Thursday, December 15, 2016

Before the Count

BEFORE THE COUNT (2007), edited by Margo Collins, is an anthology for hardcore vampire literature enthusiasts. It has a slightly misleading, though catchy, subtitle, "British Vampire Tales, 1732-1897." Not all the contents count as "tales," since they include three nonfiction pieces and two poems. Not all are British; items originally in other languages are included. All of the latter, however, appear in translations available in nineteenth-century England, so they're interesting and useful for the book's purpose of collecting significant precursors in English to Bram Stoker's DRACULA.

John Polidori's "The Vampyre," the first known prose vampire story in English, is included, along with the "Fragment" by Byron that inspired it, even though they're readily available in many other editions. That choice makes sense for the sake of completeness. Many of the other contents, though, haven't been reprinted in other vampire collections that I know of and make this volume a welcome addition to a vampire fanatic's library. In addition to the vampire section of Dom Augustin Calmet's often-cited book, the nonfiction selections consist of two 1732 magazine articles about real-life cases reported from Eastern Europe. An 1835 translation of Goethe's poem "The Bride of Corinth" also appears. The heart of the anthology, for me, comprises four plays based on or inspired by Polidori's novella, materials I'd read about in many secondary sources but never seen in print before. All items appear in chronological order of their English publication.

I'm surprised the editor didn't include "The Mysterious Stranger," an anonymous 1860 story set in the Carpathians with a noticeably Dracula-like villain. It can be read here:

The Mysterious Stranger

The volume ends with Kipling's poem "The Vampire," published in 1897 and inspired by a painting of the same name. Despite the editor's explanation that she included this work as "proof of the continuing interest in vampires," I really don't know what it's doing here. It involves metaphorical rather than literal vampirism, it's frequently reprinted and readily available elsewhere, and it can't have influenced DRACULA. More relevant examples from the 1890s would have been Phil Robinson's "The Last of the Vampires" (1893), featuring a mad scientist and a bat-winged vampiric creature, and Mary Braddon's "Good Lady Ducayne" (1896), a tale of medical detection, altered consciousness, and blood transfusion with remarkable similarities to Lucy's case in DRACULA (although published too late to have significantly influenced Stoker, it illustrates that those tropes were "in the air" at that time).

Nevertheless, this inexpensive trade paperback would be a valuable resource for any vampire-lit completist.

Margaret L. Carter

Please explore love among the monsters at Carter's Crypt.

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