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Old 07-12-2021, 07:18 PM   #17 (permalink)
Trollheart
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Note: If you're following this, check back on the previous posts on literature, as I've updated it with stuff I originally missed.

The timeline has got a little screwed up, I'll admit, but I'll be damned and forced to walk the earth drinking the blood of my fellow humans if I'm going to go back and fix it. I've amended it as best I can, so the thing to keep in mind is that we remain at least in the nineteenth century for now. And we continue with this.


Title: Vampirismus (Vampirism)
Format: Short story (I think; listed under “Prose”. Actually, appears to be part of Volume 4 of Die Serapions-Brüder (The Serapion Brothers), eighth section (Achter Abschnitt))
Author: E.T.A. Hoffman (he was always on time. Sorry)
Nationality: Germany
Written: 1821
Published: 1821
Impact: ? But given how this looks to have either influenced or been similar to later works such as Carmilla and Dracula, I imagine quite high. Given that it’s in German, maybe not so much. So to answer your question, I don’t know.

Synopsis: This one is odd. It’s always hard to track down and write about literature written in a foreign tongue to mine, and this of course is in German. The closest I can get is some sort of either extract from or discussion on it, and I can’t vouch for any of this, but it seems to be a number of characters (possibly poets, philosophers, possibly well known though I don’t know them) discussing various works and tales, and referring to or alluding to Hoffman’s work.

From what I can gather from it, the idea seems to be a discussion of the nature of belief in vampires, along with certain tales - which may be true or not - to support same, one of which seems to reverse Stoker’s idea, which is to say, unless he missed reading this (I have no idea if he read Hoffman or not) then the nascent themes of his novel were here, but as I say, reversed. It’s explained in these extracts (if they are extracts, but I think they are):

Count Hyppolitus (began Cyprian) had just returned from a long time spent in travelling to take possession of the rich inheritance which his father, recently dead, had left to him. The ancestral home was situated in the most beautiful and charming country imaginable, and the income from the property was amply sufficient to defray the cost of most extensive improvements. Whatever in the way of architecture and landscape gardening had struck the Count during his travels -particularly in England- as specially delightful and apposite, he was going to reproduce in his own demesne. Architects, landscape gardeners, and labourers of all sorts arrived on the scene as they were wanted, and there commenced at once a complete reconstruction of the place, whilst an extensive park was laid out on the grandest scale, which involved the including within its boundaries of the church, the parsonage, and the burial ground. All those improvements the Count, who possessed the necessary knowledge, superintended himself, devoting himself to this occupation body and soul; so that a year slipped away without its ever having occurred to him to take an old uncle’s advice and let the light of his countenance shine in the Residenz before the eyes of the young ladies, so that the most beautiful, the best, and the most nobly born amongst them might fall to his share as wife.

Look at the opening line here; how identical is this to Dracula, in reverse? Stoker’s count has tired of his residence in Transylvania and wishes to go to England, paying to do so. Hoffman’s count has inherited his castle, and has been travelling through England. He is young and virile whereas Dracula, at least initially when Harker meets him, is old and wizened and frail. This count has a castle in beautiful countryside, what we would call today “prime real estate” (if we were American, perish the thought!) whereas Dracula’s forbidding fortress is situated among cold, dark, craggy mountains and winding, treacherous passes. Dracula’s castle is old and crumbling and ill-maintained, cold and draughty, whereas this guy has a residence to boast about. He has, as the narrative above explains, come home to court suitors (is it the same word for females as males? Suitesses? Whatever) and take a wife. It goes on to detail how an old baroness and her daughter visit him, recalling the opening plot of Carmilla perhaps.

