sort of anti-God, such as how the presence of the crucifix wards him off. This is reinforced at the end of this passage when the captain writes, “God seems to have deserted us” (Stoker 94). Dracula represents an evil so unholy that God Himself has abandoned ship, literally. Between the fog and the malevolent spirit on board, the setting has already been illustrated as unordinary, and yet there is the additional aspect of the sea. The sea is supposed to be the sailor’s safe haven, their familiar territory, but now it is a place of danger and extreme unfamiliarity. The fog itself creates a literal barrier between the doomed ship and the real world. This vignette parallels what happened to Jonathan Harker; the sailors’ journey began as a seemingly ordinary excursion into what should be familiar territory, but instead they were entrapped and cut off from the rest of reality, and preyed upon by a monster. Overall, this passage illustrates a recurring theme throughout the book: the contrast between the familiar and the unknown, the domestic and the foreign, the friend and the stranger.

2 thoughts on “Godless at Sea”

  1. The log of the Demeter is definitely associated with godlessness. Stoker quotes Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” which tells the familiar story of a ship’s crucifix-bearing lone survivor questioning God. In it, the Mariner kills an albatross and his ship is cursed to sit “as idle as a painted ship upon a painted ocean” (86). As the sailors die of thirst, the dead albatross is (perhaps literally) placed around the Mariner’s neck “instead of the cross” by his crewmates. Death claims everyone but the Mariner, who is cursed by Lady “Life-in-Death” to spread his cautionary tale.

  2. I was also interested in the name of the ship. The Demeter. This name stands out due to its’ origin in Greek Mythology where Demeter is a female goddess. She is the goddess of agriculture, but more specifically she is connected to the underworld due to the story of Persephone. Naming a ship after her considering how one enters the underworld in Greek Myth on top of Demeter fighting to protect her daughter from the underworld connects here with the demonic being like Dracula. Without a protector one could not possibly survive with someone like Dracula on board just as nobody could have gotten the same outcome that Persephone did if not for Demeter.

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