Music Banter

Music Banter (
-   Members Journal (
-   -   Walking After Midnight: Vampires in Myth and Media (

The Batlord 03-07-2021 10:29 AM

When I said "just" I meant "only". It's been like a decade since I read it.

Trollheart 03-10-2021 10:08 AM
Born to Darkness: Recipe for a Vampire

Following on from the above, the Slavic countries seem to have held very firm ideas about how one became a vampire, so let’s have a look at some of them here.

Dabbling in the black arts, being a conjurer or magician
Being a person of poor moral fibre
Unnatural death
Untimely death
Born with a caul
Born with a tail
Improperly buried
Animal jumping or bird flying over the corpse or the empty grave
Incest between mother and son
Living a life that was not pious
Dying alone or unseen
Corpse swelling or turning black before burial

Some Slavic regions believed the genesis or birth of the vampire was a gradual event which went in stages. In the first forty days the vampire was most vulnerable, as it started out as an invisible shadow (?) and then as it fed gradually got stronger, forming an invisible (again) boneless, jelly-like mass before finally taking on a full human body. It was then free to roam, even visiting its widow or other women and having children by them. These children had the special sight that resulted in their being the dhampirs as noted above, preparing them for a life as vampire hunters. Not quite following in father’s footsteps, then!

So much for “real” vampires, so far at least. We’ve explored how vampires are supposed to be created, how they can be killed or thwarted, we’ve looked into some of the beliefs surrounding them (and will again later, going a little deeper) and we’ve theorised about who or what the very first vampires were, where they came from. We’ve outlined the characteristics, powers and the various Achilles heels of vampires, and seen the role religion, especially Christianity plays or played in keeping them at bay or destroying them.

But where vampires really started to come to life, so to speak, was in the pages of eighteenth and nineteenth century literature. Gothic fantasies, horror stories, even romances as humans began to have encounters with these evil but fascinating beings. In fact, were it not for the various stories and novels written about them, it’s likely the vampire would be forgotten now as an ancient remnant of an ignorant belief, the name Dracula would mean nothing to us, and Hollywood would have had to look elsewhere for its big moneyspinners.

So let’s look next at vampire literature, and media later, but written material first. And if I can, I want to try to do this chronologically. Which means we begin with this.

Trollheart 03-10-2021 10:16 AM

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.

Trollheart 06-25-2021 07:23 PM

Timeline: 19th Century

Title: Thalaba the Destroyer
Format: Poem
Author: Robert Southey
Nationality: English
Written: 1800
Published: 1801
Impact: 3

Noted here only because it’s said to be the first time an English author/poet references vampires, “Thalaba the Destroyer” is a long, epic, Arabian Nights-style saga set in the Middle East, and the only point at which a vampire is mentioned is during one of the hero’s adventures, as detailed below. Other than that, I can’t see that it’s of any interest to us.

Synopsis: I have no intention of summarising the entire, twelve-book (!) poem, as ninety-nine percent of it has nothing to do with vampires. But the part that does concern us is when the hero, Thalaba, stands by his wife’s graveside, mourning her passing. A spirit appears and chides him, telling him God is not happy with him. But Thalaba recognises the spirit as a vampire, and kills it. Yeah, that’s it. Hardly worth it, huh?

Title: The Vampyre
Format: Poem
Author: John Stagg
Nationality: English
Written: 1810
Published: 1810
Impact: ?
Synopsis: Before we get to that, let’s just give this guy props, as he was blind, known in England as “the blind bard.” He’s also only the second English author to write about vampires, beating Lord Byron by three years. His poem concerns the worry of a wife for her husband, who is not looking the ticket. "Why looks my lord so deadly pale?/Why fades the crimson from his cheek?”

Midnight seems to exert its mystical power over the husband, too, as his wife bemoans how at that time “You sadly pant and tug for breath,/As if some supernat'ral pow'r/Were pulling you away to death?/Restless, tho' sleeping, still you groan/And with convulsive horror start.”

The husband tries to explain: "Young Sigismund, my once dear friend,/ But now my persecutor foul,/Doth his malevolence extend/ E'en to the torture of my soul.” He tells his wife that his old friend is haunting him, visiting him at night, draining his blood. That’s not the worst though, as he sorrowfully tells her she’s next. “When dead, I too shall seek thy life,/Thy blood by Herman shall be drain'd!” But he tells her of a way to prevent this, basically by staking him when he dies. She stays by his side till he does pass, and then uses a lamp to frighten off the bloodthirsty Sigismund.

The next day, after she has told the town council what her husband has revealed to her, they break open Sigismund’s coffin and sure enough there he is: not decayed and full of blood. So they stake him and poor old Herman too, and the curse is broken.

I have some questions. First, if Herman knew how to get rid of that pesky Sigismund, why did he wait till he was at death’s door to tell his wife? Why not get himself released earlier, when he might still have regained his strength? And how did he come by this knowledge? Who told him how to break the curse? And while we’re at it, how did Sigismund get vampirised? All questions, it would seem, that will never be answered.
Title: The Giaour
Format: Poem
Author: Lord Byron
Nationality: English
Written: 1810/1811
Published: 1813
Impact: 4

Synopsis: The poem itself is an epic one, and deals with the Turkish practice of what I suppose we would refer to today as “honour killings”, and the Giaour of the title refers to an infidel or unbeliever. In the poem, having learned of the folklore during his Grand Tour of the east, Byron mentions the vampire, and alludes that the Giaour is condemned to the following fate for his crimes:

But first, on earth as vampire sent,
Thy corse shall from its tomb be rent:
Then ghastly haunt thy native place,
And suck the blood of all thy race;
There from thy daughter, sister, wife,
At midnight drain the stream of life;
Yet loathe the banquet which perforce
Must feed thy livid living corse:
Thy victims ere they yet expire
Shall know the demon for their sire,
As cursing thee, thou cursing them,
Thy flowers are withered on the stem.

Byron wrote in the notes his findings on vampire folklore while travelling through Europe:

The Vampire superstition is still general in the Levant. Honest Tournefort tells a long story about these 'Vroucolachas', as he calls them. The Romaic term is 'Vardoulacha'. I recollect a whole family being terrified by the scream of a child, which they imagined must proceed from such a visitation. The Greeks never mention the word without horror. I find that 'Broucolokas' is an old legitimate Hellenic appellation—the moderns, however, use the word I mention. The stories told in Hungary and Greece of these foul feeders are singular, and some of them most incredibly attested.

