How were vampires depicted (if at all!) in Victorian Era novels before Bram Stoker came out with “Dracula” (was it 1897 or 1898?)? Did Stoker’s book have a major impact on the literary scene?
Get a copy of Le Fanu’s Carmilla or Varney The Vampire.
That will give you a clearer notion than a brief note here.
Did Stoker’s book have any impact on how vampires were portrayed? In short – yes.
Stoker defined the archetype of the vampire for the English-speaking world. Cecil did a column (in his first book, I think) about the different ways to kill a vampire. There were about 20 different methods listed; they varied based on the area where the vampire legend was being relayed. Lemme see if I can poke around … yeah, here it is.
Stoker took some of the prevailing European attributes of vampires, whomped 'em together with Vlad the Impaler pseudo-history, and presto! out came the “vampire” we know and love today.
Well, sort of. What REALLY solidified the vampire’s mythical attributes in the mind of most was the series of horror movies made about the subject, beginning in the late 20s/early 30s. (Mass media is a wonderful thing for nailing down the precepts of a mythical subject.) And what was the main source material for those movies? Bram Stoker’s little tale.
So you can say Stoker’s book was the grandfather of the way we view vampires today; the movie industry was the father.
Actually, what is considered the first vampire novel was Dr. John Polidori’s Vampyre, published in 1819.
What’s especially interesting is that Polidori conceived the story at the same summer party where Mary Shelley was inspired to write Frankestein.
[EdMcMahon]I did not know that, sir.[/EMc]
What were they serving at that party, anyway?
Well, you know the romantic poets were vampires themselves (see Tim Powers’s The Stress of Her Regard).
From what I’ve read, Byron was reading some ghost stories aloud and challenged his guests to write tales in a similar vein. Only Mary Shelley and Polidori managed to finish them.
Hey, Vern! Watch me add this guy to my growing army of the undead!
As I mentioned in my recent vampire thread, Vlad the Impaler has almost nothing to do with the novel Dracula. Stoker borrowed the name “Dracula” from him, and that’s about it. The only thing he says about the man behind the vampire is that he fought the Turks, and this takes up only a line or two in the book. Stoker seems to have been unaware of any other history, or pseudo-history, relating to Prince Dracula. He doesn’t even appear to have known of his reputation for cruelty.
They weren’t really vampires themselves, they were just gettin’ busy with some vampires. Or, more properly, with my namesake creatures.
Actually, the Romanticists were in thrall to the Nephilim-Vampires in STRESS (glad to see someone else who read that G).
One book on Mary S noted that among the books at the chateau was Abbe Barruel’s MEMOIRS OF JACOBINISM, about the Bavarian Illuminati & the French Revolution, and that FRANKENSTEIN has overtones of anti-Illuminist allegory.
Minor nitpick. I didn’t mean to imply (although in re-reading my post, I certainly did so) that Stoker completely based the character Dracula on Vlad the Impaler. However, to say that Vlad had almost nothing to do with the novel, or that Stoker was unaware of any other history behind the man, is inaccurate, I think.
Stoker’s own notes reveal a few mentions of “Voivode Dracula” who fought the Turks. He undoubtedly got some of his info from William Wilkinson’s An Account of the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia. Wilkinson didn’t go into great detail on Vlad, though, and historians argue whether Stoker did further research into Vlad’s past. He was undoubtedly enamored of the fact that “Dracula” in Wallachian could be translated as “Devil;” in fact, he changed the name of his vampire from “Count Wampyr” to “Count Dracula” solely for that reason.
I think it’s fair to assume Stoker did a bit more research on Vlad than the brief line that shows up in his novel; even Wilkinson’s book has a little more info on the man, sparse as it was. I’m not saying Dracula was modeled on Vlad, but I do think Stoker did more research on Vlad that was revealed in the novel.
I’ve read a lot of early vampire fiction and one of the commonest themes is vampires being a metaphor for homosexuality. It was there in The Vampyre, Carmilla, Vurdulak, and even Dracula if you look at the scenes between Dracula and Harker.
Would anyone find it at all relevant to toss in a reference to the connotation of “vampire” that was later shortened to “vamp,” and was suggested by Kipling’s poem The Vampire?
