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Trollheart 02-25-2021 09:42 AM

Walking After Midnight: Vampires in Myth and Media
It’s a fact that we all like to be scared. Some more than others, and me less than most, but yeah, we all enjoy a good fright from time to time. BOO! See what I mean? ;) Throughout our history, one figure has lurked in the darkness of our collective hearts, haunted our nightmares, fired our imagination and fed our curiosity. For many of us, our first encounter with the creature known as a vampire was through the writing of Bram Stoker, or perhaps through Hollywood’s later interpretation of his horror classic Dracula, but this was written just over a century ago, and itself was partially based on a person who existed, who lived four hundred years previous to that.

But in reality, the myth of the vampire dates back much, much farther than that. Most religions and beliefs have tales of creatures who stalk the night and drink the blood of the unwary, the innocent, the damned, and it could be said that the vampire is a manifestation, perhaps the physical form of the Devil himself, Satan, the Fallen Angel of Christian belief. Or any demon in any religion or faith. Without exception, the vampire is seen as evil, a dark creature luring its victims into its cold embrace, but its glamour is such that an entire industry has grown up around the myth. From books and then movies, television series and of course music, the vampire has been celebrated for hundreds of years, feared and loathed for hundreds more.

I’ve always been fascinated by vampires, and though of course they don’t exist (my master has told me to say that, and you will believe him for he is master) the tales told of them are so compelling, so absorbing, often so terrifying and real that sometimes it’s easy to believe that they do lurk there in the shadows, watching, waiting, patient, quiet, deadly. Vampires have infiltrated every corner of our lives, from the books we read to the movies we watch, the games we play and the music we listen to. In this journal I’ll be investigating the myth (yes, Master, I told them it was a myth, like you said) behind the vampire, and taking a close look at how this phenomenon has influenced us, making millions for some of us, and providing entertainment, terror and intrigue for the rest.

I’ll be looking at the books, from Rice to Meyer and Harris and of course Stoker; at movies such as the Dracula franchise, Hammer Horror and other, less conventional vampire movies such as Let the Right One In, TV series including of course Buffy, Angel, True Blood and The Vampire Diaries as well as lesser-known works such as Moonlight, Blood Ties and Forever Knight also more light-hearted fare - Duckula, Neighbors from Hell and the recent series spin-off from the movie What We Do In the Shadows. Wherever vampires figure in music, natch, we’ll be there, and I’ll look at games as well, like Vampire: the Masquerade and Castlevania.

But it won’t be all fiction. There are, believe it nor not, people out there who actually think they are vampires. There are others who pretend they are, and rather sadly but perhaps inevitably, (and tying in with my other journal, begun on this same day) there are records of serial killers who have performed vampire-like deeds while perpetrating their heinous crimes, particularly the so-called Vampire of Dusseldorf and Vampire of Sacramento, and of course the infamous Countess Bathory. I’ll be checking their stories out and trying to get inside their twisted minds: hope I can find my way out again.

So you know, if you feel like you need to keep the lights on, or whistle tunelessly to yourself or talk to your cat while reading this, I won’t hold it against you. Maybe you’re the type who scoffs at such notions (my master loves your kind!) and loudly proclaims there’s no such thing, but remember what Shakespeare wrote, and if there are more things in Heaven and Earth that are dreamed of in your philosophy, my friend, perhaps, just perhaps, there are more things in Hell you can’t even dream of too.

Sleep well…

Marie Monday 02-25-2021 10:05 AM

yaasssss I am so ready for this

Trollheart 02-25-2021 10:23 AM
Dark Genesis: Crouching in the Shadows

So where did the idea of vampires come from? Nobody knows. It’s a very complicated question, and you can search for, and find, answers that fit the further back into history you go. Human myth has always had evil figures, back to Satan and before him too, but why vampires? Why blood? Well I guess you can say blood is the thing that allows us all to live; lose enough of it and you’re dead, so anything trying to take it from you can be seen as dangerous and evil. But a serial killer (or just a regular, garden variety killer) will do that, and while we might fear such an event, we haven’t (quite) built up the kind of mythology around serial killers as we have around vampires.

Ah, but vampires don’t just take blood, do they? They use it to fuel themselves. They thrive on it. They feed on it. And that’s the scary bit. Of course, vampires don’t exist. Well, yes they do. Both of those sentences are lies. So is that one. If something is out there (or worse, in there, waiting by the foot of your bed or at the top of the stairs or just inside your door) that wants to catch you and suck your blood so as to prolong its own life or lend it strength, hell, that’s worrying. That would be bad enough were it not for the many powers vampires are said to possess, but more of that later. We’re getting off the beaten track and wandering into dark, cold, lonely forests where the kind of things lurk that we’re trying to avoid… come back here, don’t stray! They could be out there, just waiting for someone like you.
I think it was Anne Rice who coined the phrase “the blood is the life”, and so it is. Without it, or enough of it, we die. And the idea that something exists that could, and will, steal the life-force from us for its own selfish and evil ends is an unsettling one, but also an intriguing one, which has led to, as already mentioned, the growth of an entire entertainment industry built around the vampire. Blood has always had a special significance in most religions. Some spilled it as a way of appeasing their gods, sacrificing animals or even humans on crude altars. Some drank it (usually only animal, in this case) to gain strength and perhaps knowledge, and even in Christian mythos Jesus urges his disciples, and though them, us, to drink his blood in memory of him. Does this mean Jesus was a vampire? Surely not: (note: idea for possible novel!) in this case the blood is not blood at all, but wine - merely a symbol, a metaphor for the ordeal he was about to go through. Yet even to Jesus Christ, the importance of blood could not be overstated. If you’re going to remember my sacrifice, he said, remember my blood.
Quite apart from the vampiric myths, human dread has been driven by the fear of the dead returning for as long as we could imagine it. Zombies, ghouls, revenants and ghosts all figure prominently in the shared terror of humanity, part of that fear possibly rising from the belief that if the dead can come back, perhaps there is nothing after death; no Heaven, no afterlife, no God? We surely also didn’t want to see Aunt Matilda up and walking around hours after we had buried her, and we certainly didn’t want her scratching at our windows and demanding to be let in!

Writers like Rice and Tanith Lee have postulated - presumably only for fictional purposes, though who knows what they actually believe, if anything - that the vampire legend may have gone back as far as the Egyptians. Anne Rice sets The Queen of the Damned, the tour-de-force third instalment in her Vampire Chronicles in Egypt, blaming the plague of vampires on evil spirits which inhabit the bodies of the king and queen, while Tanith Lee, in the Blood Opera series claims the ancient tale of Osiris to be the source of the myth. There are those who suggest that Judas Iscariot was the first vampire, punished as a result of his betrayal of Jesus.

But the general consensus seems to be that what we know as the “traditional” vampire originates in Eastern Europe, in the Balkan countries, where long-held folk beliefs spoke of the dead coming back to life if not properly buried with the correct rituals. It would probably be true to say that there are, or were, two distinct types of vampire down through history. The first, referred to above, which we’ll call the “traditional” or “folk” vampire, tended to be fat and bloated, red or purple in colour, and likely to have blood around its lips or on its face. These type of vampires were seen more as beasts or demons, incapable of any sort of feeling, perhaps almost automatons controlled by some evil spirit, almost dark puppets. They would have had no communication with their victims, would display no emotion and would probably walk stiffly, having been just recently dead.

The second, or what we’ll call the “romantic” vampire, never existed in folk belief but only came to life, as it were, through the pen of gothic fiction writers such as Sheridan Le Fanu, Lord Byron and Bram Stoker. In these stories, the vampire was a cultured, educated, often noble being (Count Dracula being the most obvious example) who used his (almost always his, until people started writing about female vampires some time later) charm and animal magnetism, suave nature and noble bearing to ensorcell victims into obeying his commands. The romantic vampire is well-dressed, refined, usually somewhat at ease with the world around him, very much aware of his power and has no scruples at all about using it to get what he wants. Apart from unnaturally pale skin and perhaps red eyes, outwardly he looks the same as a living man, though he may have far greater strength. He walks as a man, talks as a man and often lives as a man, in a castle, house, or other habitation, unlike the folk or traditional specimen, who was usually expected to hang out at graveyards and cemeteries, and head back to his own grave before sunrise.

In fact, both species of vampire are tied to their own coffins, be they in cemeteries or in the cellars or attics of huge houses; a vampire, traditionally and romantically, sleeps through the day in his coffin, only rising at night, when the sun, which is deadly to their kind, has set. This, along with the drinking of blood, is probably the only real point of similarity between the two types, and the romantic vampire can certainly be seen as an evolution of, or an attempt by writers to evolve the traditional or folk vampire. Why? I guess because people identify more with a living (as such), thinking, feeling being other than just a monster. Vampires may be all monsters, but we can understand one that is more like a man than one that is basically a beast. It also allows the writer more freedom to develop the character of the vampire. No woman is going to fall in love with a beastly demon who may not even be able to speak, but Count Dracula, Lestat or Angel, now that’s a different matter.

Trollheart 03-06-2021 09:33 AM
Vampires: the Dos and Don’ts

Because vampires are not real (yes, master, I told them. I’m sure they believe … wait. You guys can’t hear my thoughts, can you? Ah. Just checking. Carry on then) they don’t really obey any set rules, though their behaviour has been dictated by writers over the last two centuries. Because they are creatures of the night, creatures of Satan, creatures of Hell (sorry, master) they are seen to abhor saintly relics, religious artifacts and ceremonies. But not all do. The thing about fictional creatures is you, as a writer, can decide what rules they follow, and whether through artistic licence, ignorance, arrogance or sheer expediency for their plot, some writers have changed what vampires can and can’t do, and what they’re afraid of, what hurts them and what kills them.


Blood drinking
Most writers (and let’s face it, folk legends aside, writers are the ones who make the rules for vampires) agree that vampires can drink blood, usually by sinking long sharp fangs into the jugular vein of the victim on the neck, which they then take into their own bloodless bodies, to fortify and keep them alive, or undead. This can also have the effect of lessening their pallor and making them seem outwardly more human. In some, it adds to their strength. Stoker and his like had their vampire “heroes” draw the blood delicately, like a connoisseur sampling a fine wine, while later writers would make vampires more brutal, less refined, tearing open the throat and ravaging the flesh, sometimes even ripping off the head. Stoker’s “fine gentleman drinking” idea was probably to reinforce the image of a cultured being who just happened to be a bloodsucker, whereas later the idea of showing these creatures up to be the monsters they are resulted in gorier and more horrible acts of violence perpetrated by the vampire against his victim.

Generally dropped fairly quickly, the initial idea was that the vampire could fly, usually by transforming himself into a bat or bird, sometimes by leaping from roof to roof so agilely and quickly that he might seem to be flying. Vampires were also able to climb and crawl up walls, like insects, something that is displayed to a terrifying degree when we first read it in Dracula.

Vampires are supposed to be able to mould and massage the human will, staring into the eyes of a victim and binding them with its spell, so that they cannot run - or want to - and even in death do not struggle. However this mesmerism can also be used by a vampire to sway the mind of a human, to make them, for instance, doubt what they have seen, or to believe whatever it is the vampire tells them.


Generally agreed by all writers is that vampires are very strong, inhumanly so, and no mere mortal can best them physically.


Vampires possess the ability to move so fast that the human eye cannot follow; a vampire can be a distance away and then in a micro-second be right in front of you. They can also use this power to evade weapons such as bullets.


Although vampires are dead (or undead) creatures and therefore have no seed with which to create new life, they can make other vampires, according to many writers. Methods of achieving this vary but usually it has to do with the vampire cutting his own veins and either feeding the blood to whomever he wishes to make a vampire (often called simply Making) or mixing it with their blood and feeding that to them. The vampire is then the new creatures’s Maker or Sire, and they, the new vampire, the fledgling, are entirely subservient to them, their new Master.

