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The Batlord 08-12-2021 07:16 PM


Maybe she just has PMS. Post-Morbidity-Stress?

Trollheart 08-18-2021 09:54 AM

Title: La Morte amoreuse (The Dead Lover)
Format: Short story
Author: Théophile Gautier,
Nationality: French
Written: 1836
Published: 1836
Impact: ?

Synopsis: Perhaps the first vampire story to feature a priest getting it on with the Undead, this story tells of Romauld, who, at his ordination, sees a beautiful woman in the church who promises to love him and make him happier than he would be in Paradise. Taking this as a clear signal that Satan is tempting him (I assume) he ignores the voice and goes ahead with the ceremony, becoming a priest. But on the way home he is given a card which reads “Clarimonde, at the Palace Concini”. He forgets about it, but the life of a priest is boring, and eventually Romauld remembers the card, and the woman, and the voice, and asks his parish priest about it. Father Serapion is worried, telling him that Clarimonde was a notorious courtesan (polite term for prostitute) and that the palace mentioned on his card is where she lives.

Lives? Didn’t Father Serapion say…? Yes, yes he did, but the priest tells his curate that Clarimonde has died before, and come back. He warns him to stay away from the palace. And so he does. End of story.


One night a messenger arrives on horseback, asking him to come and minister to a dying woman. When he arrives he is too late and is told that the woman is dead. No prizes for guessing who it is. Overcome by grief, he kisses Clarimonde, little realising that his breath has revived her. She kisses him and tells him that soon they will be together. He faints. Well, I guess you would, wouldn’t you? Indeed she does come to him some time later, appearing in his bedroom, and convinces him to travel with her to Venice, where her health fluctuates. She sucks blood from a cut on Romauld’s finger, though, and seems to revive. He now knows she’s a vampire, but he doesn’t care. He’s being led by his heart or his dick or both, and stays with her.

Father Serapion is having none of this, and brings Romauld to Clarimonde’s tomb, where he shows the curate that the woman is still miraculously (!) preserved, and further, there is blood on her lips. He throws holy water on the body and it crumbles to dust. She returns once more than night to berate Romauld for what she sees as his treachery in revealing her tomb, and then vanishes forever.

And so we have another female vampire, the second ever, but this one is already made when we meet her, and there are no real extenuating circumstances which would allow us to have sympathy with her. She’s simply a vampire who feeds on men’s insecurities and lusts, and is destroyed by the power of God. I think this is the first time holy water is used as a weapon, though it will be taken up as one in later vampire lore. I also believe this is the first time a vampire is seen to walk in a church; even the vampires led by Armand in The Vampire Lestat marvel that Lestat is able to take refuge in the church. Usually such consecrated ground, basically enemy territory, is forbidden to them, entry restricted. This doesn’t seem to be the case with Clarimonde.

The description of her body, when it’s found by Serapion and Romauld, is almost identical to how Lucy is discovered in her grave in Dracula, though in fairness this mostly derives I believe from the folk tales and beliefs of eastern Europe. Given that Clarimonde is the temptress (her name seems to translate to something like simple world) it’s odd that the priest who saves Romuald is called Serapion, close enough to serpent, while his curate’s name surely originates in that of Shakespeare’s tragic hero, who also transcends the bounds of what is believed to be acceptable in his time, by falling in love with the wrong woman, one who belongs to the side of the enemy, and who is punished for his transgression by the death of the woman he loves.

And there’s a call back to Leonore, when the mysterious rider comes to spirit Romauld off to the palace of the vampire, essentially into the abode of the dead. The choice for Gautier to have his vampire, like authors before him, crumble to dust, shows a belief in and a desire to demonstrate how very old the vampire is, despite her appearance of youth. Dracula also becomes a pile of dust, and of course famously the vampires in Buffy the Vampire Slayer just pop when pricked with a stake and leave only a puff of dust behind.

There’s also perhaps the first instance of a priest struggling with the completely incompatible edict of the church to remain celibate, and his natural desire as a man to love a woman. In the story, he sort of does both: he doesn’t give up being a priest and does in fact consort with the dark side, has his end away and then after he has had his fun gets rid of the embarrassing evidence and goes back to being a priest. Sort of not really a very strong moral there, is there? I mean, he doesn’t really suffer any long-lasting trauma that I can see, other than a morbid fear of women, nor is he punished by being, for instance, expelled or excommunicated from the church. Kind of a win-win for our man Romauld, eh?

Contrary to Wake Not the Dead or The Virgin Vampire, there’s no real attempt to see this from the woman’s point of view; Clarimonde is depicted as nothing more than a foul temptress, and while in the previous two the man was at least partially - and in the case of the former, completely - responsible for what happened, here he’s kind of given a free pass. It’s Clarimonde who starts the supernatural wooing, which he bravely and heroically resists, then she who tricks him by getting him to kiss her, so trapping him. Though it could be said that his decision to go to Venice with her is made of his own free will, I wouldn’t be surprised if Gautier couched it in terms that made it look as if he was compelled by her to go, while his decision to stay with her, even when he realises what she is, can surely only be laid at his own door.

Then he does what most men do when caught with their metaphorical, or even literal pants down: tries to destroy the woman who is causing him so much trouble, and with the aid of his parish priest, succeeds. Score! Now he’s free to go back to being a pious priest, without having to worry about being tempted by undead women. What a hero. It’s pretty one-sided, blaming the woman for everything, and one might wonder why Gautier didn’t make the vampire male, tempting a woman (of course she couldn’t be a priest, so maybe that’s why. Could have made her a nun though)? If he was going to go to the trouble of making the vampire female, was the point just to be able to blame her for everything and leave the man getting away scot free, proving that at the heart of all men’s problems, going right back to the old Garden of Eden, stands a woman? Sigh.

There’s a clear parallel here to the old fairy tale of Sleeping Beauty, where Clarimonde, dead (or, one could say, sleeping for many years) is “awoken” by the power of the kiss of the young priest. She’s already in a castle, and does indeed take him to be her lover, even if neither end up living happily ever after. We also see the two diametric sides of the ever-raging conflict between Good and Evil, God and Satan, with Romauld being portrayed as being on the side of God (naturally, being a priest) and Clarimonde fighting for the Devil, again putting the woman on the side of evil and teaching perhaps a dangerous moral, but one quite prevalent at that time, that women would tempt men into sin, and also maybe setting up a rationale for the celibacy rule in the church, saying here, look what happens when a priest gives in to the pleasures of the flesh!