This is interesting to connoisseurs of vampire literature as it is the first time we hear actual specifics of what was believed - or used later by writers of vampire stories - to be the curse laid upon the Undead. Here, there are certain restrictions, as the vampire is doomed to take the life of his own family, though interestingly there is no allusion to his victims becoming like him, merely dying a horrible death. There are hints, like in the line, “shall know the demon for their sire”, the last word being pounced upon by writers of Gothic and/or vampire fiction as a descriptor for the perceived relationship between a vampire and what became known as a fledgling or scion, sire being of course an old word for father, also used in the animal world, most typically of horses.

Intriguing, too, how Byron notes that the vampire seems to hate and loathe his new existence after death - “Yet loathe the banquet” - and makes it seem as if he is compelled to kill, whereas later vampiric figures in literature and film would enjoy the hunt, the chase, the kill. The vampire sketched in The Giaour is really a pathetic, almost pitiable figure, one who has committed a dreadful crime and been punished beyond all measure, marked as a killer who must satisfy his grisly urges, whether he will or no. In this passage at least (I haven’t read the whole thing of course) Byron does not make it clear if the vampire is meant to be immortal, nor is it clear what he means when he says the vampire must “haunt thy native place”: is he saying the grave, or the city, town or village where the vampire lived, or indeed is he being more general, and referring to the world, Earth, the abode of the living? I can’t confirm that.

What is clear though is that, of the accounts we have looked at up to now, this is the first clear evidence of a writer using the vampiric legends to animate their character, and so would have to stand as one of the first vampire novels. If, that is, it wasn’t for the fact that it is a poem - and only twelve lines of it - and also that the vampire is a mere incidental to the entirety of the thing. So while Leonore vaguely seems to be a poem about death, and not necessarily vampires, and Christabel does not make it clear either that Coleridge is talking about the undead when he writes of Geraldine, we’re still on the hunt for the first real evidence of vampires in an actual novel.

Before we move on though, some interesting points. The Giaour was, apparently, a great influence on the later writings of that most happy of scribes, Edgar Allan Poe, and also on John William Polidori, whose later novel The Vampyre (1819) would go on to be recognised as one of the first of the genre. Polidori, it seems was Byron’s doctor at one point and had a real falling out with him, whereupon he wrote The Vampyre and based its protagonist, Lord Ruthven, on the peer. The problem here was two, even threefold. First, he had neither advised Byron he was basing his character on him, nor obtained his permission to do so. Second, his story was inspired by - I won’t say ripped off from but apparently based very closely on Byron’s own work of the same year, A Fragment - also known as Fragment of a Novel and The Burial: A Fragment - based so closely in fact that it was taken for Byron’s own work, and published, without Polidori’s knowledge, in a collection of Byron’s work. This caused a great scandal when Polidori demanded it be removed, citing himself as the author, and thus opening, I assume, himself up to charges of plagiarism.

Which brings us neatly to…

Title: Fragment of a Novel (A Fragment/TheBurial: A Fragment)
Format: Short Story
Author: Lord Byron
Nationality: English
Written: 1819
Published: 1819
Impact: 8

Synopsis: Two men travel through Europe on a Grand Tour, one of them quite old. As they go on the old man, Augustus Darvell, becomes weaker and begins to sicken. As they reach a cemetery in Turkey he collapses and dies, but before he does he extracts from his companion (who is never named, and is the narrator of the tale) a promise to release no information about his death. As Darvell dies, the narrator is shocked to see his body decompose rapidly, as a stork arrives in the cemetery with a snake in its mouth. The narrator buries him, feeling a strange lack of sorrow (“I was tearless”).

Like the title says, it’s a fragment only and the story ends there, as Byron never completed it. Polidori claims - though how true this is I have no idea - that Byron intended for Darvell to come back to life and seek out the narrator’s sister in England, which would draw quite a parallel to Stoker’s later, and more famous work. Again though, there is no confirmation that the old man was a vampire, and if he was, how come he got sick and died? Aren’t vampires meant to be immortal? And while we’re at it (although in fairness the “rules” of vampire literature had yet to be written, but even so, going from legend and folk beliefs) how could a vampire walk in the sun?

Again, we’re tantalisingly close, and there are certainly elements of vampire literature here, but it’s a case of joining the dots, and there’s no guarantee that we would see the same picture emerge as Byron had intended. I’d have to research further, but was A Fragment meant to have a vampire as one of its two characters? There could have been other explanations, though I think it is generally accepted now that the idea was that Darvell was to have been a vampire. As I say, if that’s the case then there are certain questions to be answered which never will be.

Another thing that’s very interesting here is the style of the story. It’s told in the form of a letter, after the fact; the narrator writes the letter, presumably to a friend, relating his experiences, and of course this is how Dracula will mostly unfold, as a series of letters written by Jonathan Harker to his wife-to-be. So it would be churlish to suggest Stoker had not read Byron before he embarked on what would become his masterpiece, and the most famous, if not the first, vampire novel. Also, the action takes place away from England, allowing the idea of “foreign ideas and practices”, and certainly foreign beliefs, to permeate it, give the reader the uneasy feeling that they are in unfamiliar, even hostile territory, and to long (in the person of Byron’s narrator) for the shores of good old England again, sentiments expressed most heartily by Harker, and with mounting despair that they will ever be realised, as he waits for a living death in Castle Dracula.

However, Byron himself claimed to have no interest in vampires: "I have besides a personal dislike to 'Vampires,' and the little acquaintance I have with them would by no means induce me to reveal their secrets." In many ways, it wasn’t so much his writing, but he himself who became the skeleton upon which the modern vampire in literature was built, given flesh and ascribed rules. This, then, you would have to say, would be down to Polidori and his thinly-disguised portrayal of Byron as Lord Ruthven. But if Polidori was “inspired” by A Fragment, does the genesis, if you will, of the literary vampire bounce back into Byron’s hands, as he wrote that story? Who is the true grandfather of the vampire in print? He’s got to be in the running, despite his own views and his apparent wish to dissociate himself from vampire writing.

Trollheart 07-04-2021 06:55 PM

But let’s look further into A Fragment. More similarities to Count Dracula appear from the beginning, though of course that’s in reverse, so let’s say more elements that Stoker may have used, built on, or indeed robbed from His Lordship. First, Byron’s narrator tells us that Augustus Darvell is from a rich and powerful family, and gives the impression they have been this way for a very long time. This immediately establishes - in my mind anyway - the possibility that all of Darvell’s “family” are just him (or at least, include him), and that he is using what will become a time-honoured vampire trick to escape detection or avoid suspicion by changing his identity every generation and looking to the previous identities as forebears of his. Who knows how long he may have lived?

