vormel's Journal

vormel's Journal


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4 entries this month

Course of Gothic Literature: The Vampyre, by Polidori

10:51 Mar 30 2023
Times Read: 27

Real vampires love Vampire Rave.

"The Vampyre" is a short prose fiction work written in 1816 by John William Polidori at Villa Diodati, a vacancy house at a lake near Geneva, Switzerland, where he went as Lord Byron doctor and friend. They joint there Mary Shelley, Percy Shelley -her husband-, Claire Clairmont -her sister-, the contess Potocka and... Matthew Lewis (do you remember the roman The Monk?)

The most important contribution of this novel is the fact that, for the first time in the literature history, the vampire stops to be a monster and becomes a knight. A peculiar knight, as he feeds on the human beings blood, but a knight nonetheless.


The 1816 summer was extraordinary stormy and the June 16 evening the guests at the Villa couldn't go out for a ride, so they began to read a book proposed by Polidori entitled "Phantasmagoriana" (ghost stories). Then, someone had the happy idea of proposing that each one wrote a horror story. So Mary Shelley wrote "Frankenstein" and Polidori "The Vampire". No one else would finish their duty: Lord Byron started a story entitled "The Burial", but it remained unfinished.

After that summer, it seems that Polidori tried to devote himself to literature but not success had. Lord Byron avoided to supporte him, even humiliating him, so their relationship ended. We cannot know exactly his suicide motives, at 26 years old, but it's certain that the suicide would crown him as the prototype of Romantic era gentleman. It is known that, after being dismissed by Byron and having returned to England, he tried to be admitted to a monastery but the prior - aware of the scandals he had experienced in Byron's company - advised him not to do it. The travel diaries he wrote in Byron's company have been lost because her sister burned them for fear of scandal (foolish of her!)

The vampyre.

It's a mistake to attribute "The Vampyre" to Lord Byron (as it happened at the beginning) because its real author was Polidori. The roman has some similarities to Goethe's "The Bride of Corinth", however it seems that Polidori documented himself with a book by Augustin Dom Calmet (1672-1757) called "Treaty on Vampires, undead and Revenants". Otherwise, the style is a bit childish so it is obvious that Polidori was not a novelist profesional and he only wrote as a hobby. By the way, we cannot avoid to smile when, at the end of the roman, Polidori feels the need to clarify that everything had happened was due to "a vampire".

Is "The Vampyre" a gothic roman?

We miss some of the the gothic novel basic characteristics at "The Vampyre" as, for example, we cannot find a medieval location -a castle or abbey building-. Moreover, we must remember that it's a plot born at Romanticism time and and there is no lack of nervous breakdowns in the few ladies who appear... those wonderful "gothic illnesses"... In other way, the supernatural element, without a doubt, is present in the mysterious figure of the vampire, Lord Ruthven, whose origin and destiny are unknown. He is present at London's finest salons, dazzling everyone - larval eroticism. And, well, yes, let's face it, it provokes in the reader a slight "uncanny", especially when we imagine those "barren wastelands of Greece" and who or what might meet our chariot. Incidentally, the journey, for young Aubrey, has all the appearance of a journey of initiation, for he will never be the same again. Profound symbolism.

It is fair to say, to Polidori's credit, that he greatly influenced later literature dedicated to the vampire theme through the figure of Lord Ruthven, who would serve as inspiration for many later vampire novels and stories, such as Sheridan Le Fanu's Carmilla (1872), The Vampire (1851) by Alexandre Dumas (who also wrote The Pale Lady and was inspired by the figure of Lord Ruthven for his novel The Count of Monte Cristo) and Berenice by Edgar Allan Poe, as well as influencing Gogol and Tolstoy (The Family of the Vurdalak) and, above all, Bram Stoker's Dracula.

For that alone, this novel is well worth reading and considering in our list of gothic literature novels.




Argóarflísin (Navigators of time: the myth of Jason and Ceneus)

10:16 Mar 28 2023
Times Read: 36

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I'm discovering a new style of literature, that from islandic writers, and I must admited I'm enjoying a lot with it. Maybe you all know Sjon (Sigurjón Birgir Sigurðsson -don't try to remember-); he wrote some lyrics for Björk (like "Isobel"), and the argument of films like "Dancer in the Dark" (Lars von Trier) and "The Northman" (Robert Eggers). Moreover he has written a lot of novels.

I have just finished the reading of "Navigatos of time" and, what a sorprised, I've discovered some gothic vestiges.

Let's see a little summary: "The year is 1949 and Valdimar Haraldsson, an Icelandic man with eccentric ideas about the influence of fish consumption on Nordic civilization, has had the extraordinary good fortune to be invited to travel on a Danish merchant ship on its way to the Black Sea. Among the crew is the mythical hero Ceneus, enlisted as second in command, who every night after dinner narrates to his fellow passengers his adventures aboard the Argo on his voyage to recover the Golden Fleece".

A priori, this novel should not necessarily be classified as "gothic", nor perhaps the author intended it to be. However, the novel has certain gothic hints because the Danish merchant ship on which the protagonist travels as a "supernumerary" arrives at a Norwegian fjord and then, in such a subtle way the writer describes the place, the port, the mystery of those cold waters, that one cannot but recall the first chapter of another gothic novel par excellence: "Frankenstein, or the Eternal Prometheus", by our beloved Mary Shelley.

