Seminal Vampires

In A Glass Darkly


Of course, Bram Stoker is often cited (by everyone who isn’t a serious student of the genre) as the father of Vampire fiction.  With Stephanie Meyer’s popularity, I suspect that the group of people who aren’t experts but are giving their opinion anyway is pretty big.  Hell, for all I know, Meyer’s fans might think the genre started with Anne Rice…  or with Meyer herself, and that this Dracula guy is a character from one of her unpublished novels.

At the risk of adding another non-expert voice to the discussion, I will not attempt to trace the genesis of the vampire myth in eastern European folklore (there are people who have dedicated their lives to that.  Go read their work) but will simply limit myself to expressing my thoughts about an early exponent that I happened to stumble across in my readings.

I was never specifically planning to read Sheridan Le Fanu’s In a Glass Darklybut it happened to be included in Easton Press’ Horror Library, which I had signed up for (as mentioned here before, I’m a sucker for pretty editions).  It’s from 1872, which means that it predates Dracula by over 20 years, and it contains at least one story,  “Carmilla” which foreshadows the sexual overtones of Stoker’s book but focused on a lesbian as opposed to heterosexual relationship.

Vampire tits - Sheridan Le Fanu Carmilla

Of course, in 1872, you couldn’t really make things too explicit, but savvy readers will have known what LeFanu was talking about.  In fact, the story (more of a novella than a short story) has been adapted several times for film, always with a view for its shock value.  There’s an excellent article dealing with the film versions here (slightly, not excessively, NSFW).

Despite its notoriety, Carmilla wasn’t, in my opinion, the most memorable story in the book.  That honor has to go to “The Room in the Dragon Volant“, another novella length tale where sexual innuendo and dark motivations combine in what is essentially a modern horror/thriller framed in a Victorian writing style.  It develops slowly, but is extremely satisfying once it does.  No vampires in it, though.

The rest of the book is composed of shorter tales, of which “Mr. Justice Harbottle”, a tale of divine retribution, is also better than “Carmilla” IMO.  Satisfying and brutal– everything one needs in a horror story!

So, without opining on things I have no first-hand knowledge of, I can safely state that, while Stoker might have popularized the form, the vampire story in English literature preceded him.  And LeFanu was much braver in the use of cutting-edge, controversial elements than Stoker would ever be.

All in all, a good book, especially for those who enjoy a good haunt.



  1. I really enjoyed this post and I’m glad I stumbled across it. Interesting to hear vampire talk that is not centered around sparkly melodramatic characters. I avoided Dracula for years assuming (incorrectly) that it would be as cheesy as some of the movie adaptations but just recently picked it up in an attempt to expand to more of the western classics. I ended up loving it enough to give it a reread and it’s now one of my favorite books. Looking further in to the genre I found Carmilla which I had never heard of and am planning to read very soon. After reading this post I am even more eager to dive in. Thanks for the interesting post!


    1. My pleasure! Hope you enjoy it and if you remember to drop me a line about it once you read it, I’m always delighted to hear other readers’ experiences. As you say, most people talking about vampires are concerned with the sparkly ones…


      1. Then you really don’t talk to the right people. 😉

        Seriously, during my time hanging out on the fringes of the writing world, I ran into some writers and editors who were definitely concerned with less-sparkly-more-monstrous vampires in the vein of those talked about in traditional lore (pardon the pun; I couldn’t resist!) I recall at least one instance in which such concern gave rise to an anthology of “true” vampires – Thirsty Are The Damned: A True Vampire Anthology.

        This antho contains, among other vampiric works, my poem “Shroudeater”, which I call my “anti-Twilight”. There is nothing romantic or sparkly about my pestilence-spreading blood-drinking walking cadaver named Gustav Schrat. He’s based on the Schrattl of traditional Germanic lore.


  2. Mentioned this already elsewhere, but I figured I would post a comment here as well – another seminal vampire work that predates Stoker’s DRACULA happens to be Polidori’s THE VAMPYRE, published 1819:

    And, of course, there is also VARNEY THE VAMPIRE, originally published from 1845 to 1847 as a series of penny dreadfuls:


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