Dracula (1897) has become synonymous with the vampire tale. He’s become a part of our collective consciousness and there are more versions of the character and the novel than you can shake a stick at. Of course, he was far from the first vampire or the only version of the vampire around at the time. This is a short list of 10 other early vampire tales that you might enjoy to see the very different ways the vampire emerged into popular fiction. I’ll be sticking to fairly short examples (sorry Varney!)
- The Bride of Corinth – Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe – 1797
Vampires appeared in poetry before they appeared in the short story. One of the earliest works is ‘Der Vampir’ of Heinrich August Ossenfelder (1748), and the earliest vampires erupt into British literature with cameos in Robert Southey’s Thalaba the Destroyer (1813) and Byron’s ‘The Giaour’ (1813) and an intriguing suggestion of the vampiric in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s ‘Christabel’ (written 1797 and 1800, published 1816). Some of the first vampires were also women, such as Geraldine in ‘Christabel’ and Oneiza in Thalaba the Destroyer. Goethe’s ‘Bride of Corinth’ fits into this poetic tradition and includes a vampiric female figure. It’s a tale of lost love, young lovers parted by the tides of history and the forces of faith, and an unwilling return to prey on that you love the most.
From my grave to wander I am forc’d,
Still to seek The Good’s long−sever’d link,
Still to love the bridegroom I have lost,
And the life−blood of his heart to drink.
The original poem was in German so if you’re reading in English, you’re reading in translation. It’s a good idea to shop around translations but here is one to start.
2. The Vampyre – John William Polidori – 1819
This is perhaps the most famous of the early vampire tales. It famously owes its production to the famous Villa Diodati party which also produced Frankenstein (1818). Polidori hadn’t originally set out to write a vampire tale, Byron had, but Byron never finished and Polidori reworked the idea into his own story. Whereas, Byron’s intriguing fragment (often known as ‘Augustus Darvell’) begins to paint a vampiric anti-hero in the style of the Byronic anti-hero, Polidori depicts a Byronic villain. The mesmerising attraction of the aristocratic Lord Ruthven (the name Lady Caroline Lamb gave to the villain of her novel Glenarvon – 1816, who was similarly based on Lord Byron) is peeled back to reveal a rotten core. The story dismantles the Byronic mystique and reveals it as a malicious show all while producing a really rather intriguing vampire tale! You can read it here.
3. The Black Vampyre: A Legend of St. Domingo – Uriah Derick D’Arcy – 1819
Published fairly shortly after ‘The Vampyre’, this tale is the first American-written vampire story and features the first Black vampire. The tale is told retrospectively as a family history by Antony Gibbons. It details the death of an enslaved African boy, a vampiric resurrection and a sequence of vengeance. The actual identity of the author is still debated. You can read it here but do be prepared for period depictions and discussions of race.
4. Wake Not the Dead – Ernst Raupach – 1823
Another German entry on our list! This is one of my favourite vampire tales, featuring another female vampire. This time she is raised from the dead against her will by her husband who really just wants to keep having sex with her. Things go as predictably well as you’d imagine. I think my favourite moment is when she absolutely refuses to let him get away with blaming everyone but himself (a classic Romantic male move). I won’t spoil what happens for you but I can almost guarantee that it isn’t what you’re expecting!
“Why,” continued she, in a tone that increased his horror, “why dost thou make mouths at me like a puppet? Thou who hadst the courage to love the dead–to take into thy bed, one who had been sleeping in the grave, the bed-fellow of the worm–who hast clasped in thy lustful arms, the the corruption of the tomb–dost thou, unhallowed as thou art, now raise this hideous cry for the sacrifice of a few lives?–They are but leaves swept from their branches by a storm.–Come, chase these idiot fancies, and taste the bliss thou hast so dearly purchased.”
You can find the story online here
5. Marko Yacubovich – Alexander Pushkin – 1835
Pushkin published Marco Yacubovich in The Songs of the Wester Slavs. It features a Vurdalak and a family who’s act of charity has terrible consequences. It is a short poem that is based on work by Prosper Mérimée. You can find a rough translation of the poem (done by yours truly!) here.
