“You reason well, and your wit is bold, but you are too prejudiced. You do not let your eyes see nor your ears hear, and that which is outside your daily life is not of account to you. Do you not think that there are things which you cannot understand, and yet which are, that some people see things that others cannot? But there are things old and new which must not be contemplated by men's eyes, because they know, or think they know, some things which other men have told them. Ah, it is the fault of our science that it wants to explain all, and if it explain not, then it says there is nothing to explain. But yet we see around us every day the growth of new beliefs, which think themselves new, and which are yet but the old, which pretend to be young, like the fine ladies at the opera.“ (Bram Stoker “Dracula”)
The night at Villa Diodati during the year without summer in 1816, when the Shelleys, Byron and his physician John Polidori wrote their uncanny stories, gave birth not only to the pop myth of “Frankenstein”, but to the other treasured dread, the aristocratic, suave, blood sucking king of the undead, the vampire. The myth itself was, of course, centuries old and only two generations before, a downright mass hysteria ran through Europe when repeated cases of vampirism were reported in the Balkans along the Austro-Turkish military border. Polidori though took the revenant peasant prowling around his former home and sucking the blood of his family, clad him in evening attire and modelled him after the pattern of his employer into a Byronic hero. Polidori’s Lord Ruthven became the ancestor of the 19th and 20th century’s vampires that haunted the imaginations of countless readers and the pages of Gothic literature from the likes of Gogol and Merimee to the infamous penny dreadfuls. One of these featured a creature called “Varney the Vampire” who brought in the fangs and the tell-tale bite marks and Sheridan Le Fanu’s “Carmilla” from 1872 gave the myth the structure of a long dead noble á la Coleridge’s “Christabel” haunting a damsel in distress and a group of heroes bringing the creature to bay with the help of ancient lore and occult paraphernalia. The groundwork was laid and along came Bram Stoker.
|Illustration of Sheridan Le Fanu's "Carmilla" (1872)|
|Henry Irving in 1878|
Stoker had never been to Romania, during the 1890s a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but he did a thorough research on his subjects that he would add with iconic effects to the imagery of the literary Gothic, from local legends of the 1750s, the late 15th century Wallachian Prince Vlad III. Drăculea who was famed in western European sources for his cruelty and other sources from Central Europe like Princess Eleonore von Schwarzenberg, who was rumoured to be a vampire during her lifetime at the beginning of the 18th century and had already inspired the German poet Gottfried August Bürger to his poem “Leonore” that was well known to Stoker. Pitting his research-wise well founded mythical Count and his ancient evil that bears strong resemblances to the feared syphilis as well as despicable moral liberties against the forces of the modern age, trains, the telegraph, typewriters, repeating rifles and organised teamwork, based on thorough research. Published in 1897, “Dracula” became an instant success and the standard followed to this day, even if Stoker and “Dracula” act only as powers behind the throne of “Urban Fantasy”.
|Vlad Dracula, c 1560|