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Old 03-10-2021, 10:16 AM   #13 (permalink)
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Part I: Stalking the Written Word
The Vampire in Literature

Timeline: 18th century

Note: It seems that somehow I missed out some of the earlier, indeed, earliest references to vampires when I started this, so let me amend that now. Oddly enough, my many books of vampire lore tend to be quite mute on the early material, only mentioning the more well-known ones, so I have to trust Wiki and then search out examples, or extracts, or if I’m lucky, whole texts, if they’re available.

In the light of this, we now have starting off our history of vampire literature the very first ever mention of the breed in fiction, this honour going to another, different German poet from the eighteenth century.

Title: Der Vampir
Format: Poem
Author: Heinrich August Ossenfelder
Nationality: German
Written:* 1748
Published: 1748
Impact:** ? but given it’s in German probably not much

* Unless I have information to the contrary, I'm going to suppose the piece was published in the same year as it was written. This may not always be the case, but the composition date is seldom shown, just the publication one.

** Refers to not only the impact on vampire and gothic literature, but also on the wider world. Scored from 1 to 10. This will begin to fade out as vampire literature (and later, movies) becomes more widespread, but it's important with the early works to show how they affected society and literature in general. In the case of works not in English, it's likely I won't be able to gauge its effect on its readership, unless it's mentioned.

Synposis: None really. It’s written as a kind of threat, warning or even dark promise to a woman called Christine (not sure what the attraction of this name is, Coleridge uses a similar one for his poem: maybe the similarity to Christ?) that she will fall victim to a vampire. It does mention the drinking of blood, so therefore the first time this is broached in literature, though Ossenfelder refers to vampires as unmortal, rather than immortal or undead. He also seems to begin the trope - surely taken from the folk beliefs - of a vampire coming in upon a sleeping victim and draining their blood, I assume this always being due to people being most off their guard while asleep, as the Major in Fawlty Towers once remarked. The power of the vampire to hold sway over its victims is described in the final lines of the poem:

“And last shall I thee question
Compared to such instruction
What are a mother’s charms?”

Intriguing to see he uses the couplet “sleeping/creeping”, which would become part of Poe’s famous The Raven almost a hundred years later. Yes, they’re common words, but I find it noteworthy that they’re used here in another gothic, nightmarish poem which also references death and has an implacable enemy as its protagonist, who seems destined to triumph at the close of the poem.

But back to this one. It would appear the vampire is exulting in his power over Christine, and basically telling her nobody can protect her, least of all her mother, who is powerless against his magic. The poem doesn’t always rhyme, but then I’m reading the translation from German, and it surely loses something in the conversion to English. Not all poetry, of course, has to rhyme, but some of the lines here seem out of place, though again I imagine that’s due to their being translated and the German version probably flows much better.

It’s unclear here whether the narrator is actually a vampire, or is just comparing himself to one to frighten and terrorise the girl, who has apparently jilted him. Hard to be sure: he talks of “draining your life blood away”, but whether that’s just a fancy way of saying he’s going to murder her or whether he actually intends to drink her blood, is left fairly ambiguous. Then he speaks of “crossing death’s threshold” with her “in my cold arms”. So is he going to kill himself too (otherwise why the description of his arms as cold?) or is he really a vampire?

The poem is very short - only twenty-two lines - but it raises a whole host of questions. Who is this guy? Was she betrothed to him? Was he an unwelcome suitor, what we would call today a stalker? Was she/is she afraid of him? What did she do to incur his wrath, or did she in fact do anything, and is this all in his twisted imagination? Perhaps it’s because she won’t even look at him that he considers murderous revenge. Maybe it’s something to do with the mother: did she advise her daughter against starting a relationship with him, or convince her to break off the one she had, if she had one? Is he intending to punish the mother by taking her daughter? Is it even (pause for gasp of horror) possible this is her father, intent on raping and killing her?

Although it’s not by any means made clear that he is a vampire - maybe he thinks or wishes he was one, maybe he just wants to frighten her by using the local legends, or maybe he’s just likening what he’s going to do to her to what a vampire would do (“to a vampire’s health a-drinking”) - it’s still the first mention of the term in literature, the word only mentioned twice in the poem, with blood drinking once and death once. Few texts would specify a vampire, their authors preferring to let the reader make up his or her own mind, but the seed had been planted and the very idea of vampires had begun its slow and indomitable stalk through the pages of literature, a presence that would only increase and become more prevalent down the next hundred years or so.

Title: Lenore
Format: Poem
Author: Gottfried August Bürger (mmm… burger!)
Nationality: German
Written: 1773
Published: 1774
Impact: 10

Although neither the first real reference to vampiric beings in literature, nor strictly speaking a vampire piece, Lenore is accepted as one of the first poems to actively portray someone ostensibly coming back from the dead, and was a huge influence on the later genre of vampire and gothic fiction. A product of its time, it also cautions against pissing God off, as we’ll see.

Synopsis: A woman, upset at the failure of her husband to return from the wars in Prussia, rails against God for taking him. Her mother tells Lenore to repent, or God will punish her and she will go to Hell, but she will not. She says God has never done her any good. Some time later she is visited by a stranger who takes her on horseback by night to where he says is their marriage bed. Lenore, thinking that this is her husband returned, is happy until, at sunrise, they arrive at the cemetery gates and it’s clear that the figure is in fact Death. He takes her to her husband’s grave and she realises she is dead, Death telling her she should not have spoken out against God.

