Diagnosing Dracula’s Renfield: Zoophagy

More from #Draculafordoctors: Dr Seward, the love-lorn Medical Superintendent, says:Zoophagy pic

My homicidal maniac is of a peculiar kind. I shall have to invent a new classification for him, and call him a zoophagous (life-eating) maniac. What he desires is to absorb as many lives as he can, and he has laid himself out to achieve it in a cumulative way.

He gave many flies to one spider and many spiders to one bird, and then wanted a cat to eat the many birds. What would have been his later steps?

Peculiar eating habits were not uncommon in the nineteenth century asylums, the technical terminology being ‘pica’. I dare say there were various ways of trying to supplement the poor diet of the institutions.

As for an excellent sensation of horror – ‘disgust’ is most effective, just watch ‘I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here’!

‘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.