Thursday, 26 October 2017

2 x Vampire stories

I have never been very fond of vampire stories, nor watched all the classic films about them. However, that changed a few years ago when I read the absolute classic of vampire tales; Dracula by Bram Stoker. It was a surprisingly, vivid and interesting read, even after all these years.

Today the world of vampires has changed due to a number of modern accounts on them; Twilight, The Sookie Stackhouse series (True Blood) and Interview with the Vampire and many more. Not to talk about the various TV-series following in the wake.

According to the British Library, the first vampire in English literature came with Robert Southey's epic poem Thalaba de Destroyer. The vampire takes the form of Thalaba's bride Oneiza, who dies on their wedding day.

Her very lineaments, and such as death
Had changed them, livid cheeks, and lips of blue.
But in her eyes there dwelt
Brightness more terrible
Than all the loathsomeness of death.

It seems that Southey added a very detailed footnote where he recounts the vampire tales from continental Europe. It was probably the best, otherwise people would not have understood, I guess.

Why all this talk about vampires? Well, our next meeting with the Brontë Reading Group will discuss two vampire stories; The Vampyre by John William Polidori and Carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu.

John William Polidori was one of the parties at the Villa Diodati by Lake Geneva on the, weather wise, terrible summer of 1816. The other parties were Lord Byron, Mary and Percy Bysshe Shelley and Claire Clairmont. To occupy themselves they decided to write a gothic story, which suited the premises they were in. Out of this spur of the moment occupation came one of the most famous novels in literature, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (#9 on The Guardian's list of 100 best books). Polidori's book, which was first credited to Lord Byron, was printed some years later and also became very popular.

The story takes place in the aristocratic world of London and the continent. Aubrey, a young Englishman meets Lord Ruthven. He is a mysterious man without a known past. He attracts women in society. Aubrey is not entirely comfortable with his company, but agrees to accompany his friend to Rome. As they move in another society, Aubrey gets more and more suspicious, especially when Ruthven starts wooing the innocent daughter of a friend. From here the story moves on to the countryside, where happenings take a bad turn, to end up in London. Finally, Aubrey understand what is happening, but can he prevent the latest action of Lord Ruthven?

Carmilla is written by Sheridan Le Fanu, and was first published as a serial in The Dark Blue (1871-72). It is a narration by a young girl, Laura, who is living with her retired father in Styria, in a gothic castle. As a young girl she had a dream where she saw a beautiful girl sitting by her bedside. Many years later she meets the girl who stays with them after a coach accident. They both recognise each other from the dream. Young girls start to disappear in the neighbourhood, or die under suspect circumstances. As Laura notices more and more peculiar things with her friend, the story unravels.

After having read Uncle Silas by Sheridan Le Fanu, I am a little bit of a fan. He does not disappoint in this story either, which I find has all the elements of a gothic theme; elements of fear, suspense, horror, death and gloom. It also have romantic elements like in the description of nature and high emotions. Le Fanu is a master in describing the people's places, as well as the characters and the nature surrounding them. The prose is fluent and the narrator, often a young girl, are left to fight for her own life and sanity.

Polidori's The Vampyre, can not compete with the same gothic structure of his tale. The description of nature and the characters are not as fully developed like Le Fanu's.  In the end of Carmilla, you find that there is a 'before' story which is explained, and gives you an idea of who Carmilla is. Polidori's story ends rather abruptly and Lord Ruthven remains a mystery and illusion and the novel might have been better off if we had known something of him as well.

Of these two stories I find Carmilla far better as a gothic tale and a tale of vampires. There is also another angle to the ordinary vampire story. But, for those of you who want to read it, I will not reveal it here. The two stories are nevertheless interesting as part of the development of vampire tales.

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