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: 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’.

‘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.



More Good and Evil Doctors (iii)

Lady Ducayne slide ed

Mary Braddon, best known for her novel ‘Lady Audley’s Secret’ writes the story from the point of view of the girl, Bella. She takes a job as a companion to the elderly Lady Ducayne, and the household goes to Italy for the winter. Bella begins to have trouble-some dreams and becomes weak. She discovers the two previous companions fell ill and died, so consults Lady Ducayne’s medical attendant Dr Parravicini (older, foreign) for help for the mosquito bites on her arms. He observes: ‘he has caught you on the top of a vein. What a vampire!’

However, a visiting young English doctor, Henry Stafford, realises Bella has been chloroformed and bled by Dr Parravicini for the old lady’s benefit. Lady Ducayne sacks Dr Parravicini, tries unsuccessfully to persuade Dr Stafford to look after her, and then gives the young couple a large cheque to marry, while for herself she will find someone even more scientifically advanced.