Vampires and Werewolves in English Fiction by Dorothy Scarborough 1917
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Closely related to the devil are certain diabolic spirits that are given supernatural power by him and acknowledge his suzerainty. These include ghosds, vampires, werewolves, and other demoniac animals, as well as the human beings that through a compact with the fiend share in his dark force. Since such creatures possess dramatic possibilities, they have given interest to fiction and other literature from early times. This idea of an unholy alliance between earth and hell, has fascinated the human mind and been reflected astonishingly in literature. In studying the appearance of these beings in English fiction, we note, as in the case of the ghost, the witch, and the devil, a certain leveling influence, a tendency to humanize them and give them characteristics that appeal to our sympathy.
The vampire and the ghoul are closely related and by some authorities are considered the same, yet there is a distinction. The ghoul is a being, to quote Poe, "neither man nor woman, neither brute nor human" that feeds upon corpses, stealing out at midnight for loathsome banquets in graveyards. He devours the flesh of the dead, while the vampire drains the blood of the living. The ghoul is an Asiatic creature and has left but slight impress upon English literature, while the vampire has been a definite motif. The vampire superstition goes back to ancient times, being referred to on Chaldean and Assyrian tablets. William of Newbury, of the twelfth century in England, relates several stories of them; one vampire was burned in Melrose Abbey, and tourists in Ireland are still shown the grave of a vampire. Perhaps the vampire superstition goes back to the savagery of remote times, and is an animistic survival of human sacrifices, of cannibalism and the like. The vampire is thought of as an evil spirit issuing forth at night to attack the living in their sleep and drain the blood which is necessary to prolong its own revolting existence. Certain persons were thought to be especially liable to become vampires at death, such as suicides, witches, wizards, persons who in life had been attacked by vampires, outcasts of various kinds, as well as certain animals, werewolves, dead lizards, and others.
The vampire superstition was general in the East and extended to Europe, it is thought, by way of Greece. The Greeks thought of the vampire as a beautiful young woman, a lamia, who lured young men to their death. The belief was particularly strong in central Europe, but never seemed to gain the same foothold in England that it did on the continent, though it is evident here and has influenced literature. The vampire has been, the inspiration for several operas, and has figured in the drama, in poetry, in the novel and short story, as well as in folk-tales and medieval legends. The stories show the various aspects of the belief and its ancient hold on the popular mind. The vampire, as well as the ghost, the devil, and the witch, has appeared on the English stage. The Vampire, an anonymous melodrama in two acts. The Vampire, a tragedy by St. John Dorset (1821), The Vampire Bride, a play, Le Vampire, by Alexander Dumas pere, and The Vampire, or the Bride of the Isles, by J. R. Planche, were presented in the London theater. The latter which was published in 1820 is remarkably similar to The Vampyre, a novelette by Polidori, published in 1819, — the story written after the famous ghost session where Byron, the Shelleys, and Polidori agreed each to write a ghostly story, Mary Shelley writing Frankenstein.
Polidori's story, like the play referred to, has for its principal character an Englishman, Lord Ruthven, the Earl of Marsden, who is the vampire. In each case there is a supposed death, where the dying man asks that his body be placed where the last rays of the moon can fall upon it. The corpse then mysteriously vanishes. In each story there is a complication of a rash pledge of silence made by a man that discovers the diabolical nature of the earl, who, having risen from the dead, is ravaging society as a vampire. In each case a peculiar turn of the story is that the masculine vampire requires for his
subsistence the blood of young women, to whom he must be married. He demands a new victim, hence a hurried wedding is planned. In the play the ceremony is interrupted by the bride's father, but in the novelette the plot is finished and the girl becomes the victim of the destroyer. It is a question which of these productions was written first, and which imitated the other, or if they had a common source. The author of the drama admits getting his material from a French play, but where did Polidori get his?
Byron seems to have been fascinated with the vampire theme, for in addition to his unsuccessful short story, he has used the theme in his poem, The Giaour. Here he brings in the idea that the vampire curse is a judgment from God for sin, and that the most terrible part of the punishment is the being forced to prey upon those who in life were dearest to him, which idea occurs in various stories.
"But first on earth as Vampyre sent
Thy corse shall from its tomb be rent;
Then ghastly haunt thy native place
And suck the blood of all thy race;
There from thy daughter, sister, wife.
At midnight drain the stream of life;
Yet loathe the banquet which perforce
Must feed thy livid, living corse.
Thy victims, ere they yet expire
Shall know the demon for their sire;
As, cursing thee, thou cursing them,
Thy flowers are withered on the stem.
