CHAPTER FIVE: THE VAMPIRE IN LITERATURE UP TO BRAM STOKER'S DRACULA
A consideration of the vampire theme in literature must of necessity be somewhat arbitrary in the selection of works it reviews. Any exhaustive inquiry is well-nigh impossible, not just on account of the wealth of material as owing to the very vague interpretation one is able to give to vampirism from a purely literary point of view. It would be a matter of extreme difficulty to differentiate the malignant and death-dealing spectre, or it may even be a corpse who returns to wreak his foul revenge, from the vampire - using the term in its widest sense.
To review the traces of vampire legends which appear in sagas seems to be outside our province here; and to regard such traditions merely as literature and not folk-lore would be to look at them from a wrong perspective.
Since some point must be chosen at which to consider vampirism in literature, we may fairly recall to mind the many treatises upon the vampire which were rehearsed and discussed in German Universities during the earlier part of the eighteenth century. These startling themes soon began to attract the attention of poets and literary men. It would be an exaggeration to say that the vampire entered German literature with Goethe's famous ballad The Bride of Corinth, but it would be difficult to over-estimate the influence and popularity of this piece, the subject of which is directly derived from Phlegon of Tralles. The young Athenian who visits his father's old friend, to whose young daughter he has been betrothed, receives at midnight the vampire body of the girl whom death has prevented from becoming his bride.
Even more famous are the charnel horrors of Burger's Lenore which was first printed in 1733 and which, notwithstanding the legions of hostile comments and parodies, long remained a household word. In spite of the immense enthusiasm at that date in England for German romantic literature, no translation of Lenore was published there until 1796 when William Taylor of Norwich printed in the Monthly Review of March his rendering. He had, however, written the translation as early as 1790, and there can be no doubt that shortly after its completion it was declaimed, applauded and much discussed in Norwich literary circles.
In 1794 Sir Walter Scott made his own rendering of the ballad. An account of how Taylor's version, Ellenore, had "electrified" the assembled company at Dugald Stewart's house in Edinburgh had given him the strongest desire to see the original. After some delay a copy of Burger's works was conveyed to him from Hamburg. He immediately devoured the German ballad and was so impressed that he forthwith set about Englishing it. "I well recollect" he writes, "that I began my task after supper, and finished it about daybreak next morning." Scott's friends privately printed a few copies of the poem as a surprise for the author, and as it went from hand to hand it met with the most flattering reception.
As we might expect, the young Shelley was enchanted by Lenore and long treasured a whole copy of the poem which he made with his own hand. Dowden tells the story of how one Christmas Eve Shelley dramatically related the ballad with appropriate intonation and gesture "working up the horror to such a height of fearful interest" that the company fully expected to see Wilhelm stalk into the parlour.
It is remarkable that in spite of the plain hint which might profitably have been taken from such poems as The Bride of Corinth, Lenore and Southey's Thalaba the Destroyer, the novelists of the Gothic school do not seem to have utilized the tradition of the vampire, soaked though they were in German literature, searching the depths of the earth for thrills and sensation of every kind. In Gothic romance we have horror heaped upon horror's head; mouldering abbeys, haunted castles, banditti, illuminati, sorcerers, conspirators, murderous monks and phantom friars, apparitions without number; but until we come to Polidori's novel nowhere, so far as I am aware, do we meet with the vampire in the realm of Gothic fancy.
So vast, however, is this fascinating library, and so difficult to procure are these novels of the early nineteenth century, that I hesitate to assert sweepingly that this theme was entirely unexploited. There may be some romance which I have not had the good fortune to find where a hideous vampire swoops down upon his victims, but if such be the case I am at least prepared to say that the vampire was not generally known to Gothic lore.
In The New Monthly Magazine, 1 April 1819, was published The Vampyre: a Tale by Lord Byron which, although it may seem to us a little old-fashioned, at the time created an immense sensation and had the most extraordinary influence, being even more admired and imitated on the Continent than in England. It was almost immediately known that actually the story did not come from the pen of Lord Byron, but had been written by Dr. John William Polidori, physician-companion to the poet. Byron had as a matter of fact been writing a work of the same title in imitation of Mrs. Shelley's Frankenstein, but he denied the authorship of this piece.
