Before Dracula - the Victorian Vampire

Updated: May 20, 2020

Three Victorian Vampires You've Never Met

Bram Stoker is often credited with bringing the vampire to "life" so to speak

and making it the popular figure for horror readers that it is. But earlier in the century, other writers were exploring "vampyres" and sharing tales that helped lay the groundwork for the Stoker. Those authors are not the household names that dear old Bram is, but their work is interesting to explore nonetheless. In this edition of "Gather 'Round the Fable", lets talk about Victorian Horror and the fascination of vampires.

John Polidori Creates The Vampyre

In 1819, John Polidori published "The Vampyre", a short story credited with being the first modern vampire tale.

Once thought to be the work of Lord Byron, it was Polidori, a writer and physician, who told the tale of Lord Ruthven, the vampire with the seductive ways. It might be curious to note that this story was written during that famous writing contest that also produced Mary Shelly's Frankenstein. Oh to have been a fly on that pre-Victorian wallpaper.

Carmilla - The Lady Vampire Appears

Fast forward a few years, and we have the often referenced piece by Irish author Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, called Carmilla. (What is it about Irish writers and vampires, I wonder - maybe it is the Irish fascination with myths and legend. Maybe it is whiskey. Who knows?)

Carmilla features a lesbian vampire; racy stuff for 1872.

Carmilla the Vampire in Le Fanu's work has been cited as an influence on Dracula, which was published 26 years later. Modern writers have found plenty of inspiration within the novella - I am excited to check out Theodora Goss' 2018 novel European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman, where Carmilla and her spouse, Laura, battle Van Helsing. If you are a fan of Hammer horror films, like me, you may have also seen the 1970 film Vampire Lovers, with Ingrid Pitt and Peter Cushing. There is also a nice vampire Easter egg reference to Carmilla in the HBO series True Blood (hint: it is the name of the hotel in Dallas).

A Female Author Takes On the Vampire Horror Story

Our final Victorian vampire comes from Florence Marryat and was published in 1897 - the same year as Dracula. The Blood of the Vampire has a whole mélange of things happening in the plot, including spiritualism and the occult (a favorite topic of Victorians). This one is also my "to be read" list because I am interested to see how a Victorian female author handles the vampire and his charms. Gothic horror from a female perspective - those Victorians were on to something.

Ready for the O.G. Vampires?

Are you inspired to check out some of these classic works? It's interesting to know that even the "father of modern Vampires" had predecessors that helped pave the way for the Count. Dracula may be everyone's favorite cup of blood these days with films and series such as Dracula Untold, Hotel Transylvania, Penny Dreadful, and Bram Stoker's Dracula, but he owes a debt to these predecessors who were rocking the fangs before him.

Don't miss the other installments featuring Selkies, Women in White, Victorian Fairies and other myths and legends.

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