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Vampire literature

Vampire literature covers the spectrum of literary work concerned principally with the subject of vampires. The literary vampire first appeared in eighteenth century poetry, before becoming one of the stock figures of gothic fiction with the publication of Polidori's The Vampyre (1819), which was inspired by the life and legend of Lord Byron. Later influential works include the penny dreadful Varney the Vampire (1847); Sheridan Le Fanu's tale of a lesbian vampire, Carmilla (1872) and the masterpiece of the genre: Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897).

In later years, vampire stories have diversified into areas of crime, fantasy, science fiction or even chick-lit. As well as the typical fanged revenants, newer representations include aliens and even plants with vampiric abilities. Others feed on energy rather than blood.

Probably the most influential recent writer in the genre is Anne Rice whose Vampire Chronicles set the trend for multi-volume vampire epics and was the ultimate inspiration for the new and very popular sub-genre of vampiric paranormal romance.

History

Eighteenth century

Vampire fiction is rooted in the 'vampire craze' of the 1720s and 1730s, which culminated in the somewhat bizarre official exhumations of suspected vampires Peter Plogojowitz and Arnold Paole in Serbia under the Habsburg Monarchy. One of the first works of art to touch upon the subject is the short German poem The Vampire (1748) by Heinrich August Ossenfelder, where the theme already has strong erotic overtones: a man whose love is rejected by a respectable and pious maiden threatens to pay her a nightly visit, drink her blood by giving her the seductive kiss of the vampire and thus prove her that his teaching is better than her mother's Christianity. Furthermore, there have been a number of tales about a dead person returning from the grave to visit his/her beloved or spouse and bring them death in one way or another, the narrative poem Lenore (1773) by Gottfried August Bürger being a notable 18th century example. One of its lines Denn die Toten reiten schnell ("For the dead travel fast") was to be quoted in Bram Stoker's classic Dracula. A later German poem exploring the same subject with a prominent vampiric element was The Bride of Corinth (1797) by Goethe, a story about a young woman who returns from the grave to seek her betrothed:

The story is turned into an expression of the conflict between Heathendom and Christianity: the family of the dead girl are Christians, while the young man and his relatives are still pagans. It turns out that it was the girl's Christian mother who broke off her engagement and forced her to become a nun, eventually driving her to death. The motive behind the girl's return as a "spectre" is that "e'en Earth can never cool down love". Goethe had been inspired by the story of Philinnion by Phlegon of Tralles, a tale from classical Greece. However, in that tale, the youth is not the girl's betrothed, no religious conflict is present, no actual sucking of blood occurs, and the girl's return from the dead is said to be sanctioned by the gods of the Underworld. She relapses into death upon being exposed, and the issue is settled by burning her body outside of the city walls and making an apotropaic sacrifice to the deities involved. The first mention of vampires in English literature appears in Robert Southey's monumental oriental epic poem Thalaba the Destroyer (1797), where the main character Thalaba's deceased beloved Oneiza turns into a vampire, although that occurrence is actually marginal to the story. It has been argued that Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem Christabel (written between 1797 and 1801, but not published until 1816) has influenced the development of vampire fiction: the heroine Christabel is seduced by a female supernatural being called Geraldine who tricks her way into her residence and eventually tries to marry her after having assumed the appearance of an old beloved of hers. The story bears a remarkable resemblance to the overtly vampiric story of Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu (1872).

Nineteenth century

In a passage in his epic poem The Giaour (1813), Lord Byron alludes to the traditional folkloric conception of the vampire as a being damned to suck the blood and destroy the life of its nearest relations:

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 also composed an enigmatic fragmentary story concerning the mysterious fate of an aristocrat named Augustus Darvell whilst journeying in the Orient — as his contribution to the famous ghost story competition at the Villa Diodati by Lake Geneva in 1816, between him, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Shelley and John William Polidori (who was Byron's personal physician). This story provided the basis for "The Vampyre" (1819) by Polidori. Byron's own wild life became the model for Polidori's undead protagonist Lord Ruthven. Polidori's Lord Ruthven seems to be the first appearance of the modern vampire: an undead, vampiric being possessing a developed intellect and preternatural charm, as well as physical attraction. Accorging to A. Asbjorn Jon 'the choice of name [for Polidori's Lord Ruthven] is presumably linked to Lady Caroline Lamb's earlier novel Glenarvon, where it was used for a rather ill disguised Byronesque character' By contrast, the vampire of folklore was almost invariably thought of as a hideous, unappealing creature.