As first printed, The Vampyre forms a part of extracts from "A letter from Geneva, with anecdotes of Lord Byron." Here is to be read that "one evening Lord Byron, Mr. P.B. Shelley, the two ladies and the gentleman (Dr. Polidori) after having perused a German work, which was entitled Phantasmagoriana, began relating ghost stories; when his lordship having recited the beginning of Christabel, then unpublished, the whole took so strong a hold on Mr. Shelley's mind that he suddenly started up and ran out of the room. The physician and Lord Byron followed and discovered him leaning against a mantlepiece with cold drops of perspiration trickling down his face. After having given him something to refresh him, upon enquiring into the cause of his alarm, they found that his wild imagination having pictured to him the bosom of one of the ladies with eyes, he was obliged to leave the room in order to destroy the impression.
"It was afterwards proposed in the course of conversation that each of the company present should write a tale depending upon some supernatural agency, which was undertaken by Lord Byron, the physician and Miss M. Godwin." Upon this the Editor has the following note: "We have in our possession the Tale of Dr. [Polidori] as well as the outline of that of Miss Godwin. The latter has already appeared under the title of 'Frankenstein, or the modern Prometheus'; the former, however, upon consulting this author, we may probably hereafter give to our readers."
The Vampyre is introduced by several paragraphs which deal with the tradition. The story itself tells how at the height of a London season "there appeared at the various parties of the leaders of the ton a nobleman, more remarkable for his singularities, than his rank. He gazed upon the mirth around him as if he could not participate therein. Apparently, the light laughter of the fair only attracted his attention that he might by a look quell it, and throw fear into those breasts where thoughtlessness reigned. Those who felt this sensation of awe could not explain whence it arose; some attributed it to the dead grey eye which, fixing upon the object's face, did not seem to penetrate and at one glance to pierce through to the inward working of the heart; but fell upon the cheek with a leaden ray that weighed upon the skin it could not pass."
This original is invited to every house and in the course of the winter meets "a young man of the name of Aubrey who was an orphan left with an only sister in the possession of great wealth, by parents who died while he was yet in childhood." Aubrey is greatly fascinated by Lord Ruthven, for this is the name of the mysterious nobleman, and intending to travel upon the Continent he mentions this intention to my lord, and is "surprised to receive from him a proposal to join him. Flattered by such a mark of esteem from him who, apparently, had nothing in common with other men, he gladly accepted it, and in a few days they had passed the encircling waters."
As they travelled from town to town, Aubrey notices the peculiar conduct of his companion who bestows largesse upon the most worthless characters, broken gamblers and the like, but refuses a doit to the deserving and virtuous poor. However, the recipients of this charity "inevitably found that there was a curse upon it, for they were all either led to the scaffold or sunk to the lowest and most abject misery." Eventually the travellers arrive at Rome, and here Aubrey receives letters from his guardians who require him immediately to leave his companion as since their departure from London the most terrible scandals, adulteries and seductions have come to light. In Rome Aubrey is able to foil Lord Ruthven's plans, frustrating an intrigue designed to ruin a heedless young girl, and then he "directed his steps towards Greece and, crossing the Peninsula, soon found himself at Athens."
Here he lodges in the house of a Greek, whose daughter Ianthe is a paragon of the most exquisite beauty. As he sketches the ruins of the city she is wont to entertain him with Greek legend and tradition, and "often she told him the tale of the living vampyre who had passed years amidst his friends and dearest ties, forced every year by feeding on the life of a lovely female to prolong his existence for the ensuing months, his blood would run cold, whilst he attempted to laugh her out of such idle and horrible fantasies; but Ianthe cited to him the names of old men who had at last detected one living among themselves, after several of their relatives and children had been found marked with the stamp of the fiend's appetite; and when she found him so incredulous she begged of him to believe her, for it had been remarked that those who dared to question their existence always had some proof given, which obliged them with grief and heart-breaking to confess it was true. She detailed to him the traditional appearance of these monsters, and his horror was increased by hearing a pretty accurate description of Lord Ruthven; he, however, still persisted in persuading her that there could be no truth in her fears, though at the same time he wondered at the many coincidences which had all tended to excite a belief in the supernatural power of Lord Ruthven."
