Conoisseur's Collection of Victorian Vampire Fiction
Michael Sims (Editor) is a non-fiction writer,
journalist, editor and public speaker who lives near
Pittsburgh. He has edited a number of literary collections,
including The Penguin
Book of Gaslight Crime.
"...I love what is
peculiar and uncommon, at least what would appear so to you.
It is wrong in the main to be astonished at anything, for, viewed in
one light, all things are alike; even life and death, this side of the
grave and the other, have more resemblance than you would imagine."
Reviewed by Pauline Masurel
Victorian vampires were everywhere: in a cottage on a wide and pathless
moor, taking the air in Italy, languishing in Wet Waste-on-the-Wolds
and, of course, in Transylvania. Some of them inhabited Styria, "a
flat, uninteresting country, only celebrated by its turkeys, its
capons, and the stupidity of its inhabitants".
This book does contain some straightforward tales of fair maidens despoiled, which play to the vamperotic stereotype, such as Varney the Vampyre (Or The Feast of Blood).
As expected, "The girl has swooned, and the vampyre is at its hideous
repast." But in most of the collection's stories there is far more
by way of characterisation. The scenarios are set up with a few
more layers, such as the story of feisty Franziska for whom The Mysterious Stranger initially holds no fear, while her drippy cousin Franz is a source of constant ennui.
Not all of these vampires are male, nor do they all succour themselves upon female victims. There's The Vampire Maid and The Tomb of Sarah
to break with such gender conventions. And there are stories
where those preyed upon are male, including the almost homoerotic A True Story of a Vampire. There
are also plenty of other deviations from the standard tale that we have
come to expect. This collection includes an invisible vampire, a
murderous disembodied hand, a transfusionist and a completely
impractical, slightly hysterical vampire. Indeed, if I were being
churlish I might complain that some of these don't really qualify as
full-blooded vampires at all.
There's occasionally some humour
to be had in the stories too; not every vampire tale takes itself
entirely seriously throughout. In A True Story of a Vampire
we are informed, "Vampires generally arrive by night, in carriages
drawn by two black horses. Our Vampire arrived by the commonplace
means of the railway train, and in the afternoon."
isn't just a source of ripping (and biting) yarns. The editor,
Michael Sims presents a scholarly yet personal introduction and a
copious bibliography of suggested further reading at the end. He
remains an ever-present voice in the collection, introducing the
authors and setting the stories in their historical context, adding
both knowledge and a dry wit. He also provides a necessary
introduction to some long-forgotten authors. Most readers will
have heard of Byron, Bram Stoker and Tolstoy but Mary Elizabeth
Braddon, Hume Nisbet and Fitz-James O'Brien will likely be unknown to
many. Sims has managed to combine a book of rollicking reads with an
analysis of the history of vampire tales and the natural history
The first section of the book covers the
pre-history of the Victorian story with various folklore accounts of
vampires that preceded Victoria's reign. To be honest, I was a somewhat
impatient reader and just wanted to get my teeth into the
fiction. So if you begin to find them tiresome I would recommend
reading the middle section of the book first and then going back
afterwards to pick up on some of the earlier, supposedly factual,
writing that inspired the Victorian vampire authors. But the
background explanation is a genuinely worthwhile addition to the book
and would be useful to anyone researching the conventions of the
To really enjoy this book you do have to be prepared to roll with the conventions of the genre. In Varney the Vampyre;
solemn tones of an old cathedral clock have announced midnight... A
faint peal of thunder now comes from far off. Like a signal gun
for the battle of the winds to begin, it appeared to awaken them from
their lethargy, and one awful, warring hurricane swept over a whole
In other words, "It was a dark and stormy night..."
rides again as an opening. But, damn it all, why else would you be
reading a book of Victorian Vampire stories if you didn't want a
certain amount of melodrama? This book is what it is... whatever
dark thing that might be.
from this collection in LitGothic