Dracula’s debt to Victorian neurology

While searching for more information on Bram Stoker’s supposed death by syphilis in the medical literature (I found nothing), I did come across this summary of a fascinating paper about the influence of late-Victorian neurology on Dracula.

Cerebral automatism, the brain, and the soul in Bram Stoker’s Dracula

Journal of the History of the Neurosciences. 2006 Jun;15(2):131-52.

Neither literary critics nor historians of science have acknowledged the extent to which Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) is indebted to late-Victorian neurologists, particularly David Ferrier, John Burdon-Sanderson, Thomas Huxley, and William Carpenter. Stoker came from a family of distinguished Irish physicians and obtained an M.A. in mathematics from Trinity College, Dublin. His personal library contained volumes on physiology, and his composition notes for Dracula include typewritten pages on somnambulism, trance states, and cranial injuries. Stoker used his knowledge of neurology extensively in Dracula. The automatic behaviors practiced by Dracula and his vampiric minions, such as somnambulism and hypnotic trance states, reflect theories about reflex action postulated by Ferrier and other physiologists. These scientists traced such automatic behaviors to the brain stem and suggested that human behavior was “determined” through the reflex action of the body and brain – a position that threatened to undermine entrenched beliefs in free will and the immortal soul. I suggest that Stoker’s vampire protagonist dramatizes the pervasive late-nineteenth-century fear that human beings are soulless machines motivated solely by physiological factors.

The paper is by English Professor Anne Stiles and frustratingly, the full-text isn’t freely available online, although the full reference is listed on PubMed for those with access to the journal.

If anyone does ‘find’ a freely-accessible copy online, please let me know and I’ll be happy to link to it.

However, Stiles was a guest on ABC Radio’s All in the Mind last year discussing the role of neurology in Victoria horror novels, the transcript of which is still available.

Link to PubMed entry for paper.

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