The man falls at once in love with the maiden and wants to marry her. This in spite of the fact that Aurelia’s mother seems to him “a bedizened corpse”, her “cadaverous body” is invalid and she behaves like a lamia, a monster that according to the Ancient Greek mythology hunts and devours the children of others . Furthermore people say that the Baroness “had been involved in some most remarkable and unprecedented criminal trial in which the Baroness had been involved, which had led to her separation from her husband, driven her from her home which was at some considerable distance- and for the suppression of the consequences of which she was indebted to the prince’s forbearance”. “When Hyppolitus heard her name he remembered that his father had always spoken of her with the greatest indignation -nay, with absolute abhorrence, and had often warned people who were going to approach her to keep aloof, without explaining what the danger connected with her was”. The uncanny has just entered the House of the Count, in fact: “Never had any one, without being at all ill-favoured in the usual acceptation of that term, made by her exterior such a disagreeable impression upon the Count as did this Baroness. When she came in she looked him through and through with a glance of fire, and then she cast her eyes down and apologized for her coming in terms which were almost over humble. […] In warmly enforcing this request he took her hand. But the words and the breath died away on his lips and his blood ran cold. For he felt his hand grasped as if in a vice by fingers cold and stiff as death, and the tall bony form of the Baroness, who was staring at him with eyes evidently deprived of the faculty of sight, seemed to him in its gay many tinted attire like some bedizened corpse”. “Oh, good heavens! how unfortunate just at this moment,” Aurelia cried out, and went on to lament in a gentle heart-penetrating voice that her mother was now and then suddenly seized by a tetanic spasm, but that it generally passed off very quickly without its being necessary to take any measures with regard to it.

Now we have the female count, as it were, threatening the male, though here both are at least of noble birth and on a more or less equal footing. However there is another party, because it would be rather hard, I imagine, for readers (even German ones!) to swallow a young man suddenly being so attracted to an old crone as to want to marry her. No, in true Monty Burns fashion, he sees past her imperfections and age, to her younger daughter. There is, however, some dark secret connected with the Baroness. Now, I guess this is where the story veers away from Dracula - yeah I know, but you know what I mean - as the count gets a warning, or recalls one, that he should stay away from this woman. She, for her part, has a handshake cold as death, and is described as little more than a living corpse, though her daughter tries to explain her way out of it.

We’re probably supposed to think it was his imagination, or, as Aurelia says, and surely lies when she does so, some sort of spasm, as it passes quickly and the count forgets about it.

Hyppolitus disengaged himself with some difficulty from the Baroness, and all the glowing life of sweetest love delight came back to him as he took Aurelia’s hand and pressed it warmly to his lips. Although he had almost come to man’s estate it was the first time that he felt the full force of passion, so that it was impossible for him to hide what he felt, and the manner in which Aurelia received his avowal in a noble, simple, childlike delight, kindled the fairest of hopes within him. The Baroness recovered in a few minutes, and, seemingly quite unaware of what had been happening, expressed her gratitude to the Count for his invitation to pay a visit of some duration at the Castle, saying she would be but too happy to forget the injustice with which his father had treated her. Thus the Count’s household arrangements and domestic position were completely changed, and he could not but believe that some special favour of fortune had brought to him the only woman in all the world who, as a warmly beloved and deeply adored wife, was capable of bestowing upon him the highest conceivable happiness.

An interesting point here is that it looks as if we’re being told that Hyppolitus is a virgin, as this appears to be his first real experience of intimacy with a woman, even though he “had almost come to man’s estate.” But more hints as to his possibly future mother-in-law’s true nature come to light:

The Baroness’s manner of conduct underwent little alteration. She continued to be silent, grave, much wrapped up in herself, and when opportunity offered, evinced a gentle disposition, and a heart disposed towards any innocent enjoyment. The Count had become accustomed to the death-like whiteness of her face, to the very remarkable network of wrinkles which covered it, and to the generally spectral appearance which she displayed; but all this he set down to the invalid condition of her health, and also, in some measure, to a disposition which she evinced to gloomy romanticism. The servants told him that she often went out for walks in the night-time, through the park to the churchyard.

So she is silent (as the grave), solitary, white and pale, and has a penchant for frequenting graveyards. This surely can’t be good. And then, on the day of his wedding…

On the morning of the wedding-day a terrible event shattered the Count’s hopes. The Baroness was found lying on her face dead, not far from the churchyard: and when the Count was looking out of his window on getting up, full of the bliss of the happiness which he had attained, her body was being brought back to the Castle. He supposed she was only in one of her usual attacks; but all efforts to bring her back to life were ineffectual. She was dead.

Hmm. Or was she?
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