|By Bishop T. Allen Greenfield © 2007|
Dearest, your little heart is wounded;
LeFanu wrote these lines as prose, not poetry, but I would have none of it. Irish, but of French Huguenot origins, the erotic romance of vampirism, desire, death and love form the beautiful core of his novella, "Carmilla", first published in 3 installments, in the magazine The Dark Blue in 1872, and then in the author's collection of short stories, In a Glass Darkly the same year.
"Carmilla" is so often the attributed inspiration of the quirky cinematic 'talking pictures' debut of ideosyncratic Danish filmmaker Carl Theodor Dreyer’s "Vampyr" (even the title is an oddity, a German title of a film set in the French countryside), one hesitates to say it, but though free adaptation is the norm in film, one is hard-pressed to parallel the story to the film, with screenplay by Dreyer himself and his star Baron Nicholas De Gunzberg (a/k/a Julian West on films) whom, we note respectfully, also bankrolled the film.
Compare Wikipedia’s synopsis of "Carmilla" and that of "Vampyr" – and the latter seems more akin to the contemporary far more familiar Tod Browning masterpiece "Dracula" (yes, the one with Bela himself), and "Carmilla" with the minor gem "Dracula’s Daughter" – and some much later sexploitation films we’ll ignore here (they were hot stuff in the 1970s).
Wiki on Carmilla - "A wealthy English widower, retired from the Austrian Service, moves to a stately castle in Styria with his daughter Laura.
"If human testimony, taken with every care and solemnity, judicially, before commissions innumerable, each consisting of many members, all chosen for integrity and intelligence, and constituting reports more voluminous perhaps than exist upon any one other class of cases, is worth anything, it is difficult to deny, or even to doubt the existence of such a phenomenon as the Vampire… He had taken up his abode in Gratz, where, living upon a mere pittance, which was all that remained to him of the once princely estates of his family, in Upper Styria, he devoted himself to the minute and laborious investigation of the marvelously authenticated tradition of Vampirism. He had at his fingers’ ends all the great and little works upon the subject." ~Carmilla Chap. XV
"Magia Posthuma", "Phlegon de Mirabilibus", "Augustinus de cura pro Mortuis", "Philosophicae et Christianae Cogitationes de Vampiris", by John Christofer Herenberg; and a thousand others, among which I remember only a few of those which he lent to my father. He had a voluminous digest of all the judicial cases, from which he had extracted a system of principles that appear to govern — some always, and others occasionally only — the condition of the vampire. I may mention, in passing, that the deadly pallor attributed to that sort of revenants, is a mere melodramatic fiction." ~Carmilla Chap. XVI
Compare this to the Wiki summary of "Vampyr" - David Gray (despite the film's German title), a youth traveling in the French countryside, puts up at an inn in the surroundings of a solitary castle, near the village of Courtempierre. He begins to see strange sights that are impossible to explain (notably shadows leading a life independent from that of their "owners").
Having been asked for help by the Lord of the Manor, David visits the castle and becomes involved in the tragic events that are befalling the family. Leone, the daughter of the Lord of the Manor appears to suffer from anaemia, but her father already suspects that her illness is caused by a vampire. The Lord of the Manor dies, seemingly of natural causes, but actually as a result of the actions of the servants of the undead. As David reads an old book about vampires, he learns more and more about these creatures, while the fiend continues to assault the young woman.
The vampire turns out to be an extremely evil old woman, Marguerite Chopin, who died in mortal sin and caused a similar epidemic a quarter of a century ago. She is conspiring with the village doctor who helps her to gain access to her victim; her ultimate objective is to cause the victim to commit suicide and thus deliver her to the devil. Eventually, David and an old servant stake her, and her servants also die. At the end, David is seen leaving together with Leone's sister, Gisele.
We will presently return for a geography lesson. Apart from the fact that we seem to drift in both tales from France to Germany, to Austria-Hungary with a dash of Slovakia and the Balkans ("Turkish Serbia"), what have they in common? Vampires, surely, but too obvious.
