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Old 07-12-2021, 07:18 PM   #18 (permalink)
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Aurelia, instead of giving way to violent grief, seemed rather to be struck dumb and tearless by this blow, which appeared to have a paralyzing effect on her. The Count was much distressed for her, and only ventured -most cautiously and most gently- to remind her that her orphaned condition rendered it necessary that conventionalities should be disregarded, and that the most essential matter in the circumstances was to hasten on the marriage as much as possible, notwithstanding the loss of her mother. At this Aurelia fell into the Count’s arms, and, whilst a flood of tears ran down her cheeks, cried in a most eager manner, and in a voice which was shrill with urgency: “Yes, yes! For the love of all the saints. For the sake of my soul’s salvation- yes!”.

For the sake, she cries, of my soul’s salvation. Okay. She’s obviously terrified of something, either that her mother is going to come back from the dead or that she herself will fall victim to the curse of vampirism. Our count is only too happy to go ahead and make her his wife.

The Count could not but suspect the existence of some secret evil mystery by which Aurelia’s inner being was tormented, but he very properly thought it would be unkind and unfeeling to ask her about it whilst her excitement lasted, and she herself avoided any explanation on the subject. However, a time came when he thought he might venture to hint gently, that perhaps it would lie well if she indicated to him the cause of the strange condition of her mind. She herself at once said it would be a satisfaction to her to open her mind to him, her beloved husband. And great was his amazement to learn that what was at the bottom of the mystery, was the atrociously wicked life which her mother had led, that was so perturbing her mind. “Can there be anything more terrible,” she said, “than to have to hate, detest, and abhor one’s own mother?”

That’s shocking enough, but look what happens after this:

But how profound was her horror when, speaking to her mother in this blessed sense of the merciful intervention of Heaven in her regard, the latter, with fires of hell in her eyes, cried out in a yelling voice- “You are my misfortune, horrible creature that you are! But in the midst of your imagined happiness vengeance will overtake you, if I should be carried away by a sudden death. In those tetanic spasms, which your birth cost me, the subtle craft of the devil—-“ Here Aurelia suddenly stopped. She threw herself upon her husband’s breast, and implored him to spare her the complete recital of what the Baroness had said to her in the delirium of her insanity.

He could probably guess. I know I can. It’s when a doctor - presumably a friend; it’s an extract so I can’t say for sure but it would make sense - rather overdoes it and the consequences are not conducive to the countess’s health, physical or mental.

This doctor, on one occasion when he was at table with the Count and Countess, permitted himself sundry allusions to this presumed state of what the German nation calls “good hope.” The Countess seemed to listen to all this with indifference for some time. But suddenly her attention became vividly awakened when the doctor spoke of the wonderful longings which women in that condition become possessed by, and which they cannot resist without the most injurious effects supervening upon their own health, and even upon that of the child. The Countess overwhelmed the doctor with questions, and the latter did not weary of quoting the strangest and most entertaining cases of this description from his own practice and experience. “Moreover,” he said, “there are cases on record in which women have been led, by these strange, abnormal longings, to commit most terrible crimes. There was a certain blacksmith’s wife, who had such an irresistible longing for her husband’s flesh that, one night, when he came home the worse for liquor, she set upon him with a large knife, and cut him about so frightfully that he died in a few hours’ time.” Scarcely had the doctor said these words, when the Countess fell back in her chair fainting, and was with much difficulty recovered from the succession of hysterical attacks which supervened.

Nice one, doc. Where’d you learn your bedside manner: Newgate? Like mother, like daughter it would seem, as an old, privileged servant took an opportunity, when he found the Count alone, of telling him that the Countess went out every night, and did not come home till daybreak. The Count’s blood ran cold. It struck him, as a matter which he had not quite realized before, that, for a short time back, there had fallen upon him, regularly about midnight, a curiously unnatural sleepiness, which he now believed to be caused by some narcotic administered to him by the Countess, to enable her to get away unobserved. The darkest suspicions and forebodings came into his mind. He thought of the diabolical mother, and that, perhaps, her instincts had begun to awake in her daughter. He thought of some possibility of a conjugal infidelity.

