Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Early Vampire Fiction

Vampires in Folklore,
How Early Vampire Literature Shaped Today's Vampires,
A Short History of Bram Stoker
by C. T. Thompson

Vampires in Folklore

Vampires are fantastic villains and appear throughout folklore. Here are four tales of vampires.

The Buckinghamshire Vampire

In 1196 a vampire roamed the Buckinghamshire region of England. The tale is chronicled in Historia Rerum Anglicarum. The author of the story is a monk named William of Newburgh. A vampire, which was the apparition of a recently decease man, attacked his victims at night. He was a classical vampire, one who slept each day in the grave at the local cemetery. When the sun set the vampire would rise and attack his widow while she slept. It is common in vampire folklore for vampires to attack their former family members.

Although he didn't kill his widow, each night he returned to her bed chamber and attacked and harassed her. The widow asked family members to stay with her and keep her awake at night. The vampire began attacking other family members in the house. Before long, the entire town was afraid of falling asleep.

The vampire's grave was exhumed by the local townspeople. The corpse hadn't decayed and was in fresh condition. The townspeople reburied the corpse. On the chest of the corpse they placed a holy scapula. The vampire never rose from the grave again.

The Folktale of the Vampire of Berwick

In another account of William of Newburgh's Historia Rerum Anglicarum, a wealthy man who lived in the town of Berwick died of plague near the England and Scotland border. After his death he was seen roaming the streets at night. The dogs of the town would howl deep into the night while this vampire was roaming. The townspeople, who were afraid that plague might infect the town due to the vampire's presence, dug up the corpse, dismembered it, and burned it. The vampire was never seen roaming the village at night again. However, plague still infected the town and it was attributed to the lingering spiritual presence of the vampire.

The Vampire Folktale of Arnold Paole

In this famous Austrian folktale, a Serbian outlaw named Arnold was subject to a vampire attack during a nocturnal walk in a cemetery. He traced the vampire's grave and beheaded it with a spade. The vampire curse was a superstition that caused the slayer of a vampire to turn into a vampire themselves. In an attempt to thwart the curse, Arnold ate some of the dirt around the grave. Arnold would live a normal life for several more years.

Sometime later Arnold died from a fall in which he broke his neck. After his burial his specter was found lurking in the village late at night. Many villagers were found dead in the morning, all drained of blood. The stark speculation was that Arnold had fallen prey to the vampire curse. The Austrian army was appointed to probe the matter. They exhumed the body and were shocked by what they found. The body had not decayed and there was fresh blood frothing from the mouth, nose, and eyes. The nails had elongated and new skin had grown.

The townspeople drove a stake through the heart of the corpse. The body began bleeding from the wound and the corpse began groaning in agony. The vampire was never seen again.

The Vampire Folktale of Peter Plogojowitz

This case was one of the most sensational and well documented cases of vampire hysteria. The story is found in Imperial Provisor Frombald, written by an Austrian official who witnessed the vampire stalkings of Peter Plogojowitz.

In 1725 Peter Plogojowitz, a Serbian peasant, lived in a village named Kisilova. Just after Plogojowitz's death, at least nine other villagers perished. They died slowly and on their death beds they claimed that Plogojowitz was attacking and strangling them during the night.

The townspeople exhumed the body and examined it for signs of vampirism. They discovered that the corpse had not decayed, the hair and nails had grown, and a beard had grown. Blood was found in the mouth of the corpse. The townspeople staked the corpse through the heart. Blood began to run from the nose and ears. Fearful that the vampire would rise again, the villagers burned the body.


Vampire folktales share very common themes. When a person dies and is reanimated as a vampire, the vampire oftentimes attacks former family members first. Near dawn the vampire returns to its grave to seek shelter until the next night. When the body is exhumed it lacks signs of decomposition. After the body is staked through the heart or destroyed by fire, the vampire is never seen again.

Vampire Folklore by Region
Revenant folklore recorded by English historians in the Middle Ages
William of Newburgh's Historia rerum Anglicarum (History of English Affairs)
About Historia rerum Anglicarum (History of English Affairs)
Walter Map's De nugis curialium
About De nugis curialium
About Geoffrey, Abbot of Burton's Life and miracles of St Modwenna
Peter Plogojowitz
Arnold Paole

How Early Vampire Literature Shaped Today's Vampires

The nineteenth century was the century of the vampire. No longer were vampires ghoulish, creepy, dirty creatures to be feared and loathed. Vampires took on a new persona, one of sexuality, charm, and power. Here's a brief look at 3 works of vampire fiction that fueled today's vampire mania.

The Vampyre by John Polidori

Written in 1819, this short story is considered the foundation of the modern romantic vampire. A young Englishman named Aubrey meets Lord Ruthven, a newcomer to London society and a man of mysterious origin. Aubrey and Ruthven begin traveling southern Europe. Along their travels, there are numerous vampire attacks. Aubrey doesn't put it together at first. Bandits attack the pair during their journey and Ruthven is mortally wounded. Before Ruthven dies, he makes Aubrey promise that he will not reveal anything about the pair's travels for a week and a day. Aubrey returns to London where he comes across Ruthven who is alive and unharmed. Ruthven reminds Aubrey of the oath he made.