"Carmilla" is – like all good mid-to-late Victorian fiction, excruciatingly wordy (I have read a lot of it, and it has had its way with me - as if you couldn't tell!) but in a rich stylistic orgy of words which well repays the effort to read it through to the inevitable end. Nevertheless, it is of the 'realist' school which Stoker would emulate in the sense that it could well be an account of real events.
"Vampyr" on the other hand, is an early 'talkie' with minimal talking (in German, with amateur actors mostly), a Nosferatu-like gothic essay on death, and experimental cinema exercise with a gauzy look (it should look gauzy; the lens of the camera was covered with gauze) much of the time to give the film a dream-like atmosphere. It is surreal to the point of leaving one undecided if it is all a dream in fact.
Internet Movie Database seems to have the cast of the film in definitive form, or as close to it as we will likely get.
The German-Danish film, where everybody speaks German, to the extent that they talk at all, takes place in Central France, around Courtempierre, location: Montargis, Loiret, coordinates: 48° 6' 0" North, 2° 37' 0" East, if you’re really curious. This is near the locations, south of Paris, of St. Joan’s lifting of the Siege of Orleans, and equally near to Tours, or Poitiers, another famed site of one of endless medieval battles, but this the one which halted the Islamic advance into Western Europe…unless until present times. There were no sets—existing locations were used by Dreyer. As legend has it, one day’s shooting got partially exposed to light, and Dreyer liked the surreal effect so well, he ordered much of the rest of the film shot with the same 'flaw'.
There is endless talk in film circles about a good restoration of the film for DVD, but one wonders, what does one 'restore' in an overexposed movie filtering skulls, skeletons and other gothic delights through a gauze screen. The soundtrack could use work, as could the abominable subtitles in the version I've seen. There are really only three locations – and here "Dracula" and for that matter Roger Corman come to mind; the old inn, the 'castle' and the ice cream factory tricked-out a bit to be a granary. Outside 'seeker' comes to inn, gets summoned to castle by mysterious guy, goes and sees all kind of weird stuff as one of two young girls is slowly being drained by a you-know-what. The closest thing to an erotic scene is the dying girl beginning to transform. The other girl is not the vampire, and is her sister, not her lover. There is a wise old doctor but in this case he is a thrall of the vampire, who turns out to be a blind old woman who looks a lot like guy. There is – again, Dracula-like, the helpful little book that we read along with the protagonist on What Vampires Do, and How To Stop Them. In due course they do exactly that, saving the ailing girl from a fate worse than undead.
By contrast, "Carmilla" plays to the hilt the anagram game. Carmilla, Laura’s would be lover who feeds on her gradually, slowly and caressingly, is also Millarca, who killed the ward of a neighbor, a retired general who summons an 'inquisitor', to nail what turns out to be the long-undead Countess Mircalla of KAMSTEIN-- no book, but a Van Helsing-like expert with a personal, um, stake in the matter, and is one of the hottest of those Victorian erotic tales overlapping lesbian sex with vampiric need.
The geography is quite different. The story clearly implies an area where French and German overlap, in Styria, and the mention of Kamstein, Gratz, Upper and Lower Styria, and Moravia, seem to suggest the South of the Old Holy Roman Empire, Austria-Hungary in the author's time, as well as the Balkans. Indeed. One thing "Carmilla" and "Vampyr" have in common are a somewhat timeless, amorphous backwater Europe. Indeed, "…in the earliest manuscript of Dracula, dated 8 March 1890, the castle is set in Styria, although the setting was changed to Transylvania six days later. Stoker's posthumously published short story 'Dracula's Guest', known as the deleted first chapter to Dracula, shows a more obvious and intact debt to 'Carmilla', and the setting of Styria remains unchanged."
The obvious lesbian eroticism mixed with gothic vampiric imagery of "Carmilla" is more muted in "Vampyr" – but one finds more than a trace in the spectacular scene in which the 'infected' sister resists, then begins to 'turn' as her uninfected sister watches in horror. In general, the gothic horror serves the eroticism in "Carmilla" – while the eroticism underlies the imagery of gothic horror in "Vampyr".