And, too, there’s the idea of the priest turning from spiritual things to those of the physical, or to quote Kate Bush, sensual world, denying his calling and falling into temptation, exactly as we’re told Jesus did not, while in the desert and tempted by Satan. This perhaps proves that man is weak, and needs the strength of God and his faith to rescue him from such dangers. Deliver us from evil, eh? I think Romauld claims too much when he says, at the start of the story, that “finally by the grace of God and the assistance of my patron saint, I succeeded in casting out the evil spirit that possessed me.” Eh, no you didn’t, pal: it was your parish priest who did the deed. I guess you brought him there, to the tomb, but you’re claiming credit here for something you did not do.

Your dreams weren’t exactly thrilling though, were they, at the beginning? “I slept only to dream that I was saying mass”. Oh wow. I do like his description of “the black soutane as a garb of mourning for one's self, so that your very dress might serve as a pall for your coffin.” I’m sure a lot of young (and older) priests felt this way eventually. He goes on to lament his new state: “But one hour passed before an altar, a few hastily articulated words, had forever cut me off from the number of the living, and I had myself sealed down the stone of my own tomb; I had with my own hand bolted the gate of my prison!”

Twice Clarimonde is described in serpentine terms, and yet there’s a great tragedy in this story. Yes, she is a vampire, but to be simplistic about it, she is what cam be called a good vampire. Unlike Brunhilda, she doesn’t go roaming the streets searching for prey, she doesn’t kill children, she doesn’t prowl the graveyard. In fact, the one and only victim of her vampirism is Romauld, and he a willing one. She restricts herself to only a few drops, loathing the fact that she has to do it to keep herself alive. She’s not a ravening monster, merely someone doing what she needs to do to survive.

The force that sustains her return to life is not evil, but love, and that’s the true tragedy here. She genuinely loves Romauld, having dreamed of him before finally seeing him in the flesh, just as he is about to sacrifice all he is as a man to the church, and when she is dying, it seems she really is dying: it’s no trick. It’s Romauld’s love for her that brings her back, and that love that sustains her in her new un-life. To be fair, she doesn’t deserve the end she gets. Where, to coin a phrase, is the harm? But Serapion, acting for the intractable Church, which sees everything in black and white terms as good or evil (or, to put it another, more accurate way, you’re either with us or against us) has to destroy her and free his curate. In the end, he’s not free, as he’s now miserable, and fears even catching the gaze of any woman, constantly looking down in order to avoid further temptation, and counselling his readers to emulate his example.

So Clarimonde is maybe the first sympathetic vampire we come across. I’m not so sure about Alinska, as I haven’t been able to read the full story, but this is definitely the first time I feel genuinely sorry for the death of a vampire, and don’t see the necessity for it. One last point: Romauld admits he has never seen a single woman before his ordination - he says “I knew in a vague sort of a way that there was something called Woman, but I never permitted my thoughts to dwell on such a subject, and I lived in a state of perfect innocence. Twice a year only I saw my infirm and aged mother, and in those visits were comprised my sole relations with the outer world.” - and yet he describes Clarimonde as a “woman of surpassing beauty.” How does he know? If he has never seen a woman, perhaps all are as beautiful as her. Perhaps she’s ugly compared to others. With nothing to compare her to, how can he make such an assertion?

Like many vampire stories, this has a downbeat, morose ending. The vampire is vanquished but there’s no sense of triumph or victory, release or escape. It’s a depressing, fatalistic result that continues to leave a bad taste in the mouths of both the hero and the reader. It does however seem to raise the question for the first time as to whether it’s right to kill a vampire just because he or she is a vampire. Is there a moral, religious or spiritual imperative to kill all that is seen to oppose the will of God, and if so, are we entering here on the territory of fear-mongering and xenophobia? Is simply being different, not necessarily evil (or if you like, just a little evil) enough to justify the destruction of a fellow creature? Is the fact that we hate and abhor it sufficient excuse to terminate its existence? Questions that few vampire authors will ask till about the twentieth century, showing maybe that Gautier could have been well ahead of his time in terms of thinking and his ideas about vampires.

Oh, and one more point before I close. It's not the first, or only story to do so, but it's interesting that the author does not include the word vampire in the title, perhaps leading us away from what might be seen as her "inherent evil" and showing us that this is really more a tragic love story than some blood-soaked vampire tale.

Trollheart 08-29-2021 07:17 PM

Title: The Family of the Vourdalak
Format: Novel
Author: Aleksey Tolstoy
Nationality: Russian
Written: 1839
Published: 1884 (in Russian) 1950 (in French)
Impact: ?

But given it was the great Tolstoy, you’d have to imagine quite high. Originally, apparently, written in French by Tolstoy, so perhaps odd that it took another seventy years before it was published in that language…

In this novel we have a French diplomat arriving, for some reason, at the house of a peasant in Serbia, who has gone to hunt a Turk criminal. The man’s two sons have been told that they are to wait exactly ten days for his return, and if he comes back a moment later they are to drive a stake through his heart, as he will be a vourdalak, or a vampire. When he appears at exactly the right moment, both of his sons are confused. One thinks he’s still a man, the other swears he’s a vampire. But they err on the side of mercy and let him live. Shortly afterwards the young son of one of the boys falls ill, and it’s obvious they should have gone down to B&Q and had it over with. The diplomat has the kind of pressing, urgent business diplomats usually have, and heads off.

On his return, six months later, the diplomat drops in again on the peasant, more to have it away with his daughter, whom he had fallen for earlier in the year, than any worry about whether there are vampires in the area. Which is unfortunate for him, as of course the girl is now turned, and then the whole family - all now vampires, or vourdalaks - attack him and he only manages to escape due to great fortune.

