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Dwight Frye as Renfield in Dracula (1931)
|Created by||Bram Stoker|
|Portrayed by||Dwight Frye (Dracula (1931 film)
Klaus Kinski (Count Dracula (1970 film))
Tom Waits (Bram Stoker's Dracula)
Nonso Anozie (Dracula (TV series))
|Nickname(s)||The Fly Patient, The Fly Man|
In the novel
A description of Renfield from the novel:
R. M. Renfield, aetat 59. Sanguine temperament, great physical strength, morbidly excitable, periods of gloom, ending in some fixed idea which I cannot make out. I presume that the sanguine temperament itself and the disturbing influence end in a mentally-accomplished finish, a possibly dangerous man, probably dangerous if unselfish. In selfish men, caution is as secure an armour for their foes as for themselves. What I think of on this point is, when self is the fixed point the centripetal force is balanced with the centrifugal. When duty, a cause, etc., is the fixed point, the latter force is paramount, and only accident or a series of accidents can balance it. — From Dr. John Seward's journal
Renfield is an inmate at the lunatic asylum overseen by Dr. John Seward. He suffers 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 Harker by quickly eating all flies and stating that it was an old habit. Doctor John Seward diagnoses him as a "zoophagous maniac", or carnivorous 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.
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 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.
However, when confronted by Mina Harker, 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 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, forcing him to flee the room. However, Dracula flees into other rooms and destroys their records, then back into Renfield's room to break his neck. When Dr. 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.
Influence in Psychology
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 (DSM-5).
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.
In other media
- Tod Browning's 1931 film and George Melford's 1931 film conflate the character with that of Jonathan Harker, making Renfield (played by Dwight Frye in the English version and Pablo Álvarez Rubio in the Spanish version) the real estate agent who is sent to Transylvania and falls under Dracula's (Bela Lugosi/Carlos Villarías) power.
- In the 1970 film Count Dracula, Klaus Kinski played Renfield as mute.
- The BBC version of Count Dracula (1977), starring Louis Jourdan in the title role, includes Jack Shepherd as a sympathetic Renfield in a prominent role which highlights his relationship with Mina.
- The 1979 film Dracula, starring Frank Langella in the title role, has Tony Haygarth playing Milo Renfield as an unkempt workman who in enthralled by Dracula while he is unloading the boxes at Carfax.
- Tom Waits portrays Renfield in Francis Ford Coppola's 1992 film Bram Stoker's Dracula. The film suggests that Renfield was Jonathan Harker's predecessor as Count Dracula's agent in London; it is implied that this is the reason for his madness.
- A comedic version of Renfield is portrayed by Peter MacNicol in Mel Brooks' 1995 film Dracula: Dead and Loving It.
- In NBC and Sky Living's 2013 television series, Renfield is portrayed by Nonso Anozie.
- Samuel Barnett portrays Renfield the third and final season of the Showtime drama Penny Dreadful.
- Bram Stoker's Notes on Dracula. p. 282.
- Dracula. SparkNotes; Character list.
- Stoker, Bram. Dracula (PDF). Ch 21, Dr. Seward's Diary, 3 October. p. 400.
Just as he used to send in the flies when the sun was shining. Great big fat ones with steel and sapphire on their wings. And big moths, in the night, with skull and cross-bones on their backs.’ Van Helsing nodded to him as he whispered to me un-consciously, ‘The Acherontia Atropos of the Sphinges, what you call the ‘Death’s-head Moth’?
- Stoker, Bram. Dracula (PDF). Ch 11, Dr. Seward's Diary, 17 September. p. 202.
- Stoker, Bram. Dracula (PDF). pp. 147, 156.
- Ramsland, Katherine. "Vampire Personality Disorder". Psychology Today. Retrieved 1 November 2015.
For The Science of Vampires, I invented a diagnosis as well. I called it vampire personality disorder (VPD). I included clinical vampires but also killers compelled by bloodlust and people who exploit the vampire image to act out fantasy scenarios in a way that harms others.
- Dracula. Tod Browning. Universal Pictures, 1931. Film.
- Drácula. George Melford. Universal Pictures, 1931. Film.
- Count Dracula. Jesús Franco. Filmar Compagnia Cinematograf, Roma, 1970. Film.
- Count Dracula. Philip Saville. British Broadcasting Corporation, 1977. Film.
- Dracula. John Badham. Universal Pictures, 1979. Film.
- Bram Stoker's Dracula. Francis Ford Coppola. American Zoetrope, 1992. Film.
- Dracula: Dead and Loving It. Mel Brooks. Castle Rock Entertainment, 1995. Film.
- Nonso Anozie Bio NBC