Gothics, vampires, and and l'écriture-femme

The Vampire Tapestry

by Suzy McKee Charnas

Introduction: Vampire and Ghost Stories Defined and Distinguished, Allusions in Charnas's Vampire Tapestry, What some of us have read

From a class lecture:

Introducing Dracula:

I. There are several ways we can go about exploring this archetypal folk legend together. The first is to catalogue and describe the group of traits that define and swirl about the supernatural creature called a vampire.

A. First we can return to talking about ghost stories and the difference between horror and terror. First we defined ghost stories carefully so as to differentiate ghosts from other sorts of supernatural creatures.

1. They are the spirits of living people who have died and come back to haunt those who have known them.

2. By the simple device of omitting all those tales whose supernatural centers are not made up of such creatures, but clearly of other sorts. We have had two cases in our book where the nature of the supernatural being is not perfectly clear: Edith Wharton's "Mr Jones" and E. F. Benson's "The Room in the Tower". I have seen E. F. Benson's "The Room in the Tower" reprinted in ghost volumes.

a. I suggest that if you read the stories as vampire ones the meaning becomes more dreadful and different: far more amoral and far more anti-feminist: the woman at the center is the sexual woman who transgresses a group of codes meant to control, contain, and direct women to be obedient wives, virginal daughters, devoted mothers. It matters not whether the woman deserves her punishment: the impulse to punish her comes from an archetypal layer of the mind. In this interpretation Mrs Clemm, her terrified distraught, indeed shattered daughter Josephine have been preyed upon as before them has the perhaps somewhat sexual or crippled wife of a Duke, all of whom served him. Mrs Julia Stone becomes a female vampyre.

b. If you read them as ghost stories, then they are more pathetic: we are to feel for the 18th century woman in the center; it's her story and Lady Jane a modern version of her. There is some tale of evil, guilt, and injustice at the heart of the story. "The Room in the Tower" could be a psychological dream; Mrs Stone committed suicide and we don't know why. We wonder about the narrator in both cases.

c. The same holds true of "Pages from a Young Girl's Journal" except I suggest we are given a number of clear indications that the man who visits the young girl is a vampire. Blood is a significant indication, but not enough.

B. So our first level of knowledge must be to recognize what is a vampire story. The really striking thing about Byron's vampire story - - like Scott's ghost story -- is that although they are the first artful versions of the types, or among the first artful versions, yet both authors assume we know this convention.

1. The same holds true of Austen's Northanger Abbey. She makes fun of what does not yet exist; she comes at the beginning of the tradition and has before her only Radcliffe as a fine practitioner.

2. The second thing striking about Byron's story is that we are to sympathize with the vampire. It is often said that this is a modern idea: earlier people would never think to sympathize with such a creature, so disgusting, sexualized, cruel, but in fact from earliest versions of the story when placed in the hands of a sensitive really thoughtful consciously aware type, the vampire comes out in an ambiguous way: as we are both to see Frankenstein's creature as both the hero of the tale, the marginalized, the tender, the one Mary Shelley identified with, we are also to see him as a crazed, filthy fiend who is murdering everyone in sight out of rage and hatred. We will come back to Byron and Mary Shelley shortly.

II. Aspects of the myth.

A. Ubiquity -- which means everywhereness -- of the legend is well testified to. Called Lamia in ancient Greece, Vurdulak in Russia, Fampyr or Oupir in Eastern Europe, the myth can be traced in Asian, Arabian, African folklore. Interestingly, it does not seem to be originally part of Western mythic tradition; it came over sometime in the later 18th century when people began to travel more in the East, and when they were better educated (could read and understand other languages and cultures).

1. It seem to begin with fear of corpses. Those who are dead are blamed for sickness, death; the dead are angry at the living for living on; they try to recruit people to their realm.

2. The way to neutralize them is to conduct proper burial rites; they will make the corpse stay put. In effect you kill the corpse a second time; enacting death over and over again until corpse powerless. Cutting off the corpse's head as we see done in Stoker's book is one final stroke.

B. Visibilia or signs: they suck blood; they leave two teeth marks upon someone's neck; they can't eat; they can't drink milk; they have to sleep all day in their coffins which must be filled with part of the earth in which they were buried; they do not appear in mirrors; they stand aghast at garlic; you can fend them off with whatever is your religious symbol (a cross); they can turn into bats and in later versions other animals are associated with them, especially the brutal wolf or werewolf. They are also associated with dogs, rats, vermin. They have wings, claws, are gigantic when they want to be, superhuman strength. They are associated with certain days or nights on which other supernatural creatures are said to come forth: the 23rd of April called Walpurisnight, a witches' sabbath; in our culture October 31st and November 1st, the night when souls are said to come out and haunt people. Some vampires are presented as endlessly dead and it's no good shooting them with a gun; only a stake through the heart and cutting off their head will do. Finally, they are sexually seductive. Once bitten, the victim wants more, is drawn in, takes pleasure in the masochism, in yielding, and gradually may become a vampire him or herself.