The narrator admits he is drawn to Darvell - perhaps even ensorcelled by him, under a glamour maybe - despite some “peculiar circumstances in his private history” which, he says, should have warned him off, but fail to do so. What these “peculiar circumstances” are, we are never told, and must draw our own conclusions about, as no doubt he intends we should. He also mentions “many and irreconcilable contradictions” in Darvell’s life, and we’re left under no illusion that the two men are friends, as Byron tells us his narrator tried to cultivate the older man’s friendship, but “this last appeared to be unattainable; whatever affections he might have possessed seemed now, some to have been extinguished”. We know from later tales that there are very many reasons why a vampire will shy from friendships, among them being the danger of being exposed if he says or does the wrong thing, wishing to remain as mysterious and aloof as possible, and of course, not having any real interest in the companionship of mortals whose lives are, after all, to his like that of the mayfly, and therefore hardly worth the effort.

Tantalisingly, though inaccurately, he tells us that “Where there is mystery, it is generally supposed that there must also be evil”, giving us perhaps another hint that his companion carries dark secrets within him, secrets that perhaps no man should ever be privy to. He uses specific language and words to describe, or ascribe to, the aristocrat: dark, cold, shadowy, morbid, a sense of disquiet, indifference, silent, wasting away, ghastly. Then there’s the main setting for the story, something that would come to symbolise and be the habitation and haunt of vampires down through the centuries in print and later on the screen. A graveyard is made to be almost home to Darvell, who evinces no fear of it, indeed no fear of dying (as perhaps he believes he cannot?) and rests his back against a tombstone. Indeed, Byron describes the cemetery, through his narrator, as a “city of the dead”, a very appropriate phrase when dealing with vampires.

I don’t understand the significance of the stork in the story, though given that storks are supposed to carry babies, and that this one has a snake in its beak, perhaps it’s an indication of the rebirth of the monster, the never-dying cycle repeating, a signal that Darvell is to undergo some change which will once again allow him to cheat death? The idea that he has been here before shocks the narrator, though why, considering how old and how supposedly well-travelled he is, I’m not sure. The allusion, too, to the death of Christianity - “the roofless walls of expelled Christianlty” (sic) - possibly point to Darvell’s existence pre-dating the birth of Christ, and perhaps he has been here before, long before, before the temple was a ruin.

It’s a pity the story was never finished, as Darvell tells the narrator to take his ring and On the ninth day of the month, at noon precisely (what month you please, but this must be the day), you must fling this ring into the salt springs which run into the Bay of Eleusis: the day after, at the same hour, you must repair to the ruins of the temple of Ceres, and wait one hour." The narrator, not unreasonably, asks "Why?" and Darvell replies enigmatically, "You will see." But we don’t. His wish - command (another telling point: vampires generally tell you what to do, they rarely request; perhaps a holdover from so many of them being originally from noble or high-class families, or perhaps simply because, being all but immortal, they consider us a much lower life-form, and you wouldn’t ask an ant or a spider to do something, would you, no more than you would make a request of a baby or a beggar) - that nobody be told of his death could be taken to indicate he is about to reinvent himself.

As I said earlier, and as we know from later vampiric literature, a man (or woman) who lives longer than the natural span of years draws attention, suspicion, fear. So in order to keep such suspicions off, vampires tend to change their identity, going from being, for instance, the grandfather to the father to the son, and only if someone really takes the time to look at photographs (if the vampire lives in an age of photography) and marks the extraordinary similarities between the generations is he likely to be discovered. Even then, it’s possible to laugh it off as mere coincidence, or a stronger family resemblance than might generally be expected. Darvell may be about to initiate another phase of his long life, and so the news that he had died might screw up his plans. Therefore he swears the narrator to secrecy.

It could also be supposed, assuming he is a vampire (which is never established, so far as I can see, in the story fragment) that there are others of his kind in the world, and he does not wish to communicate the fact that he is weak, perhaps recovering somewhere, vulnerable to attack. Since he asks - orders - the narrator to return on the ninth of the month (any month, he says, and when the narrator points out that it is the ninth today, he seems to dismiss it) we can perhaps assume that it will take him a month to regenerate. During this time, it’s safe to expect he is in potential danger, which is why he wants nobody, including the narrator, to come near him until then.

I must say though, I don’t personally think Byron meant Darvell to be a vampire. I of course know nothing about Byron, and I’m sure the question has been debated endlessly between people who could use my brain as a shuttlecock, and A Fragment has been accepted as one of the first examples of vampire literature, but I think the author merely meant his protagonist to be immortal. He doesn’t mention anything about drinking blood or rising from the grave, and Darvell, it appears, as I said earlier, can walk in the sunlight without any trouble. Again, we’re dealing with rules that have yet to be written, so you could discount that, but still, the lore Byron would have researched for this tale must have spoken of vampires being unable to abide the sun, so if Darvell is supposed to be one, the sun should kill him, and it doesn’t.

The idea of the narrator being told to throw Darvell’s ring into the salt springs and then wait the next day in the temple brings to mind, to me, the notion of a sacrifice to gods far older than Christianity, and points perhaps to Darvell being of that age, that he may in fact at one point have worshipped in, believed in - or even been, who knows, one of - these gods, and that it is through their power, or his faith in it, that he is to be either brought back to life or not allowed to die. It’s a pity the story was never finished, as it seems it was shaping up to be a really good one. Polidori, as mentioned, had his own ideas of where it had been intended to go, and given that he was present at its writing, maybe he told the truth.

The story was written as part of the famous challenge made in the Villa Diodati by Lake Geneva on June 17 1816, when Byron suggested everyone there write a ghost story, and from this we get the classic by Mary Shelley, Frankenstein. She was present there with her husband-to-be Percy Bysshe Shelley, as was Claire Clairmont. Although we’ve seen that Polidori and Byron parted on bad terms, and had a spat later about the former’s novel, it can reasonably be assumed that at this point the two had not fallen out (otherwise why would they share each other’s company?) and it’s entirely possible that Byron shared with his then-friend how the full story was supposed to develop. It’s equally possible, of course, that Polidori made the whole thing up.

