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.

Another Dr Acula Xmas Tableau

2019 Xmas Tableau

Renfield, the ‘lunatic’ patient in ‘Dracula, is in need of a ‘back story’. So perhaps his cousin Gar Field was once invited to Christmas dinner with the Count and his Vampiresses. He successfully escapes, much to their fury, and doesn’t even get norovirus..,

Thank you to my neighbours for the festive post-box. In it are Greetings for all my blog readers.




Bitten by a Bat, 5

real vampire-bat

The real blood-sucking (or blood-lapping) vampire bats, are found in the Americas. The common vampire bat (Desmodus rotundus) feeds solely on blood, a trait known as ‘haematophagy’. (Compare this with Renfield’s so-called ‘zoophagy’.) These bats are quite small, even cute-looking, but rabies is still a possibility.

For a dental note: it is the two sharp front teeth which open up the blood vessel, then the long tongue takes over. Note that in the ‘Dracula’ novel and most movies it is the canine teeth that cause the damage but Count Orlok in ‘Nosferatu’ has teeth like this, as do rats.


Bitten by a Bat, 4

Spectre or Linnaeus’ False Vampire Bat

The association of large bats with vampires stemmed from Linnaeus’ original namings, and so, in ‘Dracula’, Quincey, the American, remarks:

‘I have not seen anything pulled down so quick since I was on the Pampas and had a mare that I was fond of go to grass all in a night. One of those big bats that they call vampires had got at her in the night, and what with his gorge and the vein left open, there wasn’t enough blood in her to let her stand up, and I had to put a bullet through her as she lay.’ 

The spectral bat (Vampyrum spectrum) is a large, carnivorous leaf-nosed bat found in Mexico, Central America and South America.  It has a robust skull and teeth, with which it delivers a powerful bite to kill its prey, likely to be birds, rodents and insects.

In Trinidad, these bats are sometimes thought to be ghosts.