1. As you read these stories you begin to catch on to other visibilia and signs for there is a form of thought process going on underneath it all.

2. Now it's true that Stoker chose to make his vampire a male, and Byron and Polidori did, and then the famous Varney the Vampyre by James Malcolm Rymer which went on for an astounding 209 weeks -- at 3 chapters an installment that 627 chapters -- solidified the male as the vampire; in our own until recently and perhaps still somewhat Victorian sexually indirect or repressed era, most movies have featured the male vampire at the center of the tale. Nonetheless, from earliest legends, the vampire was equally and more often a woman: the name Lamia is the name of a woman. The first truly full and artistically effective tale is "Carmilla" about a lesbian vampire. We have a story today I will hold you responsible for: F. Marion Crawford's "For the Blood is the Life" where the vampire is female.

C. Why is this? I suggest this particular nightmare comes out of a male and partriarchial point of view, one which seeks to destroy women's sexuality, which fears and dreads women's sexuality, and looks upon repressed obedient women as someone who wants revenge.

1. The most intense moment of Dracula, indeed some have argued the climax is when the man who is said to love Lucy, drives a stake through her corpse and cuts off her head. When we read it, you will see the sexual imagery: it's a force of punitive rape which is as they say akin to murder.

2. How did Lucy become a vampire? She went out walking at night; as the book opens we learn she had three lovers, was keeping them hanging on. Having become a vampire, her favorite prey are children.

3. This is an important part of the legend: women vampires go after your children. They are fiends, filled with hatred for children when they should be "good" (sexless) mothers.

4. Another attached psychological event is that of the suicide: cultures have until recently hated suicides; punished them; feared them. If you committed suicide and it was found out, your property was confiscated. If you committed suicide, you were not buried in consecrated ground; in England until the early 19th century custom had it (and it was sometimes obeyed) that the bodies of suicides be driven through the center with a stake and buried at a crossroads.

D. Of course this fascination with and fear of death, this turning to expression of sexual fears, dreads, violence, we have seen in our other books and stories.

1. The gothic has a fascination with death and the undead. It looks to see if there is anything beyond. Again and again it denies that life ends with death, and uses fiction to bring back corpses, ghosts, who wreak revenge on those injustices which were not retrieved or made up for. Romance of the Forest has the skeleton rotting in the chest; the manuscript; the second Mrs de Winter was kidding herself when she said Rebecca lost: by luring Max on to kill her, she haunts him forever; he can never rid himself of her. Frankenstein made his creature from corpses and electricity as well as knowledge of what makes a body physically up. In the book, by-the-bye, the creature never asks if he's got a soul. That's a softener, a sop added by the movie-maker. Corpses offer a message people don't want to hear. We are told in "For blood is the Life" that the people in the village flee corpses. An enormous amount of money is fleeced from us by the funeral industry: they sanitize the experience utterly. Until the early 20th century it was the old poor women of the village who got stuck with the job of preparing a body for the grave. In Frankenstein the body is just a bunch of flesh you can sew together, pour in right chemicals, and galvanise. The word soul is brought up in the film; appears no where in the book.

2. The paraphernalia draws on shared images: the ruined castle, the isolated house, the forest, the manuscript. Christianity in our culture has laid an overlay or interlarding images from its beliefs and rituals.

E. There is a difference in the story patterns though, and it is significant:

1. Characteristically the center of the ghost story is the vision; everything leads up to and away from that.

2. Characteristically the ghost story ends unhappily or with no conclusion. The ghost is not destroyed; the living are.

3. While there have been very rare redemptive stories where the ghost comes for benign purposes -- and the one which has achieved most fame is Dickens's A Christmas Carol -- people are said to like happy stories, to want consolation, poetic justice. Most of the time ghost stories are Kafkaesque: diffident sensitive people destroyed, even where we can find a pattern of evil, guilt and justice. I suppose I could have said injustice as well as justice is meted out. The way some readers read these things is to say, oh ho, that can't be me; I learn a moral lesson about what I'd never do or be led to do. Don't be so sure is what the ghost story replies.

F. Not so the vampire story.

1. Characteristically at least the vampires we meet are all done away with. I suppose it's not fair to begin with one like "The Blood is the Life" which ends with the Thing still resting on that tomb: although the old man went into a deep traumatic destruction frenzy of Cristina, she lives on.

2. I assure you this is or has been uncommon. Maybe the material is really too fearful, maybe it doesn't lend itself to that moral lesson at all.