I can’t speak for the other novels, not having read any of them, but this seems only to be the second time both a female vampire is in print and that she uses her feminine wiles to try to trap an unwary man. Not hard, as we all know what we men are led by, and as Phil Collins once sang, “He knew he was walking into a waiting trap neatly set up for him with a bait so richly wrapped.” It may also be the first novel to present us with a whole family of vampires. Stoker of course would build both elements into his seminal, genre-defining masterpiece only fifteen years later.

Trollheart 08-29-2021 07:32 PM
Title: Varney the Vampire, or The Feast of Blood
Format: Novel (originally a Penny Dreadful series)
Author: either James Malcolm Rymer or Thomas Peckett Prest
Nationality: English
Written: 1845
Published: 1845 -7 as a serial, 1847 as novel
Impact: 10

“There was a tall, gaunt form—there was the faded ancient apparel—the lustrous metallic-looking eyes—its half-opened mouth, exhibiting tusk-like teeth! It was—yes, it was—the vampyre!”

This was the big one. This was when vampire lore, and indeed Gothic literature, really began to take off and became so popular it would be hard to keep up with it. Published originally in what was known as the “Penny Dreadful” - both from its price of one penny and its perceived lurid and inappropriate stories, possibly comparable to pulp fiction in the 1940s and 1950s - Varney the Vampire built on the work of John Polidori and further embellished the literary vampire, creating many of the tropes and characteristics we still see today. It’s the first story not to be set in a specific time (though that may have been down to poor writing or memory) and also to take place in more than one location. Usually, English people either wanted to read about stories set in England or in a faraway place, but Varney the Vampire utilises such settings as Venice and Naples as well as more familiar territory in Bath, Winchester and London.

As would most writers of vampiric fiction for decades, the author keeps his vampire a member of the nobility, an aristocrat, and he is Sir Francis Varney, who has been cursed to become a vampire after accidentally killing his own son in Cromwellian England. By all accounts (all right, by the account I read in Wiki) it’s not a very good story, very confused and jumps from subject to subject, but it does differ from Polidori’s story in that Varney appears disgusted with his condition, and the novel tries to elicit sympathy for him from the reader, whereas in The Vampyre there is no such remorse on behalf of Lord Ruthven, and we’re happy to see him die. Also differing is the death of Varney, who commits suicide at the end by jumping into a volcano (as you do) and leaving behind the account of his life.

But readers of Penny Dreadfuls could hardly have been accounted the greatest of literary critics, and they ate this up and screamed for more. Particularly as a serial, it must have seemed great stuff, as they waited breathlessly for the next instalment. The author uses the idea of the vampire being immortal and basically indestructible to allow him to die several times in the novel, only to come back to life, providing perhaps the first example of a cliffhanger that ends with the “hero”’s death and then resolves it in the next chapter, almost, but not quite, cartoon-like.

Varney is the first vampire in literature to be mentioned having fangs. Ruthven is merely described as having torn the throat of his victims, and it could as easily be by use of some knife or machete or other tool as by fangs, whereas Varney’s attack leaves what would become the classic mark of the vampire: two small incisions on the neck where the fangs had sunk in. He makes his entrance through windows, another trope that would become a classic feature of Hollywood vampires, especially Dracula (and be parodied almost as much); he has superhuman strength and can hypnotise his victims. Conversely, the author ignores many of the legends behind vampire tales. Like Byron’s Darvell, Varney has no fear of the sun and also doesn’t get spooked by crucifixes or garlic, he can eat and drink human food, but it does not agree with him, and there’s as yet, so far as I can see, no mention of his not having a reflection.

One thing that is taken account of in the novel is the claim by Lord Byron, going all the way back to that passage from The Giaour, in which it’s claimed that vampires are doomed to kill their own family, as in Varney the Vampire, the creature torments, hunts and slays mostly the members of the Bannermouth family, of whom it is hinted - though never confirmed - he is an ancestor. Unlike Byron’s Darvell however, in A Fragment, and indeed also unlike Lord Ruthven, Varney, while he can pass as a human, is not the suave, debonair gentleman that Polidori shows us in The Vampyre, for when he is hungry, lusting for blood, his appearance changes dramatically:

“The figure turns half round, and the light falls upon the face. It is perfectly white—perfectly bloodless. The eyes look like polished tin; the lips are drawn back, and the principal feature next to those dreadful eyes is the teeth—the fearful looking teeth—projecting like those of some wild animal, hideously, glaringly white, and fang-like. It approaches the bed with a strange, gliding movement. It clashes together the long nails that literally appear to hang from the finger ends.”

A world removed from the aristocratic Ruthven, or indeed Count Dracula, who would not appear on the scene for another fifty years. Whoever wrote the novel, they were certainly going for sensationalism and appealing to the crowd, and while they could write, it doesn’t appear they were given to too much in the way of restraint. Nor, indeed, averse to a little plagiarism, as in this account where the hypnotic effect of Varney is described:

“The glance of a serpent could not have produced a greater effect upon her than did the fixed gaze of those awful, metallic looking eyes. . . . She cannot withdraw her eyes from that marble-looking face. He holds her with his glittering eye.”

Holds her with his glittering eye, eh? Samuel Taylor Coleridge might have something to say about that! Something explored by Polidori and expanded on in the plays and operas that used his writing, but that, so far as I can see, died out of vampire literature was the healing qualities of the moon. While the sun went on to be the end of every vampire, even the strongest (other than the ridiculous ones that walk around impudently in the sunshine in series A Discovery of Witches), the moon as a restorative force does not seem to have caught on with later writers, possibly because it would be hard to explain how and why it should work.

Trollheart 10-10-2021 09:19 AM

Title: Vampire
Format: Short story
Author: Vladimir Dal
Nationality: Russian
Written: 1848
Published: 1848
Impact: ?
Synopsis: No idea. Once again, searches turn up nothing. I believe it was part of a book he wrote on Russian folk and fairy tales, so perhaps it’s related to one of them, but I can’t say for sure. Just missed out on being the first Russian vampire tale though, pipped by Tolstoy by five years.

