Was Dracula an Irishman?

Published in 18th-19th Century Social Perspectives, 18th–19th - Century History, Issue 3 (Autumn 2000), Letters, Letters, Volume 8

Sir,–Bob Curran, in his article ‘Was Dracula an Irishman?’ (HI Summer 2000), cites my joint study of the Irish background, The Undead: the legend of Bram Stoker and Dracula, written under my pseudonym, Peter Tremayne, together with Peter Haining (Constable 1997).
In the light of some subsequent research we might append a footnote which will answer many critics of Stoker who have dismissed his knowledge of blood transfusions, as given in Dracula chapter ten & etc. as being sheer nonsense. But the Clontarf-born author believed in research and, coming from a Dublin medical family, with three brothers qualifying as surgeons at Dublin’s medical schools, one would suspect that he had learnt something about blood transfusion methods as known in his day.
Critics, like Dr Leonard Wolf, have maintained that Stoker’s knowledge was simply the inventions of someone without knowledge and, neglecting Stoker’s Dublin background, have also claimed that transfusions were not generally known ‘in England’ until long after Stoker had written his book.
An account of the first transfusion of whole blood to a human subject in Ireland, carried by Dr Robert McDonnell (1828-1889), a President of the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland, and a friend of Charles Darwin, was published in the November 1870 Dublin Journal of Medical Science. This first transfusion had been given in April 1865 at the Jervis Street Hospital, Dublin. Between 1865 and 1877 some fifteen transfusions of whole blood to human subjects were carried out, the majority by McDonnell. Reading McDonnell’s techniques it is not curious that they resembled Stoker’s descriptions of Van Helling’s methods of transfusion with Lucy Westenra.
The account surely excited attention from Bram’s elder brother William Thornley Stoker, who had just left the Royal College of Surgeons and was working at the City of Dublin Hospital. Bram was actually living in his brother’s house in Harcourt Street at that time. Indeed, at the time of the publication of the account, Bram had graduated from Trinity College and, although he was working as a legal clerk in Dublin Castle, he was already beginning to pursue a literary career.

—Yours etc.,

PETER BERRESFORD ELLIS
London

Sir,–As Bob Curran’s article elegantly demonstrates, the myth of the vampire provides an intriguing opportunity for cultural and historical exploration. Another fascinating angle on this topic comes from the history of medicine.
Over the course of time, it has been suggested that alleged ‘vampires’ were, in fact, people suffering from various illnesses that altered their appearance or behaviour in ways that were then exaggerated into the vampire myth. Suggested illnesses included rabies, pellagra (a deficiency in vitamin D) and congenital erythropoietic porphyria (similar to George III’s illness). There is, however, little convincing evidence to support these claims.
There was also a time in the 1960s when ‘clinical vampirism’ was regarded as a psychiatric illness, and received considerable attention in reputable psychiatric journals such as the Archives of General Psychiatry and the Journal of Nervous and Mental Diseases. These articles focussed on cases of psychosis in which the patient expressed a desire to drink blood, and may have engaged in related anti-social activities. Psychodynamic theorists note that the attack of the vampire may symbolise the perceived fulfilment of unmet needs in the setting of psychotic illness.
In the light of these psychological interpretations of vampiric delusions and behaviour, and given the pervasiveness of the vampire myth in so many cultures, it is tempting to speculate on the possible existence of a vampire archetype. Is it possible that this myth is something that we need to invent and reinvent, to reflect changes in our minds, our lives and our worlds? Do we need vampires?

—Yours etc.,
Dr BRENDAN KELLY
Registrar in Psychiatry
Dublin

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