D-I-V-O-R-C-E eh? Worse than that though.

She herself used, every evening, to make the tea which the Count always took before going to bed. This evening he did not take a drop of it, and when he went to bed he had not the slightest symptom of the sleepiness which generally came upon him as it got towards midnight. However, he lay back on his pillows, and had all the appearance of being fast asleep as usual. And then the Countess rose up very quietly, with the utmost precautions, came up to his bedside, held a lamp to his eyes, and then, convinced that he was sound asleep, went softly out of the room

It was a fine moonlight night, so that, though Aurelia had got a considerable start of him, he could see her distinctly going along in the distance in her white dress. She went through the park, right on to the burying-ground, and there she disappeared at the wall. The Count ran quickly after her in through the gate of the burying-ground, which he found open. There, in the bright moonlight, he saw a circle of frightful, spectral-looking creatures. Old women, half naked, were cowering down upon the ground, and in the midst of them lay the corpse of a man, which they were tearing at with wolfish appetite. Aurelia was amongst them.

Now, where did we hear of this before? Wasn’t there someone who watched his wife become a cannibal, a ghoul? I’ll have to look back, but I’m pretty sure it was before this was written. Also, the woman in a white dress shows up again in Dracula when Lucy goes undead trick-or-treating and also in The Woman in White, from which it was said Stoker drew some inspiration. The count, like any God-fearing Christian would, legs it.

The Count took flight in the wildest horror, and ran, without any idea where he was going or what he was doing, impelled by the deadliest terror, all about the walks in the park, till he found himself at the door of his own Castle as the day was breaking, bathed in cold perspiration. Involuntarily, without the capability of taking hold of a thought, he dashed up the steps, and went bursting through the passages and into his own bedroom.

Was it all a dream? Because

There lay the Countess, to all appearance in the deepest and sweetest of sleeps. And the Count would fain have persuaded himself that some deceptive dream-image, or (inasmuch as his cloak, wet with dew, was a proof, if any had been needed, that he had really been to the buryingground in the night) some soul-deceiving phantom had been the cause of his deathly horror. He did not wait for Aurelia’s waking, but left the room, dressed, and got on to a horse. His ride, in the exquisite morning, amid sweet-scented trees and shrubs, whence the happy songs of the newly-awakened birds greeted him, drove from his memory for a time the terrible images of the night. He went back to the Castle comforted and gladdened in heart.

But when they start to chow down, things go a little pear-shaped.

But when he and the Countess sate down alone together at table, and, the dishes being brought and handed, she rose to hurry away, with loathing, at the sight of the food as usual, the terrible conviction that what he had seen was true, was reality, impressed itself irresistibly on his mind. In the wildest fury he rose from his seat, crying- “Accursed misbirth of hell! I understand your hatred of the food of mankind. You get your sustenance out of the burying-ground, damnable creature that you are!”

She does not take it well.

As soon as those words had passed his lips, the Countess flew at him, uttering a sound between a snarl and a howl, and bit him on the breast with the fury of a hyena. He dashed her from him on to the ground, raving fiercely as she was, and she gave up the ghost in the most terrible convulsions. The Count became a maniac.

I’m not entirely sure, of two things. One, when Hoffman says Aurelia “gave up the ghost” does he mean she died? I think he does. And two, did she pass on the curse of her mother to him? Again, I think the answer is yes. However, despite the title, it seems this is not quite a tale of vampires but of ghouls, or at best necrophiliacs. Aurelia and her mother before her ate the flesh of corpses. This is not typical vampire behaviour, in fact vampires have no interest in corpses, as they can derive no sustenance from them. It’s living bodies they crave, and if ghouls exist, vampires probably abhor them. Whether a ghoul, necrophiliac or whatever can pass on its hunger to another, I really don’t know, so while most of the elements for the classic vampire story are here, and could be used by other writers, Hoffman does not seem to be writing a vampire story himself, again, despite the title. Odd, to say the least.
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