3. Contrariwise, these are more playful stories: they move into extravagance and bizarrie; they are often unreal; they will dismiss realism. The person writing them doesn't quite believe it; it's titillation. When they become too much that way, too little taken seriously, they lose their power. The playful ones need to strike a balance, and the best do. They must less use the double vision of suggesting this was just a dream: the reason "The Room in the Tower" is sometimes found in ghost volumes is the interpretation one could have that it is the mental life of someone who is not well.

4. The climax is not the vision: it is the destruction of the vampire's victims -- often women; it is the destruction of the lair. The vampire killed at the end provides the final satisfaction that we are okay after all. We are safe from what we have seen and experienced, or so we hope.

5. It seems to be unimportant when the other characters find out the creature bothering them is a vampire; there is no repeating pattern here. One way to interpret literature is to look for repeating patterns: it doesn't matter whether the books are trash or great serious masterpieces.

III. I would be leaving out an important element in the myth as it appears in our literature from Byron on were I to neglect two historical aspects or kinds of material that funnel into the legend.

A. The first accounts for the placement of Dracula's castle, the strong admixture of Slavish variants of the archetypes and the name we are familiar with: Dracula.

1. A terribly cruel and powerful Wallachian prince whose name was Vlad Dracul had a life story and behaviors which in his own life became entwined with the vampire myth.

2. Think of him as an all-powerful Duke: he was caught up between bloody horrifying wars between European Christians and Moslems after the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453; eventually he sided with the Christians, and harried, ambushed, and impaled his Turkish prisoners. Impaled. He was called Vlad the Impaler. He may have been a homicidal maniac as it has been suggested was the historical person behind the legends of Billy the Kid. The difference is he lived in the world of the ancien régime. He could get away with torturing people. Stoker came across this man's names and stories about him while researching his novel in the British Museum.

3. Vlad is not the only aristocrat of whom such tales were told. He was not credited with blood-drinking until much later: that part of these fearful beliefs attached itself to a Hungarian aristocrat called Elizabeth Bathory: a woman, a widow who managed her husband's vast estates in the early 17th century; it is said she became deluded enough to think she could live on in eternal youth if she could smear her skin with the blood of other people. Stories were told of how she and steward would lure young women to her castle, skin them, pierce, bleed, and leave them to die.

4. I will not regale you with further stories. There are arguments over whether Stoker did a lot of research for his book and really was influenced by these earlier Slavish legends. His working papers suggest he was scholarly in his approach in some ways. There is this biological or geological curiosity: it is said that the climate of Eastern Europe is such that bodies decompose very slowly. If you uncover a coffin and dig the person up, for a much longer time he or she will stay fresh looking. It has been suggested this tiny pragmatic detail lies at the heart of why the legend grew in Eastern Europe, why it persisted.

5. On the other hand, Stoker never visited Transylvania, and most of his research can be argued to have come from a single book, An Account of the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia: with Various Political Observations Related to Them (1820). What we do see in Dracula is knowledge of Sheridan LeFanu's work, his ghost stories as well as his "Carmilla", knowledge of "Varney the Vampyre", of Byron and Polidori, and of books which use epistolary techniques: these go back to a long novel I did my dissertation on, an 18th century epistolary novel of a million words called Clarissas (1748), by Samuel Richardson whose hero is a kind of Montalt-Pierre de la Motte who first meets, then lures the Clarissa-Adeline characters away from her parents house, tries to seduce her, takes her to a brothel where he rapes her; eventually she dies and he is killed in a duel. The atmosphere is that of Les Liasions Dangereuses, if you even saw the movie with John Malkowitch, who by-the-bye, plays Jekyll-Hyde brilliantly in the movie I have.

6. Stoker was influenced by literature more than myth: by novels and the theatre.

B. Second type of material I'll call Irish and Anglo-Irish. It's no coincidence that Sheridan Le Fanu was brought up in Ireland and Bram Stoker too.

1. Although Dracula hails from Transylvania, the development of the myth comes first once again from Byron's group travelling across Europe and finds its first home in Ireland. Le Fanu's "Carmilla" is as much a banshee as she is a vampire: a female figure, a kind of faery who can be malignant and play very mean tricks; she haunts old families in great houses, and puts up a great wailing of grief and loss at the death of anyone; a kind of howl which it is said peasant women in Ireland used to imitate at funerals.
a. From W. B. Yeats on Irish legends and myths: When more than one banshee is present, and they wail and sing in chorus, it is for the death of some holy or great one. An omen that sometimes accompanies the banshee is the coach- a-bower (coiste-bodhar), an immense black coach, mounted by a coffin, and drawn by headless horses driven by a Dullahan. It will go rumbling to your door, and if you open it, according to Croker, a basin of blood will be thrown in your face. Our "Phantom Coach" took place in a Northern Scottish landscape. These phantoms can be headless: In 1807 two of the sentries stationed outside St. James's Park died of fright. A headless woman the upper part of her body naked, used to pass at midnight and scale the railings. After a time the sentries were stationed no longer at the haunted spot. Perhaps some of you read Washington Irving's famous tale of the headless horseman of sleepy hollow. Says Yeats: in Norway the heads of corpses were cut off to make their ghosts feeble.