Title: The Pale Lady
Format: Novella
Author: Alexandre Dumas
Nationality: French
Written: 1849
Published: 1849
Impact: ?
Synopsis: Set against the background of a war between Poland and Russia, its lead character is Hedwig, a Polish girl who is sent to - wait for it - the Carpathians when her family’s castle falls to the Russians. Attacked by brigands on the way, most of her retinue is wiped out and the brigand leader, one of two brothers, takes her to his castle. Now, it turns out that while the brother, Kotsaki, led the attack it was the other one, Gregoriska who “interrupted it” - I don’t know whether he attacked his brother or not, but Hedwig falls in love with him, though Kotsaki also falls for her and declares she will die if she loves another. As they prepare to elope from the castle, Kotsaki gets word and attacks Gregoriska, who kills him.

But sure death never stops these guys, and right enough Kotsaki is back, in vampire form. Perhaps at odds with other vampire stories, he doesn’t come to suck Hedwig’s blood at midnight, but at the strange time of eight forty-five in the evening. Held by his spell, the girl doesn’t know what’s happening as she’s drained and left looking pale and sick. Someone call Van Helsing! Oh, right. He hasn’t been invented yet. Oh well. Guess it’s up to Gregoriska to save her, and once he realises dear old bro is gone fangside, he gets Hedwig “a twig of box consecrated by the priest and still wet with holy water” which will protect her from Kotsaki.

Time for some brotherly confrontation. Gregoriska uses a sword worn by a Crusader, and so deemed holy and with certain powers, to force his sibling to admit that he had thrown himself on his brother’s sword, so he had not been murdered but had in fact committed suicide. What difference that makes I don’t know, but in a rather funny and at the same time unnecessarily cruel touch Gregoriska makes Kotsaki march several miles back to his grave, where he pins him with the sword, killing him forever. The effort drains his soul though and he collapses beside the corpse of his brother.

A few things crop up here which make it likely Stoker read, or knew of this story. The first, and most glaring one is of course the setting: to my knowledge, and from the research I’ve done, his was the first vampire story set in the Carpathians, though now I see this predated it. Also the use of a sword like a later stake, the sprinkling of holy water and the use of holy relics, as well as the vampire entering a lady’s bedchamber, the sucking of her blood and the resultant paleness of the skin of the victim. Given how famous Dumas was for novels like The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo, it seems unlikely Stoker would not have heard of this story. I’m sure it came up in his extensive research.

Title: The Vampire and the Devil’s Son
Format: Novel
Author: Pierre Alexis de Ponson du Terrail
Nationality: French
Written: 1852
Published: 1852
Impact: ?
Synopsis: A baron returning from war is captured by the Black Huntsman, whom legend says is the son of Satan himself. He is held prisoner and seduced by a vampire woman, who looks like his dead wife. The novel features the most matter-of-fact attitude I’ve come across from a vampire so far: "I believe," the dead woman said, "that there is no need to explain to you by means of a lie how it comes about that, ten years after my death, I have such supple flesh, such rounded arms, and a neck so pink and white. You can see that I am a vampire..." Right you are. Glad we got that sorted then. Could have been most embarrassing.

Title: The Mysterious Stranger
Format: Short story
Author: Unknown
Nationality: Unknown
Written: 1860
Published: 1860
Impact: ?
Synopsis: No chance. Unfortunately Mark Twain also wrote a story with the same name, and when I search that’s all I get. The fact that this is anonymously written doesn’t help. I have no idea what it’s about at all. Moving on.

Title: Le Chevalier Ténèbre (The Dark Knight or Knightshade)
Format: Novel
Author: Paul Féval
Nationality: French
Written: 1860
Published: 1860
Impact: ?
Synopsis: Can’t find out too much about this, though it does seem the first ever - perhaps only - appearance of the ouvire, which is supposed to be the contemporary to the vampire, with the one eating flesh and the other drinking blood. The ouvire is, for some reason, very short while the vampire is very tall. Other than that, I got nothin’.

Title: La Vampire
Format: Novel
Author: Paul Féval
Nationality: French
Written: 1865
Published: 1865
Impact: ?
Synopsis: Yes, he was at it again, and a third time (as you’ll see) in 1874. Seemed to like writing novels about vampires, did our Monsieur Féval. He also liked doing thing differently. In this novel, he uses a female vampire, again (seems they were more popular than I had at first thought) but has her not suck blood from her victims but (ugh) rip the scalps from their heads and attach them to her own. It seems for every year of the person’s life the vampire, Addhema (who is referred to in the book as a ghoul, just to make things even more confusing) works for the vampire king Szandor, collecting treasures for him from all over the world. For this service, it seems, she is rewarded with an extended life, and eternal beauty while each life lasts. Okay then, more confusion in this sentence: “the spell only lasted a few days: as many days as the years of life that remained to the victim”. So is that the number of days they lasted after she took them? Cause if not, well surely then taking a young victim would mean she would be expected to live thirty, forty years? But who’s to say that person was not going to get sick, or be hit by a runaway cart or something, or be mugged and killed? Seems a little arbitrary. Anyway…

To quote Lewis Carroll, stranger and stranger. Addhema seemed to have some weird compulsion to tell every one of her lovers what she was before she could get down to the deed; I mean, it’s hardly exciting foreplay is it? Oh by the way darling, before you take off your hose and get on top of me, I’m a ghoul (or a vampire, take your pick, but not someone you want to bring home to mama) and I have to rip off the scalps of my victims in order to go on living and be the beautiful girl you now see lying beside you. No, just thought I should mention it. What do you mean, you have an urgent appointment elsewhere? Was it something I said?

Title: La femme immortelle (you don’t really need that translated, do you?)
Format: Novel I think
Author: Pierre Alexis de Ponson du Terrail
Nationality: French
Written: 1869
Published: 1869
Impact: ?
Synopsis: Would appear to be the first vampire novel wherein the vampirism is not real, is shown to be a trick (and not the Dark Trick, as popularised by Rice) but one in which some of the characters continue to believe. Elements that would find their way into, among others, Dracula include the taking of blood by fangs, with the wound resembling a pin prick and the vampire, or immortal woman of the title, trying to convince her lover that one of her safety pins scratched him. Might be the first instance of the idea of making a vampire by the creature cutting itself and feeding its victim its own blood.

