Renfield
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Real Name

R. M. Renfield

First Appearance

Dracula (1897)

Original Publisher

Archibald Constable and Company (UK)

Created by

Bram Stoker

Origin

Renfield is an inmate at the lunatic asylum overseen by Dr. John Seward. He is thought to suffer from delusions which compel him to eat living creatures in the hope of obtaining their life-force for himself. Later, Renfield's own testimony reveals that Dracula would send him insects, which he begins consuming. He starts with flies, the death's-head moth, then develops a scheme of feeding the flies to spiders, and the spiders to birds, in order to accumulate more and more life. When denied a cat to accommodate the birds, he eats the birds himself. He also changes his ideas to accommodate Mina Murray by quickly eating all flies and stating that it was an old habit. Dr. Seward diagnoses him as a "zoophagous maniac", or life-consuming madman. Later. Renfield builds up his own courage to harm Dr. Seward, acquiring a knife and cutting his arm; as Seward's blood drips from his hand, Renfield licks it off the floor.

However, when confronted by Mina, the object of Dracula's obsession, Renfield suffers an attack of conscience and begs her to flee from his master's grasp. Consumed by his desire to keep Mina safe, he begs Seward and the others to allow him to leave lest he feel guilty for her fate. When Seward denies his request, Renfield tells the vampire hunters that "[he] warned them!" When Dracula returns that night, Renfield is again seized by his conscience. He remembers hearing that madmen have unnatural strength, and so attempts to fight Dracula. Renfield's strength leaves him after looking into Dracula's eyes, and Dracula throws him to the floor, severely injuring him.

The vampire hunters enter the room shortly afterward, and through an emergency surgery, Abraham Van Helsing manages to prolong Renfield's life. Renfield tells how Dracula convinced him to invite Dracula in, detailing how Dracula entered the home and went after Mina. They leave him lying on the floor to rescue her. During the party's confrontation with Dracula in Mina's room, they manage to repel him with their crucifixes and wafers of sacramental bread. However, Dracula enters other rooms and destroys their records, then back into Renfield's room to break his neck. When Abraham Van Helsing and Dr. Seward had come back from seeing poor Renfield, we went gravely into what was to be done. First, Dr. Seward told us that when he and Dr. Van Helsing had gone down to the room below they had found Renfield lying on the floor, all in a heap. His face was all bruised and crushed in, and the bones of the neck were broken.

Public Domain Appearances

  • Dracula (1897)
  • Dracula (1924 play)

Notes

  • In the 1922 film, Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens, Renfield was replaced by Knock.
  • During the course of the novel, the role of Renfield as a patient allows the reader to understand his behavior from the perspective of a psychologist. Through Renfield's demented mind, the reader learns the nature of a vampirism that is eventually revealed to be under the influence of Count Dracula; Renfield attempts to escape from the hospital multiple times to meet him. The vampire, whose abilities include control over animals such as rats, bats and spiders, comes to Renfield with an offer: if Renfield worships him, he promises to make him immortal by providing an endless supply of insects and rats, as Renfield believes that blood is the source of life.
  • The character Renfield has influenced the study of real-life behavior in psychiatric patients suffering from an obsession with drinking blood. The term Renfield syndrome was coined by psychologist Richard Noll in 1992, originally as a joke term, to describe clinical vampirism. Correspondingly, there is also a "vampire personality disorder" (VPD); a diagnosis for clinical vampirism, used for the behavioral profiling of serial killers compelled by bloodlust and for patients who act out violent vampiric fantasies, albeit, this diagnosis is not recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
    • The effects of Renfield syndrome follows the pathology of the character in the novel consisting of several stages. Initially the patient exhibits zoophagia, a compulsion to eat insects, or to eat live animals or drink their blood. As the condition worsens, the behavior grows more and more deviant, culminating in a compulsion to drink another person's blood in an act described as True-Vampirism, including intentionally harming another individual for that purpose — the same behavior Renfield is seen exhibiting in the novel.

See Also

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