Title: The Vampyre: A Tale
Format: Short story
Author: John William Polidori
Nationality: English
Written: 1819
Published: 1819
Impact: 9

Synopsis: Right. Well you can see why Byron was furious. Polidori basically took his story, it would seem, and added his own ending, of which more below. Here’s how it goes. Aubrey, a gentleman, meets the charismatic Lord Ruthven, and the two go on tour together to Europe. The trip doesn’t go well and the two part after it becomes clear to Aubrey that his travelling companion seduced the daughter of a man they both know. In Rome, Aubrey leaves Ruthven to his own devices and heads off to Greece, where he meets and falls in love with the beautiful Ianthe, however tragedy strikes as Ruthven arrives and Ianthe is killed, her throat torn open. Ianthe had been telling Aubrey of the legends of vampires, and Aubrey completely fails to put two and two together.

Reunited with Ruthven, he continues his travels but the two are set upon by bandits and Ruthven lies close to death. He extracts from Aubrey a promise not to reveal anything about his death for a year and a day, and Aubrey agrees. Rutheven dies, but when Aubrey returns to England he finds his friend alive, with a new identity as the Earl of Marsden, and in bed with his sister. Ruthven reminds Aubrey of his oath, and he is unable to protect his sister, so has a nervous breakdown. When he recovers he learns that his sister and Ruthven are to be married. Mortified, and finally getting it, Aubrey writes a letter to his sister, warning her as to what he believes her lover to be, in case he should die and not be able to warn her in person. His fears are not unfounded: he does die, and on their wedding night Ruthven rips out Aubrey’s sister’s throat and fucks off laughing.

All right then, if you’ve been paying attention you’ll have realised there are a few similarities between this story and Byron’s. Hell, unless you’ve been asleep or lent out your brain to someone more deserving, you’ll see that it’s all but identical! The guy totally ripped Lord Byron off! Not content with that though, he also stole - if what he claims is true - the ending Byron was going to use if he ever finished the story. And it must be true, or at least there’d be no point in him mentioning it otherwise, as it would certainly cast suspicion on him and considering nobody up to then knew how, if at all, A Fragment was supposed to develop, well, it would be stupid to plant the seeds of plagiarism in people’s minds, wouldn’t it? So not only could he not write his own story, it seems he couldn’t even come up with an ending of his own devising and had to rob Byron’s.

Let’s look at this in a little detail, shall we? Yes, I’m afraid we must, as this is stunning to me. How this guy got away with this I just don’t know. Or maybe he didn’t. Anyway, the story follows the exact same lines, with some very minor changes, that we read in A Fragment.

Young gentleman meets older, influential aristo. Check.
Both gentlemen go on a Grand Tour. Check.
Older gentleman extracts oath from younger to keep his death a secret. Check.
Older gentleman dies, or seems to. Check.
Now the rest is based on what Polidori says was to be the conclusion of the story, so as I say we only have his word for this, but why say it if it was going to put him in a bad light?
Younger gentleman returns to England and finds older gentleman a lot less dead than he had expected. Check.
Older gentleman seduces younger gentleman’s sister. Check.

I mean, it is the same story. If Byron had written A Fragment to its supposed conclusion, there would have been very little to tell them apart, other than the fact that Ruthven dies violently and suddenly, and Darvell dies relatively peacefully in a graveyard. Also, Ruthven does not charge Aubrey with any responsibility, other than keeping his death secret.

And this, then, is the story generally believed to be one of the first vampire novels? I read that originally it was attributed to Byron, but that later Polidori claimed Byron was his “inspiration” but the tale was his. There is no doubt that Polidori did expand on A Fragment, perhaps guessing where Byron was going or perhaps just using his (or Byron’s; remember, at one point they were friends and the peer may have shared his experiences and what he learned of east European folklore with Polidori) knowledge of folk tales and belief to construct the character of Lord Ruthven. Whatever is the case, we must attribute to Polidori the first instance of a vampire being an aristocrat, a figure who would loom large and stride confidently and arrogantly through the world of vampire literature and film in the centuries to come.

Also broached here for, I believe, the first time, is the idea that the vampire is suave, sophisticated and that people are drawn to him, sometimes helplessly, sometimes simply because he exudes the kind of power, charm and even sense of danger that attracts interest; in this, you can see why Ruthven was so easily identified as Byron, of whom it was once famously said he was “mad, bad and dangerous to know”, three almost irresistible elements in any man, particularly attractive to women.

“His peculiarities caused him to be invited to every house; all wished to see him, and those who had been accustomed to violent excitement, and now felt the weight of ennui, were pleased at having something in their presence capable of engaging their attention. In spite of the deadly hue of his face, which never gained a warmer tint . . . though its form and outline were beautiful, many of the female hunters after notoriety attempted to win his attentions.”

Another point to note here is one which was vaguely touched upon by Byron in A Fragment: the deadly pallour of a vampire’s skin, which from this on, would almost always be cold, white, pale, even sickly looking, and would never flush or show any kind of real emotion. You could equate early literary vampires, to some extent, with Vulcans, in which case, the idea of the neck pinch takes on new significance indeed. But from shambolic, monstrous creatures lurking in and lurching through the shadowy tales told to frighten children (and not only children either) around the hearths of eastern European homes, through the art of the novelist the vampire had already begun to metamorphose into something far more attractive. I noted earlier that few people - let’s say, few women - would be expected to be enthralled by or fall in love with those creatures from the folk tales (and indeed, those creatures themselves would neither be interested in such pursuits nor capable of them, being merely reanimated shells bent on destruction), so a more palatable, attractive, let’s say sexier version of the myth had to be fashioned.

Much as I resent Polidori for basically ripping off Byron, it has to be admitted and accepted that it was the former who designed and refined Byron’s sketch of the vampire. In fact, let’s be honest here: you’d have to say that Polidori invented the modern vampire. He took little really from Byron’s Darvell, other than a sense of mystery and the idea that he had lived longer than is usual for humans, as well as the oath to be kept about his death. So Ruthven can be said, in fairness, to be almost entirely Polidori’s creation, and in that, however reluctantly I might be to do so, he has to be considered as the father of vampire fiction, something we will be looking at later on.

