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.)