b. It was in Ireland the myth or legend first received its first intelligent adult elaboration in the work of Sheridan Le Fanu, "Carmilla", the story of a female vampire (1872). I didn't find it that good though it has some startling scary moments.

c. It has a heroine Carmilla befriends, one Laura who is in character remarkably like Adeline, our second Mrs de Winter and other isolated vulnerable types we've seen. Laura's health begins to fail - just in the manner Lucy's does in Dracula, and we discover Carmilla is the culprit. It's a question of what they have been doing at night together. Forbidden territory explored here includes lesbianism.

d. As with Stoker's volume, we are not to sympathize with the vampire.

2. Like Stevenson and Mary Shelley, Stoker said the originating impulse of his book first came to him in a dream. What is most interesting about it is how in the book much of it occurs in England but the imagery is that of the Irish countryside and landscape and the mood of Anglo-Irish novels is pervasive.

3. What's more there are many close similarities between Dracula and Carmilla and Le Fanu's other novel which has been made into a fascinating frightening movie. The book is called Uncle Silas (1864); it's about a decayed Irish landlord, one Ruthven who we are never sure is not a vampire like in some of his appetites.

4. As I said when we went over "Squire Toby's Will", Ireland as a colonized victimized place, was left backward and ruined; its literature is often melancholy; it experienced a horrendous famine in 1847. I won't repeat the stuff about the English devastating the place, putting in place laws which forbid Irish Catholics to own anything, the bad state of education, the decay of industry and agriculture to just growing potatoes.

5. It's not a real Ireland of course: what people have dreamt of or associated with Ireland: rural, somewhat remote place; people there are freer because they are away from constricting society; there is often a lake or body of water, cliffs and inns and mountain passes which play central roles.

6. It is a place apart, filled with characters who have little hope, who encounter cruelty, hardship and indifference with a combination of pragmatic acceptance, stern heroism, mythic gestures and extravagant fantasies. It is a place 'especially unhappy', rural, archaic, primal in customs. When it is realistic, we explore paralysis. When it is romantic, we find ourselves in providential, picaresque or gothic worlds, in the latter of which uncanny happenings are at home. Sutherland remarks that when an English novelist turned to Ireland he evoked 'a vein of Celtic romance and pathos' unavailable in English novels. Fatalism another part of Celtic romance.

7. The same kind of background may be found in southwestern Italy: Calabria, exploited by the Spanish, backward, rural, the same sorts of images. Thus "For the Blood is the Life" has its roots in Italian real history, while Dracula has its in Ireland and research into vampire legends, and previous literature like the bits we read for today.

To Litalk-l

November 27, 2001

Re: Vampire Tapestry: Loren Eiseley & Charles Brockden Brown

Dear All,

As I was making the calendar I looked at Charnas's dedication: she writes to the memory of Loren Eiseley. She says she never met him and writesr that his

"writing first opened to me the vast perspectives of geologic time. From those distances eventually emerged the figure of the vampire as envisioned in this book."

Before college life and teaching got yet worse and I found myself under pressure to eliminate anything which looked like "humanities" or philosophy in a course I used regularly to teach (Advanced Comp in the Natural Sciences) I would assign Loren Eiseley's Star-Thrower Do people know this book? It has wonderful essays and poetry on science. A couple stay with me: one on the dolphin; another on a bird that grieved for the death of another. Eiseley has a classic book on Darwin and the 20th century as the Darwinian century. I love his work; I hadn't noticed this dedication before, but the vampire here does go back in time. Charnas is here attaching her work to the dreams of geology and thus rooting it in nature. History here is the eons of process that it took to form the earth. She is changing the basis of her myth from the Christian-romance myth and legend traditions to the scientific stories we tell.

The other allusion I wanted to point out is to one of the earliest true gothic novels in the US: Charles Brockden Brown's Weylan. This is a later 18th century gothic novel. There is an excerpt from it in Rictor Norton's anthology of gothic pieces which shows it to be an impressive piece of work. In the fragment Norton reprints the gothic is an instrument for exploring mind in intensely involved neurotic states brought on by social ostracizing when the individual is sensitive and somewhat different from others.

