Sunday, August 15, 2010

Dracula's Guest (Anthology)

I want to recommend an anthology I recently read, a 2010 release called DRACULA'S GUEST, edited by Michael Sims. Subtitled "A Connoisseur's Collection of Victorian Vampire Stories," this volume would be indispensable for someone wanting to gain a solid background in the vampire fiction field. Presented in chronological order, the stories have detailed prefaces about their authors (if known) and circumstances of original publication. The subtitle is more striking than accurate, because the book starts with excerpts from a few eighteenth-century nonfiction narratives to set up the historical context and goes through the pre-World-War-I era. The editor's excellent introduction explains his choices. He includes most of the "usual suspects," introducing the nineteenth century with, of course, Byron's fragment and the story it inspired, Polidori's "The Vampyre," but he does leave out J. Sheridan Le Fanu's "Carmilla" because of its length and wide availability. "The Mysterious Stranger," Theophile Gautier's "The Deathly Lover" (aka "Clarimonde"), "Good Lady Ducayne," "Count Magnus"—they're all here, along with lots of less-often reprinted pieces. I do disagree with some of Sims's decisions. He includes the opening scene of VARNEY THE VAMPYRE, often excerpted in anthologies; instead, he could have used a vampire-staking from later in the novel, which has been anthologized only once that I know of, a scene that foreshadows the slaying of Lucy in DRACULA. "Dracula's Guest," the last selection in the book, has also appeared in many anthologies. Stoker's work might have been represented, instead, by the scene in which the hero of THE LADY OF THE SHROUD (Stoker's other novel set in Eastern Europe) first meets the mysterious lady of the title, whom he suspects of being a vampire. Most baffling to me is Sims's claim that Guy de Maupassant's "The Horla" doesn't make the cut because it "barely sneak[s] in" under the definition of a vampire story. Instead, he includes a tale that may have inspired Maupassant, "What Was It?" by Fitz-James O'Brien—which is scarcely recognizable as vampiric! "The Horla," on the other hand, *clearly* belongs. (I discuss both of these in DIFFERENT BLOOD: THE VAMPIRE AS ALIEN, but O'Brien's story mainly as a forerunner to Maupassant's.) A selected bibliography of nonfiction references concludes the book.

To complement this anthology, the vampire classic completist should also own VAMPIRES: TWO CENTURIES OF GREAT VAMPIRE STORIES (1987; reprinted as THE PENGUIN BOOK OF VAMPIRE STORIES), edited by Alan Ryan. This volume also arranges its selections in chronological order with informative prefaces for each. This book does include "Carmilla." Naturally, there's significant overlap between the two anthologies, but Sims (of course) has a much wider nineteenth-century selection, and Ryan's book, as indicated by the subtitle, reprints numerous well-known stories outside Sims's period, from the early twentieth century through the golden age of the pulp magazines, ending with a varied selection of contemporary fiction—over thirty stories in all! Ryan also has an annotated fiction bibliography and and an annotated filmography. He doesn't include "The Horla," either, though. If you're not familiar with that specimen of vintage horror, track it down somewhere else. Not to be missed!

Anyone who has read those two anthologies plus DRACULA and the WEIRD VAMPIRE TALES collection discussed here in June can claim a thorough working knowledge of classic vampire fiction. These are the roots of the genre that flourishes nowadays in such abundant variety.

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt


Lou Gagliardi said...

Interesting piece of trivia that I'm sure Ms. Carter knew already--many consider the short story, 'Dracula's Guest' to be the excised first chapter of Dracula, and that it was only removed due to length and cost of printing the book.

I doubt it though. It doesn't connect well with the rest of the story at all. I think it was rather a piece of Harker's experiences in the Carpathians or even Renfield's own experiences.

Margaret Carter said...

Quite right. Most DRACULA scholars now agree, especially in view of the material in Stoker's working notes for the novel (published under the editorship of Elizabeth Miller and Robert Eighteen-Bisang), that "Dracula's Guest" can't have been intended as the book's first chapter. Others have also questioned whether the unnamed narrator of the fragment is Jonathan Harker at all.


Lou Gagliardi said...

As I said, i think it fits later on, when Mr. Harker was further into the Carpathians. It also could have been an intended prologue with Renfield going to the Castle first, which would explain his insanity and the solicitor sending Harker