Monday, March 17, 2014

Classic Literature: The Vampires of London

The Blurb: "Who are you?" the panic-stricken man articulated, with feverish emphasis.

"A vampire--who wants to live as you do, love as you do. I'm your dead brother. I emerge from my tomb every night."

"You want my life!"

"What would I do with it? No, it's not to draw life from the living that I emerge! The dead don't want to live."

"Mercy! Have pity on your brother!"

"A vampire never has pity."

The Vampires of London (1852) is a nested series of contes cruels aggregated into a quintessentially Romantic roman frénétique, and one of the most excessive and convoluted works of that kind. Some of the scenes featuring the necrophilic vampire Lord Lodore or the one in which a young man tries to pimp his sick sister to a resurrectionist are masterpieces of the grotesque.

Angelo de Sorr (1822-1881), the son of a family of vine-growers in Bordeaux, made his debut as a novelist in 1848 and eventually went on to build a substantial career, working as a writer for various periodicals and eventually publishing more than a dozen novels, as well as becoming a successful publisher himself.

The book: When a novel was originally called Le Vampire, when its new title contains the “V” word and when the blurb has mention of a “necrophilic vampire Lord” you’d be surprised, perhaps, to discover that this article about the book nearly became an honourable mention. This was quite simply because the vampiric elements appear so fleetingly within the prose and are simply supportive of, or secondary to, the main thrust of the novel.

The novel itself – as described in the blurb – is a series of contes cruels, which are stitched together into a noir tale of dynastic one-upmanship and greed. Vampirism, as I say, is used as a backdrop to this. The first real mention is when the Lord Mackinguss introduces the concept, to primary heroic character Robert de Rolleboise, of the Castle of the Falls owned by Sir James Cawdor. The castle is known by locals as the Castle of Vampires and is said to be haunted by them.

Mackinguss is the primary villain and manoeuvres Robert into helping him with his machinations, playing on Robert’s imagined slight by a woman (and relying on his physical similarity to another character) he suggests that by becoming a vampire (an idea the young man is not enamoured by) he could have revenge. Mackinguss buys the castle from Sir James.

Amongst Lord Mackinguss’ allies is the vampiric Lord Lodore and it is interesting that De Sorr, in connection with Lodore, footnotes a reference to Sergeant François Bertrand. Bertrand was the historical person, called the vampire in the Paris press, who desecrated and mutilated corpses (with a probable erotic purpose) until caught in 1849. The film Psychopathia Sexualis contains a shadow-puppet show about him. This connection would seem to make Lodore mortal and mentally ill, rather than supernatural and – indeed – his own dialogue indicates that the vampire is a second personality that emerges during the night (and one that his first personality seeks to thwart).

However, when we see Lodore in a cemetery we see him sink into the earth of a grave. In fact the vampire is known to the resurrectionists (body snatchers) as he not only sinks into the earth, he then exhumes bodies without disturbing the ground. This is, of course, distinctly supernatural. During the midnight scene we also see a coachman’s corpse awaken and run out of the cemetery. A coda to the book suggests that Lodore is hung for vampirism.

We do actually get a bite described in book but that is not through vampirism but rabies.

The book was a fascinating read, the vampirism a backdrop almost, certainly an element to add a dark twist to the proceedings rather than the main thrust of any plot. Angelo de Sorr has an affected writing style that causes him to address the reader directly, often, and this works very well within the style and allows the author to excuse himself as he jumps details that are perhaps (in his mind) less necessary.

The book can be purchased from Blackcoat Press and Amazon:

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