Not a power as such, but many writers (though not by any means all) hold to the ancient belief that a vampire loses its reflection after death and cannot be seen in a mirror. Surely makes it a bitch to shave, but it does mean a vampire can creep up on someone without being seen in a mirror. Bit pointless really, I feel, when they can just mesmerise the person, but it’s part of vampire lore, the idea being I think that God refuses to recognise the base creature and so it can’t be seen in a mirror, or the soul being part of the reflection, and the vampire, soulless, has no reflection.

Control of Animals

“Ah!” exclaims Count Dracula, as he listens at the window of his castle to wolves baying in the nearby forest. “The children of the night: what music they make!” Vampires are supposed to be able to control animals such as ravens, wolves, bears, dogs, bats etc.


As they can control animals, vampires can also take on the form of same, as again Dracula does in the novel, appearing both as a bat and later a large dog.


Although not always the case, it has become accepted that vampires either live very long lives or in some cases may be immortal, or the next best thing to it. As they are generally invulnerable, and do not age, only the most catastrophic of accidents or carelesness (being caught out in the sun/staked in their coffins etc) can terminate a vampire’s life, and so to all intents and purposes, providing they are careful they can be regarded as all but immortal. As mentioned, vampires do not age, and some writers have declared that the age the vampire was “made” remains his or her age throughout eternity, or as long as he or she lives. Most vampires would not bother with a scion (the issue of a vampire; their children, in name only) of advancing age, and so the vast majority of them are created young, or relatively young, and remain so.


Again not really powers, but vampires have heightened senses, especially hearing and smell, and they do not need to consume food, as they are dead.


Powerful as they may be, there are things that can hurt, thwart or even in some cases kill vampires. Again, writers take from and add to these restrictions as they like, but some have been generally accepted as all but universal.
The Sun

Vampires don’t like the sun, and it doesn’t like them. Being creatures of darkness, who hunt at night and cling to the shadows, the power of the sun is the one thing they are powerless against. Every vampire must be in his or her coffin by the time the sun rises, or its power will burn them to ashes. It seems to be accepted that in order to be affected by the sun the vampire has to be in its direct path, and there are stories of vampires, caught out during the day, escaping with their lives by throwing a dark cloak and hood over themselves, dodging from shadowed spot to shadowed spot, pulling heavy drapes across sunlit rooms, or taking refuge in darkened environments such as blacked-out vans or warehouses.

The idea here again is that the sun represents the light of God and all that is good, and that the vampire cannot stand being in the light. His skin is sensitive to the heat and light of the sun, and his eyes are not accustomed to it. As something that should not exist on the Earth, he is able to hide in the shadows and live off people’s uncertainty and fear of the night, but in the blinding light of day his powers evaporate and he is as helpless as a newborn baby. Various writers and film-makers have different ideas of what the sun is supposed to do to vampires - some just burn like cinders, some flake away bit by bit, some burst into flames - but they’re all pretty much agreed that it kills them, though one - in my opinion, poor - writer did create a vampire in the TV series Moonlight who was able to go abroad by day in full sunlight, with the aid of only a rolled-up newspaper to protect him. Yeah. But that one was very much in the minority, and as a general, usually unbroken and unchallenged rule, vampires haunt the night and sleep in the day, fearing the touch of the sun.
Holy Water

It will come as no surprise that another supposed weapon used against the undead is holy water. Being blessed by priests, the instrument of God, seen as the adversary of vampires and all creatures of the night, holy water is meant to be not fatal to vampires, but it does (according to some writers) scar, blind or just really irritate them. Some even have it burning them like acid.

One of the classic early ways of holding off a vampire was to hold a crucifix in front of you, against which they were apparently powerless, this being the very symbol of Christ’s sacrifice for Man, and anathema to evil. Later on, some writers decided a simple cross wasn’t enough. You had to have the faith in the symbol to back it up, leading to one vampire (can’t remember in what) grinning at a priest who had lost his faith, knowing that the crucifix he held would not protect the man, as for him, it had lost its power. Mind you, according to Anne Rice, her vampires aren’t bothered by the symbol of Christian belief. Louis in Interview With the Vampire says “I’m quite fond of crucifixes actually” and to my recollection he actually wears one, though Lestat I think hates and reviles them, that is up until he meets God in Memnoch the Devil, but I don’t recall them hurting him.

Wooden Stake

Ah, the old stake through the heart! The classic way of killing a vampire. Except it doesn’t, not really. The idea is based on pinning the vampire to the earth by way of the wood, which is also natural, and so nature holds him, making it impossible for him to move or rise, essentially in a state of suspended animation. If someone should be foolish enough to remove the stake, however, look out, as the vampire will be free again. In this fashion, he is never dead - never can die, not by staking - and is merely awaiting his chance to be released by the unwary.

The series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, however, took this method more literally, and Buffy was able to despatch vampires by literally stabbing them through the heart with a pointed wooden stick, whereupon they collapsed into dust. I’ll check and confirm, but so far as I know, the wooden stake method has another proviso, this being that the vampire has to be staked in his own coffin. It can’t just be anywhere; he has to be basically returned to the place he rose from. Not sure, as I say, but I’ll research it.


Not quite a weapon against vampires - you can’t hurl a piece of garlic at one and expect him to vanish in a puff of smoke - but believed to protect humans from the undead creatures. At this point I have no idea why, though I’ll be checking it out. Garlic would be traditionally worn around the neck on a string or hung over doors or windows to prevent the evil monster entering. Maybe it was just the smell that kept them out - I know it would me!


Another religious artifact, the rosary chain or rosary beads would be worn around the neck or held in the hand. As they are used in the mass, in confession and at other holy times, each one representing a prayer, they are said to be imbued with the power of God, and therefore proof against vampires.


Probably entirely a fictional creation with little or no basis in folklore, the idea that vampires can be stopped by silver seems to merge two very disparate ideas: that of the silver bullet being the only weapon that can kill a werewolf and, well, Kryptonite being the only substance capable of weakening Superman. Charlene Harris seems to have embraced this idea, with her vampire hero, Bill, in the series True Blood (based on her Southern Vampire Mysteries novels) chained in heavy silver as a punishment, and Lestat, too, at the end of Memnoch the Devil is so restrained, but these are the only instances of this restriction being used that I’ve come across to date.


If you really want to stop a vampire, do as the zombie hunter do, and emulate the Queen of Hearts: off with his head! Removing a vampire’s head (before or after death or resurrection) is a sure-fire way to put him down. For good measure, you can then set it and him on fire. He ain’t coming back from that!


Most writers over the years and centuries have changed, like many of the so-called laws governing vampires, the things they can and can’t do, but these are some of the ones sometimes held to be true.

Consecrated Ground

Vampires are said to be unable to walk on consecrated ground, that is, ground that has been blessed by a priest. Examples include church graveyards and churches themselves, as well as, one would assume, priests’ houses and seminaries. Rice gleefully flouts this when she has a coven of vampires living in the catacombs beneath the massive graveyard in Paris, who are shocked and scandalised when Lestat takes refuge in the cathedral of Notre Dame! Rice apart though (and probably others) it makes a certain kind of sense that vampires would shun churches, given that there would be such a confluence of religious artifacts there: holy water, crucifixes, etc.

Running Water

I’m not sure who came up with the idea, but someone decided vampires could not cross running water. Stoker ignored this when he sent Count Dracula on a sea voyage to England from his home in Transylvania, and most other writers (at least, relatively modern ones) seem to disown the idea too. Well, it’s hard for a writer to have her characters unable to move from country to country, after all.


Generally held as universal, it’s said that a vampire cannot enter any habitation unless invited in by someone who lives there. This only needs to be done once though; after that, he can move in and out freely. Vampires have been known to hypnotise home-owners into inviting them in. There is disagreement about whether or not an invitation, once given, can be rescinded, but if it is allowed to work it has various results, from simply preventing the vampire to enter to actually bodily flinging him out of the dwelling.

The Batlord 03-06-2021 03:06 PM

I'm gonna have so many ****ing opinions when you get to Anne Rice. Vampires rule though. Don't forget Hellsing (manga, anime, and second anime thankyouverymuch)

Trollheart 03-06-2021 07:28 PM

Big Rice fan of course, also Brian Lumley (two very different vampire authors) but I've never heard of Hellsing. You'll have to link me, but I expect it's more recent, and I'm starting from the eighteenth century so, you know, might take some time...

Trollheart 03-06-2021 08:09 PM
Meet the Ancestors (sort of)...

So to return to the question I asked at the beginning, and never answered, who or what was the first vampire? I didn’t answer because it’s pretty hard to say. Where does the line between blood-drinking demons or evil spirits and actual vampires lie? Are they both the same? Is one the progenitor of the other? We can look to the Bible, or further, as much of what is in that Holy Book is based on earlier legend anyway, and there we find one of the candidates for the first vampire, who is, rather ironically, a woman.
Lilith, or Lilitu

Perhaps marking one of the first, but enduring, beliefs that women cause all the trouble (thank you, Book of Genesis!) Lilith crops up in Hebrew belief as the first wife of Adam, but is originally based on figures from ancient Assyrian and Babylonian myth, where she is known as Lilitu, which means night hag, night demon, night monster etc. Unlike the Christian Eve, who is said to have been created from one of Adam’s ribs, Lilith is depicted as having been made from the same clay as him, so technically while Eve would be seen, from the moment of her creation, as a part of and therefore inferior to Adam, Lilith can be seen to be all but equal to him. Nevertheless, according to Hebrew scripture, having refused to be subservient to Adam she ran off and got it on with an angel, said to be Sammael, the Jewish figure of Satan himself, afterwards refusing to return to the Garden of Eden.

Although it’s hard to confirm, with such ancient religions leaving behind few written accounts and ideas and opinions changing as time continues its inexorable march, Lilith in Sumerian belief seems to have been a demon who flew around the underworld bringing nightmares, and is seen as a hateful figure who can, something like a succubus, transform herself into the likeness of a man’s wife and conceive a child with him. Later, Lilith would seek revenge upon the true children of the man and woman, making her a thing to be feared by children and parents alike. This legend would survive into Hebrew times, where the words “lilith-abi” would be inscribed on four amulets hung in a child’s bedroom by Jewish mothers, meaning “Lilith - begone!” and give us our present-day word lullaby.

From the stories told about her, it’s probably fair to demote, or promote, Lilith to the level of a witch - perhaps the first witch - rather than a vampire, but she is said to have drank the blood of infants and to have stirred the desire of men, whereas the vampire, particularly the romantic variation, certainly directed his sexual power at women, or occasionally, if female, at men. There are instances of homosexual or at least bisexual vampires in the writings of Rice and Lee, but they don’t seem to be based on any legend and are surely just there for the advancement of their stories and the development of their characters.

Essentially another incarnation of Lilith, Lamia was changed into a bestial being by the Greek goddess Hera after all her children had been destroyed by Zeus’s wife (or she had compelled Lamia to do so herself) in retaliation for Lamia sleeping with her husband. Alternatively, she was a Libyan queen who ordered infants snatched, Herod-like, from their mothers and killed, her savagery affecting her appearance and turning her into a monster. More horribly, the Greek philosopher Aristotle spoke of a ravening beast which tore open the bellies of pregnant mothers and devoured the fetuses. Lamia is the first of these beings to be given shape-shifting abilities, something that would become attached to the vampire myth.

Because of the above, the Lamia became a name used to frighten children into good behaviour, a kind of ancient bogeyman, and she began to be depicted as half-woman, half-serpent. This possibly removes her from the running for being a true vampire, but there are references to her and her kind sucking and drinking blood as well as seducing sleeping men, so some aspects are definitely there. Intelligence and gentility, however, attributes given to the modern vampire, are not: Lamia and her fellow creatures are said to be stupid, and to stink.