Cheers to all,

From: "Judy Geater"
Subject: The Vampire Tapestry background

Dear all

I've just finished reading 'The Vampire Tapestry', and found it both disturbing and fascinating. I didn't find it easy reading, and at times had to take it in small sections, especially in Chapter 2 which I experienced as quite harrowing, probably because of the child narrator. However, overall I'd have to say I very much enjoyed it and am now keen to read more modern Gothic literature - thanks to those who came up with suggestions in answer to my earlier question about what to try next.

I have to admit I haven't read nearly as many vampire tales as some of the others on the list, but I have fairly recently read 'Dracula' and Sheridan Le Fanu's 'Carmilla', which in some ways I preferred because of his compelling writing style. However, I have to agree with Ellen that 'Dracula' is the one which has really made vampires a staple element in horror literature and films. Not sure whether this is despite or because of the inescapable elements of misogyny and sexual violence which Ines discussed in her posting.

I have also read John Polidori's 'The Vampyre', which is said to be the first vampire story (in prose) in English. I remember being deeply unimpressed with this story when I read it, and I wasn't surprised that Byron was furious when some people thought it was by him. However, a year or so on, I find my memory of Polidori's weak style has faded, but the image of the vampire-seducer grimly stalking women at parties has stayed in my mind, so perhaps the story is not as bad as I thought at the time. As I remember, I was interested to see that there is no hint of garlic, stakes and crucifixes in Polidori's tale - yet these remedies feature heavily in Le Fanu's Carmilla, which seems far closer to Dracula in atmosphere.

I don't think anybody else has mentioned the Hammer horror films (I take the list on digest so I could be behind the discussion here), but, lowering the tone perhaps, I have to admit that I've seen quite a few of them, and I got my first idea of Dracula from these rather than from the book. I haven't seen the more recent film with Winona Ryder, which I imagine must be truer to the novel.

I haven't seen 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' although my daughter watches it occasionally, but I suppose its huge popularity once again shows the power of the vampire myth.

Judy Geater

To Litalk-l

Re: On Byron's fragment

I invite people to read this and see if they agree with me that in this very first of the literary retellings of the vampire myth -- a subtle indirect one -- Byron doesn't present the vampire figure sympathetically. The key to the story is Augustus Darvell is a vampire -- Sheridan Le Fanu took his name and gave it to the figure at the center of Uncle Silas. There are several passages which either assert or develop the idea that this dark enigmatic figure is "a prey to some cureless disquiet"; someone alone and driven by "inquietude" .. nearly approaching to alienation of mind". In other words it seems to me that from the inception of the use of the legend in literary works the vampire is a figure for whom the writer interpellates a reader who is alienated, melancholy, uncomfortable.

On another tack, The Penguin Book of Vampire Stories included a couple of chapters from James Malcolm Rymer's Varney the Vampyre, or, The Feast of Blood: they are effective popular art, and in reading them I was reminded of some of the motifs in Universal's 1931 Dracula,e.g., the girl lying in bed sees through the window:

The figure is there, still feeling for an entrance, and clattering against the glass with its long nails, that appear as if the growth of many years had been untouched. She tries to scream again but a choking sensation comes over her and she cannot ...


A small pane of glass is broken, and the form from without introduces a long gaunt hand, which seems utterly destitute of flesh. The fastening is removed, and one-half of the window, which opens like folding doors, is swung wide open upon its hinges.

Why "still feeling for an entrance," "clattering against the glass with its long nails" and especially "a long gaunt hand" "introduced" through a piece of broken glass has uncanny power I don't know. But they do have it. This is the ghoul of the 1922 Nosferatu -- which I have seen. That one is one of those movies which you don't realise has had an unnerving memorable effect on your brain until much after it is over.

Judy says her first introduction to Dracula was in the Hammer films. My first film was the Christopher Lee Dracula (late 1950s?). I remember it as terrifying. Alas, I rented it from Blockbuster and it seemed absurd camp: the female looked like crass poster women with embarrassingly huge breasts. The rooms were something straight out of a 1950s catalogue of nugahyde furniture. However, at the time I was not aware of how the furniture of the thing was hilariously anachronistic and popular and it led me to read the book. It was the book which made the real impression.

I did like the first line of the poem by Baudelaire Ines quoted: Je suis la plaie et le couteau! I wish he had not used an exclamation point so I English it "I am the wound and the knife." This line was uttered by John Malkovitch at the end of the film adaptation of Valerie Martin's Mary Reilly (a rewrite from a maid's point of view of Stevenson's Jekyll and Hyde).

I'll end this meandering posting by saying that Charnas's book attempts to put aside all these ancient mythic gestures and paraphernalia. In this week's Part I Weyland makes fun of them. But she does keep the idea of the wound and the knife, even though Weyland denies he is a victim and will not allow the least whiff of sentimentality to be real.

