Florence Marryat The Blood of the Vampire (1897 )
I love a good old-fashioned sensational vampire tale.
She had become fainter and fainter as the girl leaned against her with her head upon her breast. Some sensation which she could not define, nor account for—some feeling which she had never experienced before—had come over her and made her head reel. She felt as if something or someone were drawing all her life away. She tried to disengage herself from the girl's clasp but Harriet Brandt seemed to come after her, like a coiling snake, till she could stand it no longer and faintly exclaiming: "Miss Brandt! let go of me, please! I feel ill!" she rose and tried to make her way between the crowded tables, towards the open air. As she stumbled along she came against (to her great relief) her friend, Elinor Leyton.
This one came out in the same year as Dracula. The affectionate Harriet Brandt - "a mass of magnetism" - is the girl who has everything - looks, wealth and independence: "She wants to kiss everyone. Some times, I tell her I think she would like to eat them. But she only means to be kind!" But those around her wither away and die, their life-force drained from their bodies. The twist? - she doesn't use her fangs. I'll let you have a think about what she might use...
"Did you suffer so much from sea-sickness? I can sympathise with you, as I am a very bad sailor myself!" "O! no! Madame, it was not the mal de mer. I can hardly tell you what it was. Miss Brandt and I occupied a small cabin together, and perhaps it was because it was so small, but I did not feel as if I could breathe there—such a terrible oppression as though some one were sitting on my chest—and such a general feeling of emptiness. It was the same in London, though Miss Brandt did all she could for me, indeed she sat up with me all night till I feared she would be ill herself—but I feel better now! Last night I slept for the first time since leaving Jamaica!"
Victorian Secrets (www.victoriansecrets.co.uk) is doing a great job in getting forgotten Victoriana back on our shelves, and I want to put in a word for not skipping the Introduction (by Greta Depledge) to The Blood of the Vampire, as it added an enormous amount to both my understanding and enjoyment of the book. It was also interesting to read the contemporary reviews of Marryat's "repulsive style" and the obituary in The Athenaeum that she was "author of some seventy novels, too hurriedly written, unfortunately, to prove of enduring value."
This has, sadly, been the case, but Depledge makes an excellent case for viewing The Blood of the Vampire in terms of - among other things - themes of women's vulnerability, women and science/medicine, and "hysteria, race, eugenics and the fear of the racial 'other'".
Rating: good meaty read, 8/10.
A sentence I have already used this week: "If we cannot get cavidre it is wise to content ourselves with cod's roe."
If you liked this… Carmilla. Definitely Sheridan Le Fanu's Carmilla. So kinky.