Saturday, August 22, 2015

Dracula’s Guest: A Connoisseur’s Collection of Victorian Vampire Stories – review

Editor: Michael Sims

First published: 2010

Contains spoilers

The blurb: Before Twilight and True Blood, vampires haunted the nineteenth century, when brilliant writers indulged their bloodthirsty imaginations, culminating in Bram Stoker's legendary 1897 novel, Dracula.

Acclaimed author and anthologist Michael Sims brings together the finest vampire stories of the Victorian era in a unique collection that highlights their cultural variety. Beginning with the supposedly true accounts that captivated Byron and Shelley, the stories range from Aleksei Tolstoy's tale of a vampire family to Fitz James O'Brien's invisible monster to Mary Elizabeth Braddon's rich and sinister widow, Good Lady Ducayne. Sims also includes a nineteenth-century travel tour of Transylvanian superstitions, and finishes the collection with Stoker's own Dracula's Guest - a chapter omitted from his landmark novel.

Vampires captivated Victorian society, and these wonderful stories demonstrate how Romantic and Victorian writers refined the raw ore of peasant superstition into a whole vampire mythology of aristocratic decadence and innocence betrayed.

The review: I am always looking for interesting vampire stories from the 19th Century though, I must confess, that had I not found this volume for a penny on Amazon I probably wouldn’t have bothered. That’s not to say that it is poor – far from it – just that I have so many different anthologies and most of the stories within it. But a penny it was and so I ordered it.

Many of the usual suspects are within this book that isn’t quite what it says on the tin. In a section called Roots, it interestingly carries an extract from Calmet and obvious stories from the Georgian period. The final section, Fruit, is in the Edwardian period. However there are a good number of stories from the Victorian era. Not all are what I would call vampiric. Sim’s may be correct in his thought that Fitz-James O’Brien’s story What Was It? foreshadowed and maybe inspired the Horla but (unlike the latter story) it had no hallmarks of vampirism (bar strangulation – but that isn’t a common hallmark of the literary vampire).

Probably the most interesting couple of stories, for me, came out of the Fruit section as they were new ones on me. Luella Miller by Mary E Wilkins-Freeman is a fantastic energy vampire story that comes out of Massachusetts during the period when exhumations of corpses, as vampires, was still practiced. However Alice and Claude Askew's Aylmer Vance and the Vampire seemed hurried – a whole novel could have been built from the story – but was an interesting tale of vampiric spirit possession.

If you see this cheap or don’t have the stories inside then this is a fine collection. 7.5 out of 10.

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