6. Carmilla – Sheridan Le Fanu – 1872
Probably one of the most famous vampire stories. It hasn’t had quite as many adaptations and rewritings as Dracula but it’s had a fair few. This novella tells the story of Laura and they mysterious visitor to her home Carmilla, or rather Mircalla… We all know there are vampiric shenanigans incoming and plenty of sapphic scenes as well. Do brace yourself though for the demise of our sapphic temptress.
She used to place her pretty arms about my neck, draw me to her, and laying her cheek to mine, murmur with her lips near my ear, “Dearest, your little heart is wounded; think me not cruel because I obey the irresistible law of my strength and weakness; if your dear heart is wounded, my wild heart bleeds with yours. In the rapture of my enormous humiliation I live in your warm life, and you shall die—die, sweetly die—into mine. I cannot help it; as I draw near to you, you, in your turn, will draw near to others, and learn the rapture of that cruelty, which yet is love; so, for a while, seek to know no more of me and mine, but trust me with all your loving spirit.”
You can read the story here and if you’re looking for a queer retelling, why not try this vlog series
7. Manor – Karl Heinrich Ulrichs – 1885
An early overtly queer vampire tale. It’s the story of two boys in love (explicitly so), one of whom dies only to return. It’s a tragic tale but it’s also full of beauty and longing and love that will not let you rest. You can read it here.
8. Count Magnus – M. R. James – 1904
M. R. James is known as the master of the ghost story but his story were far from confined to the ghostly. They often focus on the weird and even, at times, on the vampire! This is perhaps his most famous vampiric story and a good lesson in leaving well enough alone… if you can! Sometimes things just follow you home. You can read it here.
9. The Lover’s Ordeal – Robert Murray Gilchrist – 1905
Robert Murray Gilchrist is having a bit of a renaissance but is still a lesser known fin-de-siècle writer. You can find his work collected in I am Stone edited by Daniel Pietersen as part of the British Library ‘Tales of the Weird’ series. You can find an audio version of this particular story here. A young woman sets her lover a challenge – a night alone at an abandoned house. The house is haunted but by something far more fleshly and deadly than ghosts! Robert Murray Gilchrist writes interesting female characters and the young lover in this case, Mary, turns out to be the very active heroine and the only thing that can stand between her erstwhile and weak-willed lover and an uncertain fate!
Endymion lay prone upon the floor; beside him crouched a woman’s figure, the head pressed close to his own. And Mary took the thing madly by the shoulders and thrust it aside, and linked her arms around the young man’s waist.
10. For the Blood is the Life – F. Marion Crawford – 1905
The phrase ‘the blood is the life’ may be more familiar from Dracula. This is a much more mournful work. A woman whose untimely death by violence leads her to become a vampire that preys on those she loves, tethered to her grave and feeding on any who come too near. You can read it here
BONUS – Vampire City – Paul Feval – 1875
This is a bit of a cheat because it’s not a story or novella proper but it is a short novel. Originally in French, it is available in English (and Spanish). It wasn’t his only vampire book, he also wrote La Vampire and Le Chevalier Ténèbre. Vampire City (La Ville Vampire) features Ann Radcliffe (of Gothic fame) as the heroine, running around Europe trying to rescue her childhood friend/crush from the vampire Otto Goetzi. It is an extremely unusual variant of the vampire… almost unrecognisable. The story takes you on a series of twists that you will generally be far from predicting. I recommend the read but do brace yourselves for shenanigans!
This is far from a complete selection of early vampire tales but I hope it gives you a taste of what’s out there. Inclusion on this list does not suggest celebration of all aspects of these tales, as a number lean in to a variety of stereotypes (particularly racial and ethnic stereotypes). They do, however, provide something of a potted guide to the early vampire tale and I hope you enjoy the journey!
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