Explain Van Helsing’s role as Dracula’s antagonist. Why is the old Dutch professor the most threatening adversary to the count?
Van Helsing has been portrayed as a very knowledgeable person well versed with modern and ancient medicine, folk remedies and superstitions and an expert of “obscure diseases” (Stoker, 1997, ch. 9). He is old and his physical characteristics eloquently described in the novel further strengthen this image. He is a perfect blend of tradition and modernity (Jann, 1989).
The similarity between Van Helsing’s first name and the author’s name along with the common Dutch ancestry point towards identification by the author with the character of Van Helsing and so this character was meant to be the central figure of the novel.
John Seward introduces him in the novel as “a seemingly arbitrary man, this is because he knows what he is talking about better than any one else” (Stoker, 1997, ch. 9) thus underlining his uniqueness amongst the characters. He describes him as a “philosopher and a metaphysician, and one of the most advanced scientists of his day.” On top of that, he also credits him for having “an absolutely open mind” thus emphasizing that not only is he an expert of established knowledge but he is also open to accept things which are not acceptable to others trained in some specific line of thought. This predisposes the old man as the best person who can handle “obscure diseases” like that of Lucy. Thus he was the only one who was able to determine the true nature of Lucy’s sickness.
Helsing’s wife is mental and resides in a mental institution and thus he has a first hand experience of the eccentric people (Stoker, 1997, ch. 13). He is a member of the Crew of Light and stands out from all the other members to the extent that readers start believing that he is the only one capable of taking on Dracula. Also both Dracula and Helsing are non native English speakers. He is the person who is chosen to present the details of the vampire lore to the readers.
Thus the novel sets a stage in which Helsing appears to be the perfect character as Dracula’s antagonist. Seward builds upon his character as someone “with an iron nerve, a temper of the ice-brook, and indomitable resolution, self-command, and toleration exalted from virtues to blessings, and the kindliest and truest heart that beats.” Thus not only was he capable of taking on the Dracula but his heart was pure which would not weaken under the Dracula’s onsalught (McWhir, 1987).
Additionally, Stroker portrays him as the person who will “set the world free” and Helsing himself considers his band as “ministers of God’s own wish” thus bringing a touch of sacred duty that the old professor has to fulfill and a sense of virtue and evil between the professor and the Dracula (Senf, 1979).
So it can be said that the old Dutch professor is the most threatening adversary to the count and in the end he successfully kills Dracula and others.
Jann, R. (1989). Saved by Science? The Mixed Messages of Stoker’s Dracula.Texas studies in literature and language, 273-287.
McWhir, A. (1987). Pollution and Redemption in “Dracula.” Modern Language Studies, 31-40.
Senf, C. A. (1979). “Dracula”: The Unseen Face in the Mirror. The Journal of Narrative Technique, 160-170.
Stoker, B. (1997). Dracula. Broadview Press.
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