A similar creature, called the empousa, was known to target young men for the quality and purity of their blood, and would fatten up her victims before killing and devouring them. This is not necessarily something that translated to the later vampire myths, though Dracula is seen encouraging Jonathan Harker to eat at his castle, while he, the Count, partakes of no food, and it is later revealed that there are three hungry female acolyte vampires in the cellars or dungeon of the castle who wish to feed on him. Other features of the empousa, such as having a foot made of bronze or cow dung, and being frightened away by loud noises, certainly do not conform to our stereotype of the vampire.


Perhaps leading to the involvement of the vampire bat in the legend, the strix was a bird of antiquity said to feed on the blood and flesh of humans. Description of it as a “nocturnally crying creature which positioned its feet upwards and head below” lends more weight to this possibility. The strix is the first case where we hear of the efficacy of garlic against the beast, which might help explain why it’s seen as being useful in warding off vampires. Strix were also said to be the transformed Polyphontes, in retribution by the gods of she and her sons’ cannibalistic tendencies (this also explaining why these strange birds craved human flesh and blood). Striges (plural of strix) have been called “vampire owls”, which certainly fits the description of their behaviour. Later, it was believed that striges transformed into witches, and vice versa, lending more credence to the myth of their association with vampires and creatures of darkness.


Really more a precursor to the Haiitian zombie, the vetala comes from Indian legend, where it would inhabit the corpse of a recently-buried person and reanimate it, though it does not seem to have been to any evil end, more for mischief. Additionally, vetala are not said to have drank blood, though they did hang upside-down like bats.

Shtriga and dhampir

Dhampir sounds very close, doesn’t it? But let’s deal with shtriga first. Basically witches in Albanian folklore, they were said to possess the evil eye and could curse people, being the only ones who could lift the curse. It was feared they sucked the blood of infants at night, and transformed into flying insects once they had had their fill. One explanation offered for their being evil is that they were childless women, who were jealous of the offspring of others. Again, garlic was used to ward against them or banish them. The crucifix and holy water comes in here too, perhaps for the first time, though as usual it’s the Catholic Church trying to assert its power over the pagan monsters.

Despite what I said about the name though, dhampirs can’t be considered as forebears of the vampire, as they appear to be the result of a union between a vampire and a human. In fact, Slavic tradition has it that dhampirs could see vampires who were invisible to other eyes, and this led to many of them pursuing a career as vampire hunters. Dhampirs were supposed to have no shadow - a handy attribute if you are a vampire hunter - and no bones (not quite so handy), making them seem “slippery and jelly-like”. Uh-huh. Some of the more famous fictional dhampirs are Blade, Connor from the series Angel and Rayne from the movie Bloodrayne.

Moroi and Strigoi

One of almost the birthplaces of the vampire, at least the romantic, novellised one, is Romania, and Stoker set his seminal novel near here, in the Carpathian Mountains. Not too surprising, when you hear the tales and beliefs that emanated from that area. Moroi were basically ghosts which left the grave to trouble the living, while strigoi were witches with two hearts and two souls, which could send out their spirits at night to meet up with others of their kind and attack and consume the blood of animals and humans. After death, strigoi would roam the night, attacking their living family, drinking their blood. Interestingly, in Romanian folklore there were several ways people could become vampires, and some were born fated to be nightcrawlers. A living strigoi would, when she passed away, become a revenant, a dead (or undead) strigoi, but any unbaptised child, anyone who was born with a caul, an extra nipple, a tail or extra hair was also doomed to become a vampire.

If you happened to be the seventh boy or seventh girl in a family of all the same sex, that was it for you: vampire in the making. Similarly, if your mother had the bad luck to have a black cat cross her path, if you were born too early, out of wedlock or had blue eyes and red hair your fate was sealed. A pregnant woman who didn’t eat salt, or one considered a strigoi was liable to give birth to a vampire, and anyone who died an unnatural death was also at risk.

The Batlord 03-06-2021 08:26 PM


Originally Posted by Trollheart (Post 2165248)
Big Rice fan of course, also Brian Lumley (two very different vampire authors) but I've never heard of Hellsing. You'll have to link me, but I expect it's more recent, and I'm starting from the eighteenth century so, you know, might take some time...

1. I was big into Rice in my late teens/early 20s but I'm more mixed on her now. I still love the universe she created though.

2. I just read the first Necroscope novel and remember nothing about it. I think I remember it being... okay.

3. Hellsing is only twenty years old and I figure you've never seen anime in your life.

4. You know you can skip around right? There's something to be said for the reader being excited cause they don't know what you're gonna do next vs waiting for you to slog through two hundred years of content that may or may not be of any interest to anyone but people who are into creepy nerd clubs where people wear capes and don't even have the balls to exchange blood.

The Batlord 03-06-2021 08:54 PM

Oh and Vampire: The Masquerade is a video game but it started as a D&D style table top RPG. And it's still going strong to this day.

Trollheart 03-07-2021 09:33 AM

You know what the word history means, right? ;)

It's quite possible I'll jump off the time line here and there to explore stuff that may be more contemporary or interesting sure - I don't want to die before my readers - but generally I do try to in so far as possible do these things chronologically.

Thanks for commenting by the way; population of Journaltown seems to have really shrunk. Was there some terrible natural catastrophe I never heard about?

Incidentally, you should stick with Necroscope as it gets really good, though to be fair the Vampire World novels are where it's at.

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.

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.

Trollheart 11-16-2021 09:46 AM

Title: Manor
Format: Short story
Author: Karl Heinrich Ulrich
Nationality: German
Written: 1884
Published: 1884
Impact: ?
Synopsis: We’ve had the first female vampire, the first black vampire and even the first transgender vampire. Now, a hundred years before Anne Rice (almost) comes the very first gay vampire. Despite my expectations, the title does not refer to an old, crumbling house around which vampires shuffle and stalk, but is the name of the protagonist, a sailor who saves another one, Har, from drowning, and the two become friends, and in time, more than that. Manor leaves on a whaling voyage, and to Har’s dismay is drowned when the ship founders. But later Manor comes to Har and sucks his blood, as they develop a curious kind of homosexual relationship.

The village isn’t having that. Not the gay liaison; they don’t mind that. But they draw the line at vampires, and set out to destroy Manor. He’s not so easy to kill though, being strong and vital even if he is pale and ghostly-like. He’s restricted to nocturnal roaming, and stays in his coffin during the day, when the “community”, as they’re described in the summary I’m reading, try to stake him but the attempt fails because the stake needs to have a head, like that of a nail, to work, in a departure from traditional vampire lore. Also slightly different, Manor sucks the blood from Har via his nipple, rather than from his neck, and it seems too that Har is aware of, and willing to deal with the vampire, as long as he loves him.

The matter-of-fact way the villagers deal with the news that there is a vampire in their midst is quite amusing:

“To the people of Wagoe she [Har’s mother] said, "The insecurity of your graves has exposed one of us to danger. A man here is leaving his grave every evening, coming over to us and sucking his fill of blood from this poor youth."
"We'll try to secure it properly," the people of Wagoe said.

Well that’s all right then. Also hilarious is their reaction upon opening Manor’s grave (with, I should also mention, a stake “as tall as a man” - what were they going to do with it, pole vault over him??)

"One of the people of Wagoe said, "Look, he hasn't moved since the day we buried him."
"That's because he gets into the same spot each time he returns," the wise woman replied.”
Ah, the wise woman! Two things, me lord, must ye know about the wise woman, First, she is…. A woman! And second…

Har’s frantic entreaty to his vampire lover is also side-splitting.
"Manor, Manor," he cried, his voice quivering. "They're going to drive a stake into your heart. Manor, wake up. Open your eyes. It's me, your Har."

What, did he think that if the vampire woke up this would be looked on as a good thing? “Oh look, he’s awake. Throw away that stake, we don’t need it now.”

In the end they nail that sucker, and poor Har dies, but whether from blood loss or a broken heart is unclear. He asks to be buried in the same grave as Manor, and for the stake to be taken out of his lover’s body. His mother says she’ll do that, but I wonder? Still, with Har now dead and presumably with Manor forever, what reason would the vampire have to trouble the living? Or maybe they both end up haunting the village. It doesn’t say.
I guess for its time the story couldn’t be too graphic - it’s not graphic at all - and there’s actually no mention of sex in it, so perhaps it’s more implied than shown. Still, even the implication would have got Ulrichs into trouble, so it’s a brave effort to create the world’s first homosexual vampire. It is unintentionally funny though.

Title: The True Story of the Vampire
Format: Short story
Author: Count Stanislaus Eric Stenboch
Nationality: Swedish
Written: 1894
Published: 1894
Impact: ?
Synopsis: And now the first Scandivanian account, written by a Swedish author, of a vampire, which appeared apparently in Stoker’s later collection, Dracula’s Guest, published in and seems to be the second homosexual vampire story. Count Vardalek visits the castle of Baron Woopsy sorry I mean Wrondki (those nobles must stick together) and develops a passion for the younger Gabriel, who wastes and sickens under Vardelek’s attentions till he dies.

The opening lines of the story seem to mock Stoker, though his seminal novel would not be published for another three years:

“VAMPIRE STORIES ARE GENERALLY located in Styria; mine is also. Styria is by no means the romantic kind of place described by those who have certainly never been there. It is a flat, uninteresting country, only celebrated by its turkeys, its capons, and the stupidity of its inhabitants. Vampires generally arrive by night, in carriages drawn by two black horses.”

Although the story is narrated by a female, it also seems that the Count (the real one, the author) is referring to the public’s perception of his widely-known eccentricities when he says (or she says) “It is to tell how I came to spend most of my useless wealth on an asylum for stray animals that I am writing this.” Take that, polite society!

Count Stanislaus’s vampire seems to be a reluctant one, one who cannot die though he wishes to, and who seems to regret taking life, as he says about Gabriel (playing the piano): “My darling, I fain would spare thee; but thy life is my life, and I must live, I who would rather die. Will God not have any mercy on me? Oh! oh! life; oh, the torture of life!” Or perhaps, more accurately, oh the torture of having to read this! Yeah, it’s a very basic story, and if you know vampires there are zero surprises, twists or deviations from the legend. The only difference being that, as I say above, this vampire seems tortured by what he has to do.

The author himself was strange. As already mentioned, he kept a menagerie of animals, and also always travelled with a dog and a monkey, as well as a life-sized doll, which he seemed to think was alive, and his son. No, seriously. When he hadn’t got it with him, he would enquire about its health, and the rumour was that he had paid a priest a fortune to “educate” it. He was also said to sleep in a coffin, though how true this is I don’t know.

But as far as writing vampire stories goes, I’ve read his, and, no pun intended, it sucks.

Title: Lilith
Format: Novel
Author: George MacDonald
Nationality: Scottish
Written: 1895
Published: 1895
Impact: ?
Synopsis: Tres weird. In the synopsis I can find no mention at all of a vampire; this seems to be a fantasy/horror novel with plenty of disparate elements, many of which are taken from Christian belief (hence the title I guess) but I can’t see a simple undead creature anywhere. Not sure why it’s included. Look, it’s a novel: I’m not going to go reading the whole thing in the hope there may be a vampire or vampires lurking somewhere, but it does concern me that MacDonald uses as the medium of his protagonists’ passage from one world to the next a mirror, when a rather more famous novel had already used this only twenty years before.