Trollheart 10-10-2021 09:38 AM

Title: Carmilla
Format: Novella
Author: Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu
Nationality: Irish
Written: 1871
Published: (as a serial) 1871-2 (as a novella) 1872
Impact: 10

Another major work, and I’m somewhat proud to say the first vampire story by an Irishman (though of course the most famous and enduring would also emanate from these shores) Carmilla was also the first vampire story to truly tackle the idea of lesbianism, in a world where such things “did not happen”, which is to say, happened only behind closed and locked doors. Carmilla is also, as far as I can find out, the first time a female vampire is used as the protagonist, if we set aside Coleridge’s Christabel, which never confirmed whether she was a vampire or not, though it, too, flirted with the idea of lesbian relationships, and here again Le Fanu can be praised for making both main characters in his novel female.

The story is told by Laura, who lives in a castle (did someone say Ortanto?) and had a dream when she was younger of a beautiful woman who visited her in her bedchamber. She believed she received some sort of wound in her breast, but when she looks there is nothing there. When a girl of her own age (eighteen years old now) comes to stay at the castle, she recognises Carmilla as the girl who visited her in her dream, and Carmilla agrees that she too had the same dream. Carmilla’s mother leaves her in the care of Laura’s father, sternly admonishing her never to ask her daughter anything about her life, family or history.

Soon after, as you might expect, there is a rash of deaths of young girls, and it is noted that Carmilla seldom joins the family in prayer, sleeps most of the day and seems to be active at night, presumed to be sleepwalking. She seems to have amorous intentions towards young Laura. When the funeral procession for one of her victims passes the house, Carmilla rails at Laura for singing the hymn which, she says, hurts her ears. Or, to put it in Le Fanu’s words through Laura’s narration: “Her face underwent a change that alarmed and even terrifi ed me for a moment. It darkened, and became horribly livid; her teeth and hands were clenched, and she frowned and compressed her lips, while she stared down upon the ground at her feet, and trembled all over with a continued shudder as irrepressible as ague [feverish shivering]. All her energies seemed strained to suppress a fit.”

The family resemblance to a portrait of one of her ancestors raises suspicions about Carmilla, and when Laura begins to again have dreams of something coming into her room, this time a large cat-like creature, her health quickly declines. Examined by a doctor, she is found to have a small blue puncture wound on her neck, and the doctor advises she never be left alone.

Laura and her father set out for Karnstein, from where the painting so resembling Carmilla originated, and on the way they meet General Spielsdorf, a friend of Laura’s father who had been supposed to bring his niece to stay with them originally, but she had died under “mysterious circumstances”. The general now tells them that it was Carmilla who killed his daughter, and he has determined she is, wait for it, a vampire! Oh wow. Nobody saw that one coming! Anyway, they go in search of the tomb of the ancestor Carmilla so looks like - called Mircalla (oh come on, really?) but are told that a great folk hero relocated the tomb a long time ago. He had been a vampire hunter and had rid the area of its pesky undead inhabitants.

While standing around not doing anything in particular, and I assume wondering where they go from here, they are then attacked by Carmilla and the general goes at her with an axe, but she escapes. Next they meet Baron Vorsprung Durch Tecknik, sorry Vordenburg, the descendant of the hero mentioned above, who knows where the tomb is now, as one of his ancestors had his end away with Mircalla before she was turned. They get to the tomb and find, sure enough, herself in it, though not dead. Bang goes the stake through the heart, off comes the head, and that’s the end of the bitch. That’s how you dispatch a vampire!

And so it came to be. Le Fanu built on Polidori’s vampire figure here by noting how one should be killed, information which no doubt came from the folk legends, and which would end up becoming canon in vampire lore. The vampire must be caught in his or her own coffin, a stake (any stake does here, but later there were specifics; in some cases I think it had to be blessed, in others just the wood of a particular tree - ash I think, not sure) and for good measure the head should be cut off and the body burned, so that there’s no chance the undead git can ever come back to life.

I believe - though I may be wrong - that here too is the first instance of a vampire being linked with a coffin as its lair, as such. We are to assume that Carmilla issues forth from her tomb in search of prey, and, sated, returns there to rest. A home away from home, so to speak. I don’t think this is approached by Polidori or even whoever wrote Varney the Vampire, so it looks like an Irishman gets the credit for putting the flesh on the bones, as it were, of the vampire character. Stoker, of course, would complete that figure a quarter of a century later.

There are historical as well as literary sources for this ground-breaking and all but era-defying story, where women are, contradictory to the practice of the times, placed front and centre and given powerful, direct roles. Victorian literature (and that before it) tended to see the woman as weak and often silly and always seeking a husband, the protection of a man. Even one of the most lauded female writers of the time, Jane Austen, allowed her female protagonists to be held down, subservient to the males, as perhaps she had to, treading a fine line by writing about women as a woman writer. The reason, I think, Le Fanu gets away with this could be twofold, or even threefold. First, he’s not English, and so many of the perceived rules of Victorian society would possibly be seen not to apply to him. Second, his story is very much a fantasy, a horror, a nightmare, something that could never be real. Austen, the Brontes, George Elliot and other female writers of the time wrote about real things, ordinary lives, and so would perforce have had to conform to the manners and feelings of the time they lived in, or were set in.

Le Fanu can cast all that aside, winking broadly and saying on the one hand “well of course real women wouldn’t act like this” (while possibly meaning would not be allowed act like this) and on the other, “women should be treated better by society and allowed to explore their sexual urges and take their place as equals in society.” Finally, he writes a cracking good tale, so good that readers more than likely - while scandalised by it - overlook the “disgraceful behaviour” attributed to Laura and to Carmilla. But back to those sources.

One such is suggested to be from a text by a Benedictine monk, Dom Augustin Calmet. In Traité sur les apparitions des esprits et sur les vampires ou les revenans de Hongrie, de Moravie, &c. (Treatise on the Apparitions of Spirits and on Vampires or Revenants of Hungary, Moravia, et al.) he recounts the tale of a village in Hungary which had been tormented by nightly visits from a vampire. A traveller had, according to a priest who supposedly told him the story, set a trap for the vampire and cut off his head, (the vampire's, not his own!) thus relieving the town of its menace. Then there’s Christabel, from which you would have to imagine the idea of both characters with overt female sexuality, especially lesbian tendencies, and vampires may have been drawn. And then of course there’s the infamous Countess Bathory, on whom it might be supposed Carmilla was at least partially based.

