Friday, May 28, 2010

Classic Literature: The Vampire Countess

The Vampire Countess was the first of the vampire themed works by Paul Féval, previously we examined his book Vampire City. The first publication of the book – in a single volume – dates to 1856, Brian Stableford postulates that it might have been, originally, serialised and internal evidence suggests this may have occurred in 1855.

Now, the book contains an unusual take on vampirism and vacillates between being supernatural and being criminal in source. As such one is reminded a little of Les Vampire. Indeed Addhema, our vampire, is as much the seductive, gold digging vamp as the vampire and, as such, could almost be the spiritual granddame of Irma Vep. However, before we get too deep into the substantive story and lore I want to pause at details that Féval looks at in his first chapter, when he suggests a source for his knowledge of vampirism.

He mentions having read a three part book – which Stableford postulates was most likely an invented volume. Within the book the story is described of the characters Faust and Marguerite. Whilst Goethe's version of Faust contains the female character of Gretchen, the opera based upon it contained libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré in which the female character is called Marguerite. Féval suggests “What is Goethe’s masterpiece, after all, if not a splendid exposition of the eternal fact of vampirism – which, since the beginning of the world, has emptied and dried up the heart of so many families?” Faust, in Féval’s imagined work, is the vampire.

I beg indulgence as I go off theme for a moment, because this connection between Faust and vampirism is exciting to me – especially in a work of French literature – as the French director Georges Melies produced the film “Le Manoir du Diable”.

Sometimes referred to as the first vampire movie, there is a question mark over the vampire nature of the film, though there certainly is imagery that we, post Stoker, recognise – remembering that the film was released one year before Dracula, in 1896. The argument against this being a vampire film resides in the (convincing) argument that the supposed vampire is dressed much like a devil and is called Mephistopheles (as he is in Goethe's work). But wait, he comes into the room in the form of a bat (whilst Stoker is credited as introducing the bat into vampire lore, Féval does touch on them in Vampire City, released in 1875) and is vanquished by the cross. Now we have the name Mephistopheles, the devil in Faust, and the story of Faust being tied into vampirism. Was Melies aware of Féval’s work? It is entirely possible and, whilst not even close to a convincing argument it does take “Le Manoir du Diable” a half step closer to vampirism – even if it is only by dint of my own fervent wish.

Back to the lore and things get even more interesting as Féval describes eye mojo, “Marguerite was obviously subject to the fateful magnetism that was spouting forth in invisible rays from Faust’s eyes.” Féval then goes on to explain that “It is night. The dead come to life in the Magyar lands as they do in Germany, but they come in chariots, not on horseback.” Of course the Magyars are associated with the Hungarian peoples and Féval suggests the chariot we see is a strange design, half-Wallachian and half-Tartar. Stoker appropriated the name Dracula from Vlad Tepes, but set the book in Transylvania rather than Wallachia. Féval’s setting for this fictional story within the story is further west, in Petrovaradin.

There, in a cemetery, he describes Marguerite led on a “bed which resembled a coffin” and the woman is in her bridal dress and a row of coffins that contained statues of brides, all in white “save for a spot of red beneath the left breast: the wound by which the Vampire Faust had drunk the blood from their hearts.” Faust, at this point, had become cadaverous in image.

Féval then suggests that, to kill a vampire, an iron bar, heated red hot, should be thrust into the heart (or in Faust’s case through the stomach). Once Faust has been killed, Marguerite, his victim, is then restored back to life – this is roughly akin to 'kill the vampire, cure the victim' and is surely a very early use of this as a concept. All this is within chapter 1 and we have not yet got to our lore or story proper.

The base story is set in 1804 and surrounds the Countess Marcian Gregoryi – who we are led to believe is really the dread vampire Countess Addhema. She also poses as Lila and the marked difference between the two guises is the colour of the hair – Lila being brunette and Marcian being blonde. We will get to hair in a second but first I need to explain that the plot contains a convoluted conspiracy against Napoleon and into this are drawn René, a young man ensnared by Addhema’s wiles due to the fact that he is the nephew of Cadoudal – a historical figure who was a royalist and rebel against the French Republic. Also drawn in is Jean-Pierre Sévérin, the morgue keeper, whose daughter Angela is due to marry René. In truth the conspiracy appears to be as much about a cover for Addhema’s gold-digging ways and we hear of her marrying and disposing of three wealthy German gentleman during the course of the book.

All this is where the book might be a little off putting. Designed to be published piecemeal it suffers from a lack of focus and Féval does obfuscate around the supernatural element – trying to walk a real vampire/fake vampire tightrope. As such most of the vampiric moments could be misinterpretations or, indeed, deliberate hoaxes.

However, when it comes to the lore within the book, we discover that Addhema’s hair changes due to the unusual way she stays young. Addhema must scalp a young girl and wear her hair. This transforms her from a corpse like creature into the beautiful girl whose hair is the colour of her last victim. That hair will give her youth for as many days as the girl had years left remaining in her life. I particularly enjoyed the following description: “the bald corpse, resting in the tomb for centuries, then waking up young, ardent and lascivious as soon as a living head of hair, still moist with warm blood, covered the horrible nudity of its skull.” Is this real or is it just part of a tale, a mystique drawn around the con-woman Marcian/Lila – does her hair change due to the wig she wears? Féval isn’t saying. Stoker, however, would go on to suggest that Lucy's hair colour changes from blonde, whilst alive her hair is described as being "sunny ripples", to being dark-haired as a vampire - not for the same reason (Lucy, to our knowledge, does not scalp anyone) but the simile is interesting.

