Business as Usual: Johnathan Harker And The Vile Threat Of Madness

We begin the novel Dracula with several chapters featuring Johnathan Harker, who slowly realizes he is in a monstrous situation and slowly transforms from a mild real estate agent to one capable of daring deeds when necessary. Given that we know he knows Dracula has left to London, it is potentially easy to expect when he reenters the narrative that he will reenter a reluctant action hero, ready to take the fight to Dracula for good. However, when he meet him next, he has this to say: “… I do not know if it was all real or the dreaming of a madman. … The secret is here, and I do not want to know it. I want to take up my life here, with our marriage,” (Stoker Pg. 115). Instead of a brave hero, Harker is uncertain and unsure, wanting to sweep it all under the rug and start over like it never happened. Just looking at this part of the text, there could be a number of internal reasons for this response. To utilize therapy speak that Bram Stoker would not have been aware of, this is likely a more realistic trauma response than resolutely deciding to head directly to Dracula’s new house with a gun. However, events in later chapters reveal that this explanation is not why Johnathan wants to bury his experience.

The explanation Johnathan himself gives comes after Mina has journals to Dr. Van Helsing, and the doctor has responded in letter form. He writes, “She showed me in the doctor’s letter that all I had wrote down was true. It seems to have made a new man of me. It was doubt as to the reality of the whole thing that had knocked me over. … But now that I know, I am not afraid, even of the count,” (Stoker Pg. 200). Here is the bold hero we may have expected, 95 pages later. It only took direct proof to banish the uncertainty and make the hero appear. Not that a man Harker has never met saying the experience was true without any evidence counts much for real proof, but no doubt it was the authority granted in Helsing’s title as doctor that did all the work. Note the emphasis of ‘doctor’s letter’ in the first line. There, then. Question answered. Not exactly much to make a blog post over, is it?

I disagree. If what was holding him back was uncertainty, why not determine a way to resolve it, instead of burying it? The answer to this question is clear when you look at both quotes. In the first, he is unsure if he went through an awful experience or underwent ‘the dreams of a madman’. This potential of madness means he must do nothing, because to do anything on the matter would risk acting on madness, or even worse, confirming it. The only thing a respectable English man is to do is to forget the matter entirely. Thank goodness Helsing arrives with his ‘doctor’s letter’ certifying truth, and thus sanity, taking the risk of madness from the situation entirely. Johnathan Harker swears he does not fear Dracula, but his fear of being perceived as mad is certainly here to stay.

In Dracula, Bram Stoker shows how the societal pressure against madness led many to hold themselves back in fear.

2 thoughts on “Business as Usual: Johnathan Harker And The Vile Threat Of Madness”

  1. I am in complete agreement that Jonathan fears being mad more than he fears Dracula. But I also want to point out that Jonathan’s deep fear of being perceived as mad goes back as far as while he is still in Transylvania. He ignores his instincts that something is deeply wrong about Dracula: the way he has never seen him never eats nor drinks, the fangs, the absence of the servants needed to keep a castle of this size up and running. He ignores all of the signs in favor of being a polite young Englishman, and it nearly ends with him dead. In the aftermath of this experience, he doubles down on denial further because: who would believe him? Even he himself doesn’t.

  2. Dear Death,

    I think you’ve actually landed on the most fucking realistic and understandable moment in the book.

    He’s seen Dracula do all sorts of crazy shit and the world is a big place. I know you’re probably thinking “But Red, you firey vixen, doesn’t Johnathan Harker know that Dracula is moving to London?” London is a big fucking place. There are like a lot of people, there are only three thousand people at Dickinson and I’m running into new people every single day.

    What were the fucking odds that this random schmuck was ever going to see Dracula again?

    1 in 79.

    Shit, I’d take those odds over hunting down a supernatural creature whose mortality is in question.

    Sincerely yours running from the monsters under my bed,
    Carmine “Red” Zingiber

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