Monsters & Madness

Secret Lives in Victorian Literature

Insanity and its Role in Dracula

In Bram Stoker’s Dracula, sanity versus insanity is a prominently discussed topic among the characters in the book. The constant use of ‘insanity’ in the text shields and misleads the characters from the monstrous world that exists. The characters that speak of the unnatural and behave in odd ways are declared insane or simply unwell in some capacity, but are not often to be believed. The theme of insanity in the text serves to keep the characters from believing in the unnatural.

Although insanity itself was a taboo and alarming topic by itself, to the characters in this book, it is far more comfortable of a thought than that of the supernatural. When Johnathan speaks to Dr. Seward about the Count, and says, “the Master is at hand,” (p. 111) Dr. Seward attributes this and his other abnormalities to “religious mania.” (p. 111) Dr. Seward does not see any other reason than some sort of insanity for Johnathan’s behaviors. Again, when Dr. Seward read’s Lucy’s account of the night her mother died, Dr. Seward says, “in God’s name, what does it all mean? Was she, or is she, mad; or what sort of horrible danger is it? I was so bewildered that did not know what to say more.” (p. 161) Dr. Seward again goes quickly to the thought that Lucy may have been “mad.” Because what he’s read is so hard for him to understand, he can only think that she might have had some insanity, or that if not, there is some great danger. Here, Dr. Seward begins to think that there may be another possibility.

Finally, after Lucy’s “death,” Dr. Van Helsing explains to Dr. Seward the reason that he did not say directly what wait ailing Lucy. Dr. Seward is surprised at this, as he begins to understand more about what danger might be happening around him. Dr. Van Helsing says, “Mad? Would I were! Madness were easy to bear compared with truth like this….why take so long to tell you so simple a thing? My friend, it was because I wished to be gentle in the breaking to you, for I know you have loved that so sweet lady. But even yet, I do not expect you to believe. It is so hard to accept at once any abstract truth…when we have always believed the ‘no’ of it.” (p. 207) In this quote, Dr. Van Helsing explains to Dr. Seward that because the truth is shocking, confusing, and heartbreaking, that Dr. Van Helsing kept it from him. The doctor knows and explains that the truth is hard to believe for many reasons. The truth is so hard for Dr. Seward to believe, especially under these circumstances, that he continues to think, “surely there must be some rational explanation for all these things.” (p. 217) However, in these passages, we see Dr. Seward’s slowly growing inclination to believe the truth.

1 Comment

  1. Similar to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles confronts the theme of the natural versus the supernatural, but in a less obvious relation to sanity versus insanity than Dracula does. Both novels dive into the possibility of the supernatural, but with fear. In The Hound of the Baskervilles people who believe in the supernatural are thought to be less educated. However, in Dracula characters who believe in the supernatural are thought to possibly be insane. During that time, there is a fear of the supernatural and its capabilities. People are conditioned to believe in logic and therefore need an excuse for people who believe in the supernatural since it is not the norm.

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