Cheers to all,

Date: Sat, 8 Dec 2001
Subject: The Vampire Tapestry; background

On Fri, 7 Dec 2001, Ellen Moody wrote:

Reading a number of famous and not-so-famous vampire stories before and after Stoker's Dracula convinced me that an overwhelming seachange and impetus was given to the myth since Stoker.

I would like to suggest that another seachange came in the wake of the filmed versions of the novel, especially two early films: Murnau's 1922 Nosferatu, which brought in the topos of daylight as the destroyer of vampyres (note: Stoker's Dracula was weaker in daylight, but could move around in it freely; Coppola's 1992 Bram Stoker's Dracula reverts back to this); and the 1931 Dracula with Bela Lugosi, which introduces a hint of tragedy in the figure. (I am thinking here specifically of his lines to Mina and Lucy when they first meet: "To die -- to be really dead -- that must be glorious." and "There are far worse things awaiting man -- than death."). It is only after the Lugosi Dracula that we begin to get a more sympathetic (and a more glamorous, for that matter) depiction of the vampyre, so much so that for many modern fans the paradigm of the vampyre as death gone horribly wrong is changed to the paradigm of the vampyre as the misunderstood and often Angst-ridden outsider.

The book on the Dracula I found most useful is Raymond T. McNally and Radu Florescu's In Search of Dracula: The History of Dracula and Vampires (Completely Revised).

You may wish to check with Elizabeth Miller, the Dracula expert, on the Victoria list as to the basic solidity of the McNally / Florescu books. I gather they are seriously flawed, at least to the extent that they equate the historic Vlad Tepes with Stoker's Dracula. Other books that might prove useful are J. Gordon Melton's The Vampire Book: The Encyclopedia of the Undead, which does have some errors in fact but seems on the whole sound; and Paul Barber's Vampires, Burial, and Death: Folklore and Reality.

When discussing vampyres, by the way, it is occasionally wise to specify if one means the folkloric variety, and if so which lore (many cultures have vampyre lore, and the specifics are often significantly different: consider, for example, the Malaysian penanggalan, which consists of the severed head and trailing stomach and entrails of a woman, whose victims are newly born children); or the fictional vampyre, and if so which particular type (traditional, glamorous, or the misunderstood vampyre-as-victim).

On Sat, 8 Dec 2001, Judy Geater wrote:

I haven't seen 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' although my daughter watches it occasionally, but I suppose its huge popularity once again shows the power of the vampire myth.

Although one main character in the series is a vampyre, the villains tend more often to be daemons. The huge popularity, I would argue, at least among those who are a tad beyond the celebrity / hero worship age (I'm fifty), is due to the often superb writing and acting. The main theme of the show is not pretty girl heroine slays vampyres; it is isolation, the burden of responsibility in the face of sometimes unspeakable danger and agonizing choices, the value (indeed, the necessity) of friendship and love -- but the high cost at which they sometimes come. They're dealing with some very deep, dark issues in that show. I hesitate to urge anyone to start watching at this stage, since so very much has gone before that it would be hard indeed to come into the middle of it and understand all the nuances, but it's a show worth watching. When the network puts a "This show is intended for our mature teen and adult audiences", it's not kidding.

Mario Rups

Subject: Vampire Tapestry: Byron, Varney, Films & Baudelaire

On Sun, 9 Dec 2001, Ellen Moody wrote:

Thank you to Mario for another source book.

You're welcome. I have a shelf full of vampyre-related material, result of a time-ago interest. (Got into the habit of spelling the word as "vampyre" at that point, too -- and it's easier for me just to keep doing that.)

I wrote I am not an expert in vampire lore at all: until this past summer when I assigned Dracula to my students I had not read the novel since I was 11. At that time the book so terrified me that I had to read it with the front door of my parents' apartment opened. This distressed my parents as we lived in New York City where people generally keep their doors locked, barred, and otherwise barricaded from all and sundry. But I feared what was in the closet, not what was outside the door. I was unnerved and it evoked in my a dread that the uncanny was real.

As an older person one should use the annotated Auerbach and Skal edition. Or the Wolf. Both have useful notes both historical and critical.

