Monday, August 11, 2014
Why interesting? The Skeleton Count, or, the Vampire Mistress (for reference this is printed in The Vampire Omnibus, edited by Peter Haining, my edition being the 1995 edition) is interesting because it was allegedly first published in the Penny Dreadful called the Casket, in 1828. If true the story by Elizabeth Grey may well be the first published English Language vampire prose by a female author.
However, since originally writing this article, I have been directed to evidence that suggests that the story might be a hoax perpetrated by, none other than, Peter Haining. Details are scanty and it is listed as “under investigation” and you can read the full thoughts around this at Yesterday’s Papers (note the article lists the date 1825 – I was aware of the later alleged publication date).
Be that as it may, let us look at the story.
The story surrounds the Count Rudolph of Ravensburg Castle, who did a deal with the Prince of Darkness for immortality. He is not, however, our vampire. The price for his youth and immortality – we discover later – is that between dusk and dawn he becomes a skeleton. However, as an experimenter in the occult he looks to resuscitate the dead, which sees him using occult and alchemical techniques to raise Bertha (a peasant’s deceased sixteen year old daughter) from the dead.
What he doesn’t know is that the technique raises her as a vampire and, as the two become lovers, she sneaks out of the bed chamber to quench her unholy thirst. Interestingly, though fangs are not mentioned, she does have “sharp teeth” that, when she visits a maiden, “punctured the white shoulder, and the partially exposed bosom of Theresa Delmar.” This is not, however, an erotic attack (though it can be read that way) and she would not have been a precursor to the Sapphic Carmilla. Vampires are known, in this story, for attacking children and young women – probably as they made for easier prey.
At one point she is shot and ‘killed’ but, like Ruthven in the Vampyre and Varney she is restored by the moon and we see “another phase in the fearful existence of the vampire bride! For as the beams of the moon fell on the inanimate form of the being of mystery and fear, sensation seemed to slowly return, as when the magic spells of the Count of Ravensburg resuscitated her from the grave.”
She does not fear sunlight, sitting out with the Count and she sleeps in a bedchamber – when not sneaking off for blood, a task made easier when the Count begins his skeletal transformation. However, we discover she can be destroyed. “Nothing but fire or a sharp stake will kill a vampire” we discover and the stake is to be thrust, not through the heart but through the abdomen.
So, there we have it, Elizabeth Grey, the first female author of a vampire story? The story had some very familiar vampire imagery within its length, in an early nineteenth century way, including the use of the vampire’s tie with the moon (interestingly, when the villagers are speaking of their dilemma we hear that “nothing was talked of but vampires and wehr-wolves, and other human transformations more terrific”, reminding us of the close connection between the vampire and werewolf myths). On the other hand, it may have been written in the 1990s by a man and naughtily offered as a piece of media vampire history.