Dracula's Guest: a Connoisseur's Collection of Victorian Vampire Stories

Rating: 
4

Most vampires aren't handsome, romantic or protective. They kill. When they rip out your throat, you die terrified and smelling corpse breath. If you need proof, read "Dracula's Guest," a superb collection of vampire fiction - and nonfiction - from writers dealing with the undead.

Michael Sims has culled stories from the Victorian era to make a collection guaranteed to delight anyone who enjoyed Bram Stoker's "Dracula." Queen Victoria reigned from 1937 to 1901, but Sims stretched his selections to the beginning of World War I in 1914. He includes several nonfiction pieces reaching back to the 1700s.

In "Dracula's Guest," the vampires run from those who slowly drain the spirit - "Good Lady Ducayne" - from their victims to those who are frightening enough to give nightmares.  There is nothing seductive about the vampires in Aleksei Tolstoy's "The Family of the Vourdalak," set in Serbia, where family sentiment overrules the final warning words of grandfather Gorcha, and all the family dies only to come back and hunt an unwary suitor. "I turned away from (the daughter) Sdenka to hide the horror which was written on my face. It is then that I looked out the window and saw the satanic figure of Gorcha, leaning on a bloody stake and staring at me with the eyes of a hyena. Pressed against the other window were the waxen features of Georges, who at that moment looked as terrifying as his father." Exit suitor chased by fiends.

Eastern Europe is just the best-known source for vampire tales. "Luella Miller" is placed in a New England village. Sweden is the setting for "Count Magnus." A chilling story, "A Mystery of the Campagna," is based in Italy. 

What makes these Victorian stories different from contemporary ones? In general, the afflicted that run afoul of vampires die. There are very few happy endings here.

You have the lurid pulp fiction of James Malcolm Rymer's "Varney the Vampire," written in installments for the periodical market. "With a sudden rush that could be foreseen - with a strange howling cry that was enough to awaken terror in every breast, the figure seized the long tresses of her hair and twining them round his bony hands he held her to bed. Then she screamed - Heaven granted her then power to scream."

Sims' introduction covers the reality of death and how the legends of vampires might have come into existence. There are several nonfiction pieces, and an excellent bibliography provides more sources and websites.

Bram Stoker gets the last word. The final story is an early draft of the first chapter of his classic novel. The unnamed narrator ventures out on Walpurgisnacht, the last day of April, to run afoul of wolves and the dead. He's rescued by troopers on the orders of his host - Dracula.


Review by Tish Wells

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From the Library

As the 20th century evolved, rational man turned to science to explain mythology that had pervaded for thousands of years. How could a man be mistaken for a vampire? How could someone appear to have been the victim of a vampire attack? Science, in time, came back with answers that may surprise you.Anemia
A million fancies strike you when you hear the name: Nosferatu!N O S F E R A T Udoes not die!What do you expect of the first showing of this great work?Aren't you afraid? - Men must die. But legend has it that a vampire, Nosferatu, 'der Untote' (the Undead), lives on men's blood! You want to see a symphony of horror? You may expect more. Be careful. Nosferatu is not just fun, not something to be taken lightly. Once more: beware.- Publicity for Nosferatu in the German magazine Buhne und Film, 1922  

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