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Chris Baldick

Författare till The Oxford Book of Gothic Tales

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Chris Baldick is Professor of English at Goldsmiths, University of London. He has written several works of literary history including The Modern Movement (2004), along with the Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms (2008), and co-edited with Jane Desmarais, Decadence: An Annotated Anthology (2012).

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review of
John Polidori's The Vampyre and Other Tales of the Macabre
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - January 15, 2014

When am I ever going to start writing those superficial capsule reviews again?! This one's "too long", see the full thing here:

The 1st time I remember running across mention of Polidori & his story "The Vampyre" was probably in Ken Russell's 1986 film Gothic. I had a brief phase of reading Gothic lit 40 yrs or so ago when I learned about it thru reading that the Surrealists liked it. As I recall, Polidori is depicted somewhat unsympathetically as an hysterical weak character who attempts suicide. He did, eventually, actually commit suicide.

Gothic luridly depicts the summer of 1816 when the poets Lord Byron & Percy Bysshe Shelley Byron's physician Polodori Jane 'Claire' Clairmont & her writer step-sister Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (better known after marriage to Shelley as Mary Shelley) "amused themselves rather strenuously by reading some German ghost stories and [..] then challeng[ing] each other to compose similar tales of supernatural terror." [..] "Polidori began his only novel, Ernestus Berchtold; or, The Modern Oedipus (1819), and Mary Godwin [..] embarked upon the composition of Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus". (p ix of the Introduction to The Vampyre and Other Tales of the Macabre)

"Gothic tales and fragments began appearing in the magazines shortly after the publication of Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto in 1764, and were common after 1790, when the craze for the Gothic in Britain reached its height." - p xv

This collection interests me for several reasons, not restricted to the reading of the Polidori story rounding out my knowledge of Gothic lit somewhat. For one thing, 3 of the tales presented were originally presented as having been written by "Anonymous" & still credited to such in this volume. For another thing: "These fictional possibilities of claustrophobia were exploited to the full in William Mudford's Blackwood's tale 'The Iron Shroud' (1830), in which a prisoner discovers his metallic cell is gradually shrinking and will thus certainly crush him to death. It was upon the basis of these works that Edgar Allan Poe soon developed the hysterical intensity of his most memorable stories, notably 'The Pit and the Pendulum' (1843), which is indebted directly to Mudford's tale." (pp xvi-xvii)

"The Iron Shroud" is not one of the stories herein collected but Charles Lever's "Post-Mortem Recollections of a Medical Lecturer" (1836) cd also be sd to've been a predecessor to Poe's "The Premature Burial" (1844). & in the introductory footnote to Edward Bulwer's "Mono and Daimonos" [1830] it's stated that: "In an 1835 letter to the editor of the Southern Literary Messenger, Poe listed 'Monos and Daimonos' as one of those tales that was 'invariably' popular with readers because it displayed 'the ludicrous heightened into the grotesque: the fearful coloured into the horrible: the witty exaggerated into the burlesque: the singular wrought out into the strange and mystical'. A year later Poe cited 'Monos and Daimonos' to support his claim that, in Bulwer's writings, 'all is richly and glowingly intellectual—all is energetic, or astute, or brilliant, or profound'. Poe's 'Silence—A Fable' (1838) is heavily indebted to 'Monos and Daimonos', to the point where, as Mabbot points out, some sentences are taken 'almost verbatim'." (p 262)

I don't think that I share Poe's appreciation of the story. Here're a few samples:

"My father died when I was eighteen; I was transferred to my uncle's protection, and I repaired to London. I arrived there, gaunt and stern, a giant in limbs and strength, and to the tastes of those about me, a savage in bearing and in mood. They would have laughed, but I awed them; they would have altered me, but I changed them; I threw a damp over their enjoyment and a cloud over their meetings. Though I said little, though I sat with them, estranged and silent, and passive, they seemed to wither beneath my presence." - p 54

""I commenced my pilgrimage—I pierced the burning sands—I traversed the vast deserts—I came into the enormous woods of Africa, where human step never trod". - p 54

"Seasons glided on, and my youth ripened into manhood, and manhood grew grey with the first frost of age; and then a vague and restless spirit fell upon me, and I said in my foolish heart, 'I will look upon that countenances of my race once more!' I retraced my steps—I recrossed the wastes—I re-entered the cities—I took again the garb of man; for I had been hitherto naked in the wilderness, and hair had grown over me as a garment." - p 55