Auerbach, Nina, and Skal, David J., eds.,
Dracula: Authoritative Text, Contexts, Reviews and Reactions, Dramatic
and Film Variations, Criticism by Bram Stoker
(New York, London: W. W. Norton & Company, 1997)

Wolf, Leonard, ed.
The Essential Dracula; Including the Complete Novel by Bram Stoker ;
Notes, bibliography, and filmography revised in collaboration
with Roxana Stuart; illustrations by Christopher Bing.
(New York: Plume, 1993)

Ellen also wrote:

I'd like to pick up another aspect of this thread: it is sometimes asserted that Anne Rice's Interview with a Vampire was the first vampire story to make the reader feel sympathetic to the vampire, the first to put the vampire's point of view before the reader

The television series Dark Shadows was around long before Interview. Barnabas Collins started out evil, but when the character unexpectedly gained in popularity he was written with increasing sympathy and ultimately transformed into one of the "good guys". DS ran from 1966 to 1971, with Barnabas first appearing in 1967; Interview was not published until 1976. According to Melton, Rice didn't even wrote the short story that grew into the novel in 1969, after the series had ended.

I invite people to read this and see if they agree with me that in this very first of the literary retellings of the vampire myth -- a subtle indirect one -- Byron doesn't present the vampire figure sympathetically. It was Byron who first presented the vampire sympathetically and in 'Fragment' nowadays usually printed with Polidori's imitation, 'The Vampyre: A Tale'[etc.]

Perhaps it's the lateness of the hour, but if you hadn't said it was the beginnings of a vampyre tale, I would never have considered the possibility. Was there something outside of the fragment as found at that URL -- perhaps something Byron wrote in a letter? -- that indicates it is? If not, that Le Fanu gave the name to the character in is for me no real proof, and I confess I'm not seeing anything particularly vampyric in the fragment ... my assumption would have been perhaps some sort of curse, definitely something occult. Reasonably good beginning to a story, though, might have had me hooked if it had gone on a bit longer.

Mario Rups

Date: Sun, 9 Dec 2001
Subject: Looking Forward to The Vampire Tapestry

In reply to Ellen's request:

  1. I read Dracula in high school as wasn't impressed enough to have read it again.
  2. As far as I know, although vampires of a sort occur in folklore earlier, the vampire tradition in literature began with Polidori's The Vampyre. As such, the vampire is a twin brother to Frankenstein's monster, conceived that same night at the Villa Diodati. I see the two as complementary opposites. Frankenstein's monster represents the perils of hasty innovation, the awful result of too much progress too soon. The vampire represents the dead hand of the past, old things that outlast their time and survive by sapping the strength of the living. IMO, the seductive appeal of the vampire comes from this; vampires are polished, confident and graceful because they are finished things, not involved in the trial-and-error process of living that makes us humans frequently ungraceful, sometimes ridiculous, and occasionally hideous.

On the other hand, the image of the vampire couldn't be as compelling as it is without having more in it than any analysis can find.

From the reviews (I'm starting the book after I finish this) I gather that the protagonist of TVT is not "undead" at all, but a natural, living predator. I wonder in what respects (other than his diet which, after all, he shares with mosquitoes) he remains a "vampire" at all.

  • I've read a good many vampire stories; it's kind of a minor obsession. To list a few that seem notable:
    John Polidori , The Vampyre

    Sheridan Le Fanu, Carmilla

    John Payne Lautrec (1878) The poem is introduced with a Latin citation from "P. Van Toynick, Infernalia (1533)" that describes something very much like the "modern" vampire. However the only "Infernalia" I've been able to locate is by Charles Nodier (1822). The preface to that work explicitly states that the vampire myth is fairly recent ("Les vampires ne fuerent gue\re connus que vers le dix-huitie\me sie\cle") so I assume 'Van Toynick' is a fabrication.

    Anne Rice - most of her works

    Tom Holland - Lord of the Dead. A fictionalized account of the last years of Byron's life proposing that he became a vampire. Holland is a genuine Byron scholar, and this might be considered a brilliant reconstruction of 'the real Byron' if only vampires actually existed.

    Roger Zelazny The Stainless Steel Leech. In which a starving vampire, long after humans have become extinct, becomes a mentor to a robot who has acquired similar habits.

    I have been unable to force myself to finish anything by Poppy Z. Brite.


    Re: Byron's Vampire Fragment
    X-Sender: balexand

    Now that my semester from the inferno is over (15 credits' teaching, two conferences, several grants: you get the idea), I can actually, um, reply to this:

    1. Dracula? Read, taught, published on, yep.
    2. truth in vampires? Several levels.
      a) The literary history, from the late 18th-century to the present. That's a serious, and global, trope.

      b) The popular history, ranging from folklore to crazes. I'm somewhat interested in the folklore, like the Polish and Greek vampire stories. But I'm more excited about the documentary history. Vampire "cases" broke out in Europe in the 18th century, roughly, and some have made the argument that they replaced witch panics as objects of certain concerns and anxieties.

      c) The contemporary Goth movement/scene's subsector of vampire fetishists: folks who want to be, or be with, vampires, and modify their behavior accordingly.

