In the book Dracula, Van Helsing often mentions that Dracula has a child-brain, which according to him is a weakness against the man-brains of the heroes of the novel.

What does he mean by that? Does Van Helsing imply that Dracula acts in a more primitive and therefore predictable way?

  • 4
    Good question. Considering when the book was written/published, the answer may not make a lot of sense to people who grew up a century after Freud disseminated his ideas.
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Sep 20, 2017 at 18:41

1 Answer 1


He means that the Count's memory didn't completely survive his death; he's still "developing", the way a child would be (emphasis mine):

"Well, in him the brain powers survived the physical death. Though it would seem that memory was not all complete. In some faculties of mind he has been, and is, only a child.

Dracula Chapter 23

This has certain consequences for our heroes, which gives them a slight advantage over him:

  • He isn't - at least not initially - as much of a big-picture thinker; he tends to focus on the short-term goals (emphasis mine):

    Well for us, it is as yet a child-brain. For had he dared, at the first, to attempt certain things he would long ago have been beyond our power.

    Dracula Chapter 23

    [D]oubtless, he had made preparation for escaping from us. But his child mind only saw so far.

    Dracula Chapter 25

    I have hope that our man brains that have been of man so long and that have not lost the grace of God, will come higher than his child-brain that lie in his tomb for centuries, that grow not yet to our stature, and that do only work selfish and therefore small.

    Dracula Chapter 25

  • Rather than changing his behaviour in response to reason, he'll continue to repeat actions so long as he doesn't receive negative feedback (or until he grows in mind):

    The little bird, the little fish, the little animal learn not by principle, but empirically. [...] [U]ntil he have the purpose to do more, he continue to do the same again every time, just as he have done before!

    Dracula Chapter 25

  • Relatedly, he learns through trial-and-error experimentation rather than reasoning his way towards "optimal" results:

    Do we not see how at the first all these so great boxes were moved by others. He knew not then but that must be so. But all the time that so great child-brain of his was growing, and he began to consider whether he might not himself move the box. So he began to help. And then, when he found that this be all right, he try to move them all alone. And so he progress, and he scatter these graves of him.

    Dracula Chapter 23

However, Van Hellsing is quick to point out that Dracula is learning, and has been since the moment of his undeath, so this advantage is temporary at best:

But he is growing, and some things that were childish at the first are now of man's stature.

Dracula Chapter 23

  • 9
    Also, given the historical position of psychology at the time, I think there was also an implication that Dracula was almost entirely id-driven, more animal than man (which, frankly, applies to many children as well), wholly concerned with whether an action pleased or displeased him, and operating with only animal cunning.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Sep 20, 2017 at 19:40
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    Why does the English seem wrong in the quotes? Sep 20, 2017 at 22:41
  • 7
    @zabeus I suspect part of it is the age of the book, but Van Helsing's lines stand out through the whole novel, probably because he's an old Dutch man, not a native English speaker Sep 20, 2017 at 22:49
  • 1
    @zabeus, I think some of it is classical use of the subjunctive mode, which is commonly replaced with indicative mode in modern informal speech (e.g. "Here's what I would do if I was you" vs. the more proper "...were you") but much of it is simply wrong.
    – Wildcard
    Sep 20, 2017 at 23:08
  • To me it looks simply as if the author is replacing "mind" with "brain" either because it is how Van Helsing being Dutch would speak, or perhaps at the time of novel these words were interplaceable.
    – Gnudiff
    Sep 21, 2017 at 6:04

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