‘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.

 

 

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Treating Beri-beri in Ireland

Guinness factory Dublin 1910
Guinness factory Dublin 1910

Dr Norman thought that as the diet in the Richmond Asylum in Dublin was better than elsewhere, the beri-beri like disease could not have a nutritional basis. However,  evidence for a dietary connection, especially with polished white rice, had emerged, and a precedent for a deficiency disorder – scurvy – was known if not fully understood. It was not until Casimir Funk in 1912 published ‘The etiology of the deficiency diseases’ that this concept began to take hold, and was the start of ‘vitamin theory’.

The deficiency in beriberi is of Vitamin B1, also known as thiamine, which is found more in brown rice and bread than the ‘white’ versions. Beriberi is less common in complete starvation than when extra but refined carbohydrate such as sugar is introduced. White bread may have been used in the asylum, and thiamine’s absorption is impaired with dysentery, in alcoholism, and even by tea drinking. There were no cases among the medical staff.

Unbeknownst to Dr Norman, a remedy akin to Marmite was at hand along the River Liffey at the Guinness Factory. The Brewery’s Chief Chemist, Dr Millar, developed the popular and tasty savoury spread, Guinness Yeast Extract or GYE, from the surplus yeast generated in the fermentation process. It was launched in Ireland in 1936 and was discontinued in 1968.

Garlic is a good source of thiamine too.

 

 

‘Dracula’ and Diet: Beri-beri in the Asylum

richmond-hospital.jpg

The British Medical Journal reported on a ‘supposed outbreak of beri-beri’ in the Richmond Asylum, Dublin in 1894. This was remarkable, because previously such a disease had mainly been seen in the East.

The first noticeable symptom was oedema of the legs, which tended to spread rapidly. This was followed by weakness of the heart and breathing difficulties. Mentally, the sufferers became dull and sleepy. Sometimes there were symptoms of hyperaesthesia or paralysis. At this point there had been 110 cases under treatment, and 13 deaths.

Dr Conolly Norman, the medical superintendent, called for outside help, and the eminent Dublin surgeon Dr Thornley Stoker (Bram Stoker’s brother) led an investigation and provided a report to the governors. The disease appeared to resemble the beri-beri known in tropical and sub-tropical regions but the cause was unknown, although it seemed as if the cause must lie within the boundaries of the asylum. They concluded:

Bad ventilation and bad blood appear to be promoters, but the bacillary origin does not appear to be yet established.

The BMJ noted later that ‘blood’ had been a misprint for ‘food’.

 

 

Rossetti and the Goitrous Necks: 4. Jane

ProserpineJane Morris (nee Burden) came from humble family origins in Oxfordshire. She was admired by and then married to the artist, designer and writer William Morris. He shared both his wife and their famous arts-and-crafts house Kelmscott Manor with Dante Gabriel Rossetti. In myth, Proserpine comes to earth in summer, but must return to Pluto the God of the Underworld for the winter months, because she has eaten six seeds of the pomegranate fruit.

Once again, Rossetti is entranced by his muse’s neck.

Rossetti and the Goitrous Necks: 1. Lizzie

Siddall 2 2019

Elizabeth Siddal was the muse/model/mistress and later, wife, of the Pre-Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882). He, and others of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (she also starred as Millais’ Ophelia), were besotted with her long red hair, pale skin, slimness, languorous appearance and it seems her neck, which is somewhat swollen and frequently the central point.

She may have had tuberculosis, and died quite young, perhaps of a laudanum overdose. It has also been suggested that, coming from a poor background, she might have had a smooth neck goitre related to iodine deficiency.

Rossetti added to the morbidly gothic image by getting friends to retrieve his poems (suitably disinfected by a doctor) from her grave seven years after the burial in Highgate Cemetery. It was rumoured that she was little decomposed and that her red-gold hair filled the coffin. And yes, it is very likely Bram Stoker knew of this, as his good friend Hall Caine had been Rossetti’s secretary.

 

 

‘Dracula’ and Diet: Goitre

2019 goitre manPicture from Wellcome Collection

In the Carpathian Mountain area of Transylvania Jonathan Harker noted:

Here and there we passed Cszeks and Slovaks, all in picturesque attire, but I noticed that goitre was painfully prevalent.

This perception of enlargement of the thyroid seems knowledgeable to us, but was a tourist cliché at the time. However, we are led to consider the area of the neck.

In Seymour Taylor’s ‘Index of Medicine’ (1894), ‘goitre’ defined as ‘enlargement of the thyroid gland’ is noted as ‘prevalent endemically…where the potable water is derived from the limestone foundation’, instancing the Swiss mountains and Derbyshire in England where the condition was known as ‘Derbyshire neck’. Iodine was agreed to be a possible remedy, but the cause was usually thought to be intermarriage of close relations and impurity in the drinking water.

Preventing Pellagra

In ‘Dracula’ Dr Van Helsing attempts to provide his companions with a number of preventives against the vampires, especially garlic, sacred wafers, and crosses.

Instead, if you are planning to travel to Romania or the Deep South of the USA and eat a very limited diet of mamaliga or cornmeal, I recommend for its Vitamin  B: MARMITE!

2019 marmite 2