But one, that for thy crime must fall,
The youngest, best-beloved of all.
Shall bless thee with a father's name —
That word shall wrap thy heart in flame!
Yet must thou end the task and mark
Her cheek's last tinge, her eye's last spark,
And the last glassy glance must view
Which freezes o'er its lifeless blue;
Then with unhallowed hand shall tear
The tresses of her yellow hair.
Of which, in life, a lock when shorn
Affection's fondest pledge was worn, —
But now is borne away by thee
Memorial of thine agony!
Yet with thine own best blood shall drip
Thy gnashing teeth and haggard lip;
Then stalking to thy sullen grave
Go — and with ghouls and Afrits rave,
Till these in horror shrink away
From specter more accursed than they!"
Southey in his Thalaba shows us a vampire, a young girl in this case, who has been torn away from her husband on their wedding day. The curse impels her to attack him, to seek to drain his lifeblood. He becomes aware of the truth and takes her father with him to the tomb, to await her coming forth at midnight, which is the striking hour for vampires. When she appears, "in her eyes a brightness more terrible than all the loathsomeness of death," her father has the courage to strike a lance through her heart to dispel the demon and let her soul be at peace.
"Then howling with the wound
The fiendish tenant fled. . . .
And garmented with glory in their sight
Oneiza's spirit stood."
Keats uses the Greek idea of the vampire as a lamia or beautiful young woman luring young men to death,— the same theme employed by Goethe in his Die Braut von Corinth. In Lamia, when the evil spirit in the form of a lovely, alluring woman, is accused by the old philosopher, she gives a terrible scream and vanishes. This vanishing business is a favorite trick with vampires — they leave suddenly when circumstances crowd them.
F. Marion Crawford, in For the Blood Is the Life, has given us a terrible vampire story, in which the dream element is present to a marked degree. The young man, who has been vainly loved by a young girl, is after her death vampirized by her, something after the fashion of Turgeniev's Clara Militch, and when his friends get an inkling of the truth, and go to rescue him, they find him on her grave, a thin red line of blood trickling from his throat.
And the flickering light of the lantern played upon another face that looked up from the feast, — upon two deep, dead eyes that saw in spite of death — upon parted lips redder than life itself — upon gleaming teeth on which glistened a rosy drop.
The hawthome stake is driven through her heart and the vampire expires after a terrific struggle, uttering diabolic human shrieks. There is a certain similarity between this and Gautier's La Morte Amoreuse, where the truth is concealed till the last of the story and only the initiated would perhaps know that the reincarnated woman was a vampire. It is also a bit like Turgeniev's Phantoms, where a subtle suggestion at the last gives the reader the clue to vampirism, though the author really asks the question at the close. Was she a vampire? The character of the woman is problematic here, as in Gautier's story, less pronounced than in Crawford's.
The idea of occult vampirism used by Turgeniev is also employed by Reginald Hodder in his work, The Vampire. Here peculiar power is possessed by a woman leader of an occult band, who vampirizes by means of a talisman. Her ravages are psychic rather than physical. Theosophists, according to the Occult Magazine, believe in vampires even in the present. According to their theory, one who has been very wicked in life is in death so inextricably entangled with his evil motives and acts that he is hopelessly lost and knows it, yet seeks to delay for a time his final damnation. He can ward off spiritual death so long as he can keep alive by means of blood his physical corpse. The Occult Review believes that probably only those acquainted with black magic in their lifetime can become vampires, — a thought comforting to some of us.
It is in Bram Stoker's Dracula that one finds the tensest, most dreadful modern story of vampirism. This novel seems to omit no detail of terror, for every aspect of vampire horror is touched upon with brutal and ghastly effect. The combination of ghouls, vampires, ghosts, werewolves, and other awful elements is almost unendurable, yet the book loses in effect toward the last, for the mind cannot endure four hundred pages of vampiric outrage and respond to fresh impressions of horror. The initial vampire here is a Hungarian count, who, after terrorizing his own country for years, transports himself to England to start his ravages there. Each victim in turn becomes a vampire. The combination of modern science with medieval superstition to fight the scourge, using garlic and sprigs of the wild rose together with blood transfusion, is interesting. All the resources of modern science are pitted against the infection and the complications are dramatically thrilling. The book is not advised as suitable reading for one sitting alone at night.
There are other types of vampirism in addition to the conventional theme and the occult vampirism. H. G. Wells gives his customary twist of novelty to supernaturalism by the introduction of a botanical vampire
in his The Flowering of the Strange Orchid. An orchid collector is found unaccountably dead in a jungle in the Andaman Islands, with a strange bulb lying under him, which bulb is brought to England and watched carefully by a botanist there till it comes to flower. When at last its blossoms burst open, great tentacles reach out to grasp the man, sucking his blood and strangling him. The tentacles dripping blood have to be torn away and the man snatched violently from the plant just in time to save his life.
