Friday, October 05, 2018

Classic Literature: Manor (1885)

This short story by Karl Heinrich Ulrichs (1825-1895) was originally published in a volume entitled Matrosengeschichten in 1885. Ulrichs is a fascinating person and is today seen as a pioneer of the gay rights movement. His writing and work on Uranism (the phrase he coined for gay sexuality) are interesting in and of themselves. However, what he did with vampire tropes makes Manor extremely exciting as far as I’m concerned.

The story takes place in the Faroe Islands and holds onto a Norse heritage, the setting feels as though it is contemporary to the writing – though that is not explicitly stated and follows the fate of Har, who at fifteen is at sea with his father when they capsize off the island of Wagoe. A sailor rescues Har and takes him back to Stroemore but Har’s father dies. The sailor, just a few years older than Har, is called Manor and they fall in love. The fact that, in 1885, the story was open about the young men’s sexuality is astounding. It is delicately handled with a sensitivity apparent in the writing.

Some time later Manor signs onto a whaling vessel and Har is going to do the same but his mother’s concern prevents it – Just as well as, when the ship returns, it shipwrecks losing its hands – including Manor. Those bodies that are recovered, including Manor’s, are swiftly buried in the Wagoe sand dunes. The night of the burial, however, Har receives a nocturnal visitor climbing through his bedroom window; Manor has returned. The coldness of his skin is described and he states “A yearning drove me here to you. I have found no peace in my grave.” The corporeal nature of the visitor is attested to as a fisherman sees his form swimming between the islands.

Whilst the first visitation was innocent enough, the second night Manor lays his head on Har’s chest and suckles. Now the idea of a vampire sucking the blood from the chest, often from directly above the heart, is common enough but this actually describes specifically suckling at the nipple until blood comes. It adds an erotic component and conjures an aspect of maternal nourishment (obviously gender queered in this) with the text describing the act as being “like an infant at its mother’s breast.”

An unusual aspect of the lore that Ulrichs gives us is the idea that Manor was brought back by Urda. Saying “it is an ancient belief that Urda, who possesses strange demonic powers, is responsible for the short span of life bestowed upon the living dead.” Urda is a form of Urðr, one of the norns or fates. In Norse mythology they do spin the thread of life and in this it is suggested that, “Urda is especially concerned with people whose life has been snatched away by a bitter death at an early age. It is said that an overwhelming need for life and warmth fills the hearts of those who return. They thrive on the blood of the living…

The nightly visitations continue until Har’s mother becomes concerned at the fact that her son has become deathly pale. She consults a wise woman who suggests he is being visited by the dead and, when confronted with this, he admits to Manor’s visitation. A group travel to Wagoe and tell the islanders there that one of the dead is restless. They dig up Manor’s corpse but he has not moved – the wise woman suggests he just goes back into the same position when he returns to the grave – but they do admit he almost looks better than when they buried him. Despite protestations from Har (who actually shields the corpse until he is bodily removed) they take a hefty pine stake and pin him to the grave. However that night Manor visits Har again, bleeding from the hole in his chest. It is worth noting that he is absolutely inactive during the day.

This, to me, was fascinating lore as we discover the reason he did not stay pinned was due to the fact that they had used a uniformly cut stake. When they unearth the body again he is no longer in the same position as the stake is in the way. They realise that he must have pulled himself up the sturdy stake – and make mention of the “inhuman strength” it would have taken to do so – a nice addition of vampires being unnaturally strong. To keep him in his grave they re-stake him but the stake this time thickens to twice its width – described as being like a nail. This does keep him in the grave. As for Har… well, I’ll let you read the story to discover his fate.

This was an exceptionally important story to my way of thinking – though possibly little known at the time – the lore used was fascinating and its position as a piece of LGBT literature is very important. Whilst there is the obvious connection of the gay lover with the vampiric monster it is handled sensitively and the reason Manor became a vampire was born entirely out of love. There really isn’t a negativity in the way this has been drawn, just a tragedy.

Part of a Kindle collection @ Amazon US

Part of a Kindle collection @ Amazon UK

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