Trollheart 07-04-2021 07:12 PM
Title: The Black Vampyre: A Legend of St. Domingo
Format: Short story
Author: Uriah Derek D’Arcy (Pseudonym; there are various theories as to the author’s real name, but no actual consensus, and no proof)
Nationality: American
Written: 1819
Published: 1819
Impact: 8

This one ticked a lot of firsts: the first American vampire story, the first with a black vampire, one of the first (if not the first) anti-slavery short stories (vampire, horror or other) and the first comic vampire story. That’s a lot of achievements, so you’d have to assume it made a big impact, though given it was written in a time when slavery was still legal in America, maybe not so much over there at least.

Synopsis: Almost presaging the later Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice, and in particular The Vampire Lestat, the story opens with the protagonist, Anthony Gibbons, recounting his family history, which includes a voyage from Guinea on a French slave ship to the island of Santo Domingo. Everyone dies but one boy, whose new owner, Mr. Personne, tries to drown in the sea, but his body comes back in and he is still alive. Personne then tries to burn him but the boy overpowers him and throws him on the fire, leaving him badly scarred. Recovering in bed, Personne calls out for his wife and baby, but is told by the grieving woman that their child is dead, all that remains of him his skin, nails and hair. Overcome by sorrow and horror, Personne dies.

His wife, Euphemia, marries twice more, and on the death of her second (third, really) husband she meets a strange Moor Prince who is in company with a European boy named Zembo. They fall in love and she marries the prince. At midnight on their wedding night the prince takes Euphemia to the grave of her child, and exhumes the body. He fills a golden goblet with the boy’s blood and forces her to drink it. He warns her she can’t tell anyone about what happened here. She swoons, and when she wakes she is in her husband’s grave; she has become a vampire.

The prince and the boy, Zembo, then dig up all three of her husbands and bring them back to life, forcing the two she married after Personne to fight a duel. Thereafter they are both staked, and the prince assures Euphemia they cannot be brought back to life. He then reveals that he is the boy Personne tried to kill, forgives him and presents Zembo as being their own son, whom he had kidnapped and raised. He then instructs them to travel to Europe.

On the way they pass a cave where a meeting of vampires is taking place, the undead believing they should, as the oldest creatures on earth, rise up and free themselves but just then they are attacked by soldiers and everyone is killed, other than Personne and Euphemia, and Zembo, who then emerges with the cure, allowing both husband and wife to return to a state of mortality. The prince, betrayed by Zembo, who had ratted on the vampires to the army, dies in the fight and the narrator is revealed to be of his line, cursed with being partially vampire.

As is usual here, I haven’t read the story and probably won’t, but I fail to see any comedy in it. Mind you, as I just said, I haven’t read it, and maybe you need to. It’s certainly interesting as being the first black vampire we ever encounter and the first vampire story written by an American, though it features characters from Guinea, Haiti and the Dominican Republic. There are clearly echoes of Byron/Polidori’s stories here, in the extraction of an oath to keep a secret, and I think possibly the first time a stake is suggested as the best - only - way of killing a vampire, though here a somewhat vague (in the synopsis, at least) reference is made to a “cure”, something I believe never envisioned again. Once you’re a vampire, the current lore goes, you stay a vampire, although in some cases the destruction of your sire - he who made you into a vampire - can release you. Then again, that may release you into death.

To some extent, you can see Bram Stoker jumping on this idea too, when Mina, clearly destined for vampirehood, is saved by the death of Count Dracula, while in Anne Rice’s books, the death of his mentor in the fire does not have any effect on the existence of Lestat. I’m not fully onboard with the idea of this being an anti-slavery story either, but again I suppose I can’t make that judgement without having read it. However it does look back to the eighteenth century poem Leonore (which we took as one of our very first example of vampire literature) with the visitation at a grave, a location which would become inextricably linked with vampires and the undead.

It also seems that this is, or may be, the first vampire story with a moral to be taught. The prince teaches Personne the value of forgiveness and forbearance as he returns his son to the slave owner, having taken care of him for years, and absolves him of the sin of having twice tried to kill him. Not sure what that says in an anti-slavery context: maybe that the slaves are more human as they are willing to forgive their erstwhile masters? It’s interesting to me that the slave owner is called Personne, French for nobody.

Title: Lord Ruthwen ou les Vampires
Format: Short story
Author: Cyprien Bérard (although for some reason attributed to Charles Nodier)
Nationality: French
Written: 1820
Published: 1820
Impact: ?

Synopsis: I don’t know, as there’s no entry on it that I can see, and even if I could find it, I can’t read French, so all I can tell you is that it was an unauthorised sequel to The Vampyre.

From here, we start to see the first vampires on stage, as the figure is brought out of the pages of the book and to the theatre for the first time, crossing, as it were, from one world into another.

Title: Le Vampire
Format: Stage Play
Author: Charles Nodier
Nationality: French
Written: 1820
Premiered: 1820
Based on: The Vampyre by John Polidori
Impact: Unknown, but as it seems to have been one of the first vampire plays, I imagine it was quite high.

Again, being French and with no accompanying article, I can’t tell you much about this, other than for some reason Nodier switched the setting to Scotland, but in the same year The Vampyre was again adapted for the stage, this time by an Englishman with a curiously French-sounding name, and without the bother of changing the title.

Title: The Vampyre, or Bride of the Isles
Format: Stage Play
Author: James Planché
Nationality: English
Written: 1820
Premiered: 1820
Based on: Polidori’s The Vampyre
Impact: 7

Following the success of Nodier’s play, Samuel James Arnold, manager of the Lyceum Theatre in London, approached Planché with a request to rewrite and adapt the play for an English audience. One thing Planché took real umbrage at was the historical inaccuracy of Nodier’s play; he growled that changing the setting to Scotland made no sense (it doesn’t) as there was never any belief in Scotland in vampires. Hell, it would be a brave vampire indeed who would stray onto the streets of Aberdeen on a Saturday night! Despite his protestations however, and desire to change the location, Arnold would have none of it. Scotch dresses and dances, he told Planché, were popular, and besides, he had them in stock! So the play went ahead as originally set, and was in fact a huge hit.

Between this and Nodier’s original then, these two plays represent the very first time in history that a vampire strode the stage, and must have gone a long way towards familiarising the general public with the idea of vampires (though they might have been a little dismayed, had they later read the stories, to find that the Undead generally do not sing or dance!) and set the groundwork for something of a “vampiremania” as Gothic literature took over in the nineteenth century. Later, Planché got his own way, rewriting the play as an opera and setting it in Hungary. Whether it was as successful as the play I don’t know.