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Algernon Blackwood, who has touched upon every terrible aspect of supernaturalism, gives us two types of vampires in his story. The Transfer. The one is a psychic vampire, stealing the vital power from others, a human sponge, absorbing the strength, the ideas, the soul, of others. The governess describes him: "I watched his hard, bleak face; I noticed how thin he was, and the curious, oily brightness of his steady eyes. And everything he said or did announced what I may dare to call the suction of his presence." This human vampire comes in contact with one of another sort, a soil vampire, the Forbidden Corner, a bald, sore place in the rose garden, like a dangerous bog. The woman and a little child know the truth of this spot so barren in the midst of luxurious growth, so sinister in its look and implication. The child says of it, "It's bad. It's hungry. It's dying because it can't get the food it wants. But I know what would make it feel right." The earth vampire stretches out silent feelers from its secret strength when the man
comes near the evil spot; the empty, yawning spot gives out audible cries, then laughs hideously as the man falls forward into the middle of the patch. "His eyes, as he dropped, faded shockingly, and across the countenance was written plainly what I can only call an expression of destruction." The. man lives on physically, yet without vitality, without real life. But it was otherwise with the Forbidden Corner, for soon "it lay untouched, full of great, luscious, driving weeds and creepers, very strong, full-fed and bursting thick with life."
And so the vampire stories vary in theme and in treatment. Indian folk-tales appearing in English show that the Jigar-Khor, or Liver-eater of India is a cousin to the vampire, for he can steal your liver by just looking at you. (It has long been known that hearts can be filched in this way, but the liver wrinkle is a new one.) There are several points to be noted in connection with these stories of the Un-dead, the incorruptible corpses, the loathsome spirits that haunt the living. Many of the stories have a setting in the countries where the vampire superstition has been most common, though there are English settings as well. Continental countries are richer in vampire lore than England, which explains the location of the incidents even in many English stories and poems.
Another point to be noted is the agreement of the stories in the essential features. While there are numerous variants, of course, there is less divergence than in the case of ghosts, for instance. The description of the daemonic spirit tenanting the body of a dead person, driving him by a dreadftil urge to attack the living, especially those dear to him in life, is much the same. The personality of the vampire may vary, in one line of stories being a young woman who lures men to death, in the other a man who must quench his thirst with the blood of brides. These are the usual types, though there are other variants.
The Werewolf and Others. Another daemonic figure popular in fiction is the werewolf. The idea is a very old one, having been mentioned by various classical writers, it is said, including Pomponius Mela, Herodotus, and Ovid. The legend of the werewolf is found in practically all European countries, especially those where the wolf is common. In France many stories of the loup-garou are current. The werewolf is a human being cursed with the power or the obligation to be transformed into an animal who goes forth to slay and devour. Like a vampire, he might become such as a curse from God, or he might be an innocent victim, or might suffer from an atavistic tendency, a cannibaHstic craving for blood. Distinction is to be made between the real werewolf and the lycanthrope, — the latter a human being who, on account of some
peculiar twist of insanity, fancies himself a wolf and acts accordingly. There is such a character in The Duchess of Malfi, a maniac who thinks himself a mad wolf, and another in The Albigenses, a creature that crouches in a corner of its lair, gnawing at a skull snatched from the graveyard, uttering bestial growls. Algernon Blackwood has a curdling story of lycanthropy, where the insane man will eat nothing but raw meat and devours everything living that he can get hold of. He confesses to a visitor that he used to bite his old servant, but that he gave it up, since the old Jew tasted bitter. The servant also is mad, and "hides in a vacuum" when his master goes on a rampage. Stories 'of lycanthropy illustrate an interesting aspect of the association between insanity and the supernatural in fiction.
The most revolting story of lycanthropy is in Frank Norris's posthumous novel, Vandover and the Brute. This is a study in soul degeneration, akin to the moral decay that George Eliot has shown in the character of Tito Melema, but grosser and utterly lacking in artistic restraint. We see a young man, at first sensitive, delicate, and with high ideals, gradually through love of ease and self-indulgence, through taking always the line of least resistance, becoming a moral outcast. The brute that ever strains at the leash in man gains the mastery and the artist soul ends in a bestial creature. Dissipation brings on madness, called by the doctors "lycanthropy-mathesis." In his paroxysms of insanity the wretch thinks that his body is turned into the beast that his soul symbolizes, and runs about his room, naked, four-footed,
growling like a jungle animal and uttering harsh, raucous cries of Wolf -wolf!
