‘Dracula’ and Diet: Renfield, 2

 

Moth by Rae
Death’s Head Moth: photo by Alastair Rae

Secret treats to ingest were sent by Count Dracula to Renfield: “Big moths, in the night, with skull and cross-bones on their backs.” The all-knowing Dr Van Helsing explains: “The Acherontia Atropos of the Sphinges, what you call the ‘Death’s-head Moth’?”

Curious eating habits of various kinds had long been observed in asylums, and were discussed by W. C. McIntosh, superintendent of Perth asylum, in 1866:

The morbid desires, longings, or impulses for various substances generally regarded with loathing and disgust have been grouped under the head of Pica. 

Although these alien substances were often chalk, charcoal or earth, there is one mention of an insect-eater:

Remaining during winter in a kind of torpid state in the chimney corner, but in summer hunting all day long for honey-bees, humble-bees, and wasps.

While the unfortunate patients may partly have been trying to improve their wretched diets, these days, eating insects is very trendy, and earth will clearly be next.

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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.