Before long it becomes evident that Aubrey is in love with Ianthe, "and while he ridicules the idea of a young man of English habits marrying an uneducated Greek girl, still he found himself more and more attached to the almost fairy form before him." He endeavours to occupy his time with antiquarian excursions which lead him further and further afield, and at length he determines to proceed to a point beyond any he has yet visited. When Ianthe's parents hear the name of the place they earnestly implore him on no account to return once dusk has fallen, "as he must necessarily pass through a wood where no Greek would ever remain after the day had closed. They described it as the resort of vampyres in their nocturnal orgies with the most heavy evils impending upon him who dared cross their path. Aubrey made light of this and tried to laugh them out of the idea; but when he saw them shudder at his daring thus to mock a superior, the very name of which apparently made their blood freeze, he was silent."
Having given his promise that he will be back well before evening, he sets out very early. The exploration, however, takes longer than he has supposed, and when he turns his horse homeward the darkness is already hurrying on, urged by a terrific storm. The steed, alarmed by the battle of the elements, dashes off at breakneck pace and only halts trembling and tired before a distant hovel in the heart of a solitary wood. "As he approached, the thunder, for a moment silent, allowed him to hear the dreadful shrieks of a woman mingling with the stifled exultant mockery of a laugh, continued in one almost unbroken sound." With a terrific effort Aubrey burst open the door and rushing into the darkness "found himself in contact with someone, whom he immediately seized, when a voice cried "again baffled," to which a loud laugh succeeded and he felt himself grappled by one whose strength seemed superhuman: determined to sell his life as dearly as he could, he struggled; but it was in vain; he was lifted from his feet and hurled with enormous force against the ground; his enemy threw himself upon him, and kneeling upon his breast, had placed his hand upon his throat when the glare of many torches penetrating through the hole that gave light in the day, disturbed him - he instantly rose and, leaving his prey, rushed through the door, and in a moment the crashing of branches as he broke through the wood was no longer heard."
Several peasants now hasten into the hut bearing flambeaus which illuminate the scene, and to the horror of all there is discovered hard by the lifeless body of Ianthe. A curious dagger lies near, but her death was not the result of a blow from this weapon. "There was no colour upon her cheek, not even upon her lip; yet there was a stillness about her face that seemed almost as attaching as the life that once dwelt there:- upon her neck and breast was blood, and upon her throat were the marks of teeth having opened the vein:- to this the men pointed, crying, simultaneously struck with horror, 'a Vampyre, a Vampyre!'" It appears that Ianthe had followed the traveller to watch over his safety. Aubrey is carried back to the city in a raging fever, and the parents of the unfortunate girl die broken-hearted owing to so terrible a loss.
Whilst Aubrey lies ill Lord Ruthven arrives in Athens and, establishing himself in the same house, nurses the invalid with such care that past differences are forgotten, since Aubrey not only becomes reconciled to his presence but even seeks his company. Together they travel into the wildest interior of Greece, and here in some mountain pass they are attacked by brigands, from whose guns Lord Ruthven receives a shot in the shoulder. His strength strangely decreasing, a couple of days later it is plain to all that he is at the point of death. He now exacts a terrific oath that his companion shall conceal all that is known of him and that the news of his death shall not be allowed to reach England. "Swear!" cried the dying man, "Swear by all your soul reveres, by all your nature fears, swear that for a year and a day you will not impart your knowledge of my crimes or death to any living being in any way, whatever may happen, or whatever you may see." Aubrey binds himself most solemnly by the prescribed oath, and in a paroxysm of hideous laughter Ruthven expires.
According to a promise which has been obtained from the robbers by a heavy bribe, the body was conveyed to the pinnacle of a neighbouring mount to be exposed to the first cold ray of the moon which rose after his death. Aubrey insists that it be interred in the ordinary way, but when he is conducted to the place it is found that the body has disappeared, and in spite of the protestations of the band he is convinced they have buried the corpse for the sake of the clothes. One circumstance, however, gives Aubrey much food for thought. Among the effects of the deceased he discovers a sheath of most curious pattern and make which exactly fits the dagger found in the deserted hut upon the occasion of Ianthe's death.