An unauthorized sequel to Polidori's tale by Cyprien Bérard called Lord Ruthwen ou les Vampires (1820) was adapted by Charles Nodier into the first vampire stage melodrama, Le Vampire. Unlike Polidori's original story Nodier's play was set in Scotland. This in turn was adapted by the English melodramatist James Planché as The Vampire; or, the Bride of the Isles (1820) at the Lyceum (then called the English Opera House), also set in Scotland. Planché introduced the "vampire trap" as a way for the title fiend to appear in a dream at the beginning and then to vanish into the earth at his destruction. Nodier's play was also the basis of an opera called Der Vampyr by the German composer Heinrich Marschner who set the story in a more plausible Wallachia. Planché in turn translated the libretto of this opera into English in 1827 where it was performed at the Lyceum also. Alexandre Dumas, père later redramatized the story in a play also entitled Le Vampire (1851). Another theatrical vampire of this period was 'Sir Alan Raby' who is the lead character of The Vampire (1852), a play by Dion Boucicault. Boucicault himself played the lead role to great effect, though the play itself had mixed reviews. Queen Victoria, who saw the play, described it in her diary as "very trashy".

An important later example of 19th century Vampire fiction is the penny dreadful epic Varney the Vampire (1847) featuring Sir Francis Varney as the Vampire. In this story we have the first example of the standard trope in which the vampire comes through the window at night and attacks a maiden as she lies sleeping.

Heathcliff in Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights (1847), is suspected by his housekeeper of being a vampire, in the final chapter of that novel.

Fascinating erotic fixations are evident in Sheridan le Fanu's classic novella Carmilla (1872) which features a female vampire with lesbian inclinations who seduces the heroine Laura whilst draining her of her vital fluids. Le Fanu's story is set in the Duchy of Styria. Such central European locations became a standard feature of vampire fiction.

Another important example of the development of vampire fiction can be found in three seminal novels by Paul Féval: Le Chevalier Ténèbre (1860), La Vampire (1865) and La Ville Vampire (1874). Marie Nizet's Le Capitaine Vampire (1879) features a Russian officer, Boris Liatoukine, who is a vampire.

The most famous Serbian vampire was Sava Savanović, famous from a folklore-inspired novel by Milovan Glišić.

Dracula

Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897) has been the definitive description of the vampire in popular fiction for the last century. Its portrayal of vampirism as a disease (contagious demonic possession), with its undertones of sex, blood, and death, struck a chord in a Victorian Britain where tuberculosis and syphilis were common. A decade before in 1888, the press had sensationalized Jack the Ripper's sexualized murders of prostitutes during his reign of terror in East London.

The name Count Dracula was inspired by a real person, Vlad Ţepeş (Vlad the Impaler). Ţepeş was a notorious Wallachian (Romanian) prince of the 15th century, also known as Vlad III Dracula. Unlike the historical personage, however, Stoker located his Count Dracula in a castle near the Borgo Pass in Transylvania, and ascribed to that area the supernatural aura it retains to this day in the popular imagination.

Stoker likely drew inspiration from Irish myths of blood-sucking creatures. He was also influenced by Le Fanu's Carmilla. Le Fanu was Stoker's editor when Stoker was a theatre critic in Dublin, Ireland. Like Le Fanu, Stoker created compelling female vampire characters such as Lucy Westenra and the Brides of Dracula.

Stoker's vampire hunter and vampire expert Abraham Van Helsing was the archetype of all subsequent such characters in vampire literature.

Twentieth century

Though Stoker's Count Dracula remained an iconic figure, especially in the new medium of cinema, twentieth century vampire fiction went beyond traditional Gothic horror and explored new genres such as science fiction. An early example of this is Gustave Le Rouge's Le prisonnier de la planète Mars (1908) and its sequel La guerre des vampires (1909), in which a native race of bat-winged, blood-drinking humanoids is found on Mars.

Another influential example of vampire science fiction was I Am Legend by author Richard Matheson in (1954). It was made into three movies: The Last Man on Earth starring Vincent Price in 1964, The Omega Man starring Charleton Heston in 1971, and I am Legend (film) starring Will Smith in 2007. The story of a future Los Angeles, overrun with undead cannibalistic/bloodsucking beings changed the genre forever. One man is the sole survivor of a pandemic of a bacterium that causes vampirism. He must fight to survive attacks from the hordes of nocturnal creatures, discover the secrets of their biology, and develop effective countermeasures. This was the first piece of fiction with an analytical slant towards vampires.

