It is nineteenth century up-to-date with a vengeance. And yet, unless my senses deceive me, the old centuries had, and have, powers of their own which mere ‘modernity’ cannot kill.
As Count Dracula’s prisoner, Harker comforts himself by journalizing in shorthand, a modern enough technique that few people could have understood the writing. Like other characters in the novel, Harker feels impressed by new technology. However, this scene marks the first inkling of a character suspecting that the newest technology stands small and powerless against the ancient and unknown magic powers of the Count.
A year ago which of us would have received such a possibility, in the midst of our scientific, matter-of-fact nineteenth century?
Van Helsing asks a rhetorical question of the members of his group. They have already confirmed that Lucy became a vampire and so do not need further proof that vampires do exist. Van Helsing explains to the others that they must rely on old superstitions to vanquish Count Dracula. While they may have thought they could battle the Count with new weapons and technology, Van Helsing points out here how unbelievable the existence of vampires would have seemed previously. In order to destroy an enemy that defies logic, they cannot rely on modern science or facts.
We shall at the first board that ship; then, when we have identified the box, we shall place a branch of the wild rose on it. This we shall fasten, for when it is there none can emerge; so at least says the superstition. And to superstition must we trust at the first; it was man’s faith in the early, and it have its root in faith still.
Dr. Van Helsing discusses strategy with his group after Mr. Morris asks what they will do once they board the ship carrying the Count. Using a flower as a restraint has nothing to do with logic, as a rose branch could not prevent a box from opening. Van Helsing and the others know by now that reason and modern science will not help them. Rather, they must rely on old superstitions as man’s recourse to faith when the Count first came into the world.