Lords of darkness, bloodsuckers or monsters of folklore? Legend or reality? We have dusted them off for you about a subject very popular with tattoo artists…
Firs character created by Polidori
The first time European readers were assailed by the theme of vampirism was with the publication of the story ‘The Vampyre’ written by John Polidori (personal physician to Lord Byron) published on 1st April 1819 in the British periodical ‘New Monthly Magazine’. Critics consider Polidori’s story as the milestone which marks the transition from the “classical vampire” (in the sense of the folklore legend which had been popular for centuries in Eastern Europe) to the cultural paradigm which took the form of an aristocratic demon which stalked its prey in high society.
The Goth atmosphere
So Polidori invented a weird tale, a mixture of Gothic atmosphere and explicit sensuality. Probably the last thing Doctor Polidori intended was to unleash the highly complex age-old figure of the vampire on his readers (something which would later be accomplished far better by the Irishman Bram Stoker). All he was trying to do was to put down in words a rather more banal obsession of his own.
‘The Banquet of Blood’
About twenty-five years after this publication, a no less ambitious tale came out, ‘Varney the Vampire’, (also known as ‘The Banquet of Blood’), another Gothic novel published in instalments written by James Malcolm Rymer. It came out between 1845 and 1847 in those cheap publications which were known as penny dreadfuls, low-brow kind publications for a public avid for blood, sex, horror and cheap thrills.
An immortal creature
Varney himself deserves a word of praise. The character created by Polidori was no more than a rough sketch but here we are dealing with a villain who could easily feature in any horror film/B movie of our own day. Varney, with his pallor and pointed canines ready to sink into the flesh, who leaves visible marks on the neck of his victims, has a hypnotic gaze and superhuman strength. And he is immortal too.
And then came Bram Stoker…
So much for Polidori and Rymer, but the undisputed (and unsurpassed) masterpiece of literary vampirism remains ‘Bram Stoker’s Dracula’, first published in 1893. Without going into the details of the decidedly convoluted plot, largely narrated through letters, diaries and journalism, it has to be said that the author from Clontarf was one of the few to restore some historical dignity to the figure of the vampire. In fact, in Stoker’s Dracula there are no cheap literary tricks like dark cloaks, Gothic cemeteries and garlic all over the place.
Vlad The Impaler
His terrifying protagonist basically represents the idea of the “foreigner” seen through the fearful eyes of the British people. To a certain extent, Stoker’s villain has echoes of the historic figure who actually inspired the novel: Vlad Țepeș Hagyak (1431-1476), the bloody prince of Wallachia, better known as Vlad the Impaler.
The myth of Dragulea
Vlad III of Slovakia was commonly known as Dragulea meaning ‘Son of the Dragon’ and was a despot who terrorised his enemies and political opponents by means of the horrendous practice of impaling. More than the vampire described by Stoker, Vlad is an absolute symbol of the so called ancien regime in Europe, so adept at accumulating wealth and pleasure while the courtiers and peasants went hungry. A true monarch soon turned in horror legend.