The latter part of the twentieth century saw the rise of multi-volume vampire epics. The first of these was Gothic romance writer Marilyn Ross's Barnabas Collins series (1966–71) loosely based on the contemporary American TV series Dark Shadows. It also set the trend for seeing vampires as poetic tragic heroes rather than as the traditional embodiment of evil. This formula was followed in the popular Vampire Chronicles (1976–2003) series of novels by Anne Rice and Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's massive Saint-Germain series (1978–). Ross, Rice and Yarbo set the trend for multi-volume vampire sagas which are now a stock feature of mass-market fiction (see below for list). Rice's work also saw the beginning of the convergence of traditional Gothic ideas with the modern Gothic subculture and a more explicit exploration of the transgressive sexualities which had always been implicit in vampire fiction.

The 1981 novel The Hunger (adapted as a film in 1983) continued the theme of transgressive sexuality and examined the biology of vampires, suggesting that their special abilities were the result of physical properties of their blood. The novel suggested that not all vampires were undead humans, but some were a separate species that had evolved alongside humans. This interpretation of vampires has since then been used in several science-fiction stories dealing with vampires, most famously the Blade movie series.

Kim Newman's Anno Dracula series (1992–) returns to Stoker's Count Dracula and gives the genre a somewhat post-modern spin.

Post-Colonial perspectives on the vampire legend are provided in Nalo Hopkinson's novel Brown Girl In The Ring (1998), which features the Soucouyant, a vampire of Caribbean folklore, and in Tananarive Due's My Soul to Keep (1995) and its sequel The Living Blood (2001).

Twenty-first century

Many books based on vampires are still published now, including several continuing series. Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles ended after many years, but many others have started up in the meantime. Paranormal romance, inspired by Rice, but mostly dropping the transgressive sexuality of her characters in favour of more conventional sexual roles, is a remarkable contemporary publishing phenomenon. The most prominent exponent of this sub-genre is Christine Feehan. Other romances with handsome vampires as the male leads, include Lynsay Sands's Argegneau family series (2003–). However Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter series has again shifted the genre boundaries from romance back toward the territory of erotica.

The occult detective sub-genre is represented by Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden fantasy series (2000–), and Charlaine Harris's Southern Vampire Mysteries (2001–). Japanese novelist Hideyuki Kikuchi's postapocalyptic vampire series (1983–), Vampire Hunter D has begun to be translated into English (2005–).

In the field of juvenile and young adult literature Darren Shan wrote a twelve book series about a boy, also called Darren Shan, who becomes a vampire's assistant, beginning with Cirque Du Freak (2000) and ending with Sons of Destiny (2004). Stephenie Meyer created an ongoing fantasy series about a teenager named Bella Swan and her vampire boyfriend, Edward Cullen, beginning with Twilight (2005). A film adaptation of this and the other novels in the sequence is forthcoming. Ellen Schreiber created a young adult series about Raven Madison and her vampire boyfriend Alexander Sterling, starting with Vampire Kisses (2005). In Scott Westerfeld's young-adult novel Peeps (2005), the protagonist carries a contagious parasite that causes vampire-like behavior.

The king of vampires Count Dracula also continues to inspire novelists. Elizabeth Kostova wrote a detailed historical horror book connecting Vlad the Impaler to Dracula called The Historian (2005). The most recent incarnation of the Count features in John Marks's update of Bram Stoker's novel Fangland (2007). According to a review by Sinclair McKay in the Telegraph (18 August 2007) this novel is 'truly unsettling' and contains moments of 'jump-up-and-down-on-the-sofa-scariness'. A film adaptation is now being produced. Count Dracula is also peripherally involved in the "Chris Cséjthe" Half Life series by William Mark Simmons involving a man who is only partially a vampire, starting in 1996 and most recently continuing in Dead Easy (2007).

Swedish author John Ajvide Lindqvist's critically praised vampire story Låt Den Rätte Komma In (2004) about the relationship of a 12 year boy with a 200 year old vampire child has now been translated into English as Let the Right One In (2007) and a film adaptation produced. The story takes place in Blackeberg, a suburb of Stockholm.

Vampire Knight (ヴァンパイア騎士 Vanpaia Naito?) is a shōjo manga and anime series written by Matsuri Hino. The series premiered in the January 2005 issue of LaLa magazine and is still on-going. Chapters are collected and published in collected volumes by Hakusensha, with seven volumes currently released in Japan. The manga series is licensed in English by Viz Media. The English adaptation premiered in the July 2006 issue of Viz's Shojo Beat magazine, with the collected volumes being published on a quarterly basis.