While of necessity not too explicit, given the times he wrote in, Le Fanu does manage to portray a hot, sultry vampire lesbian and her not-quite-unwilling intended lover, as well as Laura’s struggle to come to terms with, deny or even embrace the advances of this cold, evil, beautiful, sexy and mysterious woman.

Sometimes after an hour of apathy, my strange and beautiful companion would take my hand and hold it with a fond pressure, renewed again and again; blushing softly, gazing in my face with languid and burning eyes, and breathing so fast that her dress rose and fell with the tumultuous respiration. It was like the ardour of a lover; it embarrassed me; it was hateful and yet overpowering; and with gloating eyes she drew me to her, and her hot lips travelled along my cheek in kisses; and she would whisper, almost in sobs, "You are mine, you shall be mine, and you and I are one for ever." (Carmilla, Chapter 4).

More powers are added to the vampire through Le Fanu’s Carmilla, though some will not translate into future works. Although she can, I don’t know of any other vampires that can walk through walls. Carmilla’s beauty is her lure, as is the handsome debonair manner of both Lord Ruthven and later a reconstituted Dracula, while Varney is not seen as being attractive. Carmilla can change into animal form - the first time, I think, this is approached - turning into a large cat, whereas of course Count Dracula will utilise the shape of a large dog, almost a wolf. Carmilla is also the first (I don’t know if only) female vampire who sticks to her own gender for victims, making her almost a serial killer with a particular “type”, as criminologists would later define the term. And although she slept through the day, the sun did not seem to bother Carmilla, as she could travel in sunlight; it’s supposed she just did not like it.

Moonlight is not seen to have any sort of special attraction for her, much less act as a restorative, and Carmilla, unlike Varney, seems to revel in her condition rather than revile it. She has no qualms about killing, does not question the morality of her choices, and lives as a free, unfettered and uncaring being, listening only to her baser desires, charged and fuelled by sex, driven by desire and greed, and surely the sort of woman that would scare the shit out of strait-laced Victorian men! This is also the first, so far as I can see, appearance of a vampire hunter (although Baron Vordenburg is not actually specifically described as such, but merely “an authority on vampires”) which will culminate of course in the greatest of them all, and lead to a theme of vampire hunters stalking and trying to thwart the plans of vampires down through the ages.

But perhaps the most important aspect Le Fanu added to the vampire was eroticism. Yes, Ruthven was attractive to women, and vampires up to this could hypnotise their prey, but there was never, until now, a sense of actual sexual attraction, not like there is in Carmilla. Here, despite her best judgement, and in the full knowledge that it is wrong - and perhaps because it is wrong - Laura is attracted to Carmilla, and the beginnings of a lesbian relationship flower. Of course, it’s a doomed one, but it does open up the vampire as more than just a predator. Now, he (or I should say, she) is depicted as a sexual predator, which in some ways could be seen as more scary. A predator, i.e., someone trying to kill you, can just kill you, but a sexual predator can hammer out a chain of misery that can follow you throughout your entire life.

There is, however, also the flip side of this to consider. While Carmilla may be seen to be finally empowering women - to the extent a Victorian woman could be empowered - it could also be seen, I believe, as refutation of the long-held idea that women were delicate flowers, only good for protecting and nurturing, and that no real bad could come of them. The eternal victims, both in literature and in life, Le Fanu here may be saying (this is of course only speculation on my part, and as likely to be wrong as it is to be right) look! Women are creatures with just as much drive and ambition as men, and they can be just as cruel and violent as men, given the right circumstances. In other words, women could be evil too. Granted, it takes a hyper-traumatic and literally life-changing incident to bring out the evil in Countess Mircalla, but like they say, it can’t come out if it wasn’t already there. So maybe Le Fanu was tipping the wink, warning Victorian men that their position at the top of the food chain was under threat, was by no means safe nor indeed theirs exclusively, and that they had better watch out, as women were on the rise.

Marie Monday 10-10-2021 11:09 AM

Omg shoutout to the godawful but legendary youtube series adaptation of Carmilla
I almost had forgotten that that was a thing :laughing:

The Batlord 10-11-2021 05:44 AM

Lol I gotta finish that.

Marie Monday 10-11-2021 12:06 PM

Hell yes all aboard the lesbian trash train

Trollheart 11-16-2021 09:31 AM

Title: La Ville Vampire (oh yeah, here we go: Vampire City!)
Format: Novel
Author: Paul Féval
Nationality: French
Written: 1874
Published: 1874
Impact: ?
Synopsis: I would have to say, reading the summary, this was one fun guy. His vampires are just, well, out there. He seemed to be more about having fun with them than trying to seriously adapt the legends, and Bram Stoker would probably have shaken his head and walked away, unable to take anything from this writer. A few details: a Buffy-like slayer goes to Selene, the Vampire City of the title, to rescue her friend. With her is an Irishman called Merry Bones, servant to her friend Grey Jack, and, um, a transgender vampire called Polly who, uh, carries their coffin around on their shoulder. Well, they don’t have much of a choice in that, since it’s chained to them. Kinky.

And that’s just the start. Féval’s vampires are (can I go on? I must) clockwork robots who have to be wound up by an evil priest (who seems too busy to appear in the novel - hey, evil doesn’t just spread itself you know!) in order to heal themselves. They have a tendency to explode if they come in contact with the heart of another of their kind. So much for two hearts are better than one! Oh wait: a cremated heart. Well that’s all right then. They also don’t use their teeth to puncture the flesh, but have sharp little thorns on their tongues for this, and they can duplicate themselves. Sounds amazing fun, especially for the time. A kind of prototype hybrid of vampire fiction and steampunk. Now I want to read it!

Well, you can see there are many firsts here - some of them onlies I guess, as who else is likely to have clockwork vampires? But here we have the first female vampire hunter, ever, so far as I can see, the first usage of a priest as an agency of evil, the first mention in a vampire story of a doppelganger, and of course the first time it’s intimated that vampires have their own city. I imagine their tourist board is not exactly busy.