Title: The Blood of the Vampire
Format: Novel
Author: Florence Marryat
Nationality: English
Written: 1897
Published: 1897
Impact: ?
Synopsis: Published the same year, this novel was inevitably going to suffer from comparison to Dracula, which would ride head and shoulders over all vampire novels and stories written to that point, and many after it. Its protagonist is Harriet, a female Jamaican vampire, who comes to Belgium and meets two English women, one of whom, Margaret, is dubious about allowing her to hold her baby, and finds herself drained. Baroness Gobelli invites her to England; meanwhile she spends more time with Margaret’s child, who gets progressively more ill. Eventually the baby dies, and the doctor summoned to investigate the cause can’t figure it out. It does transpire though that he knew Harriet’s father.

When Harriet gets to England she has the same effect on the Baroness’s young son, who also sickens and dies. Baroness Gobrelli accuses her of having “black blood” and “vampire blood”, and Harriet, having met and falling in love with a man, is frightened and returns to Belgium to seek the advice of the doctor. He tells her that her mother was a slave and her father performed medical experiments on his own slaves (whether or not that includes her mother I don’t know) until they revolted and killed him. He warns Harriet never to marry, but of course she is in love and goes ahead anyway. When she wakes up on her wedding morning to find her new husband dead, she is overcome with grief and takes poison.

Is this the first vampire novel or story without a self-aware vampire, I wonder? I’d have to check back, but whether deliberate by their own hand or made by another, I think every other vampire so far as at least known and recognised what they are. Harriet does not, and is horrified by the possibility she could be responsible for these deaths. She has to face that when she is presented with the still-warm corpse of her husband of a few hours on the morning after their wedding, and is so grief-stricken that she kills herself. But is she even a vampire? Well, we assume so, and it’s postulated that it’s a hereditary thing, unlike many or most of the vampires we’ve read about up to now. It’s also allied, rather uncomfortably, to her black heritage, which surely says something about racism.

The delight of the little Harriet whipping the slaves on the plantation “as a treat” is grossly disturbing, but of course meant to be so. I’m reminded of the episode “Chain of Command” in Star Trek: The Next Generation, when a Cardassian child asks his father - who is torturing Captain Picard - about the human, and the officer smiles that humans do not love their children as Cardassians do. The parallel is obvious: reduce the object of your violence to beneath the status of human and it’s no longer wrong to punish them. You’d beat a dog (well, I wouldn’t but some people would) and have no problem with it, but beating a man or a woman? Might be a little more reluctance there. The fact that slaves have been reduced to the status of mere property means there’s no need to worry about whipping them; in fact, it’s the right thing to do.

Although Harriet is of mixed-race, it’s odd how she refers to the slaves as “niggers”, obviously not including herself in their race, believing herself above them, even though she has clearly black blood in her veins and her own mother was, as she finds out later, a slave, but being brought up on the plantation she was no doubt told she was nothing like them. Quite how she can be a vampire and not know it I don’t understand: does she go into a trance or something, lose her human identity like a werewolf, only regaining it when her hunger is sated? I haven’t read the novel, but I wonder if it says or if Marryat leaves it open to conjecture?

I feel the comparisons made with Dracula and Carmilla are unfair. These two novels bookend the latter half of the nineteenth century, written within twenty years of each other and towering like two colossi over early - and indeed, later - vampire literature, so they would of course be used as a yardstick for anything that came after (or in the case of Dracula, at the same time), but I don’t see, from the admittedly short synopsis, that many similarities between the three books. Carmilla is a female vampire, yes, but seems well aware of what she is, almost glorying in it, while Dracula is, well, male, and seems to bear no real resemblance to the vampire here, nor are the events taking place in a similar location. I wonder if those two books had not been written, and assuming Marryat doesn’t use them as inspiration (which I don’t know) would her novel have been better received?

Trollheart 11-16-2021 09:58 AM
Yes, let the trumpets ring out in glorious fanfare! We've finally reached that moment!

Roll out the red carpet!
Let the tickertape parade begin!

Next up...

Watch this space (and your back)!

Trollheart 12-13-2021 02:57 PM

We interrupt our timeline to bring you the sad news of the passing of a legend in vampire fiction. Anne Rice, author of The Vampire Chronicles, has died aged 80 in a hospital in California from complications following a stroke. We now present our own little tribute to this remarkable woman.
Queen of the Undead: A Tribute to Anne Rice (1941 - 2021)

While it would not be fair or accurate to say Anne Rice created the genre unofficially known as vampire literature or vampire horror, she certainly was one of the first, if not the first to drag the well-worn tropes into the twentieth century, reviving the genre at a time when really all there was were novels about Bram Stoker’s most famous creation. Her first vampire novel - in fact, her first novel - was published in 1976, only a year after Stephen King’s horror masterwork Salem’s Lot, but whereas King focussed on the evil, monstrous, terrifying aspect of his vampires and made them not in the least sympathetic, Rice took a different approach with her vampires. Indeed, in the very first book, Interview with the Vampire, in which we are introduced to her star Lestat de Lioncourt, through the recollections of his protege, Louis de Pont du Lac, there’s an immediate effort by Rice to allow us to see the world through the vampire’s eyes, to realise he’s not only the monster Stoker, LeFanu and others have painted the undead as, and most importantly, he hates what he has become.

Up to now, what vampire writing there had been had mostly concentrated on presenting the vampire as a monster, something to be destroyed, and something that wanted to destroy us. Anne Rice, while never allowing us to lose sight of the fact that vampires are evil creatures, helps us understand there is more to them that lustful blood-drinking and hunting. She shows us a species, if you will, who adore art and music, love company, travel and literature, and who enjoy the finer things life has to offer, while yet at the heart of it loathing what they have become. Even Lestat, the “brat prince” of vampire literature, who revels in his debauchery and power, becomes, over the course of five novels, bored with immortality and finally reaches a revelation about his existence which even he cannot ignore.

Anne Rice was born Howard Allen Frances O’Brien on October 4 1941, to Irish Catholic parents in New Orleans, almost two months to the day before America was attacked by Japan and drawn into World War II. Her father in fact served in the navy, and did write one novel, while her mother - who had given her the unusual name of Howard because “she was a bit of a madwoman” according to Anne herself - was a badly-sinking alcoholic and would die before Anne was fifteen. Another source claims it was her father who gave Anne her name, but in 1947 she legally changed it to Anne O’Brien. After her mother passed in 1956, her father wasted no time replacing her, and also farming out his children to the local private school for girls, St. Joseph Academy, which she and her sister hated, and which may have influenced some of the claustrophobia of later novels such as Queen of the Damned and Lestat’s incarceration at the end of Memnoch the Devil.

A year after remarrying, her father moved the family to Texas, where Anne would meet her future husband, Stan Rice. After studying at the University of San Francisco and working at an insurance firm, Anne married Stan in 1961 and they moved back to San Francisco the next year. Though they lived in the heart of the Haight-Ashbury district and it was “the summer of love”, Anne did not get involved, her strict Catholic upbringing leaving her writing while outside “everyone was dropping acid and smoking grass. I was known as my own square”. Her refusal to get involved in the drug scene paid off (though she was emulating her mother, as both she and her husband were now alcoholics) and she graduated from San Francisco State with an M.A. in creative writing in 1970. Her first child, Michele, born in 1966 was diagnosed with leukemia and only lived six years, dying in 1972, surely the inspiration for Claudia, the frustrated vampire child in her first novel.

However, the uncompromising attitude of the Catholic Church, and its inherent hypocrisy so angered and affected Anne that she officially left the Church around this time, declaring herself an atheist. She would maintain this stance well into her fifties, and her, if you like, release from the bonds of Christianity was to characterise her novels and allow her to people them with creatures who mocked God, even hated God, also loved God but many of whom refused even to believe in one. It was only in Memnoch the Devil, the final book in the original Lestat story, that she would approach the subject head-on by doing something no other writer to my knowledge has ever done, and have her character speak face-to-face with God himself. And the Devil.

When her second child, Christopher, was born in 1978, she and Stan made the decision to give up the booze, Anne afraid that her son would suffer the same life she had done, and determined this would not be the case. When she first wrote Interview with the Vampire she says herself that she did not do much research, but based the idea on the horror movie Dracula’s Daughter, still managing so far as I can see to be the first author to present vampires as sympathetic beings the reader could relate to. After many rejections the novel was finally picked up and Anne was on her way. Two more vampire novels followed (in between some risque adult writing under pseudonyms) as The Vampire Chronicles began to grow and take shape. Eventually the series would run to ten novels, moving away from its central character to tell the stories of others, such as Marius, Pandora and Armand. She also diversified into other areas of horror, writing a trilogy about witches, a novel about a mummy and, later, religious novels based on the life of Christ.
She wasn’t an overnight sensation though. Critical reaction to Interview with the Vampire was mixed, and mostly negative, which caused her to question her choices and change tack for a few years. It was the sequel, The Vampire Lestat (which, it has to be said, is a far superior book and my favourite of the original trilogy) that changed the critics’ minds, and by the time the conclusion of what was at that time a trilogy, The Queen of the Damned was published, it made the New York Times Best Sellers list, going right to the top and staying on the list for a third of 1988. That year she and her family moved back to New Orleans, where they would remain and where most of her novels would be set. In 1998 she returned to the Catholic Church, though still disagreeing with many of its core stances, such as homosexuality and abortion rights, and this year too she had her first brush with death.

In truth, Anne Rice almost died twice, the first time being as above when she fell into a diabetic coma (unaware she even had diabetes) and then again in 2004 when she had a gastric bypass and almost died from an intestinal blockage. Whether this had any impact on her writing or not, she now chose to devote her remaining creative energies to praising God in her writing, though she didn’t by any means dismiss or disavow her supernatural works, those that had made her the famous figure she had become.
“I had experienced an old-fashioned, strict Roman Catholic childhood in the 1940s and 1950s ... we attended daily Mass and Communion in an enormous and magnificently decorated church.... Stained-glass windows, the Latin Mass, the detailed answers to complex questions on good and evil—these things were imprinted on my soul forever.... I left this church at age 18.... I wanted to know what was happening, why so many seemingly good people didn't believe in any organized religion yet cared passionately about their behavior and value of their lives.... I broke with the church.... I wrote many novels that without my being aware that they reflected my quest for meaning in a world without God.
"In the moment of surrender, I let go of all the theological or social questions which had kept me from [God] for countless years. I simply let them go. There was the sense, profound and wordless, that if He knew everything I did not have to know everything, and that, in seeking to know everything, I'd been, all of my life, missing the entire point. No social paradox, no historic disaster, no hideous record of injustice or misery should keep me from Him. No question of Scriptural integrity, no torment over the fate of this or that atheist or gay friend, no worry for those condemned and ostracized by my church or any other church should stand between me and Him. The reason? It was magnificently simple: He knew how or why everything happened; He knew the disposition of every single soul. He wasn't going to let anything happen by accident! Nobody was going to go to Hell by mistake.”

Without meaning to speak ill of the dead, especially someone I truly respected, I have to say this comes across as the next best thing to apologism for the Church and all the horror and evil it has presided over, even orchestrated down the centuries. It’s a blase, incredibly naive and in some ways insulting viewpoint to say “oh it’s all right cos God knows everything.” Bullshit.

But as I say, I don’t want to speak ill. I just wanted to say I completely and categorically disagree with and do not support her view expressed above.

After the death of her husband in 2002 Rice left New Orleans in 2005, with remarkable foresight or just pure dumb luck managing to miss Hurricane Katrina by months or weeks, and followed Christopher to California. In 2010 she had again had it with Christianity, as she explained the difference she saw between being a Christian and following Christ:

"Today I quit being a Christian.... I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being 'Christian' or to being part of Christianity. It's simply impossible for me to 'belong' to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I've tried. I've failed. I'm an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else."[83][84] Shortly thereafter, she clarified her statement: "My faith in Christ is central to my life. My conversion from a pessimistic atheist lost in a world I didn't understand, to an optimistic believer in a universe created and sustained by a loving God is crucial to me. But following Christ does not mean following His followers. Christ is infinitely more important than Christianity and always will be, no matter what Christianity is, has been, or might become.”

