A Quick Overview

Milestones in Western Vampire Literature

Part 1: Older Works   The 1700s are known as the Age of Enlightenment, a time when superstition and folklore beliefs--including those concerning vampires--were brought to light and reconsidered. A great series of debates in German universities on the existence and nature of vampires was taking place. The final outcome when the dust settled was to classify vampires as belonging to the realm of superstition. Officially banished from the rational world though vampires may have been; the debates had served to bring the subject to the forefront of public awareness and fired the imagination of number of writers and poets of generations following.
Dracula Cover-click for larger image
Slowly presentations of vampires in literature had begun to shift. Where previously vampires had been seen mainly as animated corpses, literary vampires now began to have personalities. One of the earliest poems about a vampire is Heinrich August Ossenfelder's 1748 Der Vampir, in which a male vampire is portrayed as a seducer. When The Bride of Corinth by Goethe was published in 1797 it had the effect of legitimising the vampire theme by association with that author's fame and stature. Goethe's work was well known in England, where it inspired such poets as Byron, Shelly and Keats as well as Samuel Taylor Coleridge's 1801 poem Christabel, which Le Fanu in turn, drew from as a source of inspiration for Carmilla.

On a now infamous stormy evening in Geneva in 1816, Claire Clairmont, Percy Shelley, Mary Godwin Shelly, Lord Byron and Dr. John Polidori decided to occupy themselves composing 'ghost stories' for one another's amusement. The result was Mary Shelly's Frankenstein, Byron's vampire themed Fragment of a Novel and Polidori's Vampyre. Polidori's vampire Lord Ruthven--based on Byron whom Polidori had come to loathe--was the first portrayal of the seductive, aristocratic vampire who, far from being a mindless monster, is capable of moving gracefully in society.
Varney-click for larger image
Polidori's vampire short story, reprinted in 1840, directly inspired the first vampire novel, James Malcolm Rymer's Varney the Vampire; or A Feast of Blood: A Romance. It originally appeared in 109 weekly installments chronicling the unlife of Sir Francis Varney. Varney shares many traits with Ruthven, adding very little more than his long, fang-like teeth to the vampire mythology. Varney was also the first vampire to be destroyed at the end of his story, killing himself by leaping into a volcano.

The first significant presentation of a female vampire was Carmilla from Sheridan Le Fanu in 1872. The title character, Carmilla, properly known as Mircalla the Countess Karnstein, is far closer to the cumulative concept of the vampire than her predecessors. Although not damaged by the sun, Carmilla appeared almost exclusively at night. She transformed herself into the shape of an animal, and attacked her victims with two long teeth and is killed in the end by being staked, decapitated and burned. In Carmilla vampire and human elements are more closely merged than previously seen; despite her nature she tries to resist harming the girl she loves.
Le Fanu collection featuring 'Carmilla'-click for larger image Blood&Roses Anth 19th Cent. Vampire Literature edited by Adele Olivia Gladwell and James Havoc-click for larger image
The final culmination is found in Bram Stoker's Dracula. Drawing from many sources in literature and folklore, Stoker brought together all the elements now considered classic vampire traits in his novel. Dracula has fangs, long fingernails and inhuman strength. He is also repelled by garlic, crucifixes and sunlight and casts no reflection; he controls animals and can assume their forms. Drinking of his blood will make another into a vampire. He is evil but seductive and he's a Count. Dracula remains the archetypical figure of the vampire to this day.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it does point to the most important (indeed genre changing in some cases) innovations.

1800 - 'Wake Not the Dead' by Johann Ludwig Tiek   The first known English vampire story.

1816 - 'Fragment of a Novel' by Lord Byron (George Gordon)   This isn't exactly a novel. It's hardly even a story, but it is the first widely known example of the Vampire in English fiction.

1819 - 'The Vampyre' by Dr. John Polidori   Everyone knows the story of this short story's conception by now, but to paraphrase: Lord Byron, Dr Polidori, and the Shelleys got together one night, and had a competition to write a horror story. The outcome of this was Byron's work written above, this by Polidori, and Frankenstein by Mary Shelly.

1828 - 'The Skeleton Count' by Elizabeth Grey   The first ever vampire story written by a woman

1841 - 'Upyr' by Alexy Tolstoy   Published in Paris, it is the first modern vampire story by a Russian

1845 - 'Varney the Vampyre' Series by James Malcolm Rymer   These are a series of gothic horrors printed as "Penny Dreadfuls", written after the author was known to have associated with Elizabeth Grey. True classics.

1849 - 'The Pale Lady' by Alexandre Dumas & Paul Bocage   This was the first book to be set in the now infamous Carpathian mountains.

1872 - 'Carmilla' by Sheridan Le Fanu   A classic tale about an ambiguously seductive female vampire believed to have been inspired by Coleridge's poem 'Cristabel' and in turn later providing one of the sources Bram Stoker drew upon for 'Dracula'.

1887 - 'The Grave of Ethelind Fionguala' by Julian Hawthorne   The first vampire story to be written by an American, and it is thought that Stoker had read this book before he wrote Dracula.

1890 - 'Let Loose' by Mary Cholmondelay   The first book to feature "possession by the dead" (a vampire draining another persons life force to then be reborn in their body)

1894 - 'The Flowering of the Strange Orchid' by H.G. Wells   A percursor to the vampire science fiction story.

1897 - 'Dracula' by Abraham Stoker   Need I say more?

1897 - 'Dracula's Guest' by Abraham Stoker   This was originally a part of the 'Dracula' manuscript and removed by the publisher to shorten its overall length. It was later published after Bram Stoker's death as a short story.

1903 - 'Grettir at Thorhall-stead' by Frank Norris   First to have the undead animated by another's will (previously all vampires featured had been vampires already)

1911 - 'For the Blood is the Life' by F. Marion Crawford   A well crafted offering from the popular romantic novelist.

1933 - 'Revelations in Black' by Carl Jacobi   A classically gothic short story.

1937 - 'I, The Vampire' by Henry Kuttner   The first to portray the vampire as a tragic victim of circumstance.


Thanks to Shortgoth for much of the above list: Vampfic  http://members.lycos.co.uk/shortgoth001
Other sources include Blood and Roses Anthology 19th Cent. Vampire Literature edited by Adele Olivia Gladwell and James Havoc
The Vampire in Verse 1985 edited by Steven Moore
And the handy:  www.litgothic.com

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