Other than this, we have a female vampire as the 'master' in both, the intervention of 'science' as represented by physicians in both stories, but with a twist of note in "Vampyr" – the 'afflicted' girl in both cases is 'saved' by the dispatch of the vampire in its coffin, both authentic Eastern European traditional methods, but much more – thorough in "Carmilla".
"Sometimes after an hour of apathy, my strange and beautiful companion would take my hand and hold it with a fond pressure, renewed again and again; blushing softly, gazing in my face with languid and burning eyes, and breathing so fast that her dress rose and fell with the tumultuous respiration. It was like the ardor of a lover; it embarrassed me; it was hateful and yet over-powering; and with gloating eyes she drew me to her, and her hot lips traveled along my cheek in kisses; and she would whisper, almost in sobs, "You are mine, you shall be mine, you and I are one for ever." Then she had thrown herself back in her chair, with her small hands over her eyes, leaving me trembling.
ROGER VADIM HAS A GO AT "CARMILLA"
"Et Mourir de Plaisir" ("Blood & Roses")
MORE THAN YOU EVER WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT LE FANU AND DREYER
J. Sheridan Le Fanu (1814-1873) was a lucid dreamer who, interestingly
enough, incorporated his dreams into his stories. As in "Carmilla" the
visitations by the latter as vampire-seductress were often in a near-
dream state, I wonder... anyway, here's one interesting biographical
sketch, his life story according unto
Irish journalist, novelists, and short story writer, called the father of the modern ghost story. Although Le Fanu was one of the most popular writers of the Victorian era, he is not so widely read anymore. Le Fanu's best-known works include Uncle Silas (1864), a suspense story, and The House by the Churchyard (1863), a murder mystery. His vampire story 'Carmilla,' which influenced Bram Stoker's Dracula, has been filmed several times.
"Pen, ink, and paper are cold vehicles for the marvelous, and a "reader" decidedly a more critical animal than a "listener." (from 'An Account of Some Strange Disturbances in Aungier Street', 1853)
Joseph Thomas Sheridan Le Fanu was born in Dublin into a wealthy family of Huguenot origins. Among his forebears was the playwright Richard Brinsley. His father, Thomas Philip Le Fanu, was a clergyman.
Le Fanu started to write poems in his childhood. The life of the peasantry became familiar to him when his family moved to Abington, in County Limerick. In 1833 Le Fanu entered Trinity College, where he read law and graduated in 1837.
Le Fanu's first story, 'The Ghost and the Bone-Setter', appeared in the Dublin University Magazine in 1838. It also published many of his other stories in the following years, which were later collected in The Purcell Papers (1880). As a novelist Le Fanu made his debut with The Cock and Anchor (1845). The chronicle of old Dublin showed the influence of Walter Scott, whom Le Fanu greatly admired. In 'A Preliminary Word' in Uncle Silas (1864) Le Fanu emphasized that death, crime, and in some form, mystery, are essential elements in Scott's novels.
In 1837 Le Fanu joined the staff of the Dublin University Magazine. Two years later he was called to the Irish Bar. However, he never practiced, but created his career in journalism. He owned or part-owned several papers, including The Warden, the Protestant Guardian, Evening Packet, and the Dublin Evening Mail. In 1861 he became owner and editor of Dublin University Magazine, in which several of his works appeared in serialized form. During this period he published only one book, Ghost Stories and Tales of Mystery (1851).
Le Fanu married in 1844 (in some sources 1843) Susanna Bennett; they had four children. The death of his wife in 1858 depressed deeply the author. He poured his pessimism into his horror stories. Nicknamed as 'The Invisible Prince' for his shyness and nocturnal lifestyle, Le Fanu lived a reclusive life. Usually, after visiting his newspaper office, Le Fanu returned to his home in Merrion Square to pen his stories from midnight to dawn. Le Fanu's son, Brinsley, told later, that his father wrote mostly in bed, using copybooks for his manuscripts. He always had two candels by his side of on a small table. During the last years he rarely went out into city. Le Fanu died on February 7, 1873. His work fell nearly into oblivion until 1923, when the scholar and ghost story writer M.R. James published a collection of Le Fanu's stories under the title Madam Crowl's Ghost and Other Tales of Mystery.