Given that I 'grew up on Poe' & have always thought of him as a pioneer (wch he certainly was - but more, perhaps, for things like "X-ing a Paragrab" (published post-mortem in 1850) & "The Gold-Bug" (1843). This latter was renowned for its central cryptoanalytic element. I remember reading in a bk that Poe's code-writing was so substantial that it was still used during the American Civil War 20 yrs after the publication of "The Gold-Bug". However, while there's plenty on Poe in David Kahn's substantial The Code-Breakers I deduce from it that Poe's Civil War encoding influence is not accurate b/c I didn't see it mentioned at all (I just skimmed - cd've missed it). The likelihood for the accuracy is small anyway since the story was so popular that it seems unlikely that the code in it wd've been useful for any truly secret purpose.), I was interested to see such strong precursors to his more macabre works in this bk.

Polidori's story in & of itself is 'worth the price of admission' for the scholarly tidbits surrounding it for anyone interested in this period of English lit. "Better still, this prose tale, entitled The Vampyre, seemed to follow the pattern of Byron's best-known poetical productions—Childe Harold's Pilgrimage (1812-18) and Manfred (1817)—by incorporating a strong element of confessional self-portraiture, but this time treating the familiar figure of the accursed outlaw in even more lurid terms as a bloodsucking demon or 'vampyre' with the tell-tale name of Lord Ruthven—clearly an echo of another recent fictional portrayal of Byron as Clarence de Ruthven, Lord Glenarvon in the novel Glenarvon (1816) by Lady Caroline Lamb, Byron's cast-off mistress." (p vii)

Byron as the vampyre strikes me basically as Byron as the 'sexual predator' or Byron as the guy who gets laid b/c of his forceful & talented (& rich) persona while the envious envy. Byron must've been quite the celebrity in his day b/c he features in other stories collected here as well: EG: in Anonymous's "The Curse" Byron is slightly misquoted: "'For never having dream'd of falsehood, we / Had not one word to say of constancy.'" (p 114) from "Don Juan"; & in the "Preliminaries for The Vampyre": "It is said, indeed, that upon paying his [Byron's] first visit at Coppet, following the servant who had announced his name, he was surprised to meet a lady carried out fainting; but before he had been seated many minutes, the same lady, who had been so affected at the sound of his name, returned and conversed with him a considerable time—such is female curiosity and affection!" (p 238) Not to mention, presumably, lust.

"The story had made an indelible impression on the imagination of Europe, and Polidori had succeeded, however inadvertently, in founding the entire modern tradition of vampire fiction. Not only was his tale the first sustained fictional treatment of vampirism in English, it also completely recast the mythology upon which it drew." - p x

"French botanist Joseph Pitton de Tournefort, whose Relation d'un Voyage du Levant (1702) was the eighteenth century's first account of vampirism" & "Dom Augustin Calmet was one of the most famous biblical scholars of his day, as well as the leading eighteenth century authority on vampires". - p 278

"As the basis of imaginative literature rather than of sick jokes, however, the folklore of vampires as represented in Calmet's accounts had some serious deficiencies: it was obscure, confused, and above all comically disgusting. According to the villagers of Serbia and Hungary, their vampires were bloated, shaggy, foul-smelling corpses who preyed on their immediate neighbors and relatives, or on nearby cattle (so that vampirism could be acquired by eating contaminated meat). Popular remedies against vampires involved digging them up and smearing oneself with their blood, or pulling out their teeth and sucking their gums,as well as the more conclusive precautions of staking, decapitation, and incineration. Still more unappealing was the fact that the legions of the undead were composed entirely of peasants. Some readers of Calmet's anthology pointed out that there seemed, oddly, never to have been an urban vampire, nor an educated bourgeois vampire, let alone one of noble birth. The historical and mythological importance of Polidori's The Vampyre lies in its drastic correction of the folklore's shortcomings, and especially in his elevation of the nosferatu (undead) to the dignity of high social rank." - p xii

In other words, Lord Ruthven is herein credited as the 1st aristocratic vampire - his folklore predecessors having been, so the Introduction here claims, all hairier peasants. This interests me insofar as there's the implication of class predation - the rich prolonging their lives at the expense of everyone they can sink their fangs into, blood of the virgin n'at. &, of course, there's the 'sexiness' of submissively succumbing to such treatment: what an 'honor' to be sucked dry by the ruling class! Furthermore, as an aside, there's a tiny remote dead-end street in my neighborhood named Ruthven wch'll now be forever associated w/ aristocratic vampirism in my mind.