I’d have to read The Vampyre (which I may, at some point) but it seems to me that the play departs radically from the story, adding in extra characters, changing the nature of Ruthven and even bringing in, for the first time, the idea of sunrise being deadly to vampires, as the father of the bride-to-be (the one, I assume, in the title referred to as being of the isles) fights Ruthven till sunrise, when the vampire is killed by, um, lightning. Nevertheless, prior to the publication of Dracula, this seems to be the first instance of the use of the sun as a weapon and a thing for vampires to fear.

An important innovation created by the playwright was the vampire trap, a trap door in the floor of the stage which would allow the vampire to appear to vanish, using pressure put on it by the actor playing him, weakening the two flaps of rubber which made up the trap door and causing him to then drop from the stage, out of the sight of the audience. It was also supposed to facilitate his appearance on stage, I guess by his pushing on the flaps from below the stage, though it doesn’t make clear if he had to climb up or if there was some sort of mechanism that raised him to the stage.

Title: Der Vampir oder die Totenbraut
Format: Stage Play
Author: Heinrich Witter
Nationality: German
Written: 1821
Premiered: 1821
Based on: Polidori’s The Vampyre
Impact: ?

All I can tell you about this is that it was, presumably, the first German adaptation of Polidori’s story and also that it led to the next one, which as far as I can see was the first vampire opera*.

Title: Der Vampyr
Format: Opera
Author: Heinrich Marschner
Nationality: German
Written: 1821
Premiered: 1828
Based on: Der Vampir oder die Totenbraut
Impact: ?

There’s a lot of interesting points about this. First of all, despite being written by a German it keeps the action in Scotland, leaving Blanche to be the only one to push the location to eastern Europe a year later. It reintroduces Aubrey (who seems to be missing from the English and possibly the French versions), has a character called Davenaut, which does not sound a million miles away from Darvell, the original presumed vampire in Byron’s tale, and its principal female character is called Janthe, changing just one letter from the name of the doomed woman in Polidori’s own version of the tale. So kind of paying homage to both writers, in a way.

Taking inspiration from Blanche’s play, Marschner has Ruthven hide with Janthe in a cave and be discovered there by the search party looking for her, and stabbed by her intended. Here, as Ruthven lies dying, we see a twist on what the myth will become, in that Marschner has Ruthven ask Aubrey to drag him out into the moonlight, which will revive him. Ruthven’s demand for an oath from Aubrey that he not speak of what he has seen is now expanded into a threat that, should he break his oath before twenty-four hours have elapsed, he too will become a vampire. These seem to be major changes.

Also a change is the inclusion of a witches’ Sabbat, which, while not necessarily linked to vampires, would, in the minds of the audience, fit in. Both are seen as evil, products of the devil, an affront to God, and of course, a Sabbat gives plenty of scope for singing and dancing. Stoker may also have taken inspiration slightly from the opera when one of the characters is warned to keep watch over the woman he is to marry, but she is already in the thrall of the vampire.

Perhaps the biggest change - understandable, as these are plays and operas, and the audience probably wanted to go home happy - is the ending in these stage productions. Unlike in the book, Lord Ruthven does not triumph, but is bested in different ways, most of them having to do with the weather (sun, lightning etc) which it is hard to read as anything other than the intervention of God. This, of course, would set the template for the ending of many vampire stories, as in general, evil should not be allowed to win, particularly in Victorian times, where these sort of works were generally looked upon as lower-class and crude. There had to be some sort of resolution, to save the story from being trashy.

For those who particularly want it, here’s what appears to be act II of the thing:

*Okay I was wrong, not even close. These three predate the German opera, this one by nearly sixteen years!

Title: I Vampiri
Format: Opera
Author: Silvestro di Palma
Nationality: Italian
Written: 1812
Premiered: 1812
Based on: The Vampyre, presumably
Impact: ?

Title: Le Vampire
Format: Opera
Author: Martin-Joseph Mengal
Nationality: Belgian
Written: 1826
Premiered: 1826
Impact: ?

Title: Der Vampyr
Format: Opera
Author: Peter-Josef von Lindpaintner
Nationality: German
Written: 1828
Premiered: 1828
Based on: The Vampyre (though erroneously credited to Lord Byron)
Impact: 7

Although this follows very closely the story of the identically-named opera by Marschner (released the same year) it does differ in two ways. One, it is set in France, and two, for some reason the vampire is not called Ruthven but von Lindpaintner transposes the name of the tragic hero of Polidori’s story and we end up with Count Aubry as the vampire lord. Somewhat of passing interest, to me anyway with my nose for tiny details, is the appearance of a character called Damartin, which again I feel is close enough to Darvell.

Trollheart 07-12-2021 07:18 PM

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?

Trollheart 07-12-2021 07:18 PM

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.

Trollheart 07-29-2021 02:37 PM

Title: Wake Not the Dead
Format: Short story
Author: Ernst Raupach (though often cited, incorrectly, as Johann Ludwig Tieck)
Nationality: German
Written: 1823
Published: 1823

Synopsis: A cautionary tale, a romance of sorts, a fairy tale and a horror story all in one, and one which exposes the frailty of man, Wake Not the Dead follows Walter, a Burgundian lord who loses the love of his life when his wife dies. Rather unfairly, as the story opens, he’s remonstrating with her spirit as he sits at her grave, asking why she won’t come back to him? He marries again but can’t put the memory of his dead wife, Brunhilda, out of his mind. Some time later he meets a sorcerer who tells him he can bring her back to life, but as always, there are consequences and Walter should heed his warnings, think about what he is agreeing to.

He points out to the lord that he himself has aged, whereas Brunhilda, were she to come back from the grave, would be as young as when she died. He doesn’t listen. The sorcerer then warns him of the horrors of disturbing the peace of the dead, raising a corpse from its sleep. Falls on deaf ears. For three days he warns Walter, forcing him to wait, consider what he asks, return the next night, and every day that passes the lord gets more and more impatient, and more set on having his wife back. Finally, almost with a shrug and a “on your head be it, I’ve done the best I can to dissuade you”, the sorcerer does his thing and the wife is brought back to life. The sorcerer tells Walter that if things don’t turn out as he expected, he should seek him at the crossroads when the moon is full.

