Dracula's guest:
A Conoisseur's Collection of Victorian Vampire Fiction

  Edited by
Michael Sims

Walker Books
2010, Paperback

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."

This book 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 of vampires.

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 vampire story.

To really enjoy this book you do have to be prepared to roll with the conventions of the genre. In Varney the Vampyre;

"The 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 city..."

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.

Read a story from this collection in LitGothic

Pauline Masurel's neck is pale against the chain that encircles it. Tiny red pearls well from her flesh where it has taken savage strikes from thorns as she wrestles amongst brambles and strains against bindweed that continues to imprison her. When she's not busy gardening she also writes short stories. 

Pauline's other Short Reviews: Erin Pringle "The Floating Order"

Jim Crace "The Devil's Larder"

Mark Budman, Tom Hazuka (eds) "You Have Time for This"

Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities

Carson McCullers "The Ballad of the Sad Cafe"

Jeffrey Eugenides (ed) "My Mistress' Sparrow is Dead"

Kasia Boddy, Ali Smith, Sarah Wood (eds) "Let's Call
the Whole Thing Off"

Ben Tanzer "Repetition Patterns"

Paul Meloy "Islington Crocodiles"

Dan Rhodes "Anthropology"

Frank Burton "A History of Sarcasm"

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If you liked this book you might also like....

Joseph Payne Brennan "The Feaster from Afar and Other Ghastly Inhabitants"

Michael Sims (editor) "The Penguin Book of Gaslight Crime"

Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Eighteen-Bisang, and Martin H. Greenburg  "Vampire Stories"

Edgar Allen Poe "All of His Macabre Tales Complete and Unabridged by Edgar Allan Poe"

What other reviewers thought:


Patricia's Vampire Notes

Basement Time

McClatchy Newspapers


Sacramento Book Review