Ruthven turns his attention to the sister of Aubrey. Unable to tell his sister of Ruthven's true nature, Aubrey has a nervous breakdown and dies. The couple is wed and Ruthven kills Aubrey's sister on their wedding night. Ruthven then escapes into the night.

Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Carmilla is a novella that was published in 1872. A female vampire named Carmilla takes an interest in a young woman named Laura. Laura and her father live in a castle in the forests of Styria. Slowly, Laura is entranced by Carmilla's spell. Laura is simultaneously attracted and repulsed by Carmilla, but she is unable to resist her.

Meanwhile, the peasants in the countryside are mysteriously falling ill. In the end Laura is saved. Carmilla is fought off by General Spielsdorf, a man who has had previous encounters with vampires.

Dracula by Bram Stoker

Dracula tells the story of Count Dracula, a vampire who falls in love with Mina Murray. Mina is engaged to Jonathan Harker, who is distressed by Mina's infatuation with the mysterious Count. Jonathan enlists the help of Dr. Van Helsing. Together the duo frees Mina from Dracula's hold.

Modern scholars agree that Dracula was based on Carmilla. Written in 1897 by Bram Stoker, the Irish author created the most well-known vampire of all time. There are many similarities between Dracula and Carmilla. Mina (Dracula's love interest) is similar to Laura (Carmilla's love interest). Both families are of noble lineage. Van Helsing (the protagonist of Dracula) is similar in many ways to General Spielsdorf (Carmilla's protagonist). Without a doubt, Stoker drew heavily upon the earlier work of Joseph Le Fanu.

More than any other vampire character, Dracula most shaped today's image of what a vampire is. Dracula was charming, sexual, powerful, and blessed (and cursed) with eternal life.


Vampire literature of the nineteenth century heavily influenced how we view vampires today. The sexuality in The Vampyre, Carmilla, and Dracula is overt. Never before were vampires portrayed as sensual and sexual beings. These stories also present vampires in a more human-like manner. Previously vampires had been portrayed as ghouls, spirits, or apparitions. Through the work of these authors, vampires have forever been redefined and have become the focus of modern-day horror.

A Short History of Bram Stoker

Abraham Stoker (his friends called him Bram), was an Irish writer and novelist. He was born on November 8, 1847. He died on April 20, 1912. Bram Stoker came from a large, Protestant family. He was the third of seven children.

Bram was born with infirmity. He was bedridden, due to unknown causes, until he was seven years old. At that time he made a full recovery. He grew up healthy and was an athlete at Trinity College in Dublin. He graduated with honors in 1870 and received a degree in mathematics.

Despite his scientific studies, Bram enjoyed fiction. His early years of being bedridden resulted in endless hours of contemplation and fantasizing. As a young adult he was interested in the theater. After marrying Florence Balcombe, Bram and his new wife moved to London. Bram then became the acting and business manager of the Lyceum Theater.

Bram and Florence only had one child, Noel Thornley Stoker. Bram worked at the Lyceum Theater for 27 years. Bram's wages weren't enough to support him and his family. Bram began writing to supplement his income. Bram spent several years researching vampire folklore throughout Europe. He was fascinated with tales of vampires. He visited gothic sites such as the crypts of St. Michan's Church in Dublin and Slains Castle in Aberdeenshire. These and other travels only fueled Bram's interest in the morbid.

Bram went on to write several gothic, horror, and fantasy novels including The Jewel of Seven Stars (1903), The Lady of the Shroud (1909), and The Lair of the White Worm (1911). However, none would become as popular as his 1897 novel, Dracula. But Bram made a major mistake after publishing Dracula. He failed to follow copyright procedure and as a result, Dracula was in the public domain in the United States from its initial publication.

Dracula was largely unappreciated during it's time. The novel would not see mainstream-success for several decades. In 1922 Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau filmed an unauthorized adaptation of Dracula titled Nosferatu. After the release of Nosferatu, the popularity of Bram's novel Dracula increased significantly. Bram's widow tried to have the film banned, but because Dracula was in the public domain her challenges to the film failed.

Bram Stoker died on April 20, 1912 at St. George's Square. It is speculated that the cause of Bram's death was due to tertiary syphilis. He suffered a number of strokes before passing away. Bram was cremated and his ashes placed in an urn that is now on display at Golders Green Crematorium. Visitors who wish to visit the urn must be escorted to the room the urn is housed in, due to fears of vandalism.

In 1914, two years after Bram's death, his widow published the short story Dracula's Guest. It is widely speculated that this work was the original first chapter of Stoker's Dracula.

C. T. Thompson is the founder of the online vampire community Vampire Rave, a social network for real vampires and those who live the vampire lifestyle. He is also the founder of the SciFi Section, a science fiction community and social network.

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