In Polidori's tale he describes his surrogate self thusly: "About at the same time, there came to London a young gentleman of the name of Aubrey; he was an orphan left with an only sister in the possession of great wealth, by parents who died while he was yet in childhood. Left also to himself by guardians, who thought it their duty merely to take care of his fortune, while they relinquished the more important charge of his mind to the care of mercenary subalterns, he cultivated more his imagination than his judgment. He had, hence, that high romantic feeling of honour and candour, which daily ruins so many milliners' apprentices." (p 4)

Aubrey is tricked into making an oath to not disclose the death of Ruthven who he later learns hasn't actually died (or has been 'reborn'). The stupidity of 'honoring' this oath is an indication of the aforementioned lack of judgment when he learns that his sister is about to marry the vampyre: "He began to speak with all his wonted warmth, and to congratulate her upon her marriage with a person so distinguished for rank and every accomplishment; when he suddenly perceived a locket upon her breast; opening it, what his surprise at beholding the features of the monster who had so long influenced his life. He seized the portrait in a paroxysm of rage, and trampled it under foot. Upon her asking him why he thus destroyed the semblance of her future husband, he looked as if he did not understand her—then seizing her hands, and gazing on her with a frantic expression of countenance, he bade her swear that she would never wed this monster, for he—But he could not advance—it seemed as if that voice again bade him to remember his oath". (p 21) & here we have the formal trick common to so many horror stories: the reader (or viewer in the case of movies) is maddeningly frustrated by the lack of communication that's a matter of life & death.

"The guardians hastened to protect Miss Aubrey; but when they arrived, it was too late. Lord Ruthven had disappeared, and Aubrey's sister had glutted the thirst of a VAMPYRE!" (p 23) Ok, that's a spoiler - but the reader can see this one comin' from a mile away. W/ this in mind, I note that the value of this collection for me wasn't so much the 'thrillingness' of the stories as it was the look into the lurid recontextualization of the history of the time & the language used for this purpose: from Horace Smith's "Sir Guy Eveling's Dream":

"'Now that we be upon this subject of dreams and apparitions, I may forbear to mention that full strange and terrible one of Sir Guy Eveling, and the consequences tragical issuing therefrom, which I do the more willingly pen, forasmuch as the dismal tale was hushed and smothered up at the time by the great families with which he was consanguined, people of worshipful regard and jeopardous power, whereby folks only whispered of the story in corners, and peradventure bruited about many things which were but fond imaginings.[']" - p 25

"[']he was of a haute and orgulus stomach that would not agnize the wisdom of beadsmen, nor even brook the tender counsellings of friends and kinsmen, whereby he waxed wild, and readily fell to mischief and riot, giving up his mornings to dicers, racqueters, and scatterlings, and casting away the night with ribalds, wasselers, and swinge-bucklers[']". - p 25

"[']This was that self tempest which there be many now living may remember, sith it followed hard upon the Proclamation of our late King Edward[']" - p 28

A footnote on p 259 informs the reader that "our late King Edward: presumably Edward VI, who acceded to the throne in 1547 and died six years later at the age of 15." That wd put the story told as having occurred 276 yrs before its publishing. I have no informed opinion about the accuracy of the language used but I assume it to be somewhat affected. Nonetheless, I love it: Take that, you orgulus swinge-bucklers!!

Some of the stories are based on news of the time demonstrating that the popular taste for True Crime stories is hardly an invention of the 20th century. Take, eg, William Carleton's "Confessions of a Reformed Ribbonman": The name derives from the green ribbon worn as a badge by members. Events leading up to the atrocities described in Carleton's tale began on 10 April 1816, when Michale Tiernan, Patrick Stanley, and Philip Conlon broke into a huntsman's lodge occupied by Edward Lynch. The three men demanded guns and assaulted Lynch and members of his family before being driven off. At the trial Lynch and his son-in-law Thomas Rooney identified the invaders and, in the face of strong public sympathy, all three men were convicted and hanged, most probably on 21 August. In the early hours of 30 October, the Ribbonmen meted out their revenge. Led by Paddy Devaun, a weaver and parish clerk at Stonetown Chapel, they massacred Lynch and seven others, including his daughter and grandchild. In the aftermath, Devaun and seventeen other Ribbonmen were executed." (p 260)