Returning to England, as he retraces his journey through Rome, to his horror Aubrey discovers that in spite of the precautions he had so carefully taken, Lord Ruthven had succeeded only too well in his designs and now there is bitter sorrow and distress where once reigned peace and happiness. The lady he had endeavoured to protect had not been heard of since the departure of his lordship, and Aubrey instinctively divines that she has "fallen a victim to the destroyer of Ianthe."
Upon his arrival in London the traveller is greeted by his sister, whose presentation into society had been delayed until her brother's return from the Continent, when he might be her protector. "It was now therefore resolved that the next drawing room, which was fast approaching, should be the epoch of her entry into the busy scene." Upon this gay occasion the crowd was excessive, and as Aubrey is watching the gay throng a voice which he recognizes only too well, whispers in his ear: "Remember your oath." Turning he sees Lord Ruthven standing near him. A few nights later at the assembly of a near relation, among the crowd of admirers by whom his sister is surrounded, he again perceives the mysterious and horrible figure. Hurrying forward, he seizes his sister's arm and requests her immediately to accompany him home. However, before they have had time to retire, again the voice whispers close to him: "Remember your oath!"
Aubrey now becomes almost distracted. He sees no remedy against a monster who has already once mocked at death. Even if he were to declare all he knew it is probable that he would hardly be believed. Whenever he attends a social gathering, his looks as he scans the company become so suspicious and strange that he soon acquires a reputation for eccentricity. As the months go on his loathing and fears drive him well-nigh to madness, so that eventually a physician is engaged to reside in the house and take charge of him. He is a little consoled by the thought that when a year and a day have passed he will at least be able to unburden his mind and be freed from his terrible oath. Then it so happens that he overhears a conversation between his doctor and one of his guardians, who enlarges upon the melancholy circumstance of her brother being in so critical a state when Miss Aubrey is to be married the following day. He demands the name of the bridegroom and is told the Earl of Marsden. He requests to see his sister and as they are conversing she opens a locket and shows him a miniature of the man who has won her affections. To his horror he perceives that it is a portrait of Lord Ruthven and, falling into convulsions of rage, he tramples it underfoot. In twenty-four hours the period of his oath will have expired and he implores them to delay the wedding for that time. Since there seems no good reason for doing this, the request is disregarded. Aubrey falls into so sad a state of utter depression followed by an outburst of fury that the physician concludes him to be not far from lunacy and doubles the restraint.
During the night the busy preparations for the nuptial are ceaselessly continued. It appears that upon the pretext of being her brother's dearest friend and travelling companion, Lord Ruthven had visited the house to inquire after Aubrey, and from the character of a visitor gradually insinuated himself into that of an accepted suitor. When the bridal party has assembled, Aubrey, neglected by the servants, contrives to make his way into the public apartments which are decorated for the nuptials. Ere he can utter a cry, however, he is perceived by Lord Ruthven who with more than human strength thrusts him from the room, whispering in his ear: "Remember your oath and know, if not my bride today your sister is dishonoured. Women are frail!" The attendants at once secure the unhappy man, but he can no longer support his distress. In his agonies a blood vessel breaks and he is incontinently conveyed to bed. This sad accident is kept from his sister; the marriage is solemnized and the bride and bridegroom leave London.
"Aubrey's weakness increased; the effusion of blood produced symptoms of the near approach of death. He desired his sister's guardians might be called and when the midnight hour had struck, he related composedly what the reader has perused - and died immediately after. The guardians hastened to protect Miss Aubrey; but when they arrived it was too late. Lord Ruthven had disappeared and Aubrey's sister had glutted the thirst of a Vampyre!"
It is hard to overestimate the astounding sensation which was caused by this story, and the narrative is certainly not without considerable merit for in places the eerie atmosphere is well conveyed. Nor is it difficult to understand the extraordinary influence of the tale, since it introduced a tradition which had long been forgotten and promised infinite possibilities in the way of sensation and melodrama which that period craved.
