Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Honourable Mention: The Manuscript Found in Saragossa

The Manuscript Found in Saragossa was a work, in French, by Polish author Jan Potocki and is somewhat difficult to date. Potoki has the manuscript described as being found by an unnamed French soldier during the sacking of Saragossa. It is said to be the journal of a young officer of the Walloon Guard, Alphonse van Worden that describes a period of 66 days.

Potoki actually circulated a proof edition of the first 10 days in 1805 – and the full form of the work was only released posthumously, following the authors suicide in 1814. I think, to be fair, we should offer a date of 1805-15.

Alphonse is travelling to take up his commission in Madrid and is travelling across the Sierra Morena region with a guide and muleteer, both of whom vanish. He stays in an abandoned inn and from there encounters a vast array of characters who tell him their stories. Eventually the book starts to have stories within stories within stories and cuts between storytellers as they are available, making quiet a complex weave. But I guess you are wondering how vampires come into this.

The night he stays in the inn he meets twin Moorish princesses, Emina and Zubeida, who claim to be his cousins – though he is a Christian and they Muslim. Having told him some of their story they have him drink a draft so that they might know each other in their dreams. When he awakens he finds himself below the gallows of the hanged brothers of the bandit Zoto. It is said that the brothers are vampires and come down from the gallows at night. Later Alphonse discovers that they are not Zoto’s brothers (as they are alive and well) but innocent men hanged in their place as an example.

Alphonse had been asked by the sisters to tell no one of his encounters with them on his word of honour – a promise he maintains. This continues even after a demoniac describes his encounter with his unfaithful mother-in-law and her sister in the same abandoned inn, how they transformed into the brothers and hunted him down whilst haunting him. The insinuation being that Emina and Zubeida might be the brothers in another form. Indeed a Cabalist also tells him that there have been changes to the ranks of demons and “Vampires, among others, are new inventions, if I may put it that way. I myself distinguish two species: the vampires of Hungary and Poland, who are corpses which leave their tombs at night to suck human blood, and the vampires of Spain, who are foul spirits who assume the first dead body they come across, turn it into any imaginable shape and…” His description ends there. At one point it is suggested that heaven has allowed vampires to assume the shape of the two hanged men in the valley.

Alphonse is torn between whether the twins are real or the vampires assuming that shape, and whether all that happens is a conspiracy to encourage him to convert to Islam. Indeed the sisters (whom he sleeps with, together) throw away the relic he wears that is a sliver of the true cross, this is after Zubedia had recoiled and grown pale on hearing what his locket contained. As the stories unfold we lose sight of this part of the set up until almost the end of the novel and the vampire aspect is touched upon but never really the focus, more a fleeting visitation – hence the honourable mention. I did feel that the end of the novel felt rushed compared to the rest which was long and rambling, cutting across many styles and yet consistently fascinating at the same time. There is also a brief mention of succubus during a Gypsy Chief’s tale.

No comments: