Monday, February 17, 2014

Stage Blood: Vampires of the 19th Century Stage – review

Author: Roxana Stuart

First published: 1994

Contains spoilers

The blurb: Roxana Stuart’s study approaches the subject primarily from the viewpoint of literary criticism but also includes production history, providing the reader with a useful look at theatre practices, as well as social and psychological insights into popular taste and imagination as reflected in the changing persona with which each period and culture endows the vampire, from the relative innocence of the Romantics to the evolving patterns of sadism, misogyny and xenophobia of the end of the century.

The review: There are precious few serious studies of the 19th century plays that featured vampires and so Roxana Stuart’s book is most welcome. It is split into two parts, the largest section being entitled Ruthven and examines the plays of the 19th century that were, primarily, based around Polidori’s the Vampyre: A Tale. This is the strongest section of the book. The second, much shorter, part is entitled Dracula and is based out of the time period as there was only one stage production of Stoker’s novel in the 19th Century – the dramatic reading at the Lyceum designed to establish copyright. This section therefore slews into the 20th century and film.

There are some erroneous aspects to the book. For instance mention is made of a medieval manuscript, Vampire of the Fens, which never existed. There is an over-egging of the role Prince Vlad III played in Stoker’s mind in respect of the creation of his character Count Dracula, however when the book was written that was the common, perceived wisdom and the sterling work of Elizabeth Miller had not been done around this subject. There are definitely more errors around the second section (Georges Méliès’ la manoir du Diable was not a vampire film – as much as I want it to have been – and there was not a Hammer Dracula movie called Twins of Dracula!) but this is not Stuart’s area of expertise.

Nor should these put a student of the vampire off buying this book. The first section is a mine of information about 19th century vampire theatre, it is a lively read for a reference work, it is referenced and has an extensive index. The appendices that list dramatisations, plot, biographies and cast lists are wonderfully useful also.

Definitely needed on a vampire genre fan’s shelf. 7.5 out of 10.


Zahir Blue said...

I thought "Twins of Dracula" was one of the titles used somewhere for "Twins of Evil."

Need to find this book, btw... :)

Kuudere-Kun said...

It's a great book, but I still wish she's discussed more plays. And "Le Douglas Vampire" aka "Lord Ruthven Begins" shows even her appendices are ignorant of some's existence.

Her opinion is that the Dumas play is one of the weaker ones, which bugs me a bit, it's my favorite.

If only there was a companion book that reprinted all the English Plays. Cause only the very first one is commonly reprinted, so ironically thanks to BlackCoatPress it's easier for us English speakers today to read the French Plays.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Zahir, if it is I stand corrected as to its existence as a title, but it is still erroneous to list it as a Hammer Dracula. Minor gripe however, and yes you do need to find it.

Jared, absolutely, a compendium volume of the English vampire plays of the 19th Century would be marvellous.