Kipling's The Mark of the Beast is midway between a lycanthrope and a werewolf story, for while the soul of the beast — or whatever passes for the brutish soul — enters into the man and drives out his spirit, and while many bestial characteristics result, including the revolting odor, the man does not change his human form.
While lycanthropy has never been a frequent theme in fiction, the werewolf is a common figure, appearing in various forms of literature, from medieval ballads and legends to modem short stories. Marie de France, the Anglo-Norman writer, tells of a werewolf that is by day a gallant knight and kindly gentleman, yet goes on nocturnal marauding expeditions. When his wife shows curiosity concerning his absences and presses him for an explanation, he reluctantly tells her that he is a werewolf, hiding his clothes in a hollow tree, and that if they were removed he would have to remain a wolf. She has her lover steal his clothes, then marries the lover. One day long afterward the king's attention is called to a wolf that runs up to him and acts strangely. It is a tame and well- mannered beast till the false knight and his wife appear, when he tries to tear their throats. Investigation reveals the truth, the clothes are fetched, and the curse removed. Arthur O'Shaughnessy's modern version of this, as of others of Marie's lais, is charming.
Like the vampire, the werewolf is under a curse that impels him to prey upon those dearest to him. Controlled by a daemonic spirit, the human being, that in his normal personality is kindly and gentle, becomes a jungle beast with ravening instincts. The motif is obviously tangled up with the vampire superstition here, and it would be interesting, if possible, to trace out the two to a point of combination. This irresistible impulse to slay his dear ones introduces a dramatic element into the plot, here as in the vampire stories. The wolf is not the only animal around whom such plots center, but being most common
he has given his name to the type. The Albigenses tell of a young husband who, as a werewolf, slays his bride, then vanishes to be seen no more.
There are interesting variants of the werewolf story, introducing other elements of supematuralism. In A Vendetta of the Jungle, we have the idea of successive infection of the moral curse, similar to the continuation of vampirism. Mrs. Crump, a lady in India, is eaten by a tiger, who has a good digestion for he assimilates not only her body but her soul. So that now it is Mrs. Crump-Tiger, we might say, that goes about the jungle eating persons. In time she devours her successor in her husband's affection. The man is aware that it is his first wife who has eaten his second, so he starts out to kill the animal to clear off the score. But by the time he reaches the jungle the beast has had time to digest his meal and when the husband levels his gun to fire, the eyes that look out at him from the brutish face are his
beloved's eyes. What could he do?
Eugene Field gives a new turn to the idea by representing the werewolf curse as a definite atavistic throw-back. His wolf-man is an innocent marauder, the reincarnation of a wicked grandfather, yet a gentle, chivalrous soul very different from his grandparent. The old gentleman has left him heir to nothing but the curse and a magic spear given him by the witch Brunhilde. The werewolf bears a charmed life against which no weapon of man can avail, and the country is panic-stricken over his ravages. The legend is that the beast's fury cannot be stopped till some man offers himself as a voluntary sacrifice to the wolf. The youth does not know that he is the guilty one until his reprehensible grandfather appears to him in a vision, demanding his soul. He hears that there is to be a meeting in the sacred grove on a certain day and begs his beloved to remain away, lest the werewolf come. But when she insists that she will go, he gives her his magic spear, telling her to strike the wolf through the heart if he approaches her. True to his accursed destiny the wolf does come to the grove and lunges at the girl. All the men flee but one, and his weapons fail, — then the terrified girl hurls the spear, striking the beast to the heart. But
when he falls, it is young Harold who is dying, who has given himself a voluntary sacrifice to save others. The curse is lifted but he is dead.
In The Camp of the Dog, by Algernon Blackwood, we have another unconscious werewolf, a gentle, modest, manly young fellow madly in love with a girl who doesn't care for him. In his sleep he goes questing for her. While his body lies shrunken on a cot in his tent, his soul takes the form of a wolf and goes to the hilltop, uttering unearthly howls. By an equally strong psychic disturbance the girl is impelled to go in a somnambulistic state to the hilltop. Each is in waking hours utterly unaware of their strange jaunts, till the father shoots the wolf. The young man in this case suffers only curious psychic wounds, from which he recovers when the girl promises to marry him, and the wolf is seen no more.
