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Nosferatu (the plague carrier), Count Dracula and Syphilinum revisited

Posted Sep 22 2008 4:37pm

Nosferatu has to be one of my favourite films. Made by F W Murnau in 1922 it was based on Bram Stoker’s novel, “Dracula”. It couldn’t be an authentic rendition because there was a dispute at the time regarding royalties and this seems to have set a precedent for every future version of the story of Count Dracula – whether it be poem, play, film, television, every author brought their own interpretation to the well known story about vampires and phantoms of the night. But, in my opinion, Nosferatu was a brilliant offering.

The word ‘nosferatu’ has a Greek influence meaning ‘plague carrier’ and the word ‘dracula’ means ‘the devil’ in the Romanian language – getting close to the Transylvanian home of the Count (politics permitting as the boundaries have moved over time).

We all think we know the story well but due to all the interpretations that abound it is worth a brief summary:- an English lawyer is invited to Count Dracula’s castle to give legal advice regarding buying property in England. But whilst staying with the Count he is taken prisoner and is visited by female vampires. It is the Count who helps him escape and they travel to England together in a Russian ship that runs aground in Whitby – all on board are dead and a wolf (Dracula’s chosen animal form) is seen running from the ship. The ship holds nothing but boxes of soil. (It is worth noting here that it could be Stoker’s apparent misogyny that allowed his to ‘blame’ females, and not Count Dracula, for being the primary vampire).

A friend of the lawyer’s wife begins to emaciate and it is suspected she has been vamped (seduced and sucked dry of blood), blood transfusions are performed but she dies and becomes one of the ‘undead’.

During the process of being vamped it is essential that blood is exchanged between victim and vampire so that the vampire can gain mental control over the victim.

The rest you know but there is one character in the book that also holds interest and that is one of the people under the care of the psychiatrist Dr Seward. This man eats insects, spiders and birds in order to extract their life force. This man also has a ‘sense’ of when Dracula is in the proximity.

Bram Stoker was Irish and as an adult lived in London enjoying high society with the likes of Oscar Wilde, Le Fanu, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Mary Shelley and Henry Irving (whose sweeping mannerisms he based Dracula’s on).

Two of his other novels ‘The Snake’s Pass’ (set in an Irish village where St Patrick battled with the King of the Snakes and who hid his crown, gold and jewels in the hills somewhere – this treasure was being searched for by the evil Black Murdock – the village had a nearby shifting bog, called ‘the carpet of death’ that threatens all) and ‘The Lair of the White Worm’ (all about snake bites, caves, hallucinations and death and also known as ‘the garden of evil’), clearly show Bram Stoker to be somewhere in the throes of Victorian madness and by the time Stoker was writing ‘The Lair of the White Worm’ he was showing signs of mental illness thought to be attributed to Syphilis, although there is some mention of him suffering from Bright’s disease - possibly to make it appear more decent but Bright’s disease is a degenerative kidney condition that could be of syphilitic origin.

So far we have plague carriers; devils; castles; ships and the sea; wolves; phantoms of the night; blood sucking; exchange of blood; emaciation; blood transfusions (a form of cleansing?); dead and undead; mental control over another; eating insects, spiders and birds to extract life force; unusual sensory perception; snakes; caves; jewels and gold; hallucinations; darkness; and evil. If you were to add on the visual aspects of Nosferatu, you would also have peculiar shuffling gait; a hunched back; long, bony and deformed extremities; long front teeth and bulging eyes; silence; darkness and a sense of impending terror – the perfect setting for the symptom picture of Syphilinum.

The symptom picture is one of destruction, either by murder, suicide, rage, deformity, substance abuse, decay, corrosion and ulceration, chronic inflammation and eruption, inward suppression and a lack of growth represented by being stunted and immature with no development, and yet, in contradiction the appearance is that of being withered and old, as if to rush towards an early demise.

The emotional and mental threshold is fragile, to say the least. The nucleus delusion is that of being dirty, tainted, contaminated and rotten to the core – this ‘filth’ (that has a neon sign attached to it screaming “I have committed a sexual sin”) has to be punished according to the eyes of the holder, i.e. ‘the self’. There is so much self criticism within the syphilitic state there is no need for any more from anyone else – it is the ‘self’ that destroys the same. The punishment takes the form of this destruction accompanied with a recognisable need for cleansing and rebuilding – why else destroy without wanting to reconstruct that which has been damaged in some way?

This cleansing takes the form of continually washing the hands; a sensation as if hot water is running through the veins; an intolerance of being near the sea (this is too vast a cleansing process and the salt air aggravates the corrosion); continual perspiration and ongoing discharges (an outpouring); loss of memory (too hideous to even want to remember); restlessness (looking for a new foundation on which to build); having a sense of well being when in the mountains or at high altitudes where the air is clean and fresh; a need to be alone (not tainting others); profuse lachrymation (another form of ‘washing’); habitual miscarriages (again, as if not to infect others); refusal to eat (this is destructive but fasting also cleanses); prolapse (internal organs attempting to escape, fall out); a sensation as if far away; sensations as if there is something alive or fluttering within; a sensation as if the throat were being torn to pieces (the vampire likes the throat due to the intense blood supply at that point); a sensation as if the top of the head were coming off; chronic eruptions.

But, of course, it isn’t really a cleansing but actually a description of the syphilitic state taking hold – the vampire has been and gone – dead but undead - but the miasm is alive.

There is no cleansing, nothing can wash the taint away as it ulcerates, destroys and travels further inwards. Meet Treponema pallidum, the crippled bacterium responsible for Syphilis (at least it looks something like this - a curly wurly ebb and flow of annihilation).

The diseased state begins with a primary chancre, a sore that soon disappears until a secondary expression occurs, that of a rash and maybe other symptoms such as weight loss, fever, muscle aches or swollen glands. Finally, the late stage develops internal organ damage that often leads to paralysis or permanent brain damage.

The destructive internalisation, glimpsed at by the external cleansing or outpouring, can be visualised as nodular and swollen; fissured and perforated; acrid and ulcerated; shrivelled and atrophied; foetid and thick; swollen and eruptive; oppressed and paralysed.

Needless to say there is hopelessness and despair, prostration, unbelievable sadness, fear and exhausting depression that is either activated into a rage with nervous pollutions or descends into a deeply suffering apathy – ebbing and flowing just like the wave shape of the bacterium.

And all of this so much worse in the dead, or the undead of night when unwanted visitors disembark. Unwittingly Bram Stoker conjured up, through his own diseased state, the true horridness of the symptoms of Syphilinum within Count Dracula and within the contents of some of his other writings we can also see evidence of other syphilitic remedies such as Aurum, Lac Caninum, Mercurius, Nitric acid and possibly Stramonium - the remedy that likes to bite.

Joy Lucas. January, 2007
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