I have a love-hate relationship with this book. It's fascinating, it's quite a fun read in many ways, and it has bits of endearing geekiness, but it also tends to be disturbing and often downright offensive. It's probably the most highly medicalised vampire text that I've read. The illness caused by vampires is lingered over, the main response is medical, the vampire's great foe is a medical doctor, they produce medical hypotheses about Dracula and so forth.
Where the vampirism is medicalised, the medical side of things is creepily sexualised. The blood transfusions are all done without Lucy's knowledge while she is drugged, and later referred to as a kind of marriage. This foreshadows the way Lucy is staked, which is universally read as a metaphorical gang rape. Then you have Mina being hypnotised and becoming a site for power struggles between Van Helsing and Dracula. Something I didn't notice until listening to the audiobook the other day (I always notice extra random details with audiobooks which has escaped me when reading) is that Van Helsing, who has been frantically building pseudo-family relationships with the others, finally mentions that he is married to a woman who is insane, whom he therefore cannot leave, and had a son who died. Rather telling, considering his manipulations of everyone else. Also I hadn't noticed just how much they're throwing laudanum and other opiates around. It's used for Seward when he's sleepless, to sedate Renfield when he's being unruly, to put Lucy to sleep for the transfusions, and to sedate Mina for the hypnosis. Then there are the frequent attacks of "hysteria", which are surprisingly usually suffered by men, instead of women as you'd expect.
The biggest thing in terms of illness, of course, is the lunatic Renfield. I am not entirely sure how far Dr Seward's behaviour is considered to be unprofessional by the standards of his time, but I'd guess that it is meant to be to a certain extent, while to a modern reader it is far more shocking. Renfield is exploited by the obsessed Dr Seward, and then by Dracula. Even when he is dying, no one really cares about anything except getting information out of him and covering up his death.
Liz Lochhead wrote a wonderful stage play of Dracula, in which she brought out all the underlying anxieties which the novel displays while trying to hide - the fear of the female body and sexuality, gender boundaries, the lurking same-sex attraction between men, the uncomfortable relationships with anyone working-class - and she placed Renfield centre stage. Literally. He inhabits a cage above the stage, commenting on the play throughout and often in poetry at that, revealing hidden truths and generally being like the Fool in Lear. She shows more of the grubby workings of the lunatic asylum as well, partly because she amalgamates Lucy's three lovers and the one who remains is Seward, so his role is increased. There is a silent orderly, and two nurses, one a sadist and one a masochist, both played by the same actor in different scenes. In the final scene where the two nurses appear, when they are laying out Renfield's dead body, they switch back and forth between the two characters and finally become one grieving whole. I really don't know much about Disassociative Identity Disorder, and I'm not sure it's meant to be a literal form of that, but theatrically it absolutely works (character doubling goes on all through the play, with great significance - the same actor also plays the silent housekeeper to the Westermans and one of the vampire brides), and it's done with compassion. Lochhead is far more aware of the complicated system of oppression going on in this text, and she is writing with sympathy for the ones being oppressed, while Stoker tends to treat them with a distancing, nervous jocularity.
Lochhead also goes into the way this text medicalises women just for being women. In an earlier poem, she wrote Lucy as anorexic and amenorrhoeic after her father's death, taking a dark joy in controlling her body against the wishes of others. In the play there's a point when Lucy, who is having a fight with Mina (her sister in the play), says sarcastically, "Oh yes, mad skinny Lucy with her migraines and her nightmares and her over-vivid imagination, I know what you all think of me." There's also a hilarious moment when Harker, the concerned brother-in-law-to-be, is telling his old friend Seward, who hasn't yet met Lucy, about the family concern about her. Seward, being medical, asks briskly, "Does she have a loss of normal female functions?" and Harker, being Victorian, replies in appalled tones, "How on earth should I know?" And then Seward meets Lucy, and they rapidly get engaged, and it's made clear that we're already onto the ground of behaviour that's unprofessional for a doctor. Medicine as power, all over again. And of course, while the doctors try to control everything, it's the subversive women, foreigners and madmen who are really taking control.
- Dracula by Bram Stoker, and the play by Liz Lochhead