The panther plays his part in this were-menagerie. Ambrose Bierce, in The Eyes of the Panther, tells of a young girl who, because of a prenatal curse similar to that affecting Elsie Venner, is not wholly human. She is conscious of her dual nature and tells the man she loves that she cannot marry him since she is a panther by night. He thinks her mildly insane till one night a settler sees a beast's eyes glaring into his window and fires. When they follow the blood-tracks, they find the girl dying. This is one of the conventions of the werewolf story, the wounding of an animal that escapes and the blood-trail that leads to a human being wounded just as the beast was.
Elliott O'Donnell, in a volume called Werewolves published in London in 1912, gives serious credence to the existence of werewolves not only in the past but also in the present. He tells a number of stories of what he claims are authenticated instances of such beings in actual life. He relates the experience of a man who told him that he had himself -seen a youth turn himself into a tiger after preparatory passes of enchantment. The watcher made haste to climb a sacred Vishnu tree when the transformation was complete. O'Donnell tells a tale of a widow with three children that married a Russian noble-man. She saw him and his servant change into werewolves, at least partially, remaining in a half state, devouring her children whom she left behind in her escape.
O'Donnell relates several stories of authentic (according to him) werewolf stories of England in recent times, giving the dates and places and names of the persons who saw the beasts. The incidents may be similar to those spoken of in Dicken's Haunted House, where the famous "ooded woman with the howl" was seen, — or at least, many persons saw the owl and knew that the woman must be near by. These witnesses of werewolves may have seen animals, all right enough. Modernity is combined with medieval superstition here, and it seems uncanny, for instance, to identify a werewolf by means of an electric pocket flashlight.
In collections of folk-tales, the tribal legends of the American redmen as well as of Kipling's India and of England, there are various stories of werewolves. Among primitive peoples there is a close relation between the brute and the human and the attributing of human characteristics and powers to the beast and vice versa is common, so that this supernatural transfer of personality is natural enough. A madwolf might suggest the idea for a werewolf.
Algernon Blackwood advances the theory that the werewolf is a true psychical fact of profound importance, however it may have been garbled by superstition. He thinks that the werewolf is the projection of the untamed slumbering sanguinary instincts of man, "scouring the world in his fluidic body, the body of desire." As the mind wanders free from the conscious control of the will in sleep, so the body may free itself from the fetters of mind or of custom and go forth in elemental form to satisfy its craving to slay, to slake its wild thirst for blood. O'Donnell says that werewolves may be phantasms of the dead that cannot be at peace, or a certain kind of Elementals. He also thinks that they may be the projection of one phase of man's nature, of the cruelty latent in mankind that seeks expression in this way. According
to that theory, a chap might have a whole menagerie inside him, to turn loose at intervals, which would be exciting but rather risky for society. It was doubtless a nature such as this that Maupassant attempts to describe in his story The Wolf, where the man has all the instincts of the wolf yet never changes his human form.
The werewolf in fiction has suffered the same leveling influence that we have observed in the case of the ghost, the devil, the witch, and the vampire. He is becoming a more psychical creature, a romantic figure to be sympathized with, rather than a beast to be utterly condemned. In recent fiction the werewolf is represented as an involuntary and even unconscious departure from the human, who is shocked when he learns the truth about himself. Whether he be the victim of a divine curse, an agent of atavistic tendencies, or a being who thus gives vent to his real and brutish instincts, we feel a sympathy with him. We analyze his motives — at a safe distance— seek to understand his vagaries and to estimate his kinship with us. We think of him now as a noble figure in fiction, a lupine Galahad like Blackwood's, a renunciatory hero like Eugene Field's or what not. Or we reflect that he may be a case of metempsychosis and treat him courteously, for who knows what we may be ourselves some day? The werewolf has not figured in poetry or in the drama as have other supernatural beings, as the ghost, the devil, the witch, the vampire, — one wonders why. He is a dramatic figure and his character-analysis might well furnish themes for poetry though stage presentation would have its difficulties.
Perhaps the revival of interest in Elizabethan literature has had a good deal to do with the use of supernatural beings in literature of recent times. The devil and the daemonic spirits he controls, the witches and wizards, the vampires, the enchanted animals, to whom he delegates a part of his infernal power, appear as impressive moral allegories, mystical stories of life, symbols of truths. As literature is a reflection of life, the evil as well as the good enters in. But since the things of the spirit are intangible they must be represented in concrete form, as definite beings whom our minds can apprehend. Thus the poets and dramatists and story-makers must show us images to shadow forth spiritual things. As with a shudder we close the books that tell us horrifying tales of Satanic spirits, of accursed beings that are neither wholly animal nor human, of mortals with diabolic powers, we shrink from the evils of the soul that they represent, and recognize their essential truth in the guise of fiction.