They spend twenty-one days at his “other” castle, not his palace where his second wife, Swanhilda, lives with him, nobody aware of Brunhilda’s resurrection, even of her presence, but him and one old retainer who has been told to button it if he knows what’s good for him. She uses this time to get used again to the light of day, and perhaps to fully form back in the land of the living; it’s left a little vague, sort of like Jesus, after his rising, reportedly saying that he can’t be touched as he hasn’t yet ascended. She however will only be with Walter if he divorces his second wife, so that she can move into the palace. Well, you don’t have to come back to the dead as the original wife to have those kind of conditions. Get that bitch OUT of my house or no nooky for you, son! So he does, giving her the “it’s not you it’s me” speech. Actually, he tells her it is her, and divorces her.

In a rather unlikely twist, Swanhilda seems to have sussed him: "Too well do I conjecture to whom I am indebted for this our separation. Often have I seen thee at Brunhilda's grave, and beheld thee there even on that night when the face of the heavens was suddenly enveloped in a veil of clouds. Hast thou rashly dared to tear aside the awful veil that separates the mortality that dreams, from that which dreameth not? Oh! then woe to thee, thou wretched man, for thou hast attached to thyself that which will prove thy destruction." Oh, and you can keep the fucking kids, pal. Actually, it’s the custom and the law that she can’t take them, and she seems upset to leave them behind, but has no choice.

He engineers Brunhilda’s return to his home by pretending she is just a ringer for his dead wife, though whether or not he calls her Brunhilda or Brunhilda II or Brunhilda V 2.0 I don’t know, however the staff see through it, especially when they notice a birthmark on her back that the original Brunhilda had. Rumours begin to circulate through the palace, and people no doubt start checking the want ads. Then again, there probably aren’t too many openings for those who include on their CV have served under a dead mistress, brought back from the grave. References can be obtained from the below-named cemetery… In the event they all hand in their notice, and who would blame them? Brunhilda, in what became classic vampire behaviour, avoids the sun, walking only at sundown, and shivers at the sound of the cock crow.

Unfortunately for him, as Raupach explains, Brunhilda has undergone transformation into a vampire. Oh, shock horror! It was necessary that a magic draught should animate the dull current in her veins and awaken her to the glow of life and the flame of love--a potion of abomination--one not even to be named without a curse--human blood, imbibed whilst yet warm, from the veins of youth. This was the hellish drink for which she thirsted: possessing no sympathy with the purer feelings of humanity; deriving no enjoyment from aught that interests in life and occupies its varied hours; her existence was a mere blank, unless when in the arms of her paramour husband, and therefore was it that she craved incessantly after the horrible draught. It was even with the utmost effort that she could forbear sucking even the blood of Walter himself, reclined beside her.

Whenever she beheld some innocent child whose lovely face denoted the exuberance of infantine health and vigour, she would entice it by soothing words and fond caresses into her most secret apartment, where, lulling it to sleep in her arms, she would suck form its bosom the war, purple tide of life. Nor were youths of either sex safe from her horrid attack: having first breathed upon her unhappy victim, who never failed immediately to sink into a lengthened sleep, she would then in a similar manner drain his veins of the vital juice.

It might seem odd that, with all this mountain of evidence before him, as his staff and the villagers are wiped out regularly, old Walter doesn’t twig, but love is blind, and I feel that even if he had understood what was going on, he seems such a selfish bastard that he would have convinced himself to do nothing about it. But for the sake of argument let’s assume he’s under a spell, as he may very well have been. Okay, Raupach says he is. By day she would continually discourse with him on the bliss experienced by happy spirits beyond the grave, assuring him that, as his affection had recalled her from the tomb, they were now irrevocably united. Thus fascinated by a continual spell, it was not possible that he should perceive what was taking place around him.

Plus, he was a selfish cunt. (This is not a quote from the story).

Unseen by his eyes then, everyone around him vanishes as those who are not killed by his vampiric wife get the puck out of there, and the castle is left standing alone, nearly the model perhaps for later Castle Dracula.

Brunhilda though can see what’s happening, and worries that her source of food is drying up, so Swanhilda’s children are next on the menu. Gotta drain something, you know? When Walter laments the loss of his children, she is less than understanding: "Why dost thou lament so fondly," said she, "for these little ones? What satisfaction could such unformed beings yield to thee unless thou wert still attached to their mother? Thy heart then is still hers? Or dost thou now regret her and them because thou art satiated with my fondness and weary of my endearments? Had these young ones grown up, would they not have attached thee, thy spirit and thy affections more closely to this earth of clay--to this dust and have alienated thee from that sphere to which I, who have already passed the grave, endeavour to raise thee? Say is thy spirit so heavy, or thy love so weak, or thy faith so hollow, that the hope of being mine for ever is unable to touch thee?" Thus did Brunhilda express her indignation at her consort's grief, and forbade him her presence.

With everyone else dead, she turns to feeding on her husband, and he begins to weaken. She doesn’t care; if/when he dies, she intends to fuck off from the castle and go hunting for some takeaway food. But speaking of hunting, Walter takes to this in an effort to regain his strength, and while out one day he comes across a strange bird which drops a root at his feet. He eats it, but it tastes yucky and he throws it away. Unbeknownst to him, it’s a charm against his bloodsucking reanimated corpse of a wife. Catching her in the act, when her spectral breath suddenly no longer works on him, he realises (finally) what she is. She’s unrepentant, and has an odd accusation to make of him.

"Creature of blood!" continued Walter, "the delusion which has so long blinded me is at an end: thou are the fiend who hast destroyed my children--who hast murdered the offspring of my vassels." Raising herself upwards and, at the same time, casting on him a glance that froze him to the spot with dread, she replied. "It is not I who have murdered them;--I was obliged to pamper myself with warm youthful blood, in order that I might satisfy thy furious desires--thou art the murderer!"--These dreadful words summoned, before Walter's terrified conscience, the threatening shades of all those who had thus perished; while despair choked his voice.

You know, in ways, it’s hard to argue with that. If he hadn’t wanted to get it on with her after she’d died, if he’d left her where she was and been happy with Swanhilda, nobody else would have died. In a very real manner, all those deaths - including those of his children - are on his hands. Despite his attempts to get away from her, it seems they’re bound together as if they were tied by some magic elastic, and it will stretch but not break, so he is always recalled to her at night, against his will. He has, literally, made his bed and must lie in it now.

Going out of his mind, he remembers the words of the sorcerer and high-tails it to the crossroads, where the sorcerer, with a snide “I told you so” tells him the only way to be free of the vampire is to kill her during the night of the new moon, when she is helpless. He gives Walter a special dagger he must use, and warns him that once she is dead (again) he must never think with love of her, or she may come back again.