(props to Eve and her Theda Bara biography, which is where I first read Kipling’s poem)
I’ve got to disagree with the former. Stoker took the name “Dracula” from Vlad the Impaler, and he took the bit about fighting the Turks. I don’t think there’s else in the novel to link the character to the historic figure. That amounts to “almost nothing” in my book, although I suppose one might argue that the use of the name is more significant than I’m making it out to be.
As for the latter, I did qualify it with “seems” and “appears”. At this point in time it’s probably impossible to determine how much Stoker really knew about Vlad the Impaler. However, I’m unaware of any evidence that he knew much more than what it says in the novel, which ain’t much.
*Possibly. I certainly don’t mean to suggest that Stoker was stupid or lazy. I do have my doubts as to whether he was interested enough in tying his creation to a historical figure to spend his time researching Vlad the Impaler more extensively, though. It’s not clear to me that Stoker even intended for Count Dracula to be the same person as Vlad the Impaler. There could plausibly be some other “Voivode Dracula who won his name against the Turk”, and Stoker wouldn’t have expected his readers to have heard of Vlad the Impaler anyway.
We might be arguing the same point. I don’t think Stoker intended Vlad to be the basis for Count Dracula. I think he did a bit more research on Vlad than is present in the novel, but I cheerfully admit I have no concrete proof of this.
I guess I just have this vision of Stoker researching his merry way through the bowels of the British Museum when he comes across this wonderful name “Dracula.” "Hey, that works a hell of a lot better than “Count Wampyr,” he thinks to himself, so he does some more digging on the guy. He likes the bit about fighting the Turks, but decides not to put any of the rest in to avoid having his backstory overwhelm his novel.
I dunno. I guess it could be one of those “vampires dancing on the head of a pin” type of question, 'cause there’s no way to prove either side. Fun thinking about, though.
One of the most charmingly implausible scenes in Stoker’s book is when Harker catches Count Dracula making Harker’s bed one day. Dracula explains that his servant was called away. Harker later figures out that there are no servants.
Well, it could have been. And it is a nice idea. I could also believe that perhaps Stoker chose not to include too much history because he knew that his readers would be unfamiliar with the region and Vlad the Impaler and would probably think he just made it up anyway.
I was thinking just now that maybe the name thing is more significant than I made it sound. . .would the novel have been as successful if it had been called Wampyr? Would it have inspired countless imitators to steal the name, or use some altered form of it? (“Bunnipyr”? “Count Chocopyr”?) Luckily thing Stoker knew a good name when he saw it!
Getting back to the OP, if Stoker had contributed nothing else to vampire literature he still would have given those who came after a darn good name to work with. He also gave them a good setting with an equally cool name – Transylvania!
I don’t believe any vampire literature prior to Dracula associates the creatures with Eastern Europe. Or at least not what we’d now consider Eastern Europe. Carmilla was set in Austria (Styria province), which may have seemed very remote and exotic to the British/Irish of the time. Stoker orignally planned to set his novel in the same region, but changed his mind. Would vampires seem as spooky today if they were associated in the public’s mind with the same country that The Sound of Music was set in? And although Stoker couldn’t have predicted this, I think the fact that Romania was largely closed to the West for much of the 20th century helped to add to the mystique.
I’m not sure about this, but Stoker may be responsible for the idea that vampires go for the jugular. In folklore and earlier works like Carmilla, they’re more often described as biting their victims in the chest, near the heart. Stoker also helped to popularize the idea of a vampire who prefers to work all night and sleep all day. Carmilla seemed weaker during daylight hours and apparently couldn’t rise before noon, but she spent much more time in the sun than Dracula. However, Dracula could and did go out before sunset if he needed to, and we wouldn’t see sunlight actually kill a vampire until the film Nosferatu.
One thing Stoker didn’t invent was the notion of the vampire being of noble. . .er. . .blood. Dr. Polidori seems to have come up with this with his Lord Ruthven, and it was an established convention by the time of Dracula. Dracula’s exact title may have been a tribute to Carmilla, as the title character was a Countess.
To 19th century readers, a Germanic (Austrian) setting would not be unusual. There was a large body of gothic and ghost folktales in German literature. Washington Irving relied on it for a few of his ghost stories.