Vampyres: Lord Byron to Count Dracula

Originally published in July 2004, in 2 parts
Book 25 in my first 52 books challenge.
I have edited this review slightly for the sake of clarity. I think it's fitting to post this now, since I am again taking an interest in paranormal literature.

Author: Christopher Frayling (author & editor), et al.
Year published: 1991
Pages: 429
Genre: Literary theory, literature
Sub-genre(s): Vampire stories
Where got: Public library

I had considerable interest in vampire stories when I was studying English literature at university, and even wrote a final essay on Dracula for an interesting course I took on horror literature. I used this book as one of my sources, but never read it all the way through, only concentrating on the first part, which traces the history of vampires in literature.

The contents of the book:
The first part of the book is Frayling’s dissertation on the vampire in literature. Although vampire stories owe much to folk-tales they made the jump into literature when authors started playing with the idea of a human (or human-looking) parasite that preyed on humans and got the brilliant idea to make that person a gentleman, someone who has much more access to society than, say, a peasant. By making the vampire a gentleman (and later on a lady), the creature was made exciting and dangerous. Frayling mentions four main vampire types that appeared in 19th century literature, and gives examples of each in long excerpts and short stories that take up a good 2/3 of the book. These types are the Satanic Lord, the Fatal Woman, the Unseen Force, and the Folkloric Vampire.

The stories are chosen for how well they represent a particular vampire subgenre, rather than for any literary consideration. Yet some are quite good, for example “A Kiss of Judas” by X.L. and “The Family of the Vourdalak” by Alexis Tolstoy. The most famous stories in this book are John Polidori’s The Vampyre (in its entirety), James Malcolm Rhymer’s Varney the Vampyre (excerpts) and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (excerpts). A couple of interesting if rather academic parts of the book contain excerpts from Stoker’s plans and research papers for Dracula, and some attempts at psychological analyses of what Frayling has chosen to call ‘haemosexuality’, the sexual desire for blood.

This is not a book for casual readers. Those merely looking for scary stories will end up reading less than a third of the book. The approach to the subject is academic, and the reader needs to be interested in the subject on an academic level in order to appreciate Frayling’s essay on the literary vampire, and some of the excerpts and short stories. It is a good introduction to the vampire genre, and will make good research material for students of horror literature. I am rather put out by the fact that Sheridan Le Fanu’s famous vampire story Carmilla (which happens to be a favourite of mine) was left out of the book, seeing that Frayling mentions it on several occasions, but it is perhaps because he thought the stories of female vampires that he did include were more representative of the genre.

An interesting in-depth look into the genesis and evolution of the vampire in literature. 4 stars.


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