Traits of vampires in fiction

The traits of the literary vampire have evolved from the often repulsive figures of folklore. Fictional vampires can be romantic figures, often described as elegant and sexy (compare demons such as succubus and incubus). This is in stark contrast to the vampire of Eastern European folklore, which was a horrifying animated corpse. However as in folklore, the literary vampire is sustained by drinking blood. They do not need other food, water, or even oxygen. They are sometimes portrayed as being unable to eat human food at all, forcing them to either avoid public dining or mime chewing and eating to deceive their mortal victims. The fictional vampire, however, often has a pale appearance rather than the dark or ruddy skin of folkloric vampires and their skin is cool to the touch. As in folklore literary vampires can usually be warded off with garlic and symbols of Christian faith such as holy water, the crucifix, or a rosary.

According to literary scholar Nina Auerbach in Our Vampires Ourselves, the influence of the moon was seen as dominant in the earliest examples of vampire literature:

Bram Stoker's Dracula was hugely influential in its depiction of vampire traits, some of which are described by the novel's vampire expert Abraham Van Helsing. Dracula has the ability to change his shape at will, his featured forms in the novel being that of a wolf, bat, dust and fog. He can also crawl up and down the vertical external walls of his castle, in the manner of a lizard. One very famous trait Stoker added is the inability to be seen in mirrors, which is not found in traditional Eastern European folklore. Dracula also had protruding teeth, though was preceded in this by Varney the Vampire. In contrast, Carmilla had no fangs. Also, in the "Twilight" vampire love saga by Stephanie Meyer, the vampire characters have no fangs.

In the novel, the vampire hunter Van Helsing prescribes that a vampire be destroyed by a wooden stake (preferably made of white oak) through the heart, decapitation, drowning, or incineration. The vampire's head must be removed from its body, the mouth stuffed with garlic and holy water or relics, the body drawn and quartered, then burned and spread into the four winds, with the head buried on hallowed ground. The destruction of the vampire Lucy follows the three-part process enjoined by Van Helsing (staking, decapitation, and garlic in the mouth), however, Count Dracula is killed by a kukri knife, not a wooden stake through the heart. Traditional vampire folklore, followed by Stoker in Dracula does not usually hold that sunlight is fatal to vampires, though they are nocturnal. It is also notable in the novel that Dracula can walk about in the daylight, in bright sunshine, though apparently in discomfort and without the ability to use most of his powers, like turning into mist or a bat. He is still strong and fast enough to struggle with and escape from most of his male pursuers, in a scene in the book. It is only with the 1922 film Nosferatu that daylight is depicted as deadly to vampires. Such scenes in vampire films, most especially the closing scene of the 1958 Dracula film in which which Count Dracula is burnt by the sun was very influential on later vampire fiction. For instance Anne Rice's vampire Lestat and Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's Count Saint Germain both avoid the lethal effects of daylight by staying closeted indoors during the day.

A well-known set of special "powers" and weaknesses is commonly associated with vampires in contemporary fiction. There is a tendency, however, for authors to pick and choose the ones they like, or find more realistic, and have their characters ridicule the rest as absurd. Some vampires can fly. This power may be supernatural levitation, or it may be connected to the vampire's shape-shifting ability. Some traditions hold that a vampire cannot enter a house unless he or she is invited in. Generally, a vampire needs be invited in only once and can then come and go at will. Some tales maintain that vampires must return to a coffin or to their "native soil" before sunrise to take their rest safely. Others place native soil in their coffins, especially if they have relocated. Still other vampire stories such as Le Fanu's Carmilla maintain that vampires must return to their coffins, but sleep in several inches of blood as opposed to soil. Vampires are generally held to be unable to bear children, though the concept of a "half vampire" and similar creatures does exist in folklore and in some modern fiction. Some fictional vampires are fascinated with counting, an idea derived from folk stories about vampires being compelled to stop and count any spilled grain they find in their path. The most famous fictional counting vampire is likely Muppet character Count von Count on television's Sesame Street. Other examples include a fifth season episode of the X-Files titled Bad Blood, and the Discworld novel, Carpe Jugulum by Terry Pratchett. Some modern fictional vampires are portrayed as having magical powers beyond those originally assigned by myth, typically also possessing the powers of a witch or seer. Such examples include Drusilla from Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Drusilla was a seer before she was a vampire, and carried those powers into her undeath), and Olivia Nightshade from The Nightshade Chronicles.