--"Well, a corpse is a natural thing; but this was the dreadfullest sight I ever saw. She had her fingers straight pointin' at me, and her back was crooked, round again wi' age. Says she: --'Ye little limb! what for did ye say I killed the boy? I'll tickle ye till ye're stiff!'" (from 'Madam Crowl's Ghost,' 1870)
In some of Le Fanu's stories the strange events can be interpreted in many ways - as a sign of the spiritual world, or as manifestations of psychic phenomena and unconscious, or in an allegorical level. 'The Green Tea', one of his most famous tales, depicts the horrors of Reverend Jennings, who is pursued by an evil spirit, a phantom monkey, without any apparent reason. It jumps onto his Bible as he preaches, but nobody else sees the awful presence haunting him. Finally Jennings cuts his throat with his razor. Doctor Hesselius concludes that Jennings drank too much green tea, which unluckily opened his patient's inner eye. In this idea Dr. Hesselius is guided by Swedenborg's book Arcana Caelestia, in which the Swedish philosopher wrote: "When man's interior sight is opened, which is that of his spirit, then there appear the things of another life, which cannot possibly be made visible to the bodily sight...." Around the time of the publication of the story, green tea was blamed, when a community of Canadian nuns had problems with overexcited nerves. Le Fanu himself drank strong tea copiously and frequently.
As a journalist Le Fanu opposed all attempts to loosen the political union between Ireland and the rest of the UK, but in his 14 novels he avoided the politics of his day. The novels did not have supernatural elements, although their atmosphere could be foreboding or hint to unexplained phenomena. Le Fanu himself said to his publisher, George Bentley, that he was striving for 'the equilibrium between natural and the super-natural, the super-natural phenomena being explained on natural theories - and people left to choose which solution they please.'
Uncle Silas created effectively suspense without ghosts. The protagonist is a young girl, Maude, whose mother has died. After the death of her wealthy father, the sinister Uncle Silas becomes her guardian. Silas has his own plans about Maude and the fortune she will inherit. He tries to force her to marry his son Dudley, who already has a wife. Dudley kills the frightening French governess, Madame de la Rougierre. Maude is saved. Uncle Silas was developed from a short story entitled 'A Passage from the Secret History of an Irish Countess' - Le Fanu often refashioned his tales. Several of his novels are actually expanded versions of his earlier short stories. 'An Account of Some Strange Disturbances in Aungier Street' was the first form of 'Mr. Justice Harbottle.' Its protagonist has sent an innocent man to be hanged.
'Carmilla', a pathbreaking vampire story, was published in the collection In a Glass Darkly (1872). Its erotic, especially lesbian undertones have been noted by many film directors, among them Roger Vadim. In the story Laura, the narrator, meets Carmilla first time in her childhood, and then again at the age of 19. 'Her soft cheek was glowing against mine. "Darling, darling," she murmured, "I live in you; and you would die for me, I love you so."' Carmilla is a vampire, Countess Mircalla Karnstein, who has lived hundreds of years. However, first the narrator and her father do not believe in supernatural explanations. Eventually Carmilla is tracked to Karnstein castle where her grave is opened and she is killed with the ancient practice - a sharp stake is driven through her heart. Laura travels with her father to Italy, but she cannot forget Carmilla. "It was long before the terror of recent events subsided; and to this hour the image of Carmilla returns to memory with ambiguous alternations - sometimes the playful, languid, beautiful girl; sometimes the writhing fiend I saw in the ruined church; and often from a reverie I have started, fancying I heard the light step of Carmilla at the drawing-room door." Carl Dreyer's moody film adaptation of the story mixes surrealistic images with themes of death and redemption.