In contrast to her 1998 statement, it’s hard not to applaud and agree with this. Far too many so-called Christians don’t know what it is or what it is meant to be to be one, and have no intention of following any of the teachings of Jesus other than those that suit their own agenda. Makes me thank God I’m an atheist.

For me personally, Rice was a window into the world of horror, vampire horror and somewhat historical fiction, as I had not been a horror fan and had not seen or read Salem’s Lot, and I think I may have read Dracula beforehand, but I’m not sure. If I did, it was the only vampire novel I had read. Once I began Interview with the Vampire I was hungry for more (sorry) but at the time I read it, though it was far from its original publication date (1986 I think) it was the only one available by her, so when I saw a sequel (technically a prequel I guess) bearing the name of the anti-hero of that first novel, I didn’t need any further prompting to grab it excitedly from the shelf at Eason Book Shops and shell out my hard-earned on it. Incidentally, for those interested, I found Interview with the Vampire almost by accident, after having listened to the Sting song “Moon Over Bourbon Street” and reading that he had based it on the novel, which I then went out to find, so thanks, Sting: you did at least one good turn for me in your life.
The film adaptations of her work had a mixed reception. Even the box-office draw of Tom Cruise in the title role couldn’t win the movie of Interview with the Vampire an Academy Award, though it did very well in the box office and was a hit; it’s poorly remembered though and was quickly drowned out by movies such as the seventh in the Star Trek franchise, Generations and the truly awful The Santa Clause as Christmas approached. It did win two BAFTAs (British Academy of Film and Television Awards) and Kirsten Dunst in her first role did well out of it, as did Brad Pitt and Antonio Banderas, but few people will cite it now who are not fans. Personally I thought Cruise did a very good job, considering that Rice had slated him as “about as much my Lestat as Edward G. Robinson!” It might, though, be telling that the film’s lack of enduring appeal may have prevented Cruise from reprising the role in The Queen of the Damned, which fared much worse.

After much opposition by Anne the plan was to merge the two novels in one, which was crazy given how much ground there is to cover in one of them, never mind two. The central theme of the twins was dropped, again a ridiculous decision, and basically the movie was a mess. It barely made back its budget, making a paltry ten million as compared to the first one which almost quadrupled its initial outlay. Queen of the Damned ironically lived up to its name, receiving almost universally negative reviews, triggering a poor 17% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and resulting in Rice advising her fans to “forget it” as it “mutilated” her work. Even the death of its other star, Aaliyah as Akasha, the eponymous queen, a few months prior to its release, could not save the movie’s reputation. After this bomb, Rice decided television was the way to go (I could have told her that) and she and Christopher were working on a series based on The Vampire Chronicles only months before her death.
I will be the first to admit I have not read all Rice’s material. Some of her novels did not resonate with me at all. I hated Violin, was not interested in Pandora and did not read any of her non-vampire novels at all. In fact, I really only read the first five of the Vampire Chronicles: Interview with the Vampire, The Vampire Lestat, The Queen of the Damned, The Tale of the Body Thief and Memnoch the Devil, which for me placed a perfect seal on the story of Lestat, including Rice’s own touching little farewell to her creation, and his personal bowing out of the story. I have not read Prince Lestat yet, though I do have Blackwood Farm: I have yet to open it though.

If Rice had not written anything beyond those five novels, I think I would have been satisfied, and perhaps so too would she. Between them, they cover all but the entire story of Lestat, her central and most important figure, from his birth through his “birth to darkness” and on to his eventual redemption, even his return to mortality. It’s hard to think of a more perfect coming of full circle in literature, and to my mind she might have been better to have left it there, but that’s just my personal opinion.
What is not in doubt is that, whether she directly influenced them or not (or whether they will admit it) Rice surely set the groundwork and prepared the road for future writers of vampire fiction, such as Charlaine Harris, L.J. Smith and Stephanie Meyer, as well as already-established authors like Brian Lumley and Tanith Lee. Of course, her treatment of the vampire as an intensely sexual (and usually bisexual or homosexual) being has led to something of a glut of what can only really be described as “vampire porn”, but I suppose that will happen with any genre, especially one so rooted in sensuality and sexuality. Whatever the result or the side-effects though, it can be hardly disputed that the woman named Howard as a girl set the blueprint for the modern vampire novel, and for the fanged monsters and debonair villains to make their way from large screen to small, kicking off a vampire craze not really equalled in popularity until the sudden obsession of the public with zombies. Anne Rice taught us that vampires aren’t just monsters and, hey, they need love too.

Rest in Peace, Anne. Your work is done.

Or to paraphrase the end of Memnoch, the Devil:
Believe me, in my words, in what I have said and in what has been written down. I am here, still, the hero of my own dreams, and let me please keep my place in yours.
I am Anne Rice.
Let me pass now from fiction into legend, and from legend into history.
Adieu, mon amour.

The Batlord 12-13-2021 04:10 PM

Her parents named her Howard?!

Trollheart 12-13-2021 06:26 PM

They did. There's varying stories as to who was responsible, both stories give pretty damn stupid justification for saddling a girl with such a name:

About her unusual given name, Rice said:

Well, my birth name is Howard Allen because apparently my mother thought it was a good idea to name me Howard. My father's name was Howard, she wanted to name me after Howard, and she thought it was a very interesting thing to do. She was a bit of a Bohemian, a bit of mad woman, a bit of a genius, and a great deal of a great teacher. And she had the idea that naming a woman Howard was going to give that woman an unusual advantage in the world.[16]

However, according to the authorized biography Prism of the Night, by Katherine Ramsland, Rice's father was the source of his daughter's birth name: "Thinking back to the days when his own name had been associated with girls, and perhaps in an effort to give it away, Howard named the little girl Howard Allen Frances O'Brien."[17] Rice became "Anne" on her first day of school, when a nun asked her what her name was. She told the nun "Anne," which she considered a pretty name. Her mother, who was with her, let it go without correcting her, knowing how self-conscious her daughter was of her real name. From that day on, everyone she knew addressed her as "Anne",[18][19] and her name was legally changed in 1947

Trollheart 02-25-2022 07:30 PM

That takes us, a little later than intended, to the big one, the mother of all vampire novels, the one anyone who is at all familiar with or interested in vampires will have read, or at the very least know about, and which formed the basis for countless Hollywood adaptations and many TV interpretations of his story of an ageless, immortal, evil monster who lives alone in a castle until one unsuspecting human gives him a chance to unleash his evil on the world, as Chris de Burgh once nearly wrote, far beyond those castle walls.

But before we dive - and we will dive, and deeply - into the novel that set the standard, how much do we actually know about the author, the man who could, in many ways, almost more than John Polidori or Sheridan LeFanu or James Malcolm Ryder, be said to be the father of vampire fiction, or if not, at least the one who brought it all together? How well do we know this man, what do we know of his life, what drove him to write one of the seminal novels of the nineteenth century, and one of the most important Gothic novels in human history? Well, not much I must admit.

Let’s fix that before we go any further.
Bram Stoker (1847 - 1912)

Beyond the Forest and Into the Dark: A Short Biography of Bram Stoker

Abraham “Bram” Stoker was, as probably everyone knows, an Irishman. This of course gives me a certain sense of pride, but not only that, he was also what we call a northsider, being born in Clontarf, on the north side of Dublin. Though Clontarf was and is an affluent suburb of the city, where property prices are far higher than, oh let’s take an example at random and say Darndale (!) and where the great and the good like to live - when they’re not on the southside that is - it is still on the north side of the city. Clontarf fronts onto the sea, is only literally a walk away from Fairview Park, and, incidentally, not that you care, a short distance from where I went to school. Stoker was born to a Protestant family, the third of seven children, a sickly child who spent his first seven years in bed. There is no information on what the illness was that laid him low, but his enforced time bedridden allowed his mind, if not his body, to fly free, and he thought about many things, the seeds of an embryonic writer perhaps already germinating in his mind.

Whether fate decided to make up for ruining his childhood, or whether his being restricted to bed had a positive effect on his growth, Stoker grew to be a giant, standing six two at a time when the average male height was about five foot five. He was huge, and not just tall: a real bear of a man, and excelled (no surprise) in sports and athletics. He was born at what could be described as an auspicious time, the same year as Edison and Alexander Graham Bell, two more men who would go on to make their indelible mark on history, though in different fields to his. 1847 also saw the publication of two important Gothic novels, Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, which provided some source material for Stoker’s later research.

And let’s not forget what was, at the time, the first real glimpse ordinary readers, through the agency of the Penny Dreadful, were able to experience vampires, as James Malcolm Rymer’s lurid but morbidly popular Varney the Vampire, or The Feast of Blood, was published, serialised in (sorry) bite-sized chunks for the easier digestion by the public, and to whet the appetite for more, more, more. All right, that’s all the food metaphors I’ll use for now. It’s quite clear that Stoker borrowed from this first popular vampire story, though he imbued what he appropriated with a sense of macabre majesty and grandeur, and true, dark but lower-key horror than had the excitable Rymer.

Ireland has always been a land of superstition, somehow treading a careful line between being the “land of saints and scholars” and being “land of the fairies and wee folk”; Irish people are, not uniquely but unusually, adept at believing strongly in Jesus Christ while at the same time firmly crediting the existence of spirits, fairies and other supernatural entities. The famous crying spirit, the banshee, is named from the Irish words for woman (bean, pronounced as "ban") and fairy (sidhe), so literally, woman of the fairies, and this notion has been exported well beyond its borders. Leprechauns, while nobody these days believes in them (unlike banshees) are also a product of the readiness of Irish people to believe in such beings - and, much later, to profit off and benefit from a nonexistent so-called feature of Ireland in a way few other countries have managed.

Death was a constant companion to the Irish, or any, poor in Stoker’s time. Life expectancies were low, mortality rates were high - more often than not, half or more of a family’s children would fail to survive to adulthood - and burials were, to be blunt, basic and hardly safe, with stories of bodies in a grave having to be disinterred in order to fit another one in, with the resultant noxious odours and sense of creeping terror such things engendered. So it’s not too hard to see why the young Stoker would have been fascinated - horrified maybe, but certainly drawn to the idea of death, and through ancient Irish beliefs, the notion too of rebirth of the soul. While vampires per se never had much of a hold in Irish folklore, there was no shortage of creatures who would go around stealing souls, or carrying victims off to fairy forts and castles where they would return, if at all, to find hundreds of years had passed.

This is only my own, more than likely wrong idea, but I consider the possibility that Stoker, a staunch Protestant, seeing the rise of Catholics in Ireland as the Penal Laws began to be relaxed and then repealed, may have even presented Dracula as an image of the unwanted power of the Papists rising like a horrible spectre from the dead to again threaten the living. But as I say, that’s based on nothing more than my own notions.

As if all that wasn’t enough, the young Bram entered the world in the midst of the worst famine Ireland had ever seen, or would ever see again, as the potato crop failed and people starved to death, the population of Ireland dwindling by a quarter as a million people died and a similar number fled the country. Though the Stokers survived the horror, a report in the Mayo Constitution, issued around the time of Bram’s birth, made clear how ghastly the scenes around the country were: “In Ballinrobe the workhouse is in the most deplorable state, pestilence having attacked paupers, officers, and all. In fact, this building is one horrible charnel house. . . . The master has become the victim of this dread disease; the clerk, a young man whose energies were devoted to the well-being of the union, has been added to the victims; the matron, too, is dead; and the respected and esteemed physician has fallen before the ravages of pestilence, in his constant attendance on the diseased inmates.”

