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Old 08-12-2021, 01:45 PM   #20 (permalink)
Trollheart
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Title: The Virgin Vampire (Vampire ou le vierge de Hongrie)
Format: Novella
Author: Étienne-Léon de Lamothe-Langon
Nationality: French
Written: 1825
Published: 1825
Impact: ?

Synopsis: The title sounds more like something that would be written in a pulp/soft-porn novel today, and indeed de Lamothe-Langon seems to have gone on to a pretty successful career writing those sort of books, as well as fictional biographies of famous people. This however is important in one major aspect, in that the vampire in it - the first female one, leaving Christabel aside for now - is not just evil for evil’s sake, may not even be evil at all. She is used as an instrument of retribution, when a young officer called Delmont dumps Alinska, the woman he has been having a fling with, and to whom he makes a sacred vow (presumably to love her and no other) but then leaves her in Hungary, goes back to France and gets married.

Alinska shows up and takes a house near him, and strange deaths begin to take place in the area, reports of bodies drained of blood yadda yadda yadda. Then her house burns down and the officer, now a colonel, is prevailed upon by his wife - who knows nothing of his history with Alinksa of course, and is only touched by the young girl’s now being homeless - to take her in. As all of this is said to take place in the Age of Enlightenment, nobody countenances the idea of a vampire, and even when Delmont’s people begin to sicken and a doctor is called in, the alarm is not raised. Nobody suspects.

That’s all the synopsis I read says. It doesn’t explain how Alinska becomes a vampire, or how she is defeated, if she is, what happens to the colonel and his family, or how it all ends. Okay, reading another article it does. Alinska and Delmont made a blood pact, and when she found he had broken it she killed herself, but the power of the vow called her back to life. De Lamothe-Langon suggests a method of dealing with Alinska that will not only echo in Dracula but will become something of the de rigeur method. The body - which is seen to be, despite the time that has passed since its death, engorged with blood - is taken from the coffin and its head, hands and feet cut off. Then a stake is driven through its heart and finally the corpse is burned. This differs slightly from most later versions - and some earlier - where the corpse is staked in its coffin. I mean, who would really bother going to the trouble, not to mention the distasteful task, of lifting a dead body out of its box?

Alinska bears the mark of the wound that killed her, perhaps to remind her to seek vengeance on the man who caused her to take her own life, perhaps as a goad to him to show him what he has done. And centuries before Michael Jackson, she wears one leather glove over her skeletal hand (I guess she couldn’t make or find a pair). I’m not sure if her other hand is of bone too or if there’s flesh on it.

But it is interesting that the author makes his vampire an agency of retribution, punishing the breaking of an oath in the way it was believed the old gods of Greece and Rome and Scandinavia did, when such things were taken far more seriously and were in fact sacred. Still, I have to take issue with the idea of her being a possible agent of God. God doesn’t care about vows. Men and women have free will, and if they break an oath God isn’t going to get all bent out of shape about it. That’s their choice. The ones who were more concerned with the breaking of vows were, as I mention above, the older, the pagan gods, so perhaps she’s seen as a sort of modern (at the time) day version of for instance Nike, the Greek goddess of vengeance, or one of the Furies?

There are differences here from later, and even earlier vampire stories. Alinksa is not troubled by the sun, and has no problem walking around in the day (though like all her kind she prefers the night, especially for hunting), and her method of feeding may be unique. Rather than suck the blood from the veins, she does a kind of reverse kiss of life (kiss of death? Oh, Trollheart! You went for the low-hanging fruit!) by placing her mouth over that of the victim and sucking the blood directly from her lungs. Hmm. Sort of sounds more Incubus/Succubus-like to me, and again reminds me of King’s Cat’s Eye. She’s also only the second vampire I can see that has a sidekick, a servant, though whether he (yes, it’s a male, deftly allowing the author to reverse the traditional gender roles too, as another Irishman would do with more success fifty years later) is a vampire too or not I don’t know.

This novel certainly speaks to many of the fears of men, and I say men specifically as separate from women, as it shows the fear of being bound to a vow made in haste, rather like Meat Loaf moaning a century and a half later that “I swore I would love you to the end of time. So now I’m praying for the end of time to hurry up and arrive.” Indeed.

It also addresses another fundamental fear of man, that of the spurned woman out for revenge. In a way, it’s a nineteenth-century treatment of Fatal Attraction. With vampires. If there’s one thing a man fears it’s a pissed off woman with the power to make his life hell, and this is what we get here. It could also be seen as a rallying cry for the women of the time, most of them held down by centuries of male dominance, to rise and claim their right of equality, recognise their strength and power over men, and demand to be treated accordingly. Then again, since she’s a vampire and dies a the end, maybe de Lamothe-Langon is warning women that if they go down this road there’s nothing but misery and death at its end, and they’d be better off staying at home and making babies.

There’s an interesting dichotomy here, though I haven’t read the book, but from the synopsis it seems that while we are encouraged to feel sympathy for Alinska the dumped young Hungarian girl, that sense does not carry forward when she becomes a vampire. Whether our sympathies are transferred to Delmont, or whether it’s just seen as him getting his just desserts while we still can’t quite cheer Alinksa on, I can’t say. Who punched the air when Glenn Close went after Michael Douglas? Probably not that many I expect. Well, not many men anyway.

Vengeance is a hard one to support, even if there is good reason for it. And when innocents die it’s even harder. So the book seems to straddle a difficult divide, where on one hand we want to see the colonel punished for being untrue to his lover, and on the other maybe we don’t actually want to see him die; maybe it wasn’t that big a deal. Maybe he was tricked. Maybe she just has PMS. Post-Morbidity-Stress?

But either way, it was at the time a stunning departure from the - admittedly few - vampire stories out there, and for taking this bold and brave direction alone, as well as being the first to cast a female in the role of vampire, Étienne-Léon de Lamothe-Langon deserves immense credit.
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