As time goes on and he keeps cursing Brunhilda’s memory, he realises sadly that nobody will talk to or come near him; he is as a phantom among the living, doomed, as his vampire wife swore, to perdition. In desperation he seeks out Swanhilda, and she seems to feel sorry for him, but when he is forced to reveal that the corpse bride ate their children, the deal is off and he is sent packing, back out into the lonely world to contemplate his folly, what he had and what he lost.

On his way home he meets a woman who looks like Swanhilda, and they become friends. As love begins to blossom again in his heart, though it isn’t specifically referred to as far as I can see, it must be that he thinks of Brunhilda without cursing her, or softens towards her memory. Then, as you do, the other woman (never named; only called “the unknown”) turns into a giant snake, which is the kind of thing that can really ruin your day, and crushes Walter in its coils, burning down his castle for good measure.

Two years after The Black Vampyre and almost forty-five after Leonore, there are similarities to both stories here. Yes, I know one is a poem, but it can be two things! In Leonore we have Death riding on a horse (can’t remember if it’s black but it probably is) and after Brunhilda is resurrected Walter finds “a coal-black steed of fiery eye” awaiting him to bear he and his newly-undead wife away, and in order to perform the resurrection, the sorcerer pours blood from a human skull into her coffin, much as the Moor prince poured blood in a golden goblet into the graves of the husbands of Euphemia in The Black Vampyre.

I like the attention to detail as they leave the cemetery; the sorcerer (or someone) has laid on clobber for Brunhilda, so she doesn’t have to ride off like an undead Lady Godiva, or in her corpse shroud, or whatever she was buried in. A girl appreciates these things. There’s a novel treatment here of the later accepted aversion of vampires to light or the sun. Brunhilda says her eyes cannot bear the light yet (being in a coffin for years will do that to you I suppose) and so they have to acclimate her by degrees, using first candles then slightly opening the curtains over the course of fourteen days, which is I imagine significant, seven being a powerful number in magic. There’s also a sense here of her slowly returning to life, kind of similar to how Johnny Smith, coming out of his coma in Stephen King’s The Dead Zone, couldn’t leap out of bed and go for a coffee: it took him weeks or even months to slowly drag himself back into the world of the living, having been asleep and so weak for so long.

The idea of forbidden love - very forbidden, virtually necrophilia! - is explored here, as even though he loves her, Walter can’t repress a shudder every time he’s near her; his own psychic sense or if you prefer, his soul, or even God, telling him how wrong this is, as the sorcerer tried and failed to do. Brunhilda is not aware of his aversion: "Here will we tarry," she tells him, "until I can endure the light, and until thou canst look upon me without trembling as if struck with a cold chill." She makes him forget the bad old days, that despite how he remembers it, everything was not rosy in their garden before she died. “while he listened to her siren strain, he entirely forgot how little blissful was the latter period of their union, when he had often sighed at her imperiousness, and at her harshness both to himself and all his household.” Indeed.

Incidentally, when Swanhilda leaves she is said to have “consecrated her children with the holy water of maternal love”, this being her tears. If she had splashed them with actual holy water, she might have protected them against the vampire. Intriguingly (I’m getting tired of saying interestingly, though it is) the author here seems to indicate that vampires can’t abide gold, as Brunhilda will wear no jewellery of that metal, though she can wear silver, which later - in some few instances - was said to be dangerous to vampires, their Kryptonite. I feel this got a little mixed up with the legend of werewolves, but however.

Seven crops up a lot here. Seven days Brunhilda waits in the castle with Walter, as related already, trying to get her eyes sorted, then another seven, then she makes him wait seven more before she’ll put out (and even THEN she won’t, unless he marries her again). Then when he goes to see the sorcerer he has to spend twice seven days in a cave hiding from his vampire wife till the night of the new moon. Again, seven days after declaring his love for “the unknown” woman he marries her. Seven and three, both important magical numbers. Three times the sorcerer warns him before raising Brunhilda from the dead, three times seven days before he can bring home his new vampire wife, and three wives in all, the last of which kills him, the snake.

This is really - what’s another word for interesting? No, I used intriguing already. Where’s my thesaurus? Let’s see: no help there either. Compelling? Well anyway, it’s the first time I can see that the actual origin of a vampire is attempted. Okay, the Moor prince, but we’re not told how he became a vampire, or maybe the child was one already - after all, he couldn’t be killed. No, I think this is the first - certainly the most well thought-out and detailed - example of a Wiki Howto on the creation of a vampire. It wouldn’t be used again much if at all: the idea of a vampire rising from the grave only worked once they had already been made one, and the most popular and usual way was for another vampire to make them. The modern, as it were, idea of a vampire seems to be that they never actually died (although Rice does have her vampires go through “the human death” before they can join up the nightcrawlers club) but possess, through their vampirism, lives extended to near immortality.

It’s also the first time a vampire is created either against its will or without its knowledge. Brunhilda is dead, happily waiting for eternal resurrection on Judgement Day, and doesn’t ask for or expect to be climbing out of her coffin, shaking the graveyard dirt from her hair and dislodging startled worms who had assumed they were in for the night. It’s all achieved through the agency of a mortal, one who can’t accept loss or death, and done for entirely selfish (and, let’s be honest, not very well considered) reasons. But Raupach doesn’t allow this to make us feel any sort of sympathy towards or pity for the vampire; she didn’t ask to be Born to Darkness (copyright Anne Rice, 1975) but now that she’s up and about, she isn’t going to be shy about using her powers, so there’s no “ah poor woman look what happened to her.” Oh no. She’s a monster, and must be destroyed.

The moral is good too, in that the one who started it all gets his comeuppance in the end, though to be honest living as a shadow among his fellow humans, eternal loneliness for the rest of his life should have been punishment enough, i think. The idea of the snake is just stupid, unless it’s meant to be a gigantic worm, in which case, well, it’s still stupid. Terrible ending to a really really good story.

One final point: about three times Brunhilda is described as “terrific”, but it’s clear that here the author is using the word in its original form, whose meaning was to terrify or be terrible. Odd to think how the meaning has changed so almost completely in reverse, so that now terrific means something good, or better than good, when back then it was a description of the worst kind of thing. How words change over time.

Trollheart 08-12-2021 01:45 PM

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.

All times are GMT -6. The time now is 01:02 PM.

© 2003-2022 Advameg, Inc.