The first separate edition of The Vampyre appeared in 1819 and was published by Sherwood. It is now very rare and contains a certain amount of preliminary matter concerning the Shelleys, Byron and Godwin which was omitted in later issues. A large number of reprints increased with amazing rapidity and in the same year the novel was translated into French by Henri Faber, Le Vampire, nouvelle traduite de l'anglaise de Lord Byron, Paris 1819. In February 1820 there followed a very obvious imitation, or rather continuation by Cyprien Berard, Lord Ruthven ou les Vampires. In 1825 a new translation of Polidori's story was given by Eusebe de Salles. Nor was Germany far behind, for The Vampyre was first translated in 1819 and in the following year there appeared at Frankfurt a version by J.V. Adrian of Byron's poems and prose, wherein was included Der Blutsuger.
In a collection of Byron's work published at Zwickau in 1821 The Vampyre again found a place, and the tale has also been included in various other continental collections of Byron's work even until a recent date. It was well known all the while that Polidori was the author of the story, but as Byron's was by far the greater name so this sensational novella must be attributed to the cavalerio whose romantic adventures and scandalous amours were thrilling the whole of Europe.
As might have been expected, it was not long before the vampire appeared upon the stage, and the first play of this kind would seem to be the famous melodrama Le Vampire by Charles Nodier which was produced in Paris on 13th June 1820 at the Theatre de la Porte-Saint-Martin. The drama to a certain extent adroitly follows the lines of the Polidori novel, but with notable changes which are well contrived and introduced. Lord Rutwen and Aubray have been fellow travellers but the latter has no suspicion of Rutwen's real nature. In fact he holds him in the dearest affection since once he was saved from death by his friend who, whilst shielding him from a brigand's attack, fell by a chance shot. When Lord Rutwen arrives to claim his sister's hand, it is with delight Aubray hails his preserver whom he supposed killed by the bandit's gun. It is cleverly explained how the wound did not after all prove fatal.
All Paris flocked to see Le Vampire, and nightly the Porte-Saint-Martin was packed to the doors. Even the book of the play had an immense circulation and immediately vampire plays of every kind from the most luridly sensational to the most farcically ridiculous pressed on to the boards. A contemporary critic cries: "There is not a theatre in Paris without its Vampire!"
James Robinson Planche speedily adapted Nodier's play as The Vampire, or, The Bride of the Isles which was brought out at the English Opera House, 9th August 1820. Owing to the fine acting, and perhaps a little to the scenic effects - the scene is laid in the Caverns of Staffa - the play was given nightly to packed houses. It is interesting to remark that for this piece the celebrated vampire trap was invented. Of this I quote the following simple description: "A vampire trap consists of two or more flaps, usually india-rubber, through which the sprite can disappear almost instantly, where he falls into a blanket fixed to the under surface of the stage. As with the star trap, this trap is secured against accidents by placing another piece, or slide, fitting close beneath when not required, and removed when the prompter's bell gives the signal to make ready."
In Germany sensational fiction was long largely influenced by Polidori, and we have such romances as Zschokke's Der tote Gast, Spindler's Der Vampyre und seine Braut and Theodor Hildebrand's Der Vampyre, oder die Totenbraut. But undoubtedly the vampire tradition has never been treated with such consummate skill as by Theophile Gautier in his exquisite prose poem La Morte Amoureuse which first appeared in the Chronique de Paris in June 1836, when the young author was not quite twenty five.
Although the theme is not original, perhaps nowhere else has it been moulded with such delicacy of style, with such rich and vivid colouring, with such emotion and repression. The darker shadows of the tradition are suggested rather than portrayed, yet none can deny that there is an atmosphere of sombre mystery, even a touch of morbid horror which with complete artistry the writer allows us to suspect rather than comprehend. The very vagueness of the relation adds to the illusion. We hardly know whether Romauld is the young country priest occupied in prayer and good works, or a Renaissance seignior living a life of passion and hot extravagance. As he himself cries: "Sometimes I thought I was a priest who dreamed every night he was a nobleman, sometimes that I was a nobleman who dreamed that he was a priest. I could no longer distinguish dreams from real life; I did not know where reality began and illusion ended. The dissolute, supercilious young lord jeered at the priest, and the priest abhorred the dissipations of the young lord."