Vampire hybrids

The Dhampir/Dunpeal, the offspring of a vampire and a human, known from Serbian folklore, has been popularized in recent fiction. The following is a list of such vampire hybrids in written fiction, by order of appearance by year:

  • Blade, originally in comic books by Marvel Comics (1973), was a dhampir, a half-vampire, half-human, with the strengths of the vampire, but none of their weaknesses. Contrary to the usual method of having a vampiric father and human mother, Blade's mother was bitten while she was in late pregnancy, changing Blade in the womb.
  • D, a half-vampire from the novel/movie series Vampire Hunter D, is a round-personality protagonist that defies his "natural tendencies", instead hunting vampires in a post-apocalyptic world. (1980's onward)
  • The protagonist of Dhampire: Stillborn, a graphic novel scripted by Nancy Collins (1997), is a dhampir.
  • Paifu, a character from the manga series Cowa! (late 1997)
  • Darren Shan of Cirque Du Freak is a kind of unofficial half-vampire. The term dhampir is not used, however. (2000)
  • Alek Knight, the antihero of the Slayer series by Karen Koehler is born from an unknown human mother and a vampire father. He unwillingly hunts vampires for a secret sect of the Roman Catholic Church before going freelance. (2001)
  • Magiere, by Barbara Hendee, the Noble Dead Saga revolves around another dhampir, Magiere, daughter of a vampire father and unwilling human mother. (2001)
  • Riley Jenson Guardian Series, by Keri Arthur, the Riley Jenson Guardian Series revolves around another dhampir, Riley, along with her twin Rhoan, who are vampire/werewolf hybrids. Although not a human cross the term "dhampire" is referenced. (2006–)
  • In the Richelle Mead novel, Vampire Academy, the dhampirs are half moroi half dhampir, and they protect the moroi, who are considered full vampires.
  • In Breaking Dawn, the final novel of the Twilight Series, a vampire and a human conceive a half vampire/half human child, named Renesmee. She has the ability to pass her thoughts on to those she touches, was born with a full set of teeth, and also ages abnormally fast.

Literature

Fiction series

There are several recent series in vampire fiction, of variable literary quality. They tend to either take the form of direct sequels (or prequels) to the first book published or detail the ongoing adventures of particular characters.

White Wolf, a maker of role playing games, releases novels set in the fantasy world of its Vampire: The Masquerade' game. These series of novels were released in 13-book sets, each corresponding to one of the 13 clans of vampires in their game universe.

Juvenile and young adult fiction

Comic books

Comic books and graphic novels which feature vampires include Vampirella (Warren Publishing, 1969), Tomb of Dracula (Marvel Comics, 1972), I...Vampire (DC Comics, 1981), Blade (Marvel, 1973), 30 Days of Night (IDW Publishing, 2002), Chibi Vampire (Monthly Dragon Age, 2003), Vampire Knight (LaLa, 2005), Blood Alone (MediaWorks, 2005), Dracula vs. King Arthur (Silent Devil Productions, 2005), Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter: Guilty Pleasures (Dabel Brothers Productions/Marvel Comics, 2007), and Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight (Dark Horse Comics, 2007).

Proinsias Cassidy, the supporting lead male in Garth Ennis's comic book series Preacher (DC/Vertigo, 1995), is a vampire of Irish origin. In addition, many major superheroes have faced vampire supervillains at some point. In the Belgo-French comic Le Bal du rat mort, police inspector Jean Lamorgue is a hybrid vampire and he is a king of rats. He is guiding an invasion of rats in Ostend and he sucks the blood of his human victims.

Magazines

Magazines which feature vampires include 'Bite me' magazine (launched 1999). Typical features include interviews with vampire actors, features on famous vampire film classics, vampire-related news, forthcoming vampire film and book releases. Defunct vampire magazines include 'Crimson' (England); 'Journal of the Dark' (USA) and 'The Velvet Vampyre' (available to members of the disbanded The Vampyre Society, England).

References

Bibliography

  • Christopher Frayling (1992) Vampyres: Lord Byron to Count Dracula (1992) ISBN 0-571-16792-6
  • Freeland, Cynthia A. (2000) The Naked and the Undead: Evil and the Appeal of Horror. Westview Press.
  • Holte, James Craig. (1997) Dracula in the Dark: The Dracula Film Adaptations. Greenwood Press.
  • Melton, J. Gordon. (1999) The Vampire Book: The Encyclopedia of the Undead. Visible Ink Press.
  • Montague Summers (1928) The Vampire: His Kith and Kin, (book reprinted with alternate title: Vampires and Vampirism ISBN 0-486-43996-8). Chapter 5 - "The Vampire in Literature" is reprinted in Clive Bloom (2007) Gothic Horror: 108-126. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • M. J. Trow (2003) Vlad the Impaler. Sutton: Stroud.

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