Title: Le Capitaine Vampire (again, surely no translation required?)
Format: Novel
Author: Marie Nizet
Nationality: Belgian
Written: 1874
Published: 1874
Impact: ?
Synopsis: Another set against the backdrop of war, this time the Turko-Russian one of 1877 - 1878 in which the lead character, Boris Liakoutine, is a colonel in the Romanian army and has earned himself the nickname of Captain Vampire due to his incredible cheating of death on several occasions, and the tendency of women who get involved with him to meet suspicious ends. Other characters in the book include Iaon, a young army officer and his sweetheart Mariora. It’s said the true function of the vampire in this book is to serve as a metaphor for the horror of war, and given that Nizet was only nineteen when she wrote it, that’s a pretty mature way to look at something which could have been handled in a much more general way, given, at the time of writing, the growing number of vampire texts.

To write an anti-war novel (even if its intention is somewhat disguised within the then-burgeoning horror genre) at a time when nationalism and territorialism were rampant was indeed a courageous move, especially by a young woman, and might account for the book’s failure, being largely ignored despite its quality of writing. Nizet’s vampire does cast a shadow, unlike Stoker’s, and his pupils are vertically slit like those of a cat, which adds a nice feral kind of idea to the description. With these eyes he can hypnotise his victims - something Stoker would pick up on, though surely it’s in the basic research he would have done on the vampiric myths - and appears to have the power to be in two places at once, something I haven’t seen any other vampire able to achieve. He also (as would be necessary, even crucial, in an army officer) can walk in the daylight without any ill effects.

There's a suggestion in a review of a much later continuation of these tales that Captain Vampire may be the first “energy vampire”, that is, subsisting not on blood but on the life force of living beings. I don’t know if that’s addressed in this novel, but the idea seems to be that it is.

Title: After Ninety Years
Format: Novella
Author: Milovan Glišić
Nationality: Serbian
Written: 1880
Published: 1880
Synopsis: Certainly the first Serbian vampire story, it seems to be another which moved away from what Stoker would set down as the standard nearly two decades later, sticking more faithfully to the legends, especially, as might be expected, those of Serbia. A young man who has been thwarted in his attempts to marry the mayor’s daughter leaves his village and travels to another, where it seems the miller keeps getting murdered. I wonder if the vampire grins "It's Miller time!"? Sorry. Every time someone takes the post he is found dead with a red ring around his neck. The youth, Strahinja (no, not the ninja!) decides to take the post and see what happens. As you do.

He crouches in the loft of the mill with two pistols, waiting, and the vampire shows up. Unlike Dracula, this guy is not pale, not at all; in fact, his face is described as being “red as blood”. He’s big and tall, and carries with him his death shroud, which Serbian folklore tells he must always have with him, otherwise he will lose his power. Bit of a giveaway I would have thought. The vampire, who calls himself Sava Savanović, seems to cut a rather pathetic, even sympathetic figure as he bemoans the fact that he’s hungry. He says he’s been a vampire for ninety years and never yet gone hungry. Where is the miller? “Right here!” Strahinja might have said, and lets him have it with both barrels. When the smoke from the guns clears, the vampire is gone.

The villagers are amazed and overjoyed the next morning when they see Strahinja is still alive, and listening to his tale of vampires, they take him to see an old woman, who says she remembers Sava Savanović, that he was an evil man when he lived. She directs them to his grave, but there’s a problem. Though she’s told them where it is, they need to go through some complicated process to actually locate it; this involves using a black, ungelded horse, holy water and hawthorn stakes. The lore about these last is interesting, and actually makes a certain kind of sense.

Hawthorn was apparently what the Roman soldiers fashioned Jesus’s crown of thorns from, so it’s seen to have holy properties and evil creatures would be very much averse to it. But more - apparently - scientifically, hawthorn releases a chemical called trimethylene, which is attractive to butterflies, who cluster on the branches. What else releases this chemical? You got it: corpses. So butterflies will also be attracted to dead bodies, making them a kind of flying corpse locator. Nice.

So they locate the grave, thanks to the horse, who paws at the ground to show them where the coffin is buried, find Sava kicking back, bloated and full of blood, and they pour holy water on him. Well, not quite. Perhaps because they’re scared, or maybe some of them have taken a little “something” to fortify them for the grisly work, they spill it, and a butterfly escapes from the vampire’s mouth. This is perhaps meant to symbolise the vampire’s essence leaving his body, and though they stake him later on some children die in the village, evidence that he’s not quite as dead as they think, and may have another ninety years in him, or more. Stahinja is rewarded with the hand of the mayor’s daughter, the refusal by her father of which had precipitated his exit from the village, and all live happily ever after. Maybe.

From the extract above, it doesn’t seem like this is your typical-of-the-time Gothic novel. In fact, it’s really not Gothic at all, with no dark castles or dread spectres or family curses or windswept heaths, and reads more as a fairy tale than anything else, with a lot of humour in it and a certain, as I say, sense of pathetic sympathy for the hungry vampire. It draws heavily on Slavic beliefs, and I assume would have been quite popular in its native country at the time, relatable to most people there. It’s notable that there’s no actual depiction of the attack of the vampire, nobody gets killed except as related in the past and then only vaguely (all those millers) and then at the end the few children, but there are no graphic descriptions, or even the method used by the vampire to drain his victims, though clearly it is him, as he laments going without supper.

I think it seems to rely mostly on the power of suggestion and a fill-in-the-blanks kind of thing, which gives the impression that the author wasn’t trying to invent the genre, but writing a story within an already existing one, in which some of the conventions had been established, but from which he borrowed only sparingly, creating his own idea of what the vampire would be.

Title: The Fate of Madame Cabanel
Format: Novel
Author: Eliza Lynn Linton
Nationality: English
Written: 1880
Published: 1880
Impact: ?
Synopsis: Although written by an Englishwoman, the story is set in France, where a well-to-do gentleman brings home his new English wife, and things begin to get weird. The maid notices the flowers brought for the new wife and thinks they’re odd - belladonna and scarlet poppies among them - to say nothing of the violently hateful reaction of M. Cabanel when he sees them, ordering them out of his sight, which does not at all upset the new Mme. Cabanel, who just smiles enigmatically.

