When I came across this anthology, I knew I had to have it. A book full of two of my favourite things: vampires and Victorian literature.
To my mind, there isn’t any gothic writing that can compare to the Victorian flair for the gothic and the macabre. And vampires! I’ve long been fascinated by the mythology and folklore surrounding vampires – the grotesque, terrible, undead that feed off the living, not the sparkly superheroes that entered pop culture post-Twilight.
The vampire is present in nearly all major mythologies. Originating in the myths of the ancient Slavs, the vampir was believed to a corpse that returned to animation at night to feed off the living. In earlier civilisations and cultures such those of the Mesopotamians, ancient Greeks and Hebrews, stories of blood-sucking spirits existed as precursors to the more recent image of the vampire. Initially, vampires were believed to be much like corpses in appearance – bloated, bloody and clearly repugnant; the image of the suave, sophisticated, gaunt vampire was born of the early 1800s, paving the way for the Victorian fascination with vampires.
The proliferation of the vampire in global mythology begs the question: what is the significance of the vampire?
What does it represent and how do we understand it’s evolution? If we use Jungian ideas, what would an archetype of the vampire represent for us psychologically?
The answers to these questions are likely to be varied. But with reference to this anthology, our specific question ought to be, what was the significance of vampires to the Victorians? Why was the vampire such a popular figure in Victorian writing and literary circles? The Victorian era saw the publication of Polidori’s The Vampyre, Stoker’s Dracula, Le Fanu’s Carmilla and numerous pieces of short fiction centred on this mythic monster.
In the introduction to the Folio Society’s collection, The Vampyre and other Macabre Tales (review to follow soon), Lucasta Miller suggests that the vampire represents the forbidden; the dark forces of sexuality and any form of social or moral deviance that were so repressed in the Victorian period.
Although the figure of the vampire existed well before Bram Stoker’s novel, it was Dracula that brought renewed interest to the undead. Indeed it is Dracula that is perhaps the best known vampire story today. So it is apt that Michael Sims turns to Stoker for the book’s title (Dracula’s Guest being a short story/ first draft of Stoker’s novel).
Sims’ collection is a true delight for an enthusiast of Victorian vampire fiction. This is a very comprehensive compilation of stories from all over Europe and some from the United States. Sims begins with an engrossing introduction (The Cost of Living) where he explores the significance and origins of vampires, and their relevance in Victorian gothic fiction.
The anthology is structured such that the stories move from the more distant past to the more recent past or to later times (the roots, the tree, the fruit). The anthology includes:
- They Opened the Graves by Jean Baptiste de Boyer, Marquis d’Argens
- Dead Persons in Hungary by Antoine Augustin Calmet
- The End of My Journey by George Gordon Noel, Lord Byron
- The Vampyre by John Polidori
- Wake Not the Dead attributed to Johann Ludwig Tieck
- The Deathly Lover by Theophile Gautier
- The Family of the Vourdalak by Aleksei Tolstoy
- Varney the Vampire by James Malcolm Rymer
- What Was It? by Fitz-James O’Brien
- The Mysterious Stranger by Anonymous
- A Mystery of the Campagna by Anne Crawford
- Death & Burial – Vampires & Werewolves by Emily Gerard
- Let Loose by Mary Cholmondeley
- A True Story of a Vampire by Eric, Count Stenbock
- Good Lady Duncayne by Mary Elizabeth Braddon
- And the Creature Came In by Augustus Hare
- The Tomb of Sarah by F.G. Loring
- The Vampire Maid by Hume Nisbet
- Luella Miller by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman
- Count Magnus by M. R. James
- Aylmer Vance & the Vampire by Alice & Claude Askew
- Dracula’s Guest by Bram Stoker.
All engaging; some campy, some more frightening but wonderful reads for fans of either vampires or Victorian writing.