It’s easy to see Stoker later anthropomorphising the dread spectre of death and hunger and disease into the stalking figure of Dracula, the grim reaper bringing death to all of London, misery where he passed, darkness falling, the killing of hope and joy, the silence of the grave. Whether he would personally remember the Famine or not is debatable, as he would only have been a child at the time, but no doubt the recollections of his older brother and sister, and those of his parents, to say nothing of neighbours, then newspaper reports and later research would have brought home to him how, to the people of Ireland at the time, it must have looked like the end of the world was nigh. Like Europe under the Black Death five hundred years earlier, there would have seemed no hope, and people would have just been waiting for death to take them, as helpless as Stoker’s vampire’s victims would become, transfixed, not by Dracula’s penetrating red eyes, but by despair, horror and hunger.

Victorian times of course continued the medieval practice of blood-letting, as it was firmly believed by the medical community (who were, unlike now, completely and utterly trusted and never argued with, nor would they accept any such criticism from a mere patient, whom they surely regarded as a much lower life form) that an excess of blood was the cause of many illnesses. The idea of someone taking his blood (since he was sick for seven years it seems likely he was bled frequently) and the natural revulsion to, and horror of such a procedure, may have been seen to have contributed to Stoker’s development of Dracula as a character. Given that one of the preferred methods was to use leeches, and that he later describes the count as a “filthy leech, exhausted in his repletion”, this seems a good bet.

To some degree, reading Stoker’s biography and all about his life is like seeing the genesis of his dark masterpiece coalescing in his mind. So many elements point to what would influence his later writing. His father worked in the ancient castle that housed the oppressive (though not to him of course) seat of the British government in Ireland, Dublin Castle, which would have been looked upon by many of his fellow Catholic Irish as a place of darkness and revulsion, an unwelcome outpost of the enemy in their own land, a cruel, arrogant, uncaring edifice that sneered down on the city of Dublin and whose masters made of its people their slaves. You can almost imagine a Catholic coach or omnibus driver stopping short of the dread structure, eyeing it with resentment and fear, and muttering “This far will I go, and no further.”

That scene, too, takes in Irish folklore, as allied to the banshee already mentioned was the tale of the Dulann, a headless horseman who was said to ride a huge black coach, carrying a coffin and drawn by four black headless horses past houses at the wail of the banshee, and that if it stopped at your door and you opened it a basin of blood would be thrown out at you. Though I’m familiar with the legend of the former I must admit this is new to me, but I will bow to the author’s superior knowledge on the subject, and assume he has done his research. Oh, and he quotes W.B. Yeats, so that settles it obviously. Charlotte, Stoker’s mother, is said to have heard personally the wail of the banshee on the passing of her mother, and the tales she told of growing up in the Cholera epidemic of 1832, which claimed over 25,000 lives, would also have struck a chord with him when he came to flesh out his novel.

Not only that, he would have (very young and second-hand) memories of the disease himself, as another epidemic struck as a result of the Famine, taking almost twice as many lives as the one his mother had lived through, raging across Ireland from 1847 into 1848. The spectre of disease, famine and death would have been a formative image in young Bram’s life, and the sight (or reports of) skeletal figures, more dead than alive, stumbling through the streets or collapsing on roads or in doorways or in fields, or anywhere they fell, would have affected him greatly when he grew up and remembered those times. Some might even say, given that he was born in the year that became known as “Black ‘47”, and later gave birth to the blackest, most evil figure ever to stride through the pages of literature and through the minds of men, that his birth could be in itself seen as a bad omen, a harbinger of death and misery.

Tales of the “coffin ships” that carried desperate Irishmen and women and children to the hoped-for safety of the New World, and on which many died, thus giving rise to the name, almost presage the situation aboard the Demeter, when the count stalks and hunts his prey on the ship as it heads for England. “[30 April] The fever spreads and to the other horrors of the steerage is added cries of those in delirium. While coming from the galley this afternoon, with a pan of stirabout for some sick children, a man suddenly sprang upward from the hatchway, rushed to the bulwark, his white hair streaming in the wind, and without a moment’s hesitation, leaped into the seething waters. He disappeared beneath them at once.”

[13 May] . . . I saw a shapeless heap move past our ship on the outgoing tide. Presently there was another and another. Craning my head over the bulwark I watched. Another came, it caught in one cable, and before the swish of the current washed it clear, I had caught a glimpse of a white face. I understood it all. The ship ahead of us had emigrants and they were throwing overboard their dead.”

While Bram was born into a time when women were supposed to be silent and subservient, submissive and obedient to their husbands, and take second place in all things, it’s quite clear that Charlotte wore, figuratively if not literally, the trousers in the relationship. She was certainly one of the old breed of strong matriarchal figures so prevalent in the Gothic fiction popular at the time; a woman whose word was law, who the family looked up to, perhaps even feared, and against whom not even her husband dared go. As such, hers was the mind that shaped that of her young sickly son, and she had very clear ideas about education and language. “A man’s mind without language”, she wrote, “is a perfect blank; he recognizes no will but his own natural impulses; he is alone in the midst of his fellow-men; an outcast from society and its pleasures; a man in outward appearance, in reality reduced to the level of brute creation.”

So she would have very much encouraged - even forced - learning in her son (about her daughters she could care less, snapping that she “didn’t care tuppence” about their education) in the hope he would, perhaps and probably, rise to far more ambitious heights than her husband, his father, who worked almost all of his life as a clerk in Dublin Castle, only attaining the dizzy heights of senior clerk twelve years before he retired, having spent a total of forty years as junior and then assistant clerk. Charlotte surely wanted better for her sons, and was determined they should not disappoint. In the event, her hopes were realised, as Bram’s elder brother Thomas became 1st Baronet and a famous and respected surgeon, while her second son would literally write his name in the annals of history, a name never to be forgotten or unknown.

Although Ireland was by no means known as a place of learning, outside of the monasteries and state-run schools, with over half the population unable to read, the hammer blow of the Great Famine pushed this as a necessity, as while you could be a farmer without having ever to read a word in a book, the over-reliance on that way of life had been partly responsible for there being so much death and hunger, and people began to wean themselves off the agricultural path and into those which not only promised better money and prospects, but allowed them to leave behind the dependence on the humble potato crop. These pursuits though - the law, medicine, the sciences, government, and even less salubrious posts such as shopkeepers or teachers - all required at least a basic working knowledge of the printed word. Luckily for Charlotte - and Bram - they were Protestants, and so no real avenue of education or advancement was closed off to them, unlike the poor Catholics, who were still banned from holding many positions by the Penal Laws.

But Ireland has a rich tradition of folk tales, mostly told in oral form, and by the mid to late nineteenth century there had begun a rising interest in such things, as, along with the resurgence in popularity of the Gothic novel and Penny Dreadfuls, books of fairy-tales, translate from French, German and even Arabic, began to crop up in bookstores and in the carts of wandering pedlars for sale. Stories like Little Red Riding Hood, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella all made their way to Irish shores, where there was a ready market for them from people already familiar with tales of sprites and fairies. As he lay abed, Bram’s mother is likely to have read these stories to her sickly son, further firing his imagination with accounts of fantastical adventures, magic, evil and strange lands.

Unlike Irish and English fairy tales, which, while they preached cautionary tales, were more concerned with the idea of straying over to the dark side of paganism and a move away from God, German ones in particular seemed to take visceral delight in describing in gleefully graphic detail what happened when children - always children - didn’t do as they were told. One of the stories which may have had the most effect on the young Stoker is that of Oswald, the Night Wanderer, who is transformed into a bat and flies away. Uh-huh. This idea, while surely at least partially responsible for the linkage of vampires with bats, could also have given rise to the “children of the night” description Dracula gives the howling animals outside his castle; those who were seen to disobey, rebel or fight against the innate goodness and obedience their parents or other authority figures tried to instil in them were destined to be lost, cast out, wandering the trackless depths of the night, forever bemoaning their fate and, just maybe, plotting revenge on those who had abandoned them.

Another major influence on Stoker was the pantomime, performed at Christmas and featuring disparate characters drawn from lore, fairy tales, other stories and mythologies. One prominent character in these was often the demon king, and of course there were, as has already been laid out, numerous plays in circulation based mostly on Polidori’s The Vampyre, all of which would have given shape to Stoker’s later vision of his own demon king. Considering the change in him after his illness, it’s of course ridiculous but nevertheless intriguing to think that he had somehow drained the life-essence out of some doctor or other ministering person, as his count would drain Jonathan Harker, changing from a wizened, fragile and ancient figure into a powerful, strong, handsome and virile young man.

His mother, though, was to be disappointed if she expected him to gain academic honours. He barely scraped in through the entrance examination for Trinity College in Dublin in 1864, and once there proved a poor student, leaving in 1866 to join his father in a clerical post at Dublin Castle, but returning one year later and, while still no brainiac, excelled in sports and athletics, becoming one of the college’s most successful athletes, winning trophy after trophy, and also seeing the fruits of his imagination and interest in literature blossom in his presidency of both the Historical Society and the Philosophical Society, the only man ever to hold both posts.

In 1867 he met the man who was to have such an effect on his life - almost literally hold him in his thrall - and it’s interesting that a quote from him about actor Henry Irving could almost be read as one about his most famous creation, with the removal of one word: “a being of another social world.” Irving certainly wove a subtle spell around his new acolyte, and it’s hard not to see the genesis of Count Dracula in the tall, inspiring actor who would take him on as his protege. Other phrases in the same quote echo his future creation too: “(whose ridicule) seemed to bite; shrouded and veiled; handsome, distinguished and self-dependent (though of course Dracula, when Harker encounters him first, is none of these things, save perhaps the middle one); slumbrous energy; patrician figure; supreme and unsurpassable insolence; fine of manner.”

The Batlord 02-25-2022 08:01 PM

Alright I haven't read all that post but I will but **** do I love Dracula. As a lover of travelogues the beginning is precisely what I would want of an English fop descending into the dark and superstitious Carpathian mountains, everything in the castle is basically making Lovecraft look bad, and even if the rest isn't as focused it's sill part of one my all-time favorite books.

Trollheart 02-26-2022 05:27 AM

Yeah it's the quintessential English travelogue, isn't it: rife with xenophobia, racism and colonialism, but all of that makes it even more poignant when Harker is left trapped in Castle Dracula, pining for home and his lover. It also shows how people - including Stoker - of the day saw "foreign" lands such as Austria and Romania and anywhere ending in -ania: real "darkest Africa" kind of stuff.

It's a wonderful novel, there's no doubt, even if hardly original (as you can see from the other entries) and it just caught the balance, I think, between serious Gothic horror, romance and adventure stories, and a kind of English triumphalism that really struck a chord with the public.

The powers of Dracula are so enhanced here that I bet some people reading it for the first time were checking outside their windows at night if they heard a scratching sound, or waking up in a cold sweat. It seemed the Count could be anywhere, any time.

As it goes, this is merely the beginning of the article. I have a lot more to say about the man before we even get to discussing the novel in depth so, like they say, stay tuned!

Trollheart 02-26-2022 09:22 AM

All of these words could refer to the count, and surely when Stoker began putting together his most famous character, Irving must have been on his mind as some sort of role model, his vision perhaps of the ideal man, a man even too good (or evil) to be merely human, a man, a figure, a creature above all others. His association with Irving, and his perceived lack of coverage of the actor’s talents, led Stoker to become a drama critic for the Dublin Evening Mail, through which offices he became known - though writing anonymously - as one of the great voices and authorities on the Dublin arts scene. His next major influence was the notorious writer, poet and all-round bad boy Oscar Wilde, with whom he developed a friendship, and the practice of Oscar’s mother, Lady Wilde, of drawing the curtains even during the day and seldom emerging till evening, as she tried to hide her fading beauty, surely influenced Stoker’s portrayal of the enigmatic count as a being who shunned the light and moved about only by darkness.

Oddly enough, it seems Stoker was almost as reclusive (or is seen to have been) a figure as his character, shunning the spotlight and releasing only the very barest details of his life - not that during his life anyone even wanted them, as he lived in the titanic shadow of Irving - making future attempts at writing his biography problematical at best. We can point to about three major influences/acquaintances that impacted upon his life, other than his mother. First is Walt Whitman, with whose poetry he was enthralled, and with whom, it is postulated, he first fell in love, even if he did not either recognise, admit or properly articulate his feelings for the man when he wrote to him. Second then is Irving, who would have so much control over his life that it’s really quite hard to see him as anything other than the model for Dracula himself, with Stoker playing the role of the hapless, impotent and powerless lawyer who gets trapped and slowly begins to die in his castle. Third then is Oscar Wilde. Other than these three, for a man who moved in literary and artistic circles, there aren’t any other major figures in his life to talk about.

He did marry, in fact the original sweetheart of his friend Oscar, but his marriage to Florence Bascombe, though it yielded one daughter, was always characterised as cold and passionless, the possibility being offered that his working for - some might say, and have done, slaving for Irving came between them, though if he was harbouring any sort of homosexual feelings (which, despite countless attempts in countless books on the subject has never been definitively proven) then his marriage may merely have been a typical Victorian show one, a duty, the thing to be done, or even a way to cover up his homosexuality.

Unable any longer to bear the cost of living in Ireland, with Abraham in deep debt and surely also wishing to put behind them tragic events such as the Famine and the cholera epidemic, Bram’s family divided - his father, mother and sisters going to live in Europe in 1872 and Bram, Thornley and his other brothers remaining behind. Bram’s literary talent, honed on the articles he had written for the paper, began to manifest itself more personally and directly as he wrote short stories, the first of which, “The Crystal Cup”, was published in London Society magazine the same year he was separated from his parents and sisters. It was a dark, gloomy, fatalistic story owing much to the work of Edgar Allan Poe, and utilising the kind of grim, forbidding imagery he would later harness in his masterpiece.

The following year he secured another job (in addition to working full time in the civil service and as drama critic for the Mail) with the Irish Echo, which allowed him to pour more of his literary imagination and even humour into the reports he wrote for the paper, and even a short story he had written, “Saved by a Ghost”, which saw publication on December 26 1873, continuing a tradition if not started by, then certainly popularised by Charles Dickens, of Christmas ghost stories. And it was during this time, while working for both papers and also writing his own fiction (and holding down a day job at Dublin Castle) that he met one of the few females who would figure in his life.

Actress Genevieve Ward was an American, perhaps the first he had ever met, and after reviewing her performance one night he made her acquaintance, later becoming fast friends with her. There are suggestions among some biographers of a romantic liaison with her, but there is no evidence to prove this, or indeed disprove it. She was, in any case, already married, to the dashing and surely jealous Count Constantine de Geurbel of Nicolaieff, aide-de-camp to the Russian Tsar, and who could also be seen as contributing, in Stoker’s mind (had he met him) to the character makeup of Count Dracula. Constantine’s own biographer wrote that his “personal power with both men and women was something inexplicably great. He was able to embarrass and lethargize the reasoning faculties, while intensifying the emotional.” Sound familiar?

Further evidence that de Guerbel may have provided some fodder for Stoker’s imagination comes when we read that he essentially jilted his bride, failing to be married for some time in a Russian church, the only way to legalise the marriage, and that when he was eventually ordered to by the Tsar, the bride’s father brought a gun to the ceremony and she herself wore black, her mother calling it not a marriage but a funeral, her daughter’s reputation and social standing seen to be already in tatters. But Genevieve reinvented herself, losing her singing voice to a bout of diphtheria and so concentrating on her acting, dropping her now-dead husband’s name and reverting to her own, and it was under these circumstances that she met Stoker. There was, however, no hint of anything other than friendship in their relationship, her letters to him headed “Dear Mr. Stoker.” His affections, if he had any for a woman, were reserved for one who was tacitly promised to another.

Again, the dearth of information about Stoker stymies any attempt to find out when, or how, or under what circumstances he courted Florence Balcombe, and whether this was with the approval of or under protest from Oscar Wilde, but by about summer 1878 they were engaged. However his marriage, due to take place a year from then, was hastily rushed forward when he received an offer (order really, command) from Henry Irving to join him in London, where he had bought the Lyceum Theatre which he wanted Stoker to run for him. It seems no discussion was had, no opinion elicited from his fiancee, and no argument (if there were any) would be accepted: he, and she, were going to London, and that was an end of it. Henry Irving had spoken, and Bram Stoker, with an almost Renfieldesque servility, rushed to his master’s side.

It’s an interesting aside that when Oscar requested the return of a gold crucifix he had gifted Florence when they had been together, it may have occurred to Bram that he could despatch the now-unwelcome presence of his now-wife’s former suitor by banishing him with the holy artifact, or, to quote the article directly: There were ample reasons for Stoker to think Oscar was unsavory, or somehow unclean. If you threw a crucifix at him, perhaps he would just go away. In the event he did not, exactly: Wilde moved to London, seeming to be following Stoker, but it wasn’t so. He had merely outgrown, in his own estimation, the confines of parochial (by comparison) Dublin and wished to move to a larger, more appreciative stage. Of course, while he for a time accomplished this, becoming the toast of London society, it was England which would be his ruin, as history shows us all too plainly.

But we’re concerned here not with Oscar Wilde but Bram Stoker, and less than a year after moving to London - and with no honeymoon, for Irving demanded all of his time, like the very vampire it is postulated he would be created into, sucking all of the energy and attention out of his young protege as he could - he and Florence had a son, their only child. To nobody’s surprise (and possibly above Florence’s objections, though this isn’t recorded) he was named Irving Noel Stoker, though he dropped the first part of his name as soon as he could, and was ever after known as Noel Stoker.

Somehow, among all this slavedriven workload, Stoker managed to put together a collection of dark fairy tales called Under the Sunset, in 1881, in which a passage seems to be almost reproduced later at the beginning of his classic novel, for which he would begin taking notes a decade later.

Pass not the Portal of the Sunset Land!
Pause where the Angels at their vigil stand.
Be warned! And press not though the gates lie wide,
But rest securely on the hither side.
Though odorous gardens and cool ways invite,
Beyond are the darkest valleys of the night.
Rest! Rest contented.—Pause whilst undefiled,
Nor seek the horrors of the desert wild.

The next year, as Irving began to talk of plans for an American tour, Oscar Wilde would achieve something Stoker could only at that point dream of: he met Walt Whitman in person, and the two got on very well. A year later Stoker would finally meet his idol. It was a great joy for both men, and Whitman made him promise to come visit him at his home, as he originally met them at the residence of another acquaintance. In 1883 he did so, and enjoyed the great poet’s company, making a fine impression on the man himself, as they talked of such subjects as the tragic killing of Abraham Lincoln.

Bram Stoker began taking notes for his new novel in 1890, when he visited the southern Yorkshire town of Whitby, which would become the point in the book where the old world and the new met, where Dracula would finally set foot (or, as it happened, paw) on English soil. He researched diligently for the next seven years, and this was a man who knew what research meant! From reading geographic travelogues about Romania, noting descriptions of buildings and people, to confirming the exact times of the arrival and departure of trains, so as to be accurate. Previous treatments of the vampire myth, as we have seen, mostly if not not all based on Polidori’s The Vampyre, had set the story in Styria, now in modern Slovenia (had this anything to do with the word hysteria? I don’t know, but you’d wonder), as a strange, unfamiliar, dark and largely backward country where superstition held sway and where such things as vampires could be seen to exist, at least for literary purposes. Stoker more or less followed this rule.

He chose Romania though as his setting, settling on Transylvania - literally, the land beyond the forest - as the location for the count’s castle, and where the action for the first part of the book would take place. He never personally visited the country, but gained all the information he could through books, as I said, and anyway, so little would have been known of such places by mostly insular Britons that it really is unlikely to have mattered how accurate or realistic his description was. In addition to that, it was after all fiction, and Gothic horror fiction at that. He wasn’t trying to write a detailed travelogue on the country.

The novel, originally to be called The Un-Dead, but its title changed at the last moment, hit the shelves in 1897, and was a hit, however it did not establish him as the respected author he had hoped it would. His “friend” (read, master) Henry Irving is said to have dismissed it in one disdainful word: “dreadful”. Then again, Irving was a vain, egotistical, mean bastard who probably hated anyone else to get attention or notice, or indeed credit, much less Stoker, whom he would have seen as little more than a servant, so he probably never even read the thing. Reaction to the novel though was mixed, and Stoker came in for a lot of criticism, many people not taking it seriously, dismissing it as Irving had done, or tearing it to pieces in an almost symbolic imitation of the actions of the count himself on his victims.

Stoker continued to write, but none of his novels after his opus gained much attention either, and he died, not penniless but certainly not celebrated, in 1912 at the age of sixty-five. A man who had been born into death and tragedy, he ended his life the same way, passing four days after what was the biggest maritime disaster and loss of life when the RMS Titanic sank on its maiden voyage. None of the obituaries mentioned his seminal work; in fact, most referred to him only in the same breath as Irving, allowing the dread master of his fate to retain his control over him even in death (he had died a few years previously) and drag him down into the abyss after him.

Of course, like many writers, his genius was only acknowledged long after his death, and now he is celebrated the world over as very much the father of not only the world’s most famous and enduring vampire, but of almost all vampire fiction that followed. It is universally agreed that he wrote one of the nineteenth century’s greatest works of literature, on very much a part with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and authors such as Edgar Allen Poe.

In death, it seems, Stoker achieved what he never did in life, which was to establish himself as his own man, speak with his own voice, not as the mouthpiece or puppet of another, more controlling one, and though his name is still linked with Henry Irving, it is today the man who created Dracula whom we remember most. The weakling boy from Dublin, had come back to life via the Carpathian Mountains, and looms large over a multi-billion dollar industry that might never have been born had it not been for him.

Trollheart 03-17-2022 11:26 AM

Title: Dracula
Format: Novel
Author: Bram Stoker
Nationality: Irish
Written: 1890 - 1897
Published: 1897
Impact: 10

Synopsis: Who does not know this story? If you haven’t read the novel then you’ve surely seen the movies, but here’s a quick rundown. Solicitor Jonathan Harker is sent by his law firm to oversee the final preparations and have papers signed by the mysterious Count Dracula, who lives in Transylvania and wishes to move to England. Once he arrives, Harker finds himself trapped in the mouldering castle, where strange women seem to seduce and then attack him, and he gets weaker and sicker while his host, the eponymous Count, originally an old, frail and wizened man when he met him, gets younger and more virile and stronger by the day. Harker’s stay is extended by the Count, who seems unwilling to allow the lawyer to leave. Meanwhile, back in England, his fiancee, Mina, awaits news of her husband-to-be anxiously, and is troubled by strange dreams, as is her best friend, Lucy Westernra.

Leaving Transylvania and his ancient castle behind, Dracula takes a ship, the Demeter, to England, on board which mysterious deaths occur as he stalks the crew, and on its arrival a storm whips up, driving the ship towards Whitby and wrecking it. Dracula comes ashore in the form of a huge dog, and Lucy, who has joined Mina there on holiday, begins to sleepwalk. Her health also deteriorates, and her admirer, Quincy Jones sorry Quincey Morris - one of three - calls in his friend Dr. John Seward (also an erstwhile suitor for Lucy’s hand) and Arthur Holmwood, whom she has chosen. Despite the rivalry between the three, it’s all good English gentlemen together (even though Morris is an American) and they remain friends, all desperate to do everything they can to help the woman they all love.

