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This is short story collection subtitled 'A Connoisseur's Collection of Victorian Vampire Stories' which I bagged for a bargain price at the Dracula Society auction in Whitby last autumn (LJ / DW). It basically aims to trace the evolution of vampire mythology, mainly in fiction but also in accounts of real folk beliefs, up to the point when Dracula was written and a little way beyond. That made it a very useful research resource for the paper I am writing about Classical references in Dracula, as it would allow me to get a sense of the extent to which they were a standard characteristic of the genre before Bram wrote. I already knew that much of both Polidori's 'The Vampyre' and Byron's fragment (here called 'The End of my Journey') take place amongst Grecian ruins, for example, but wanted to see whether the same equation persisted beyond high Romantic literature. Obviously I would not dream of assuming that Bram read every story in this book, but for some stories it's clear from tropes which he absorbed and replicated that he did, so anything Classical sitting alongside them is of particular interest.

The full table of contents reads thus:
'Introduction: the Cost of Living' by Michael Sims
'They Opened the Graves' by Jean-Baptiste de Boyer, Marquis d'Argens
'Dead Persons in Hungary' by Antoine Augustin Calmet
'The End of my Journey' by George Gordon, Lord Byron
'The Vampyre' by John Polidori
'Wake Not the Dead' attributed to Johann Ludwig Tieck
'The Deathly Lover' Théophile Gautier
'The Family of the Vourdalak' by Aleksei Tolstoy
'Varney the Vampyre' by James Malcolm Rymer
'What was it?' by Fitz-James O'Brien
'The Mysterious Stranger' by Anonymous
'A Mystery of the Campagna' by Anne Crawford
'Death and Burial - vampires and were-wolves' by Emily Gerard
'Let Loose' by Mary Cholmondeley
'A True Story of a Vampire' by Eric, Count Stenbock
'Good Lady Ducayne' by Mary Elizabeth Braddon
'And the Creature Came in' by Augustus Hare
'The Tomb of Sarah' by F.G. Loring
'The Vampire Maid' by Hume Nisbet
'Luella Miller' by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman
'Count Magnus' by M.R. James
'Aylmer Vance and the Vampire' by Alice and Claude Askew
'Dracula's Guest' by Bram Stoker

I'm not going to review every single one, so anything which I haven't commented on specifically below can be assumed to be a very enjoyable story to read. But these were my thoughts on a few which particularly struck me - for good or ill:

'The Deathly Lover' - this was originally published in French in 1843 under the title 'La morte amoureuse', and is often also known as 'Clarimonde' after the vampire main character. It is actually set in Italy and told from the perspective of a priest, who falls under the spell of Clarimonda (as her name is spelt in the English translation I read) and begins leading a strange double life, where he is a priest living in a simple hut by day and her lover living in the lap of luxury by night, to the point where he no longer fully knows which is his real life and which a dream. We don't know for sure that Stoker read it, but a scene in which the priest cuts his finger while paring some fruit, and Clarimonde leaps out of bed to suck at the blood certainly resembles the scene in which Dracula does much the same after Harker cuts himself shaving. In another passage, she is also compared in short succession to both Cleopatra and Beelzebub, which is likewise very similar to the ways in which Bram associates Dracula both with Classical antiquity and the Devil, and is exactly the sort of stuff my paper will be about.

'Varney the Vampyre' - one of several entries in the book which is actually an extract from a much longer text, rather than a complete short story. The original is in fact c. 667,000 words long! Like most people who are into vampire fiction no doubt, I have occasionally harboured ambitions to read the whole thing, perhaps even as part of an online reading group with other people at an instalment a week. But this extract, which was simply the opening instalment of the story, reminded me that although it is fun in its own way and doubtless an influence on much later vampire fiction, it was very much hammered out with the aim of filling the maximum amount of magazine space for the minimum amount of intellectual effort, and thus utterly hackneyed and melodramatic. I mean, yay for that, but I have a finite lifetime so I think I will prioritise better things.

