Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Interesting Shorts: the Fate of Madame Cabanel

In October 2014 author Lauren Owen, whose novel the Quick has previously been reviewed here, posted a top 10 vampire books on the Guardian website.

It was an odd list, containing short stories as well as novels and eight of the ten entries coming from the 19th century. Whether the two 20th century books should have been in a top 10 is debatable, and while some of the books/stories from the previous century were indeed classic some may come under the broader definition of classic that I use on the blog - simply an older story from the 19th and early 20th century.

The one story on the list I have not come across before was this one. Owen does actually tell us that she sees it as “A slight anomaly, as there’s no actual vampire involved. But this is a powerful study of intolerance and superstition”. And this is entirely true, the story featuring belief in vampires, superstition gone amok and resultant tragedy.The story was written by Eliza Lynn Linton and Owen suggests it was published in 1880. However I have found a scan showing that it was published in the New York Times on January 19 1873. With no other earlier date that I can find I'm going to use this date as the date of publication.

The story takes place in Pieuvrot, Brittany. When Monsieur Cabanel, a long time bachelor, returns home with an English bride her foreignness elicits suspicion from the populace, and jealousy from his housekeeper who always loved him. When the housekeeper's nephew becomes ill, as many in the village do, suspicion falls upon Madame Cabanel. Full-time gravedigger and part-time wise man Martin suggests that "with those red lips of hers, her rose cheeks and her plump shoulders, she looks like a vampire and as if she lived on blood". Later he names her broucolaque - a Greek vampire variant.

I didn't find the use of language in the story particularly inspiring, the prose feeling somewhat clunky in places. However I did think that the core story itself was an interesting take on the idea of fear and superstition. Much French literature from that century had deliberately obfuscated whether the vampire was real or not; but more often, when the vampire was not real, someone had been acting as a vampire. This British piece of prose deliberately had an innocent accused by the superstitious of being a vampire. If you wish to read the story it can be found (at the time of posting) here.

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