Mina, having received information that her fiance, escaped from Castle Dracula, is recuperating in a hospital in Budapest, goes to join him, while Seward calls in his old teacher, Abraham van Helsing. He believes he knows what is wrong with Lucy, but refuses to divulge this to the others for fear of their ridicule. In the event, despite his attempts to ward off the vampire, Lucy is taken by Dracula and though buried, she returns to stalk the town, gaining the horrific reputation of the “White Lady” who haunts the graveyard and eats children. Van Helsing, confiding to the others what he knows, goes with them to where Lucy is buried and they stake her, behead her and that’s the end of her.

Harker and Mina return from Budapest and join the hunt. Mina is attacked by Dracula and cursed to become a vampire unless the boys can kill him. They close off all avenues of escape to him - by rendering the coffins of earth he brought with him useless, and van Helsing reveals that the vampire must lie in the soil of his own country to survive - and basically chase him back to Transylvania for the big confrontation scene where they kill him. Harker slashes him across the neck and Quincey stabs him in the heart, but he dies of wounds already inflicted upon him by the vampire. Dracula turns to dust, probably cursing the fact that he ever left home, and the spell over Mina is broken.

An entire industry, almost, has arisen to tackle the examination, criticism and exploration of this seminal book, with so many theories and themes that it’s almost impossible to take it at face value, which is, as a horror/Gothic novel. So many subtexts have been either woven into the narrative (or been perceived as having been) that to some extent it’s lost its original meaning, and stands for everything now from Victorian sexual repression to comments on, I don’t know, consumerism and nationalism. But while I will explore many of these, I will try to also form my own ideas of what I feel the novel may represent.

One thing it is most certainly not, despite what Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 movie would have you believe from its strapline, is a love story. Stoker didn’t do love, at least, not love between a man and a woman, as evidenced by his joyless, almost sexless marriage. He would not have had either the courage to directly speak of, or even realised perhaps the nature of, attraction between two men and if this is part of the subtext then it has to be very much hidden. Such ideas would be frowned upon in Victorian society, and while Oscar Wilde might have been a braver man than Stoker, look what it cost him. So on the surface it’s a horror, adventure story which brings in elements from folk belief and the inherent heroism of the English (and one American, who gets killed off) and taps into some of humanity’s greatest fears, with the bad guy defeated and the good guys triumphant.

But it can also be looked upon in some ways, I believe, as a deeply misogynistic story, or, to be fair to Stoker, reflecting accurately the prevalent attitude towards women at the time he wrote it. It’s hard, given his believed aversion to relationships with women (he had female friends, as we’ve seen, but never attempted any sort of deeper intimacy with them, so far as we know) to see this as anything other than a sort of punishment from God on loose women, kind of Jack the Ripper style, if his motivations are to be accepted. The women in Dracula are all weak. Lucy is the worst. Yes, she becomes a vampire and therefore strong for a time, but only under the aegis of the vampire who has made her so; she must surrender totally to him - surrender as totally as anyone can, giving up their very life - before she can be the nightstalking killer she becomes. And she doesn’t last. The - exclusively male - party deals with her, doling out the ultimate punishment, and can a stake through the heart be seen as anything other than a form of rape when applied to a woman? A long, hard, rigid stick penetrating her very core?

Mina is allowed to live to the end of the story, but only really as a motivating force for Harker and as a kind of echo-locater for the men to track down Dracula and kill him, and she takes no part in the killing herself, leaving it to the men to rescue her immortal soul. She is no stronger than Lucy, submitting to the vampire and allowing her life-force to be drained by him. She shows a certain strength in rushing to Harker’s side when news comes that he is in a Hungarian hospital, but in a way that’s just what’s expected of any Victorian fiancee, so it’s nothing terribly special. She never joins the fight, never tries to get Dracula back for what he has done, and spends most of the book pining over Harker and offering glib advice to her friend as to her romantic inclinations.

Lucy is seen as a very loose woman, her initial inability to choose between the three - count ‘em, three! - suitors and her sigh that she wished she could choose them all (surely a shocking comment to make in strait-laced Victorian times) marking her as a woman of dubious morals, and again weak, in that she can’t make a decision; slightly spoiled, too, as she wants to have her own way, have her figurative cake and eat it too. And by characterising her thus, I feel Stoker makes us as the readers unsympathetic towards her, it being reasonably clear what’s going to happen to her. The message here surely can be nothing other than that bad women get what they deserve; bad girls get punished. Had Lucy been of stronger moral fibre, perhaps she could have (in theory at least) resisted the advances of the vampire, but as she has already had her will weakened in being unable to decide who she will marry, she’s a perfect target for the fiend, and goes down as easy as water down a plughole.

There are, I think, no strong female characters in the book. It’s very much a male-driven story, with essentially one major male bad guy and four male good guys, chums bonding together to take on the evil one, with along the way some totty for eye candy and narrative purposes. It’s telling that, Harker himself aside, Dracula only targets women for his unearthly lusts. There’s very much a sense of the establishment of the dominance of the male over the female, with the latter utterly helpless to resist, and even aside from the vampire, the men dominate the women in every way, taking the lead, taking charge and eventually saving one of them while releasing the soul of the one they couldn’t save by, um, slicing her head off and stabbing her. And filling her mouth with garlic. Was Stoker figuratively shutting up all womankind by stuffing up Lucy’s mouth? I’m sorry; it looks like our time is up. Same time next week?

Anyway, I’m no psychoanalyst, so anything I say here probably doesn’t carry much weight, but it seems to me that there are definite undertones of violence towards women and a sense of almost revenge from Stoker: this is what you get for not letting me express myself as I should! Even Lucy’s mother is killed off, and as for the three vampire brides in Dracula’s castle, well, they don’t last either, slain by van Helsing near the end of the book. You could possibly consider them strong female characters, as Harker is helpless before them, but again their power comes from a male figure, the male figure, and when Dracula commands them to leave Harker alone - “This man is mine! I want him!” - they shrink back in terror, so what real power have they?

It strikes me too that there’s a certain sense of xenophobia here. Dracula, the ultimate outsider, the quintessential foreigner, comes to English shores and quite literally takes our women. He is a threat, an unwelcome visitor, and he brings with him his dark, evil ways, corrupting and warping England (more than it is already corrupted) and eventually is dealt with as in most pogroms down throughout history. The distrust of the foreigner is written large in this novel; from the first time Harker arrives in Romania he is aware of being different, of being watched and suspected, and he feels the same sense of unease and disquiet towards the Romanians, wishing he was home in England. It’s hard not to see Dracula’s arrival in, and almost immediate rampage through good old Blighty as an invasion, an attack on English morals and values, evil being literally imported - or importing itself - onto our shores. The cry could easily be raised for the vampire to “go back where you came from”, not that he’d take notice.

As has been endlessly discussed, and reading his biography you’d have to give it some credit indeed, the relationship between Henry Irving and Stoker can be seen to be mirrored in that between Dracula and Harker. The lawyer is imprisoned by the vampire in his castle, called there by him (through the law firm) in a very similar way to how Irving called - ordered - Stoker to come to London and run the Lyceum theatre for him, ensuring he was at his beck and call whenever he needed him. In a very metaphorical way, Irving fed off Stoker the way Dracula feeds off Harker, draining him of all resistance with absolutely no regard for or interest in his own welfare. While Dracula stands in the way of Harker and Mina’s marriage, Irving prevented them from having a honeymoon and it must be said drove a wedge between them that killed any chance they had of having a proper marriage as effectively and brutally as the stake driven through Lucy’s heart. Florence once accused her husband of being more likely to mourn the death of Irving than that of their son, to which the author snapped that they could always have more children, but there was only one Henry Irving!

Irving, despite his callous and offhand manner with almost everyone, his superinflated ego, his contempt for all and his arrogant belief in his own superiority, nevertheless attracted just about everyone he interacted with, as if they were under his spell. He was a dark, malignant presence that nobody seemed proof against (other than perhaps Florence, and she didn’t count as she had no sway over her husband, least of all where Irving was concerned). He seemed, from what I’ve read about him, to have little or no moral code beyond satisfying his own needs, and almost comes across as something other than human. Surely Stoker, even subconsciously, must have been thinking of him and the relationship they shared when he created the character of Dracula?

A seeming fallacy that has persisted is that Stoker based the count on Vlad III Dracul, known as the Impala, sorry Impaler, but the research I’ve done seems to show general agreement that this is not the case. While doing his own research it appears he came across the story and took the name because he liked the sound of it, but it looks just to have been coincidence that the man whose name he gave to his greatest creation was also an evil one who had a thing about cruelty and blood. In fairness, there’s very little of Vlad III in Count Dracula. He doesn’t impale people, he doesn’t dip his bread in their blood, and he’s not a prince guarding his realm. He may not even be a count; for all we know, this could be one of many assumed identities the being known as Dracula has assumed on down the centuries, or even longer. No information is given, no hint offered to how old the vampire may actually be (though when he crumbles to dust at the end it may be inferred that he was only keeping his body together by magic and sheer force of his evil will, and by utilising the life energy of others), or where his title came from.

So really, when you look into it, there’s no reason to believe Stoker based Dracula on the Wallachian prince. It’s far more likely he’s an amalgamation of the legends, beliefs and fears of the folk of eastern Europe, a distillation of the vampire myth shaped to Stoker’s purposes. As I wrote in another section, vampires in folk belief were meant to be monsters, shambling, sub-human creatures with no real brain and no goal other than wanton destruction, and were restricted to the graveyard wherein they had been buried. This would never have done for Stoker, so he had to change the myth, borrowing liberally from Polidori, Rymer, Le Fanu and even Byron to come up with the archetypal vampire. Dracula begins as a feeble, weak, pathetic old man - who yet has the power to inspire dread and terror - and metamorphoses into a strong and vibrant messenger of evil, the perfect synthesis of power and darkness. It’s undeniable that his intention, his nature never changed, but now he has the strength and the shape to carry out his evil will to its fullest, and slake his eternal thirst.

And how did Stoker see himself in the novel, or did he? I don’t think it’s any great stretch to see him in the role of Harker, initially weak and cowed, bowing to the demands of his new master, trapped in a cycle of death, violence and heady lust from which he can’t escape, though when he does, he is able to take his revenge on the creature who had made his life such a misery. But I personally see him more in the revolting and yet somehow pitiable figure of Renfield, Dracula’s true slave, who sits and eats insects and other things in an asylum, waiting, praying, begging for his master to come and deliver him. How can you look at this mockery of a man, crouching in filth and ignorance, longing to be debased and used and humiliated and even killed if it suits his master’s purposes, and not see the willing form of Stoker, inviting degradation and contempt from Irving? And in the end, Dracula treats his faithful slave as Irving did, by using him to his own ends and casting him aside.

I don’t intend to go too deeply into the sexual themes within the novel, not because I don’t want to broach such a subject, but because men and women far cleverer than I, who have studied the novel far more deeply than I have (I think I’ve read it through twice, maybe three times) have already done this idea to death. Nevertheless, any appreciation or review of Dracula would be incomplete without at least acknowledging the element of sex in it. It’s pretty carefully hidden, so that the average reader, certainly at the time, could either ignore it and pretend it wasn’t there, or (rather unlikely but I guess possible) miss it altogether. But when you have a dark monster entering women’s bedrooms and sinking his teeth into their necks, draining them of their will as well as their blood, and claiming them, and the reaction from these women to these assaults, it’s definitely a form of rape, even if tacit approval is given. If you, as a woman, are hypnotised into allowing a man to make love to you, do you consider it consensual?

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