Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Interesting Shorts: The Mysterious Stranger

Montague Summers has a lot to answer for. He listed the short story “The Mysterious Stranger” as being translated into English in 1860, for the Odds and Ends publication. Actually this was a reprint of the story but the date has stuck (in fact I listed it as this date in The Media Vampire).

Some checking prior to writing this article led to another couple of dates being listed. In Stoker’s Notes for Dracula the date 1853 is given and the publication Chambers's Repository of Instructive and Amusing Tracts listed, other sources suggest that it was printed in 1854. The use of this date is understandable as the Internet Archive has the publication listed as 1853. However if you look into the online scan of the publication it clearly has the printing date as 1854 but this does not necessarily reflect the publication date. I am sticking with 1853 but we must also remember that this is the translation, the story states “Translated from the German” and we know little about that. The illustrative image at the head is from Chambers’s Repository.

The content of the story is, however, most remarkable. It pre-empts Dracula in a couple of ways and has a slight Vernian element to it. It begins with a group of travellers. The Knight of Fahnenberg had inherited estates in the Carpathians and he travelled with his beautiful daughter Franziska. There was also the young aristocrat Baron Franz von Kronstein, Fahnenberg’s nephew and Franziska’s companion Bertha.

Franziska is quite an arrogant young lady and disdainful of the affections that Franz holds for her. He is described as an incredibly handsome youth but she prefers men of action, such as Bertha’s betrothed the Castellan of Glogau, Knight of Woislaw. Woislaw, a scarred warrior and who has lost one hand, is away fighting the Turks. In fact she actually would prefer such a man, even if he were to abuse her, than someone she deems as effeminate.

It is winter and they find themselves stalked by starving wolves. They make a break and, despite their guide’s reticence, head towards the ruins of Klatka (which are on fahnenberg’s estates) and get just outside them when the wolves catch them. A Stranger appears, placing himself between the company and the wolves, and somehow causes the wolves to stop. A wave of his hand causes them to slink back into the forest. The stranger then vanishes into the ruins (for some reason the company do not pursue him to find out who he was but continue on their way).

So, at this point we have the vampire (for that is who the stranger is) with an affinity for wolves and a setting of the Carpathians. It is some time after the first encounter that the newcomers explore the ruins. Just after sunset they meet the stranger again and, though he doesn’t give them a name, he is invited to visit them. We get the following dialogue:

"You wish it ?--You press the invitation?" asked the stranger earnestly and decidedly. 
"To be sure, for otherwise you will not come," replied the young lady shortly. 
"Well, then, come I will!" said the other, again fixing his gaze on her. "If my company does not please you at any time, you will have yourself to blame for an acquaintance with one who seldom forces himself, but is difficult to shake off."

It is easy to suggest that this is a form of needing an invitation, in fact later he apologises for coming unannounced but makes a point of reminding that he was invited. He gives his name as Azzo von Klatka and is given a description that suggests a grey complexion and contemptuous, piercing grey eyes. Though he arrives at dinner time he does not partake and suggests he relies on a liquid diet!

His predation is on Franziska who has a repeated “dream” of him coming to her and kissing her neck, just where a cut appears that never seems to heal. She becomes weaker and weaker (with symptoms that sound consumptive) and he becomes more rosy of complexion as time passes. He only visited when the moon shines and later we hear that vampires “were deceased persons, who had once served as nourishment to Vampires, or who had died in deadly sin, or under excommunication; and that whenever the moon shone, they rose from their graves, and sucked the blood of the living.”

This is told to us by Woislaw when he visits Bertha. He protects the Baron, who was challenging the vampire to a dual, by shaking the creature’s hand. Because he has a mechanical hand (our Vernian aspect of the tale) he has a more than human strength in his grip and the vampire mistakes him for one of his own kind, assuming that Woislaw wishes to feed on the Baron. This mistaking the knight for a vampire due to his perceived preternatural strength was something that had happened previously to him whilst in Hungary.

He gets Franziska to pursue her own cure – though he does not explain the circumstances or the fact that Azzo is a vampire until afterwards. He takes her to the vampire’s grave as the sun sets with an hour before the moon rises. He tells her to descend into the crypt, whilst he prays upstairs, and there “…you will find, close to the entrance, a coffin, on which is placed a small packet. Open this packet, and you will find three long iron nails and a hammer. Then pause for a moment; but when I begin to repeat the Credo in a loud voice, knock with all your might, first one nail, then a second and then a third, into the lid of the coffin, tight up to their heads.”

Whilst she does this, Azzo struggles in his coffin and blood seeps out, which the girl must rub into her wound to heal it (and, presumably cure the infection).

Over all it is a rich and fulfilling tale, predating Stoker.

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