But were he humble priest or profligate patrician, one emotion remained eternally the same, his love for Clarimonde. At length the Abbe Serapion dissolves the glamour. Sternly he bids young Romauld accompany him to the deserted cemetery where Clarimonde lies buried; he exhumes the body and as he sprinkles it with holy water it crumbles into dust. Then also has the lord Romauld gone for ever. There only remains the poor priest of God broken and alone, who grows old in an obscure parish in the depths of a wood, and who well-nigh half a century later hardly dares stir the ashes of that memory.
There are in English not a few stories which deal with the vampire tradition, and many of these are well imagined and cleverly contrived; the morbid horror of the thing has often been conveyed with considerable power and it is hardly to be disputed that the best of the English vampire stories is Sheridan le Fanu's Carmilla, which first appeared in the collection entitled In A Glass Darkly, 1872. Carmilla, which is a story of some length containing sixteen chapters, is exceedingly well told and certainly exhibits that note of haunting dread which is peculiar to le Fanu's work. The castle in Styria and the family who inhabit it are excellently done, nor will the arrival of Carmilla and the mysterious coach easily be forgotten.
It must suffice to mention very briefly but a few short stories where the vampire element is present. The Flowering of the Strange Orchid by H.G. Wells introduces a botanical vampire. An orchid collector is found dead in a jungle in the Andaman Islands, with a strange bulb lying near him. This is brought to England and carefully tended by a botanist until it comes to flower. But when at last the blossoms burst open great tendrils suddenly reach out to grasp the man, sucking his blood with hideous gusts. The unfortunate wretch has to be violently torn away from the plant which drips with blood scarce in time to save his life.
Algernon Blackwood brings together two types of vampires in his story The Transfer. One is a human being, the psychic sponge who absorbs and seems to live upon the vitality of others. He is thus described by the governess: "I watched his hard, bleak face; I noticed how thin he was, and the curious oily brightness of his steady eyes. And everything he said or did announced what I may dare to call the suction of his presence." There is also a yet more horrible monster, if one may term it so, the Forbidden Corner, an arid, barren spot in the midst of the rose garden, naked and bald amid luxuriant growth. A child who knows its evil secret says: "It's bad. It's hungry. It's dying because it can't get the food it wants. But I know what would make it feel right." When the human vampire ventures near this spot it exerts its secret strength and draws him to itself. He falls into the middle of the patch and it drinks his energy. He lives on, but seems nothing more than a physical husk or shell without vitality. As for the Forbidden Corner "it lay untouched, full of great, luscious, driving weeds and creepers, very strong, full fed and bursting thick with life."
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in his little story, The Parasite, has depicted a human vampire or psychic sponge in the person of Miss Penelosa, who is described as being a small frail creature, "with a pale peaky face, an insignificant presence and a retiring manner." Nevertheless she is able to obsess Professor Gilroy who says: "She has a parasite soul, yes, she is a parasite; a monster parasite. She creeps into my form as the hermit crab creeps into the whelk's shell." To his horror he realizes that under her influence his will becomes weaker and weaker and he is bound to seek her presence. He resists for a while, but the force becomes so overmastering that he is compelled to yield, loathing himself as he does so. Then he visits her and with a terrific effort breaks the spell, denouncing her unhallowed fascination in burning words.
However, his victory is short indeed. The vampire persecutes him most bitterly, with devilish craft she destroys his reputation as a scholar and brings about ill-natured gossip and comment. She is able to confuse his brain during lectures, so that he talks unintelligible nonsense and his classes become the laughing-stock of the university, until at length the authorities are obliged to suspend him from his position. Almost in despair he cries: "And the most dreadful part of it all is my loneliness. Here I sit in a commonplace English bow-window looking out upon a commonplace English street, with its garish buses and its lounging policemen, and behind me there hangs a shadow which is out of all keeping with the age and place. In the home of knowledge I am weighed down and tortured by a power of which science knows nothing. No magistrate would listen to me. No paper would discuss my case. No doctor would believe my symptoms. My own most intimate friends would only look upon it as a sign of brain derangement. I am out of all touch with my kind."