Again, the language & the history are the best part for me. This story has Irish brogue in it: "'Well,' said I, 'I'll just trust to God, and the consequinces, for the could, Paddy, ma bouchal; but a blessed dhrop ov it wo'nt be crossin' my lips, avick; so no more gosther about it—dhrink it yerself, if you like; maybe you want it as much as I do—wherein I've the patthern of a good big-coat upon me, so thick, yer sowl, that if it was rainin' bullocks, a dhrop would'nt get unher the nap ov it.'" (p 37)

The organizer of the massacre tries to get everyone drunk so that they'll commit the atrocity they've sworn to even tho they don't know what it is: "'Well,' said he, smiling, 'I only wanted to thry yees an' by the oath yees tuck, there's not a Captain in the county has as good a right to be proud of his min as I have—well yees won't rue it, may be when the right time comes; and for that same rason every one of yees must have a glass from the jar; thim that won't dhrink it in the chapel can dhrink it widout[']" (p 40)

Now the author is writing from a 1st-person perspective as if he were actually there at the events leading up to the killings & at the murders themselves. Whether that's true or not I don't know but he depicts some of the men as having the guts to resist the peer pressure: "The proceedings, however, had by this time taken too alarming a shape, for even the captain to compel them to a blindfold oath; the first man he called flatly refused to swear, until he should hear the nature of the service that was required. This was echoed by the remainder, who taking courage from the firmness of this person, declared generally, that until they first knew the business they were to execute, none of them should take the oath." (p 42) Really? I wish I cd believe that such people exist but in my own experience most people are just cowards & can be manipulated into performing just about any heinous deed as long as they're not taking responsibility for it.

Paddy Devaun eventually coerces all to follow him where they find that the plan is to set a house full of people on fire & not let anyone escape: "'Its no use now, you know, if one's to hang, all will hang; so our safest way, you persave, is to lave none of them to tell the story: ye may go now if you wish; but it won't save a hair of your heads. You cowardly set! I know if I had told yees the sport, that none of ye except my own boys would come[']" (p 47) I've been the guy to say NO many a time but, thank goodness, never in such a horrific situation. Megalomaniacs need robopaths to enact their genocide - fewer of each wd make the world a safer place for the rest of us.

the full review is here:
… (mer)
tENTATIVELY | 4 andra recensioner | Apr 3, 2022 |
This book wasn't too bad, the actual tale if the Vampyre had a lot of action and I loved the ending. The copy i read was poorly printed though and had a lot of spelling mistakes but most were easy to overlook.
SarahRita | 4 andra recensioner | Aug 11, 2021 |
A handy reference for anybody interested in literary criticism.
smichaelwilson | May 9, 2019 |
The Gothic tale has been with us for over two hundred years, but this collection is the first to illustrate the continuing strength of this special fictional tradition from the late eighteenth century to the present day. Gothic fiction is generally identified with Horace Walpole's Castle of Otranto and the works of Ann Radcliffe, and with heroes and heroines menaced by feudal villains amid crumbling ruins. While the repertoire of claustrophobic settings, gloomy themes, and threatening atmosphere established the Gothic genre, later writers from Poe onwards achieved an ever greater sophistication, and a shift in emphasis from cruelty to decadence. Modern Gothic is distinguished by its imaginative variety of voice, from the chilling depiction of a disordered mind to the sinister suggestion of vampirism. This anthology brings together the work of writers such as Le Fanu, Hawthorne, Hardy, Faulkner, and Borges with their earliest literary forebears, and emphasizes the central role of women writers from Anna Laetitia Aikin to Isabel Allende. While the Gothic tale shares some characteristics with the ghost story and tales of horror and fantasy, the present volume triumphantly celebrates the distinctive features that define this powerful and unsettling literary form.… (mer)
1 rösta
Cultural_Attache | 5 andra recensioner | Jul 20, 2018 |


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Eudora Welty Contributor
E. Nesbit Contributor
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William Carleton Contributor
Lord Byron Contributor
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Yvonne Gilbert Illustrator


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