Disease Prevention in Dracula

Garlic bk pic

I’m not sure that garlic prevents all disease coming from the east, even if gothically originating from bats and snakes. But garlic is flowering in the woods and gardens now, so you won’t have to go to Amsterdam, as Professor Van Helsing did.

However, if you are self-isolating read ‘Dracula for Doctors’ – available from your favourite book sources. While I work on the sequel, which requires lots of attention to the unread collection of weird stories on my shelves…

Diagnosing Dracula’s Renfield: Cause of Death

Von Hippel-type clockwork trephine, London, 1901-19. Credit: Science Museum, London. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Before Renfield could die of his probable GPI (General Paralysis of the Insane) he unwisely lets Dracula into Dr Seward’s asylum, only to be knocked unconscious by him. Professor Van Helsing discovers ‘a depressed fracture of the skull, extending right up through the motor area’, and says:

“The rapidity of the suffusion shows the terrible nature of his injury. The whole motor area seems affected. The suffusion of the brain will increase quickly, so we must trephine at once or it may be too late.”

Bram Stoker’s surgeon brother Thornley Stoker had advised on this, being proud of his own success in trephination of a patient taken into the Dublin Richmond Asylum. This man, however, survived, whereas Renfield is abandoned by the medics as soon as he has revived enough to speak a bit.

Although this case is more neurologically advanced in description, as a plot point it was preceded by Sheridan Le Fanu, another Dublin author, in The House by the Churchyard (1863). His trepan (or trephine) is gothicly described as:

resembling the homely bit-and-brace, but slender, sinister, and quaint, with a murderous sort of elegance.

I think the trephine in the picture may not have been produced in time for Dr Seward, but the name of the maker seems very apt.


Diagnosing Dracula’s Renfield: Mania

In ‘Dracula’ Dr Seward considers that Renfield may be a homicidal maniac, probably with religious delusions. This corresponds with the real Dr Forbes Winslow’s view of Jack the Ripper.

From The Chemist and Drugist 1880
From The Chemist and Druggist 1881, Wellcome Images

Renfield explains his attack on Dr Seward:

“On one occasion I tried to kill him for the purpose of strengthening vital powers by the assimilation with my own body of his life through the medium of his blood, relying of course, upon the Scriptural phrase, ‘For the blood is the life.’ Though, indeed, the vendor of a certain nostrum has vulgarized the truism to the very point of contempt.”

An advertisement for the popular ‘nostrum’ is shown above. I wonder if Renfield had tried it for ‘sores’…





Diagnosing Dracula’s Renfield: Zoophagy

More from #Draculafordoctors: Dr Seward, the love-lorn Medical Superintendent, says:Zoophagy pic

My homicidal maniac is of a peculiar kind. I shall have to invent a new classification for him, and call him a zoophagous (life-eating) maniac. What he desires is to absorb as many lives as he can, and he has laid himself out to achieve it in a cumulative way.

He gave many flies to one spider and many spiders to one bird, and then wanted a cat to eat the many birds. What would have been his later steps?

Peculiar eating habits were not uncommon in the nineteenth century asylums, the technical terminology being ‘pica’. I dare say there were various ways of trying to supplement the poor diet of the institutions.

As for an excellent sensation of horror – ‘disgust’ is most effective, just watch ‘I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here’!

Diagnosing Dracula’s Renfield: Sanguine

Dr Seward described his strange patient Renfield as ‘sanguine’ – but what did he mean?

Lavater Sanguine
Lavater: Sanguine Physiognomy Wellcome Collection

‘Sanguine’ was the name of the ancient medical ‘humour’ supposedly related to an excess of blood. The associated temperament was active and cheerful, while the appearance or ‘physiognomy’ was as above.

Now Renfield was not always cheerful, although he could be, but he was certainly keen on consuming blood to maintain his liveliness.

Looking through the old Journals of Mental Science, it seems that when the doctors were describing one of their own brethren as ‘sanguine’ it meant ‘calmly optimistic’. When the term is used about a patient, it is usually someone with ‘General Paralysis of the Insane (GPI), presumably because of ‘grandiose delusions’.

Diagnosing Dracula’s Renfield: Lunacy

Hogarth’s Rakewell ends up in Bethlem

‘Lunacy’ was a term the medico-psychologists of the late nineteenth century were trying to change, as their studies seemed not to indicate an effect of the moon. The public, however, were not receptive. Dr Seward of ‘Dracula’ thought that somehow his pet patient Renfield was affected, although in a different way.

Three nights has the same thing happened, violent all day then quiet from moonrise to sunrise.

Seward did not realise at first that a vampire was involved…

Tom Rakewell, of Hogarth’s painting series ‘The Rake’s Progress’, had had too much nightlife (judging from his sinisterly syphilitic acquaintances) and his ensuing lunacy was thus probably General Paralysis of the Insane (GPI).


Childish Psychiatry Horror, 5. Pauline

Pauline Picture1

Another terrible tale from Dr Hoffmann’s ‘Struwwelpeter’. And again Pauline (aka Harriet) disobeys, lights a match, and manages to set fire to herself.

Then how the pussy-cats did mew
What else, poor pussies, could they do?
They screamed for help, ’twas all in vain,
So then, they said, “We’ll scream again.
Make haste, make haste! me-ow! me-o!
She’ll burn to death,- we told her so.”

So she was burnt with all her clothes,
And arms and hands, and eyes and nose;
Till she had nothing more to lose
Except her little scarlet shoes;
And nothing else but these was found
Among her ashes on the ground.

fire4 D4D

A fiery blaze does not occur in the Dracula novel, apart from the Vampires’ eyes – but in the films it can be a wonderful effect as the horror director Roger Corman knew.