She’s not a hit with the villagers, who call her 'La beauté du diable,' though obviously not to her face. Perhaps unfairly, she’s immediately believed to be a vampire, as Martin the gravedigger grumps ; 'with those red lips of hers, her rose cheeks and her plump shoulders, she looks like a vampire and as if she lived on blood.' Always ready to give someone the benefit of the doubt, huh? I thought vampires were meant to look thin, wasted, pale and cadaverous? Unfortunately for Mme. Cabanel, this gravedigger is well respected in the village, and known to be privy to the secrets of the spirits, so his opinion counts for a lot.

From what I can see so far, this woman is no vampire, but merely a stranger in a country which is to be her new home, and the locals don’t like her. There’s very much a nasty undercurrent of xenophobia running through this, as if Linton hates and despises the French, and so presents her Madame Cabanel as a heroic martyr, especially tormented by her new husband’s housekeeper, Adèle, who may be more than just a housekeeper to him, or wish to be. By all accounts, Mme. Cabanel is sweet-tempered and good, friendly and tolerant, despite all Adèle’s attempts to provoke her.

As sickness begins to spread through the village, it’s this spiteful jealous little housekeeper who begins to disseminate the rumour - without any evidence of course - that it’s the fault of the master’s new wife. She goes for support of her wild accusations to Martin, the old gravedigger, and he, consulting tarot cards (always a good scientific basis for evidence) tells her that he suspected Mme. Cabanel from the beginning (as we saw) and that now the cards reveal her to be a vampire.

Well of course they do. Tarot cards are notoriously easy to misinterpret, either in ignorance of what they actually mean, or purposely, to skew a reading. I’m sure we all know the death card is supposed to signify great change, not death itself, and as for the happy squirrel… Anyway, good old Martin bands up with Adèle and together they hatch a plot, which is helped by the lady’s habit of walking in the graveyard, though as explained by the author, there is no horror attached to this. It’s simply the nicest place in a pretty ugly village, and Mme. Cabanel likes to walk among the graves and look at all the flowers on them. Innocent enough, but like the tarot cards, such activity can be twisted and warped into that of a ghoul. Which of course it is.

And things get worse. Her husband now falls ill, as well as Adèle’s son, and the doctor suspects the wife is poisoning both (without a shred of evidence, naturally) while the villagers have their own ideas, neither of which have any, or require any proof for them to move upon the silent accusation. Warned by both the doctor and Adèle (for different reasons), and it now being clearly revealed that the housekeeper had been M. Cabanel’s lover before he took his new wife, the slow-thinking man is convinced and turns against his bride. Though she tries to help the village children she is rebuffed, and people look on her with hatred and anger. Eventually the husband softens towards her and they reconcile (on his side at least; she has no idea, or takes no notice of the fact that he was cold toward her) but then he has to go away and she is left at the mercy of the slow-witted and suspicious villagers.

Probably not hard to see where this is going, but let’s continue and see. The boy gets worse and, against orders, the maid allows Mme. Cabanel to hold him, and he seems to calm down. But then he bites his lip and she tries to kiss it better. Bad idea. Now she has blood - his blood on her lips. Enter Adèle, as if she’s been watching and waiting for this moment, and roars in disgust and triumph at the woman, pointing at her bloodstained mouth. She just happens to have all the others, including rabble-rouser Martin with her, and they, for their part, have evidence in front of their very eyes. As the child has fallen asleep, they believe him to be dead, and they drag Mme. Cabanel to the Pit, where it is said the White Ladies roam and kill. Unable to believe such superstitious nonsense (and in all likelihood, not too well able to understand everything that’s said, since she’s English and I doubt anyone is slowing down to let her determine the words) she mocks them and will not defend herself.

By the time they get to the pit, it seems their innocent prisoner has died, and this spooks many of the party, who are confused, as a vampire should not be able to die. Just then there are the sound of hoofbeats and everyone scatters apart from Martin and Adèle. It turns out to be the husband, who has returned with the doctor and four gendarmes. Furious, broken-hearted, M. Cabanel cradles his dead wife, shouting at Adèle that she will pay for this. Adèle turns for support to the doctor but he tells her she is crazy, and M. Cabanel orders her arrest for murder, telling her he never loved her, or if he did, after what she has done, all that is left now for her is hate. In despair she jumps into the pit and kills herself, Martin and the others are arrested, though he still maintains that Mme. Cabanel was, and is, a vampire. Nobody is listening to him, now it’s too late.

So this isn’t a vampire story. If anything, it’s a disdainful look at parochial superstition, a woman taking a high and mighty look down at the stupid creatures below her who believe such things. It’s also as I said highly xenophobic, as Linton constantly refers to the Englishwoman as innocent and pure, while the French are, to a man and woman, dirty, ignorant, stupid and craven cowards. It’s anti-French in the worst possible way, and surely did nothing to help relations between the two countries. It also deals with themes of jealousy, as this is the prime motivating factor for the hateful Adèle to accuse her replacement, as well as themes of abandonment, as she feels cast to one side for the younger, prettier English girl. Superstition is a common thread running through this story, with also an admonition not to place too much credence in the beliefs of old men who think they know everything.

In any other, let’s say civilised country or part of it, a man who swears he sees demons and imps would be laughed at; here, such experiences go in Martin’s favour, and his opinion is highly prized and respected. The one man who should not be deciding who or what is a vampire is left to make that determination, spurred on by a woman who has at best questionable reasons for getting rid of her. There is at least a certain sense of justice at the end, when reason triumphs over superstition, but by then the damage has been done. Mme. Cabanel probably suffocated as she was being carried to the pit, though we’re not told how she died. The refusal of Martin to accept he was wrong is annoying, but totally in keeping with his age and his perceived wisdom on such matters. Some people never learn.

It’s a fiercely nasty story, told with disdain by the author and carrying with it the stink of high moral authority, as if the people of this village - and by extension, all of France - are nothing more than savages who need to be civilised. It’s condescending, inflammatory and really has no place in vampire literature.

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