Thursday, August 15, 2019

The Vampire in Europe

Most dedicated vampire fans are probably aware of Montague Summers, an eccentric scholar of folklore and Gothic literature who wrote in the first half of the 20th century. He claimed to be a Roman Catholic priest, although (from what I've read) there's no clear evidence that he was in fact ordained after converting from the Anglican Church to Catholicism. One of his peculiarities was an apparently sincere belief in witchcraft and, possibly, other supernatural phenomena; in his book on the history of witchcraft, he seems to uncritically accept the claims of the authorities who persecuted witches. He also wrote about werewolves as well as the development of the Gothic novel and other literary subjects. He's best known for his two volumes on vampires, THE VAMPIRE: HIS KITH AND KIN (1928) and THE VAMPIRE IN EUROPE (1929). The first book, which defines the term "vampire" more broadly than some later specialists agree with, ranges all over the world from antiquity onward. It begins with chapters on "The Origin of the Vampire" and "The Generation of the Vampire," which deal with diverse subjects such as ancient and medieval legends, bloodthirsty serial killers, necrophilia, and the psychological roots of vampirism. The chapter on "Traits and Practice" explores the characteristics of vampires and ways of controlling or destroying them. "The Vampire in Assyria, the East, and Some Ancient Countries" delves further into the mythology of specific creatures. The final chapter, "The Vampire in Literature," comprises an exhaustive survey of fiction up through DRACULA and the play adapted from the novel, in both its British and American versions. THE VAMPIRE: HIS KITH AND KIN includes footnotes, an index, and an extensive bibliography.

Several of Summers' works are available on Amazon at reasonable prices, including his books on werewolves and witchcraft as well as those on vampires. If you want to read THE VAMPIRE IN EUROPE, I recommend the critical edition (2014) edited by John Edgar Browning. This volume constitutes a facsimile reprint of the original, with auxiliary material including a preface by Browning and essays by Katherine Ramsland, Rosemary Ellen Guiley, Gerard P. O'Sullivan, and Carol A. Senf. One feature indispensable to many if not most contemporary readers is an appendix that translates all the Greek and Latin quotations in the text. Other appendices include: reviews of and reactions to the book's original publication; a brief discussion of the "real vampire community"; an essay on energy vampirism; and highlights of Browning's research into contemporary vampire-related phenomena in New Orleans. Summers' chapters cover the following topics: (1) Ancient Greece and Rome; (2) England, Ireland, France, and Italy, with a brief excursion to 19th-century Rhode Island; (3) Hungary and Czechoslovakia; (4) modern Greece; (5) Russia, Romania, and Bulgaria.

Browning has also produced a critical edition of THE VAMPIRE: HIS KITH AND KIN (2011). Although Summers' works have been supplemented and in some cases superseded by later scholarship, the books are still worth reading. The abundance of ghastly details and the colorful reports of alleged historical vampire cases make these surveys of the bloodthirsty undead and their "kin" throughout the folklore of the world highly entertaining.

Margaret L. Carter

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

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