'The Mysterious Stranger' - Bram pretty clearly read this as well. It's set in the Carpathians, and involves travellers beset by wolves and a mysterious tall pale man who can command them at will. He proves to live in a semi-ruined castle, visits the main family of the story as an apparently-human guest but refuses all food and drink while their daughter grows pale and sick, and is eventually defeated using much the same sort of vampire lore as applies in Dracula. I was additionally fascinated to notice that while Bram does not seem to have made anything out of this line: "Azzo [the aristocratic vampire] stretched forth his hand, and grasping the sword in the middle, it snapped like a broken reed", Jimmy Sangster, the script-writer for Hammer's Dracula, Prince of Darkness certainly did:

Sword snap gif.gif

(Sorry, for reasons I can't figure out, it seems to be necessary to click through to see the gif in action. It's worth it, though!)

'A Mystery of the Campagna' - this basically constituted hitting gold re Classical references, as the vampire in this story is literally a Roman woman named Vespertilia, buried by her husband in a large sarcophagus inside an ancient catacomb, who still lures, ensnares and feeds upon the inhabitants of a villa on the land above up to the story's present day (the 1880s). There is a Latin funerary inscription to translate and everything! Unfortunately there's no particular reason to believe Bram ever read it, but it certainly shows what antiquity can lend to a vampire story, building logically on Byron and Polidori's precedents and anticipating Anne Rice's Roman vampire characters by a solid century. This volume's introduction to the story annoyed me intensely by 'explaining' that the Campagna of the title "refers to a populous region in southern Italy now usually spelled Campania", though. It really isn't - the main characters are artists living in Rome, one of whom decides to rent a villa in the countryside outside the city in order to concentrate on his art, so it is very literally and specifically set in the Campagna. I'm pretty sure the internet contained enough unambiguous information about both the Campagna and Campania already in 2010 to mean that the editor of this book has no real excuse for not understanding the difference.

'Let Loose' - I hadn't read this before, but it was one of the best discoveries of the book for me, mainly because it is just really well written and conveys an atmosphere of mounting fear extremely effectively. It's about a young man who goes to draw a fresco which (for some reason) is on the wall of a rarely-visited and securely-locked church crypt, and of course hears strange noises and inadvertently frees a Something while he is down there working. It's quite Jamesian in the way it builds up the tension through small, unsettling details, but I should warn that anyone who loves dogs (and even I was charmed by the one in this story, who is called Brian) might find the end rather distressing.

'A True Story of a Vampire' - this, by contrast, was easily the most unpleasant story of the collection by dint of its skeeviness. It is sort of a take on 'Carmilla', in that it involves a vampire coming to live in the house of its victims like a cuckoo in the nest, and indeed it announces the link by naming the main female character who narrates the tale 'Carmela'. But she is not the vampire. Instead, he is an adult man and his victim is her younger brother, Gabriel, who runs about the garden in short trousers playing with birds and squirrels. Furthermore, the vampire preys on Gabriel specifically by kissing him on the lips, which seems to drain his energy in some psychic fashion. Now, obviously although Carmilla presents as a teenage girl, and thus of a similar age to her victim, she is technically centuries older, in fact of course vampires are an enormous bucketful of metaphors, and most people therefore read 'Carmilla' as a thinly-veiled story of lesbian teenage love. On the same basis, this story reads as a thinly-veiled account of predatory paedophilia. So, not good.

'The Tomb of Sarah' - this was published in December 1897, so about six months after Dracula, and is the first story in this collection to show clear signs of Stoker's influence. The vampire lore is much the same, involving for example the use of mortar infused with the host and a sacred circle, and most tellingly of all the vampire lady 'champs' her teeth exactly like every female vampire in the whole of Stoker's novel. It's fairly run-of-the-mill as an actual story, but fascinating to see Stoker's tropes (most of them of course collected in turn from elsewhere) bursting into the mythos.

I think that's it. Several of the others were very good; some I had read before but often not for a long time. Generally a very good collection, apart from the editor's inexplicable ignorance of the Campagna. Definitely more than worth the couple of quid I paid for it.


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