Simanaitis Says

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HOLMES AND VAMPIRES

I’M NOT really into vampires, apart from the frisson delivered by Bram Stoker’s wonderful Dracula and my appreciation of Buffy Summers (truth be known, it’s actually Sarah Michelle Gellar and her foodstirs). Neither was the world’s greatest consulting detective Sherlock Holmes into the undead, though his chronicler Dr. John H. Watson did title one of his cases “The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire.”

Today, so as not to spoil things, I pose questions, rather than the Holmes solution: Why was Robert Ferguson’s Peruvian wife unkind to her stepson? Or was the stepson the problem? What killed the dog? And why was the wife “leaning over the baby and apparently biting its neck”?

“ ‘Fancy anyone having the heart to hurt him’ Ferguson muttered as he glanced at the angry red pucker on his baby’s throat.” Illustration by W.T. Benda, Hearst’s International, 1924. Image from The Annotated Sherlock Holmes, Vol. II.

Sherlockian chronologists date this encounter as occurring a year before Stoker’s 1897 Dracula. However, British awareness of the undead traces to an earlier time.

Dracula ( Annotated ), by Bram Stoker, 1897.

According to The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes (Volume I & II), edited by Leslie S. Klinger, 2005, “The first significant vampire story published in English was John Polidori’s “The Vampyre,” appearing in the New Monthly Magazine for April 1819.

Polidori was one of the party in Italy when Lord Byron announced, “We will each write a ghost story.” Mary Shelley’s tale became the novel Frankenstein. Polidori’s contribution involved a Lord Ruthven, aloof with a “deadly hue of his face, which never gained a warmer tint….”

The Vampyre: A Tale, by John William Polidori, 1819.

Klinger writes, “It is unsurprising that “The Vampyre” is the only literary effort for which Polidori is remembered, considering lines such as the ending: ‘Lord Ruthven had disappeared, and Aubrey’s sister had glutted the thirst of a VAMPYRE!’ ”

Klinger also mentions Varney the Vampire, by James Malcom Rymer and serialized in 109 weekly installments from 1845 to 1847. From it, he cites, “Her bosom heaves, and her limbs tremble, yet she cannot withdraw her eyes from that marble-looking face….”

According to Wikipedia, Rymer is best remembered as a writer of penny dreadfuls. Typical titles are Ada the Betrayed; or, The Murder at the Old Smithy and Edith the Captive; or, The Robbers of Epping Forest.

My pal Buffy is evidently made of sterner stuff.

Bram Stoker, 1847–1912, Irish author, Dracula author, London Lyceum Theatre business manager.

Stoker acknowledged the influence of “Carmilla,” an 1872 novella by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, who was later recognized as “absolutely in the first rank as a writer of ghost stories.”

Joseph Thomas Sheridan Le Fanu, 1814–1873, Irish writer of Gothic horror and mystery tales.

I was curious about Le Fanu’s name and found his paternal line descending from Huguenots, originally French Protestants who fled the country after the St. Bartholomew’s Massacre in August 1572. The Sheridan connection came through a great-uncle, playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan of The Rivals and The School for Scandal fame.

Le Fanu’s “Carmilla” is quite the racy tale: A carriage accident transforms Carmilla into a vampire; or maybe she’s the undead Mircalla, Countess Karnstein. A back story also has a mysterious Millarca, which may delight those enjoying anagrams, but must have bedeviled the novella’s typesetters.

Laura succumbs to Carmilla’s powerful sexuality. Imagine the horror when Laura finds a portrait of her ancestor Mircalla—and the portrait resembles Carmilla, down to the mole on her neck.

Laura is the wholesome blonde; Carmilla stares us down. Illustration by Michael Fitzgerald for “Carmilla” in The Dark Blue, January 1872.

Says Laura, “I experienced a strange tumultuous excitement that was pleasurable, ever and anon, mingled with a vague sense of fear and disgust….”

No. I can’t go on. Where’s Sherlock Holmes when we need him?

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2017

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