The unfortunate victim is driven ever deeper still by this unhallowed influence, which causes him to rob a bank, violently assault a friend and finally come within an ace of mutilating the features of his betrothed. At length the persecution ceases with the sudden death of the vampire, Miss Penelosa.
The True Story of a Vampire published in 1894 is a pathetic little story, very exquisitely told in Studies in Death by Stanislaus Eric, Count Stenbock. A mysterious Count Vardeleh visits the remote Styrian castle of old Baron Wronski, and before long attains an occult influence over the boy heir, Gabriel. The lad wastes away and Count Vardeleh is heard to murmur: "My darling, I fain would spare thee; but thy life is my life, and I must live, I who would rather die. Will God not have any mercy on me? Oh, oh! life; oh, the torture of life! . . . . O Gabriel my beloved! My life, yes, life - oh, my life? I am sure this is but a little I demand of thee. Surely the superabundance of life can spare a little to one who is already dead." As the boy lies wan and ill, the Count enters the room and presses a long feverish kiss upon his lips, then rushes forth and can never be traced again. Gabriel has expired in the agony of that embrace.
We may now consider a romance which may be ranked as a very serious rival to - in my opinion it is far ghostlier than - its famous successor, Dracula.
Varney the Vampire, or, The Feast of Blood is undoubtedly the best novel of Thomas Preskett Prest, a prolific writer of the fourth and fifth decades of the nineteenth century. It is true that his productions may be classed as simple "shockers," but none the less he has considerable power in this kind, and he had at any rate the craft of telling his story with skill and address. There is a certain quality in his work that is entirely lacking in the productions of his fellows.
To him have been ascribed, doubtless with some exaggeration, well nigh two hundred titles, but the following list comprises some of his principal romances: The Death Grasp, or, A Father's Curse; Gallant Tom, or, The Perils of a Sailor Ashore and Afloat, "an original nautical romance of deep and pathetic interest"; Sweeny Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street; Newgate (which has some capital episodes); The Maniac Father, or, The Victim of Seduction; The Miller's Maid; The Blighted Heart, or, The Priory Ruins; Sawney Bean, the Man-eater of Midlothian; The Skeleton Clutch, or, The Goblet of Gore; The Black Monk, or, The Secret of the Grey Turret.
Varney the Vampire was first published in 1847. It contains no less than 220 chapters and runs to 868 pages. The many incidents succeed each other with such breathless rapidity that it is well-nigh impossible to attempt any conspectus of the whole romance. It was among the most popular of Prest's productions and on account of its "unprecedented success" it was reprinted in 1853 in penny parts. Today the book is unprocurable; indeed, it may be noted that all Prest's work is excessively scarce.
It is scarcely an exaggeration to affirm that of recent years there have been few books more popular than Bram Stoker's Dracula, and certainly there is no sensational romance which in modern days has achieved so universal a reputation, and the name has veritably become a household word. It will prove interesting to inquire into the immediate causes which have brought this book such wide and enduring fame.
It is well-nigh impossible for a story which deals with the supernatural or the horrible to be sustained to any great length. Elements which at first are almost unendurable will lose their effect if they are continued, for the reader's mind insensibly becomes inured to fresh emotions of awe and horror, and Dracula is by no means briefly told. In the ordinary reprints it extends to more than 400 pages, nor does it escape the penalty of its prolixity. The first part, "Jonathan Harker's Journal," which consists of four chapters, is most admirably done. Could the whole story have been sustained at so high a level we should have had a complete masterpiece but that were scarcely possible.
The description of the journey through Transylvania is interesting and even has passages which attain to something like charm: "All day long we seemed to dawdle through a country which was full of beauty of every kind. Sometimes we saw little towns or castles on the top of steep hills such as we see in old missals; sometimes we ran by rivers and streams which seemed from the wide stony margin on each side of them to be subject to great floods. It takes a lot of water, and running strong, to sweep the outside edge of a river clear."
