In This Article Vampire Fiction

  • Introduction
  • Pre-History of the Fictional Vampire
  • General Overviews and Book-Length Critical Studies
  • Essay-Length Overviews
  • Anthologies of Shorter Vampire Fiction, 19th Century to Present
  • Anthologies of Vampire Erotica
  • Data Sources

British and Irish Literature Vampire Fiction
by
Dale Townshend
  • LAST REVIEWED: 13 June 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 20 September 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846719-0059

Introduction

Although historical anthropologists have traced back mythological tales of vampires and vampire-like creatures to ancient Greco-Roman civilization, it was not until the Romantic period in Britain that the vampire became a distinct and significant fictional trope. As most literary historians agree, the origins of vampire fiction in English may be traced back to the publication of John Polidori’s “The Vampyre; A Tale” in 1819: brief and inconclusive though it is, this literary fragment set in place some of the enduring features of the form, traces of which are still perceivable in vampire fictions of the 21st century. The gothic mode, that set of broader generic conventions of which vampire fiction is one important strand, is a product of the late 18th century, but it was not until the Victorian period that vampire fiction came into its own with the serialized publication of texts such as James Malcolm Rymer’s Varney the Vampire: Or, the Feast of Blood (1847); Sheridan Le Fanu’s novella “Carmilla” (1872); and, most famously, Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897). Ever since, vampire fiction has become a distinct subgenre within the broader category of gothic writing itself. With the technological advancements of the early 20th century, the vampire made its filmic debut, initially in such iconic classics as F. W. Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922) and Universal Studios’ Dracula (1931) starring Béla Lugosi, but despite its rich cinematic presence in modern and contemporary culture, the vampire has always remained true to its fictional origins. Indeed, perhaps the figure of the vampire has been no more “undead” than in the countless novels, short stories, fragments, and chronicles in which it has featured in Western culture since the 1950s, with writers such as Stephen King, Anne Rice, Whitley Strieber, Suzy McKee Charnas, Poppy Z. Brite, John Ajvide Lindqvist, Stephenie Meyer, and numerous others reinterpreting, modifying, and elaborating upon the myths and conventions set in place earlier by writers such as Polidori, Le Fanu, and Stoker. Appearing and reappearing in fiction at specific historical junctures, the fictional vampire is inflected with a particular set of cultural, political, and economic meanings. It is some of these meanings that academic criticism has sought to determine, resulting in so many critical readings that are, in their sheer volume, almost as monstrous as the beings they aim to analyze.

Pre-History of the Fictional Vampire

Although the vampire, from the middle of the 19th century onward, was largely a prose-based phenomenon, its English literary origins might be said to lie not in fiction but in the poetic output of Romantic writers such as Robert Southey in Thalaba the Destroyer (1801), Lord Byron in The Giaour (1813), Samuel Taylor Coleridge in Christabel (1816), and John Keats in Lamia (1820). Though the monstrous figures to which these Romantic poets give form are not always vampiric in the most recognizable sense of the term, they do, nonetheless, possess some of the uncanny features that later 19th-century fictional vampires would come to portray. Several Romantic-era writers were influenced by the discussion of vampires in Dom Augustin Calmet’s Dissertations sur les apparitions des anges, des demons et des esprits, et sur les revenants et vampires de Hongrie, de Bôheme, de Moravie, et de Silésie (1746). Calmet’s tract was translated into English and published in London as Calmet 1759. Huet 1997 provides a good account of Calmet’s dissertation, as well as its relation to a number of other important 18th-century French studies of vampires. For a good selection of primary texts containing vampires and vampire-like beings in Romantic-era poetry, consult Franklin 2011. Much of the early academic critical attention that the literary vampire would receive made much of the anthropological, mythological, and historical antecedents to the phenomenon. Though now considerably dated, both Praz 1957 and Summers 1928 offer a number of useful points of departure.

  • Calmet, Augustin. Dissertations upon the Apparitions of Angels, Daemons, and Ghosts, and Concerning the Vampires of Hungary, Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia. London: Printed for M. Cooper, 1759.

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    This 18th-century English translation of Calmet’s original French text is an important source of Romantic-era constructions of vampires and proto-vampiric beings.

  • Franklin, Caroline, ed. The Longman Anthology of Gothic Verse. Harlow, UK: Pearson Education Limited, 2011.

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    In addition to extracts from some of the proto-vampiric poems outlined above, this anthology gives excellent coverage of vampire poetry in the British and American literature of the 18th and 19th centuries, up to and including Rudyard Kipling’s “The Vampire” (1895).

  • Huet, Marie-Hélène. “Deadly Fears: Dom Augustin Calmet’s Vampires and the Rule over Death.” Eighteenth-Century Life 21.2 (1997): 222–232.

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    Provides a solid analysis of Calmet’s influential study of vampires, at once locating the work within the context of a number of other 18th-century French accounts.

  • Praz, Mario. The Romantic Agony. 2d ed. Translated by Angus Davidson. London: Oxford University Press, 1957.

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    Though not wholly concerned with vampires, this book is, after Summers 1928, one of the earliest academic treatments the topic received.

  • Summers, Montague. The Vampire: His Kith and Kin. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner, 1928.

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    Summers’s study is one of the earliest academic studies of the vampire, ranging widely from an account of the mythological origins of vampires to an analysis of the traits and practices of “real-life” vampirism in the third chapter. A rich source of historical detail concerning vampires, the study ends with a chapter on the vampire in literature.

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