For further reading: Horror, Ghost & Gothic Writers, ed. by David Pringle (1998); J. Sheridan Le Fanu: A Bio-Bibliography by Gary William Crawford (1995); Classic Horror Writers, ed. by Harold Bloom (1994); Sheridan Le Fanu by Ivan Melada (1987); Sheridan Le Fanu and Victorian England by W.J. McCormack (1980); Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu by Michael H. Begnal (1971); Sheridan Le Fanu by Nelson Browne (1951); Wilkie Collins, Le Fanu and Others by S.M. Ellis (1931)
The illegitimate son of a Swedish farmer and his housekeeper, Dreyer spent his early years in Danish foster homes before being adopted by a strict Lutheran family. He became a journalist in 1910, and entered films as a title writer, then scriptwriter and eventually director. His first film showed little promise or talent, but he found his mature style very quickly, and by the late 1920s he was hailed as the greatest director ever to emerge from Danish cinema. But his reputation as an artist was matched by his reputation as a fanatical perfectionist, and his career was dogged by problems with the financing of his films, which led to large gaps in his output - and after the critics, too, denounced Vampyr - Der Traum des Allan Grey (1932), he returned to journalism in 1932, and became a cinema manager in 1952 - though he still made features up to the mid- 1960s, a few years before his death. His films are typically slow, intense studies of human psychology, usually of people undergoing extreme personal or religious crises. More thoroughly, including a filmography of his long, enigmatic career (much of it as a projectionist) (from everything2.com)
Most well known for his 1928 silent film, The Passion of Joan of Arc.
(Allen note - Mostly, when I think of "The Passion of Joan.." I think of close-ups of the actress playing the saint (Renee Falconetti) crying profusely. Note the similarity to the setting of "Vampyr". One notes that the restoration of "The Passion" was possible only because a single print was found in 1981...in a Norwegian mental institution.)
Today, Carl Theodore Dreyer occupies a somewhat schizophrenic place in the history of film. By serious students of the art, he is regard one of the most important and talented directors of all time, but the average layman has most likely never heard his name. The Bright Lights Film Journal describes him as "grand master who's become a casualty" of the deluge of "essentially minor-league talents like Steven Spielberg and George Lucas" who dominate modern cinema. Despite a forty-five year career as a director, he only made fourteen films, and faced an uphill battle getting funding for each that he did make. The ones he did get onto the silver screen, however, are almost all masterpieces.
In 1912, Dreyer was hired as a title writer at the Nordisk Film studios outside of Copenhagen after having flirted with journalism, piano, and bookkeeping. He attracted attention at Nordisk, and moved through the ranks, eventually trying his hand at screenwriting and editing. In 1918, Dreyer began his directing career with The President, which the EuroScreenwriters and EuroFilm biography of Dreyer describes as "a film typical of the era... dull melodrama with plenty of histrionics".
In Thoughts on My Craft, Dreyer writes that, "Nothing in the world can be compared to the human face. It is a land one can never tire of exploring. There is no greater experience in a studio than to witness the expression of a sensitive face under the mysterious power of inspiration. To see it animated from inside, and turning into poetry." Dreyer combined this interest in the direct human experience with an equally strong belief that cinema needed to be embraced as something new, with new techniques and new images, an "evolution" of the mannerisms of still photography. As Dreyer put it: "We must conquer the camera with the camera."
Dreyer rejected the label "avant garde" for his work, feeling that it cheapened his efforts, but a better term for the collective body of his works is difficult to find. Both The Passion of Joan of Arc and Ordet routinely find their way onto "top 100" lists of film, but neither look like anything that has been done by anyone else, before or since. Ironically, Dreyer spent most of his life as a projectionist, unable to obtain financial backing for his work - the prevalent view was that he was an expensive and difficult director to work with. Modern releases of Dreyer's work on DVD have renewed interest in the enigmatic Dane, however, and critics such as Roger Ebert have put the spotlight on a man generally accepted as a master in his field.
1. References: Bright Lights Film Journal, passim: (http://www.brightlightsfilm.com)
Polish name of Niedeck is 'Kamienica Szlachecka' (polish name) -
Styria is the setting for the vampiric activities of Carmilla in Sheridan Le Fanu's story of the same name and in the film The Vampire Lovers. Countess Dolingen of the short story "Dracula's Guest" comes from Graz.
* Styria, a federal state of Austria