The last couple of days in the blogosphere there’s been some discussion about the origin of vampire novels. A lot of these little kerfluffles I don’t care much about, though I skim with amusement and a certain sense of horror through such Internet/writing tropes as Authors Behaving Badly and the like.

The vampire thing got me interested so I fired up Google Books and did some searching. The history is pretty much as you’d expect. Horace Walpole’s 1765 Castle Of Otranto is the first ghost story/supernatural story, though I would think that Mallory’s La Morte D’Arthur deserves a nod in that realm given all the supernatural elements. However, the latter isn’t a story about a ghost, and Castle of Otranto is.

I did not expect, therefore, to find any novels about vampires prior to 1765 and my somewhat cursory review of Google Books bears this out. There are, however, quite a lot of writings that mention vampires. I exclude, of course, discussions of vampire bats, botany and other vampire references that don’t refer to mythical (or are they?) blood suckers.

One fascinating finding was the sheer number of writings in French. My French is barely good enough to get a sense of the works, but essays and definitions abound.

There are any number of essays debunking the existence of vampires some of which are interesting in as much as the authors were not aware that a corpse shrinks a bit and therefore it can look as if fingernails, toes and hair have grown after death, when it’s really just corporeal shrinkage causing the effect. Attempts to explain this away can get your brain in a knot.

As an aside, the contextual ads that appear on the results page of such a search are tres amusant. Did you know you could meet local Vampire singles? Gauranteed Real Sexy Vampires!

As a warning, the old fashioned S that looks pretty much like an F comes into play in literary discussions of vampires. It’s a bit disconcerting at first to see phrases that are actually variants of the verb suck rendered with what looks like an F instead. Vampires: Blood Fuckers. Apparently I’m 12 at heart. Do you suppose anyone giggled uncontrollably back in 1712?

I say, George, let’s read Father’s essay on Vampires again.

Noted vampire books:

  • The Nightcap by Louis-Sebastien Mercier 1784. This may be one huge boring essay but for the part about blood fucking, er, sucking vampires.
  • I was briefly thrilled to find a book about Charlemagne; Histoire de L’empereur. Alas, it’s an OCR error. The phrase l’empire has been mistaken for vampire. Imagine the thrill of find out someone thought Charlemagne was a vampire! I would have cracked out the French/English dictionary to translate that one.
  • Everybody’s favorite Regency bad boy, none other than Lord Byron himself had a bit to say about vampires. The Works of Lord Byron specifically, a non-fiction bit about Eblis, the Oriental Prince of Darkness.
  • Robert Southey also got in on the vampire thing, in Thalaba the Destroyer
  • And, last, I think, but by no means least, John William Polidori wrote The Vampyre in 1819. Polidori, as you may know was Byron’s physician and one of the ones who rose to the now famous challenge Hey! Let’s write a novel! that produced Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein.
  • I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Bram Stoker’s Dracula, 1897. But that’s a whole other century (from the 1700’s) Edited to add: In case I type the numbers in the wrong order AGAIN, that’s Eighteen Ninty Seven!

So, who’s your favorite vampire? Charlemagne or Eric?

(Yes, that’s a joke. My love of Alexander Skarsgard as Eric on True Blood is well known in certain circles. I’m just widening the circle.)

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Megan Frampton
13 years ago

Only two choices for fave vampire? Carolyn, you’re showing your prejudice! Right now, I pick Bill. So there.

(And I giggled about “blood fuckers” too).

Cara King
13 years ago

What I found quite amusing was that when J R Planche was writing the play “The Vampire: or, the Bride of the Isles” in 1820, he was extremely annoyed that the theatre manager was making him set the play in Scotland, when (he argued) everyone knew that vampires were an Eastern European thing, and audiences would laugh to see them in Scotland!

The Gentleman
13 years ago

“I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Bram Stoker’s Dracula, 1984. But that’s a whole other century”

Don’t you mean 1897?

13 years ago

Oh, good one, Cara! Google Books, alas, doesn’t have a preview available for Planche’s book. What a bummer! I’d love to read it.

Megan, I knew you’d pick Bill, but that wasn’t the question, was it?

13 years ago

@Gentleman, yes, I did. I reverse numbers all the time. I halfway fixed it. Will try yet again to type the damn numbers correctly.

But, who’s your fav. vampire?

