Christopher Lee, the greatest Dracula of them all.
Monday, October 31, 2011

The Vampyr

Does it get any better than Christopher Lee as Dracula? I probably shouldn’t express a preference though. After all you never know when something like that will come back and bite you.

John Polidori was a young physician (21-24) when he accompanied Lord Byron, Claire Clairmont, and the Shelleys abroad. Most people have heard of the ghost story competition that sparked the composition of Frankenstein, but another important product of that was Polidori’s story The Vampyre. Prior to Polidori the vampire was a figure of the lower classes. They hung around graveyards and got fat and bloated. There was nothing aristocratic about them. Polidori introduced the aristocratic, romantic vampire. His was to some extent modeled on Byron himself, and there is that element of perverse romantic yearning that you find in the poet.

I don’t want to spend a lot of time on the stories. There are 14 of them in the present volume, all are interesting, and some are frightening. Some might even have a high ick factor for sensitive readers. So I’ll just mention a few of the ones that are there.

Confessions of a Reformed Ribbonman by William Carleton. A ribbonman is not someone who sells ribbons, scarlet ribbons for your hair, but someone who wears a green ribbon that signifies membership in an Irish revolutionary group. This story recounts what is supposed to be a true story about the murder of a traitor to the ribbon society. This one is extremely gruesome.

Some Terrible Letters from Scotland by James Hogg. This one recounts incidents from the cholera epidemic of 1830. Cholera is one of the more dehumanizing illnesses, and is still only treatable, not curable.

The Red Man by Catherine Gore. The narrator has just witnessed the public execution of a man in France.* The narrator encounters an ironmonger, the red man of the title, who tells her a story about a manacle and a hand.

The Bride of Lindorf by Letitia E. Landon, known as LEL back in the day, is a nice little mix of incest and madness.

There’s hours of gruesome, gory fun here. Read at your own peril here.

Next up is a modern horror fantasy, Monster Hunter International. That will be followed by some Pushkin and some Chekhov.

*Executions in France were performed in public until 1939. The last public execution in France was Eugen Weidmann on June 10, 1939. The last public execution in the US was in 1936, and the last public execution in Britain was in 1868. Christopher Lee, star of the Hammer series of Dracula movies, witnessed Weidmann’s execution.