Addhema (the vampire) must tell her story to one whom she will love and, whilst we see no blood drinking, the story does hint that blood makes up the vampire’s repast. "I see that terrible thing called vampirism - a kind of life that is dependent on the blood of others." Yet, because of the reality/supernatural tightrope of Féval's story we discover that blood was the base ingredient used by the alchemists to create gold, Sévérin suggests that "it's not blood for which the vampire thirsts" rather "it's gold she's after" and Szandor - whom we shall meet shortly - says it more succinctly "Blood is necessary to the acquisition of gold, and gold that one spends lavishly causes bloodshed in its turn. There is a mystical bond between blood and gold."

The way to kill a vampire remains the red hot iron through the heart described in the first chapter. However, when Addhema is shot (point blank in the head) she falls, but the “bullet made a round, dry and lipless hole, from which not a drop of blood flowed. It was as if it had pierced a page of parchment.” Her statue like body is taken to the medical student Germain Patou for dissection but the body vanishes – stolen or risen again we do not know but we are reminded through the scene of her family motto, “In vita mors, in morte vita!” – In life, death; in death, life!

Addhema is romantically involved with ‘Count’ Szandor and together they share the ruined citadel Bangkeli on the Sava River. It is suggested that “the last Count was a famous and powerful voïvode in the time of Matthias Corvinus, the son of John Hunyadi. He was killed by his wife Addhema, who betrayed him for the rebel Szandor.” Synchronicities are marvellous things for, looking ahead to Dracula – and the source of his name, both Hunyadi and Corvinus played major roles in the life of Vlad Tepes who is contemporary to the time relayed in the quote.

It is, however, only a synchronicity but, nevertheless, it is another interesting aspect to a book that was a truly fascinating read about a vampire (or the rumour thereof) with the most unusual habit of stealing life through scalped hair.

20 comments:

Nicole_Hadaway said...

Thanks for posting this, Taliesin. I'd no idea this work existed, but I always like to read 19th century takes on the vampire tale, especially if they were published before Dracula. Is this book readily available through Amazon or is it difficult to find?

Taliesin_ttlg said...

It is available via Amazon US and UK Nicole.

Christine said...

This was very very interesting!

Taliesin_ttlg said...

cheers Christine

Unknown said...

Now that covered all 3 of Feval's Vampire novels. Perhaps you could consider reading and reviewing the "Empire of the Necormancers" modern novels using characters form "The Vampire Countess" and other non Vampire Feval novels as well as the Frankenstein Monster.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi unknown, I'll certainly consider any that contain vampires, non-vampire Feval I could well read but wouldn't cover here.

Unknown said...

I ordered this off Amazon, and should receive within the week.

I'd thought myself before ever reading this about making Faust a Vampire (As well as the Count of Saint-Germain)

The idea of combiningg Vampires with Mafia fiction is certainly intriguing.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi unknown, you'll have to let us know what you think when you've read it

Unknown said...

I'm like halfway though now. My main concern is some conversations really drag.

I like the Conspiracy stuff.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

The conspiracy is good, as is the lore... I agree that some dialogue does drag a bit

Unknown said...

I finished the book, and I quite enjoyed it.

How old is Rene supposed to be? Angela is clearly a teenager, and I can't tell if Rene is the same age or not?

Taliesin_ttlg said...

I think I pictured him as in his early twenties - though that is guided by modern sensibilities and the text is not really revealing on the subject

Unknown said...

In The 1932 film Vampyr (Which claims to be based on In A Glass Darkly, but the connection is vague), when we're first shown the book that provides the exposition on Vampire Lore an individual named Faust is on the Title Page.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Indeed, the book in the film is
"published by Gottfried Faust’s Estate – 1770 AD". Also, the vampire of Vampyr, was Marguerite Chopin - a coincidence or was Dreyer familiar with Féval as he was with Le Fanu?

Interestinly I saw a lecture on the magic lantern show this very weekend that drew in the phantasmagoria tradition with LeFanu and Stoker, and (of course) Stoker did see (as Irving's manager) productions of Faust and it is not beyond wit and wisdom to imagine that such a production may have made use of the magic lantern form. Perhaps Féval was familiar with such a show also?

I'll be putting a little piece up sooner or later about that lecture.

Unknown said...

Wanger the Werewolf mentions Faust as well.

Unknown said...

I'm reading Revenants now, it's definitely worth of a Vamp or not entry. For one thing Chapter XI is titles "The Vampire".

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Many thanks for the heads up... the book is on my wish list but I'm definitely going to have to get it after Christmas if no one in my family notice it before Christmas ;)

Unknown said...

I've created a Forum for disusing BlackCoatsPress Vampire novels. I'll seen be adding there my own reviews of the books I've read.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

share the url and I'll happily link to it

Unknown said...

I thought I had included a URL
http://z13.invisionfree.com/The_Shadowmen_Lounge/index.php?s=4d3434490a10fd662e2e0a2a8a86cfc1&showforum=23