13 years ago

I have no favorite vampire and am frankly sick of the entire vampire genre. I hate how the supernatural element has weaseled its way into everything that we have today. I want it to go away or at least maintain its distance from things that I hold dear.

The Gentleman
13 years ago

Favorite vampire… I’ll have to go with Byron~ I love his style. He almost seemed to have lived the ideas he wrote about, at least more than any other writer on the subject
I’m also sure Polidori’s story is inspired, at least a little, by Byron’s work.

Amanda McCabe
13 years ago

LOL, Carolyn! I vote for Eric, of course. 🙂

Diane Gaston
13 years ago

Anonymous, I’m not especially enamored of the Vampire fantasy myself, but I am hooked on True Blood on TV (as is my husband. Go figure).
I should do a blog about why….

Carolyn, I prefer Eric, who is complex and surprising.

(Also waving madly to Cara!!!!!)

Jane Austen
13 years ago

Well I think I would have to vote for myself as my favorite vampire. What?! you say. Jane Austen is a vampire?!! Well when I was reading about the release of P&P&Z I found out that there is a bidding war for a teen series in which I, after two hundred years of writer’s block and being turned down by modern day publishers wreak havoc on people by becoming the undead or a vampire. (I believe there is also one where I am a vampire fighter ala Buffy). For the teen series I do have to say this: I don’t think any publisher in their right mind would turn down Jane Austen especially with the growth in popularity over the past few years although I could be biased and totally wrong.

By the bye…how fun to have The Gentleman with us. I for one have no seen a man on Risky’s before although I am a newer follower. Welcome Gentlemen. I hope you stick around for more Risky Regency fun.

Cara King
13 years ago

Carolyn, it was a very interesting play, IMHO! With a much chaster notion of vampires than we have now:

“Moreoever, I’ve heard that these horrible spirits, call’d Vampires, kill and suck the blood of beautiful young maidens, whom they are obliged to marry before they can destroy.–And they do say that such is the condition of their existence, that if, at stated periods, they should fail to obtain a virgin bride, whose life blood may sustain them, they would instantly perish.”

Waving madly back to Diane!

And my favorite vamp would be Spike. (I’m old school.) 😉

Louisa Cornell
13 years ago

Fascinating subject, Carolyn. Unfortunately I have not seen the True Blood series. I have, however, read ALL of Charlaine Harris’s books and you can put me squarely in Eric’s camp. If Sookie doesn’t end up with him I am going to be SO disappointed!

I’m also fond of Christine Feehan’s Vampires and Laurel K. Hamilton’s Jean Claude (the latter novels have gotten a bit out there even for my tastes which is saying a lot!)

There is a clever series of novels in which Byron IS a vampire by Tom Holland.

Anonymous, I tend to agree with you somewhat. While I DO love well-written vampire series and they tend to be the only genre I read outside of historical romance – I am REALLY growing quite weary of EVERYONE thinking they need to dip into the paranormal pool.

My favorite vampire of all ?

Vlad Tepes, of course! I have researched him for years, visited some of his supposed castles and I find him a very interesting, though somewhat twisted and blood thirsty character.

Amanda McCabe
13 years ago

Awww, just saw on People.com that “Bill and Sookie” are engaged! I guess we shouldn’t tell Megan, though

Louisa Cornell
13 years ago

Engaged ain’t married, Amanda ! I’m counting on my boy Eric, to make it a SHORT engagement followed by a NASTY break up!

13 years ago

Jane Austen as vampire. And Byron too . . . one wonders. Byron must have been turned first, then he came for Jane, not knowing what he was up against.

@Cara: Actually, I’m a major Spike fan, too. But Eric has captured my heart.

@anonymous, I totally hear you. You’re def. not the only person to feel that way.

@Louisa: Yes, I too like Jean-Claude. He’s darn hot. I agree with you about the switch the series took, too. But I still like it.

Janet Mullany
13 years ago

That long f gives a whole new meaning to teach someone to suck eggs.

I’m enjoying True Blood immensely, tho I thought it was a shame about Eric’s hair (question: does a vampire’s hair grow?). And in my WIP I’m fiddling around with vampires and having a lot of fun. I also love Terry Pratchett’s take on them.

Jane Austen
13 years ago

I have recently discovered that Amanda Grange and a few others have turned the Darcys into vampires. Will this plague never leave?

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