    3. other stories? Oh, a fair amount, from Polidori through Rice. My most recent favorite are West African vampire tales, told after British colonialism set in. These often feature vampires disguised as firemen or doctors, who take victims to pits underneath firestations or hospitals, and there drain their blood. Etc. There's at least one book on this.


    From: "Ines Barg"
    Subject: de hominibus post mortem sanguisugis

    Being new to this list and intending to participate only in this particular reading of The Vampire Tapestry, I guess I shouldn't bore anyone with a long introduction, thus be it sufficient to say that I'm a German undergraduate student and ardent reader of imaginative literature.

    In response to Ellen Moody's questions:

    1. Yes, I've read Bram Stoker's twee *gothic* novel and I think it's one of the most boring and indeed *ridiculous* books in world literature - (no offence meant) - because of its misogynist strain (in 1908, Stoker wrote in an article called The Censorship of Fiction which by the way he fervently supported: "Indeed, women are the worst offenders in this breach of moral law"), psychological and moral simplicity (vampire as evil Other, virtue rewarded - vice punished) and because of its naturalistic domesticizing of the sublime, romantic, mephistophelian, psychologically complex. Also with regard to language, Stoker doesn't excel in his selection and combination of words, his stylistic devices are rather limited. Nevertheless, it's a revealing document of 19th century prejudices, in especial of 19th century patriarchal war on women. According to Voltaire, who, in his article on vampires disclosed the 'real' vampires, I should say that the real bloodsucker in this novel is Van Helsing in his merciless hunger for destruction.
    2. I think that vampires in the 18th century are by and large emblems of a historical consciousness, epitomizing ethnic, national differences. With the upheaval of the French Revolution and the ensuing romantic movement, the vampire turned melancholic, like Augustus Darvell in Byron's Vampire Fragment or Maturin's Melmoth (though not a vampire in the conventional sense) with a despair of incommunication. Some vampire tales even explicitly defy a restoration of confirmed virtues and celebrate the beauty of damnation (Polidori's Vampire Tale, Lautréamont, Baudelaire, etc.). In the 19th century most vampire tales display vampires as an erotic cipher, harping on female sexuality (the femme fatale, lesbian vampires). In general, the figure of the vampire is mostly utilized to express 'darker' aspects of the human psyche and often serves an exorcist purpose. Of course, the vampire is also a wish-fulfilment figure, being in most cases physically superior, immortal and sexually drawing, though intercourse is replaced by the kiss of the vampire (thus merging of Eros and Thanatos). Perhaps, in the end, the vampire is the *I* that encounters the self as in Baudelaire's L'Héautontimorouménos, ending with laughter of Melmoth:
      Je suis la plaie et le couteau!
      Je suis le soufflet et la joue!
      Je suis les membres et la roue,
      Et la victime et le bourreau!

      Je suis de mon coeur le vampire,
      -Un de ces grands abandonnés
      Au rire éternel condamnés,
      Et qui ne peuvent plus sourire!

    3. so many, I'm afraid it would simply take too much time to list them all

    Ines Barg

    Dear Mario and all, The answer to why I read Byron's story as about a vampire is easy.

    First there's where it occurs and how it's discussed. It appears in the appendices to a Penguin Frankenstein as a companion piece to Polidori's vampire tale, and the editor presents it as an intelligent early vampire tale, one Polidori coarsened in his imitation. It also is the first vampire tale in The Penguin Book of Vampire Tales edited by Alan Ryan; it is paired with Polidori; it is treated as a vampire tale by Ryan. In a couple of biographies of Byron it is referred to offhand as Byron's vampire fragment.

    Second to me, it reads in the modern way as remarkably clear of silly (I agree with Dr Weyland) paraphernalia and proceeds by subtle suggestiveness. I see many motifs and the plot line as typical of vampire tales. That it is quiet or non-emphatic (underdetermined is the fashionable phrase) makes it more intriguing. Byron is not the only writer to write this way before the 20th century: M. R. James's "An Episode of Cathedrale History" reads similarly. By the bye is there an etext of this one? I can't find it. I think Judy Geater might enjoy it: it has a number of significant allusions to Dickens's Edwin Drood.

    I agree that the Frankenstein creature and the vampire myths are linked. Perhaps one strong shared element is their shared physicality: as opposed to ghosts, these creatures can do intense physical damage; they are invasive. They are also both not-quite dead; they are not people who were natural at one time, died and now have returned. They are profoundly unnatural. There are other links but these seem to me central.

    On the vampire's elegance, I have not read that much but I have read enough to know that many stories of vampires dramatize a creature who is anything but elegant, smooth, polished, witty. These are not central characteristics of the vampire. I recommend The Penguin Book of Vampire Stories cited above: it has a number of such recent ones

    Cheers to all,

    Contact Ellen Moody.
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