Monsters & Madness

Secret Lives in Victorian Literature

Representations of Illness and Madness in Dracula

In Dracula by Bram Stoker the Victorian era fear of illness and madness penetrating their society is drawn upon at every turn. Much like Lady Audley’s Secret, focus on Lady Audley’s madness and isolating her from society once she is considered mad, that same fear and concept is manifested throughout Dracula. In Dracula, almost every character at some points questions their sanity, and in Dracula’s case, he is feared due to his “illness”, “madness”, or “insanity”. Not only is Dracula looked at as being mad or ill, he continuously mentions madness throughout the novel, highlighting the Victorian eras fear and hyperawareness of madness and insanity.

After Jonathan’s arrival to the Count’s castle, he begins to question his sanity when he says, “When I look back after a few hours I think I must have been mad for the time, for I behaved much as a rat does in a trap” (Stoker 34). Throughout Chapter 3, Jonathan mentions frequently, almost begging, that he hopes while he is living with the Count that he is able to stay sane. He continues later on in the chapter journaling, “God preserve my sanity, for to this I am reduced… Whilst I live on here there is but one thing to hope for, that I may not go mad, if, indeed, I be not mad already…” (Stoker 43). At this point, Jonathan is praying that his sanity remains throughout the rest of his stay with the Count. This passage highlights the fear of the Victorian era of becoming mad and being seen as mad by others. This would usually result in being placed in an asylum and due to the societal fears of madness, that was a great fear of that time period.

The entire diary entry of Dr. Seward’s about Renfield, is another interesting passage surrounding madness and illness. Dr. Seward is a doctor in an asylum and in the novel, the audience gets multiple journal entries about Dr. Seward’s patient, Renfield, all referring to his growing madness. Throughout the passage Dr. Sweard was having glimpses of hope surrounding the improvement of his patient. Then suddenly, “His face fell, and I could see a warning of danger in it, for there was a sudden fierce, sidelong look which meant killing. The man is an undeveloped homicidal maniac” (79).  This is where Dr. Seward begins to classify Renfield and label him as mad. He begins, “My homicidal maniac is of a peculiar kind. I shall have to invent a new classification for him, and call him a zoöphagous (life-eating) maniac” (Stoker 79-80). This is a great example of needing to label someone with a specific madness and illness, even if that means inventing something new. Dr. Seward fears what Renfield can do and by giving him a diagnoses it warns people of his capabilities and continues the societal norm that these patients can’t necessarily be helped.

This theme of madness and the possibility of going mad from the circumstances you are placed in is brought up continuously in other parts of the novel as well. Lucy in some ways is a character that is highlighted as going mad and needing to be isolated due to her increased illness and madness. This begins with her sleepwalking and continues more as this behavior and other behaviors escalate. Dracula is also stereotypically represented as someone who is ill and mad throughout the book, used to perpetuate the Victorian eras thoughts surrounding madness and illness and how those things impact society. It is a constant theme throughout the book thus far, and I am sure will continue to be as we read.

4 Comments

  1. I find your blog post very very interesting. I definitely agree in that this book highly references illness to move along the plot of the story. A connection that I made while making this was that one disorder that was around the time that Dracula was written was Porphyria. Porphyria is a bunch of disorders at once that can cause nerve or skin problems. However it mostly affects the use of hemoglobin. This results in pale skin and mood swings like Lucy and anyone who is affect by Dracula has. Also like you mention that madness in this book is highly noted on in the plot and I’m anxious to see if going mad means something else than just loosing all brain control in the text.

  2. Demelza Poldark

    November 7, 2018 at 9:41 am

    To expand on your argument, we find out later in the novel that Van Helsing’s character expresses a more open view of “madness” that creates a new perspective of a commonly feared illness in Victorian society. For instance, When Mina shares with him her concerns about Jonathan’s sanity, Van Helsing responds, “I have learned not to think little of any one’s beliefs, no matter how strange it be… the things that make one doubt if they be mad or sane” (Stoker 198). When the characters do not have an explanation for something, a situation or thing that seems supernatural, they simply assume they are going mad. However, Van Helsing’s statement suggests that he takes regard to the strange beliefs, as the “madness” could possibly describe someone’s encounter with supernatural: Dracula.

  3. The idea of societal fear of madness is further exemplified by the way that Dr. Seward observes Renfield and studies his actions. Renfield is locked in his room, and Dr. Seward is constantly near other people in the asylum, as if out of fear of being alone with Renfield. I found it interesting how when Mina spoke to Renfield he seemed to be completely sane, eloquent even. This causes me to question if this is representative of a glimpse of a better understanding of madness in society or possibly a deeper understanding of science and therefore more understanding of insanity.

  4. solongandthanksforallthefish

    November 12, 2018 at 2:44 am

    I find this a really important post, because I always liked seeing vampirism as a metaphor for madness and illness in other works of fiction where it features. Dracula, being the progenitor of such a trope, also follows in line with this.

    Lucy’s devolution into the monster she becomes after being bitten by the Count shows the idea of madness and disease at its finest. She goes from being a pure innocent (if somewhat, implied to be promiscuous or a lot more sexual than Mina) girl to a demonic monster that needs multiple people to put her down because she’s going around murdering children. The race against time to save Mina from the same fate also demonstrates an animosity towards the idea of madness coming into the story again, they want to save her from the metaphorical stand-in for a very Victorian idea of madness and illness.

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