Again, although this is not considered a vampire story, the nascent elements of what would become vampire and gothic fiction are here. A figure, not standing by the foot of the bed or over the sleeping girl, as would become the motif for vampire fiction, but nevertheless arriving mysteriously at night, offering her a choice: come with him and discover what he has to show her or remain where she is, and remain ignorant of the fate of her husband. A fascination with death and the unknown, a veiled threat of death, gothic images such as dancing skeletons, moonlight, black horses and graveyards, all to become features of vampire books, stories and later films.

Bürger uses a phrase here that will crop up again and again in not only vampire or gothic literature, but in other genres too, even used by Dickens a hundred years later, when Lenore asks Death, riding before her on the horse, why they are galloping so swiftly, and he replies “the dead travel fast.” The phrase is also used in the opening chapter of what must surely be the seminal vampire novel, Bram Stoker’s Dracula

Title: Travels into Dalmatia; containing general observations on the natural history of that country and the neighboring islands; the natural productions, arts, manners and customs of the inhabitants: in a series of letters from Abbe Alberto Fortis
Format: Travelogue
Author: Alberto Fortis
Nationality: Italian
Written: 1774
Published: 1774
Impact: ?
Synopsis: After exhaustive research I’ve been unable to track down a copy (unless I’m a member of various libraries, which I ain’t) or even an extract from this. All I can tell you is what Wiki tells me, that it features a fight against vampires, which really makes me wish I could get it, but I can’t, so we move on. Must be noted as the first Italian vampire story anyway.

Title: The Bride of Corinth ( Die Braut von Korinth)
Format: Poem
Author: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Nationality: German
Written: 1797
Published: 1797
Impact: ?
Synopsis: A youth comes to Corinth seeking his bride, but tired he beholds instead a beautiful young woman who “in-hies through the door with silent tread” (which I think is meant to mean she sort of floats in?) and he of course falls in love with her. But she is distressed, and tells him she is the sister of the girl he is to marry, and she herself has been locked away, with the intimation that she is dead. Nevertheless, stricken by her beauty the youth pledges himself to her, and they exchange tokens, she giving him a golden chain and asking for a lock of his hair. Midnight strikes, and she seems happy at the sound; she drinks the wine (“blood-red”) but won’t touch the food no matter how much he tries to persuade her.

He sinks into despair and she comforts him, but again seems to intimate that she is dead, or dying (Yes! the maid, whom thou/Call’st thy loved one now,/Is as cold as ice, though white as snow”) and he embraces her, sharing his breath with her (as if he believes she is dead). Just then the mother appears, and shocked at seeing her dead child there she realises - if she hadn’t already - that she is a vampire. Sort of. I mean, it’s not actually said, and the word is never used once here, the only draining going on being breath to breath and not even a mention of blood, other than the wine, but she does tell the young fellah that he’s doomed now that he’s shared her kiss, and will die tomorrow. Well, that’s just wonderful, isn’t it? Come here all the way to meet my bride, take pity on (read, get horny for) her sister and then I have to die. What a world!

Goethe does a pretty good job here taking on the Church (presumably Catholic but it seems to refer to all Christianity, and given that the poem is based on an ancient Greek myth, it’s probably the new religion of Jesus they’re getting at). He has the (never named; in fact, nobody is named at all) girl complain that

“From the house, so silent now, are driven
All the gods who reign’d supreme of yore;
One Invisible now rules in heaven,
On the cross a Saviour they adore.
Victims slay they here,
Neither lamb nor steer,
But the altars reek with human gore.”

Later, facing her mother, she either laments or gloats at the efforts of the priests to help her, as she wanders from her coffin.

“But from out my coffin’s prison-bounds
By a wond’rous fate I’m forced to rove,
While the blessings and the chaunting sounds
That your priests delight in, useless prove.”

I suppose it’s the classic tale of doomed love, and though it’s not confirmed, the possession of the lock of his hair gives the girl power over the youth I guess, and damns him to her fate. Given that this is based on an ancient Greek legend which predates Christ, technically it could be said to be the very first vampire story, and certainly the first with a female vampire. Though is she a vampire, or just some unquiet spirit who can’t find rest? It’s not made clear, and in the ancient world were such things as vampires even known about or believed in? More likely she would have been seen as a revenant, or some evil spirit, even if she wasn’t necessarily what we would term evil.

Title: Christabel
Format: Poem
Author: Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Nationality: English
Written: 1797/1800
Published: 1816
Impact: 7

Note: Although only published in 1816, and therefore really a nineteenth-century piece, I've left this here in the eighteenth as it was written then. Plus, I forgot.

Said to have been a possible influence on what is generally regarded as one of the first proper vampires novels, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla as well as Edgar Allen Poe’s poem The Sleeper. Also, as an aside, possibly (though I have no idea) the first inference of lesbianism in Gothic - or indeed, any - fiction. Maybe.

Synopsis: Having gone into the woods to pray, Christabel finds a woman hiding behind a tree, who says she has been abducted and left there. Christabel offers to pray with her, but the woman, whose name is given as Geraldine, refuses, but agrees to accompany her rescuer back to her house, where they spend the night together. Though not actually confirmed as a vampire, she is barked at a by a dog, finds it impossible to cross an iron gate and has, when she disrobes, undefined but obviously worrying marks on her back which seem to mark her as a child of the devil. The poem, though written in two parts, was never finished, so unfortunately we never learn if Coleridge had intended for her to be taken as a vampire.
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Last edited by Trollheart; 03-17-2022 at 01:12 PM.
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