Dr. Seward and Technology
My blog this week is going to focus mostly on option #5, but it is difficult to discuss the character of Dr. Seward without mentioning technology, science, and Renfield (options 2 and 3). Much of Dracula is revealed from the perspective of Dr. Seward. It is through this perspective that we get a sense of the purpose of technology and science, two aspects of Victorian society that offset the presence of Dracula and the unknown.
Dr. Seward seems to represent the growing reliance upon technology and medicine in Victorian society. The simple fact that Seward’s journal is “KEPT IN PHONOGRAPH” (62), whereas the other characters physically write letters says a great deal about his role in the novel. While some characters (Renfield) keep no journal, and others communicate frequently via letters (Jonathan, Mina, Lucy), Seward keeps notes on his phonograph, which was innovative at the time as it had just been invented and few would have access to such a device. Seward’s actions reflect the use of such technology, as he tends to act and observe more logically (or factually) than the other characters -- unlike the other characters, his passion appears to consist of science and facts, rather than emotions.
Unlike the other perspectives used in Dracula, Seward’s journal entries seem to focus more on facts than emotion. This could be due to proximity to the Count, as Harker’s letters begin as being more fact-based, but soon turn towards emotion. Lucy and Mina’s correspondences focus almost primarily on their emotions. It is also through Seward that we are exposed to the frequency of Lucy’s sleepwalking and a medical perspective of Dracula‘s effects on a young Victorian woman. Seward notes that “Lucy walks more now than ever” (72) before choosing a suitor, which could be symbolizing that without the guardianship (or protection) of a man , Lucy would give into her impulses. It is also interesting to note that the only times when Seward shows emotion are concerning Lucy and her rejections of him.
Not only does Seward use the phonograph, he relies on it to validate his memories. Seward states that “I began a new record. So it will be until the Great Recorder sums me up closes my ledger account with a balance to profit or loss” (71). Instead of obsessing about sex or emotion, Seward obsesses with science and technology. He uses the phonograph to calm his fears -- in fact, it often seems that characters write (or keep record) to calm their fears. Seward does physically write when necessary to communicate (104-108), but prefers to use the telegraph. It is also because of Seward that Professor Van Helsing, another character who represents knowledge and science, is brought into the situation.
Perhaps the most interesting part of Seward’s diary is the asylum that he supervises. It is through Dr. Seward that we learn about the odd plight of Renfield, one of his patients.. Seward’s fascination with Renfield is definitely worth examining because it seems to slowly lead Seward into madness himself. Instead of the vampire causing Seward to stay up late into the night, it is his obsession with studying Renfield. It is also interesting to contrast the manner in which Seward observes Renfield with the way that Renfield interacts with his “pets” (69). I think much of Seward’s interaction with Renfield is representative of the advent of psychology. The theories of Sigmund Freud were being published and studied around the time of this novel, and although they might have been controversial at the time, they marked the beginning of psychoanalysis. Seward’s psychoanalysis of Renfield often follows Freud’s notions. Seward notes that Renfield “has certain qualities very largely developed: selfishness, secrecy, and purpose” (69). Not only are Renfield’s actions symbolic of the coming of the vampire, they offer an examination of primitive vs. civilized from the viewpoint of a doctor. As Renfield consumes his “pets” (69), Seward invents “a new classification for him, [calling] him a zoophagous (life-eating) maniac” (71). His fear of Renfield is also intriguing, as Seward notes “a strong man with homicidal and religious mania at once might be dangerous. The combination is a dreadful one” (96). The fear of the primitive is clearly noted, but it is also worth noting Seward’s trepidation with religion, especially when concerning the ways that Catholicism is used to protect the women from the vampire.
I especially find it is interesting to contrast the way that Seward appears in his own journals compared with the way that he is written about by others. Lucy remarks in a letter to Mina that Seward “is a doctor and really clever. Just fancy! He is only nine-and-twenty, and he has an immense lunatic asylum all under his own care” (56). Lucy is not attracted to him, rather, she is attracted to his position in society (although obviously not enough to marry him). In fact, Lucy suggests that Seward “would just do for [Mina]” (56), if Mina was not already engaged to Jonathan. Seward is described by Lucy as “the most resolute” (56) and “the most calm” (56) person that she has ever saw -- two traits also shown through Seward’s reliance on technology and science.