‘Dracula’ and Diet: Renfield, 1

2019 Blood is lifeImages from Wellcome Collection

Dr Seward, the asylum superintendent in ‘Dracula’, decided to invent a new diagnosis for his pet patient Renfield – ‘zoophagy’ (animal-or life-eating).

However, Renfield wanted to go beyond his usual flies, spiders and birds, and attacked Dr Seward himself, explaining that ‘the blood is the life’ as mentioned in the Bible and in the advertisement shown above. (In fact this Mixture’s chief active ingredient was potassium iodide.)

The real psychiatrist Dr George Savage had in 1888 described a case with similar self-proclaimed motivation:

He visited the city abattoir, obtained and drank blood hot from the slaughtered animals. This was after a few days stopped, but fortunately he was watched, for he was seen to try to decoy children to his rooms, and he owned to me that he wished to have their blood, as blood was his life, and his life was that of a genius. 

Dr Savage was considering the psychopathology of Jack the Ripper.




Scurvy, the Horror Story of the Sea

2019 dore-mariner revd
Gustave Dore illustration to Coleridge’s ‘The Ancient Mariner’

Four times fifty living men,
(And I heard nor sigh nor groan)
With heavy thump, a lifeless lump,
They dropped down one by one.

Scurvy affects the mind as well as the body, which may partly account for why the sea captains regarded it with shame, rather than remedying the dietary deficiency.

Jonathan Lamb argues that this was the problem for the Ancient Mariner and his crew-mates, with a characteristic enhancement of the senses leading to visions of extreme horror and also of beauty.

Beyond the shadow of the ship,
I watched the water-snakes :
They moved in tracks of shining white,
And when they reared, the elfish light
Fell off in hoary flakes.
O happy living things! no tongue
Their beauty might declare:
A spring of love gushed from my heart,
And I blessed them unaware.

Mrs Dyer, Baby Murderer

2019 Reg v Dyer

Dr George Savage, previously medical superintendent of the Bethlem, had also examined Mrs Dyer, and reported that although she said she did not recollect the crimes, he found all other facts of her life were clear in her memory. The circumstances of the children’s murders did not in his opinion suggest any homicidal mania.

The prisoner was found guilty and sentenced to death, being executed June 10th.

Jack the Ripper – Butcher or Surgeon?

Surg inst 2019.PNG19th Century Surgical Instruments: Wellcome Collection

Dr Lyttleton Forbes Winslow continued his considerations on the identity of Jack the Ripper in his ‘Recollections’ (1910):

After the fifth and sixth murders, however, I changed my views. The exact similarity in the method of murder and the horrible evisceration of the body showed too much of a methodical nature ever to belong to a man who committed the deeds in a fit of epileptic furor.

Considerable anatomical knowledge was displayed by the murderer, which would seem to indicate that his occupation was that of a butcher or a surgeon.

Dr Winslow in Whitechapel

Whitechapel 2Dr Winslow extended his investigations into the Jack the Ripper murders:

Day after day and night after night I spent in the Whitechapel slums. The detectives knew me, the lodging-house keepers knew me, and at last the poor creatures of the streets came to know me. In terror they rushed to me with every scrap of information which might to my mind be of value. 

It is not, therefore, surprising that it was I and not the detectives of Scotland Yard who reasoned out an accurate scientific mental picture of the Whitechapel murderer….

Dr Winslow Hunts The Ripper

jther pic winslowDr Lyttelton Forbes Winslow prided himself on his forensic ability and considered what sort of man the police should be looking for. At first:

Until after the third murder… I imagined that Jack the Ripper suffered from this malady [masked epilepsy], and that, during the seizure, he might perform the most extraordinary and most diabolical actions, and upon his return to consciousness would be in perfect ignorance of what had transpired …


After the fourth murder…
Arrests were made by the score, principally of people of a low class who inhabited the locality where the murders were committed. I, however, refused to believe that the murders were committed by one of the lower classes.

I gave it as my opinion that the murderer was in all probability a man of good position and perhaps living in the West End of London. When the paroxysm which prompted him to his fearful deeds had passed off, he most likely returned to the bosom of his family.

This opened up the possibility of a gentlemanly, or even an aristocratic, serial murderer, someone who would seem above suspicion.

Jack the Ripper’s Dr Winslow

ripper letter 2According to the psychiatrist Dr Lyttleton Forbes Winslow’s ‘Recollections of Forty Years’ (1910):

To recall the history of the famous Jack-the-Ripper murders in London slums, it should be remembered that there were in all eight victims. This frightful list began at Christmas 1887, and the monster laid down his knife in July 1889, after the eighth victim.

There is good reason to believe that the hand of the murderer was stayed by my revelations…

As seen above, Dr Winslow received correspondence from the Ripper – or maybe they were a journalist’s hoax.