Very effective is the arrival of the English traveller at the "vast ruined castle, from whose tall black windows came no ray of light, and whose broken battlements showed a jagged line against the moonlit sky." Very adroitly are the various incidents managed in their quick succession, those mysterious happenings which at last convince the matter-of-fact, commonplace young solicitor of Exeter that he is a helpless prisoner in the power of a relentless and fearful being. The continual contrasts between business conversations, the most ordinary events of the dull listless days, and all the while the mantling of dark shadows in the background and the onrushing of some monstrous doom are in these opening chapters most excellently managed.
So tense a strain could not be preserved, and consequently when we are abruptly transported to Whitby and the rather tedious courtships of Lucy Westenra, we feel that a good deal of the interest has already begun to evaporate. I would hasten to add that before long it is again picked up, but is never sustained in the same degree. It is difficult not to feel that one's palate has been a little spoiled by the richness of the opening. This is not to say that the various complications are not sufficiently thrilling, but because of their very bounty now and again they most palpably fail of effect.
If we review Dracula from a purely literary point of view it must be acknowledged that there is much careless writing and many pages could have been compressed and revised with considerable profit. It is hardly possible to feel any great interest in the characters, they are labels rather than individuals. As I have said, there are passages of graphic beauty, passages of graphic horror, but these almost entirely occur within the first sixty pages. There are some capital incidents, for example the method by which Lord Godalming and his friend obtain admittance to No. 347 Piccadilly. Nor does this by any means stand alone. However, when we have - quite fairly I hope - thus criticized Dracula, the fact remains that it is a book of unwonted interest and fascination. Accordingly we are bound to acknowledge that the reason for the immense popularity of this romance - the reason why in spite of obvious faults it is read and re-read - lies in the choice of subject, and for this the author deserves all praise.
It might not have seemed that Dracula would have been a very promising subject for the stage, but nevertheless it was dramatized and produced at the Wimbledon Theatre on 9th March 1925. This version was performed in London at the Little Theatre on 14th February 1927. On the preceding Thursday the Daily Mirror published the following: "Herewith, one of the very few photographs of the late Bram Stoker, who, besides being Sir Henry Irving's manager for years, was an industrious novelist. As I have already said, a dramatic version of his most famous book, 'Dracula,' is to be done at the Little on Monday, and the scene of the Grand Guignol plays is appropriate, for the new piece, I hear, is so full of gruesome thrills that in the provinces women have been carried fainting from the auditorium. Truly we take our pleasures sadly.
"The dramatic adaptation is by Hamilton Deane, whose grandfather, Colonel Deane, and the Rev. Abraham Stoker, Bram's father, lived on adjoining estates in County Dublin. Young Bram and Hamilton Deane’s mother, then a young girl, were great friends. Stoker had the book 'Dracula' in his mind, and the young people used to discuss its possibilities. Strange that it should be young Hamilton Deane who has dramatized the book and brought the play to London."
Very remarkable was a lady, dressed in the uniform of a hospital nurse, who sat in the vestibule of the theatre, and it was bruited that her services were required by members of the audience who were overcome owing to the horrors of the drama. I can only say that I find this canard impossible to believe. As an advertisement, and it can surely have been nothing else, the attendance of a nurse was in deplorable taste. I am informed that after the first few weeks a kind of epilogue was spoken when all the characters were assembled upon the stage, and it was explained that the audience must not be distressed at what they had seen, that it was comically intended for their entertainment.
Confessedly the play was extremely weak, and yet such is the fascination of this subject that it had an exceptional success. It triumphantly made its way from theatre to theatre and all the while it was given to thronging houses. It also toured the provincial theatres with the most marked success. It is curious that the vogue of the "vampire play" in London should have been repeated almost exactly after the interval of a century.
In America the dramatization of Dracula was produced at the Schubert, New Haven, 19th September 1927. This was given at the Fulton, New York, upon the following 5th October. Jonathan Harker was acted by Terence Neil; Abraham Van Helsing by Edward Van Sloan; Renfield by Bernard Jukes and Count Dracula by Bela Lugosi.
The striking fact that an indifferent play should prove so successful can, I think, only be attributed to the fascination of the theme. Consciously or unconsciously it is realized that the vampire tradition contains far more truth than the ordinary individual cares to appreciate and acknowledge.