«Number one, the lunatic asylum man»
Dracula and the Limits of Institutional Psychiatry
Beneath its spectacular Gothic topoi, the experience of subjectivity, the interest in the hidden dimensions of the mind and in the developing fields of neurology and psychiatry, which were challenging post-Enlightenment notions of rationality, traditional constructions of manliness and conventional gender roles, are central in Bram Stoker’s Dracula published in 1897, one year after the term psychoanalysis was introduced. Images of emotional instability, altered states of consciousness, and downright pathologies pervade the novel. Significantly enough, they concern not only the vampire’s primary victims but Dr. Seward himself, the young director of an insane asylum in London who often questions his professional role and even his own sanity. I will argue that Stoker modelled this character on William Joseph Seward, the superintendent of Colney Hatch Asylum from 1882 to 1911, an institution which was at that time the showcase of Victorian psychiatric reform. Like his namesake, Stoker’s Seward is an intelligent, sympathetic and dedicated alienist, who yet, from the very beginning, emerges as an unlikely guarantor of psychic order.