Let's remember that in Frankenstein, one of the scariest moments that give us "uncanny" (gothic shivers) is not when Victor Frankenstein collects pieces of corpses, joins them together and applies volts to make the monster come back to life. No; the creepiest moment occurs in the introduction, when he narrates a ship isolated in the cold of the north, among the ice of the pole, the isolated crew wondering what will become of them, if the food will reach the days of isolation, there are no noises, only the polar wind, some rustling in the night, dim light and suddenly, on the horizon, appears this big, huge being on a sled ... that should not be there.

Isolation, whether due to atmospheric (storm, hurricane), maritime (submarines, sea bases, oil platforms), space (ferry, space travel) or geographical (mountain range climbers, explorers, polar bases) causes, has been widely treated in literature and cinema and, if the other conditions of gothicness (mystery, context, inexplicable beings, etc.) are present, it could perfectly be catalogued as "gothic". Let's think of films like "Identity", "Ex-Machina", "In the Darkest Mountain", or the vampire film "30 Days of Night". And, of course, let's not forget H.P. Lovecraft's wonderful story "At the Mountains of Madness".

Well, without condescending to such extremes, Sjón achieves a certain dose of "gothic" in a moment of isolation on the ship where a series of strange, unexplained phenomena occurs near the end of the narrative. All this without forgetting the brilliant incorporation of the mythological episode of "Jason or the Golden Fleece" because remember my counsail: "Read the classics, because the classics contain the pillar that will allow you to better understand the later Gothic writers".




Zanoni or the Inmortals secret, by Edward Bulwer Lytton

08:50 Mar 27 2023
Times Read: 45

Real vampires love Vampire Rave.

I have just finished the reading of "Zanoni ", roman written in 1842 by the English author Edward Bulwer Lytton, better known for "the last days of Pompeii" ideal novel to excite the imagination about the daily life in Ancient Rome.

I don't think "Zanoni" should be classified as Gothic literature. In fact, the first part of the novel, rather than a fantasy novel, it's a kind of romance "gallant" roman like "The Princess of Cleves" (Madame de La Fayette).

By the way, the author confesses at the introduction: ".... It so happened that some years ago, in my youthful days, I felt the desire to familiarize myself with the true origins and principles of the singular sect known by the name of Rosicrucians and a manuscript came into my hands written in the most unintelligible cipher"; a manuscript which, by the author's own interpretation, became Zanoni.

This roman, Zanoni, tells the story of this gentleman, who has lived since the Chaldean civilization and is a timeless Rosicrucian brother, who cannot fall in love without losing his power of immortality. But alas! he falls in love with Viola Pisani, a young and promising opera singer from Naples. At his side, other characters appear, such as an English gentleman named Glyndon, who also loves Viola, but is hesitant to propose marriage and then renounces his love to devote himself to study the occultism. A whole saga set in the environment of the time of terror that followed the French Revolution.

And this is as far as I can go, so as not to spoil the reading for those who wish to undertake it. But let's get to the heart of the matter: the literary genre of this novel, which, according to my thesis, is not "gothic".

As usual, I am going to base myself on the requirements contemplated by César Rodríguez Fuentes in his study "Gothic world", among which are: a setting in which the medieval architectural fact is important (castle, tower, manor house, ship...), an atmosphere of mystery and suspense, disappearances, surprises in the lineage of the protagonists, the existence of ancestral prophecies, supernatural or difficult-to-explain stories, emotions run amok. ), an atmosphere of mystery and suspense, disappearances, surprises in the lineage of the protagonists, the existence of ancestral prophecies, supernatural or difficult to explain stories, unbridled emotions (panic, paranoia, fainting, "gothic illnesses" of long duration...), long-lasting eroticism, eroticism and, above all, you know it well because I keep repeating it: the feeling of "uncanny", that feeling of uneasiness, shivering that one has when one reads a pure gothic novel and that leads him to say "it's a bit coldy, isn't it?".

Well, Zanoni has none of that. It's a quite good novel and I've even enjoyed its reading but, the point is that it shouldn't be considered as gothic.




The first known ghost novel in history

08:27 Mar 23 2023
Times Read: 54

Real vampires love Vampire Rave.

Let's be serious. The first gothic roman wasn't The Castle of Otranto (Horace Walpole, 1764). I'm sorry if I am destroying your gothic myths but the first one was earlier and wasn't a British one (I'm sorry again).

The first ghost roman, up to we can know, was written in 2nd century CE by Pliny the Younger, a Roman writer and politician who, in one of his letters, describes an amazing story about the ghost of a man named Licinius Sura.

In Athens, ancient Greece, there was a large and spacious house, which in the region had poor fame – it was thought to be haunted. Supposedly, strange noises could be heard at night, like iron striking against each other; or sounds like rattling chains. The sound seemed to be far away, but it gradually came closer and closer. Then there would appear the ghost in the form of an elderly, emaciated and disgusting man with long hair and beard. As the ghost moved, he made the sound of rattling chains, which were on his hands and feet.

The residents of the house could not bear the terrifying sounds and the mysterious nightmare; therefore, finally, the house was abandoned and left to the ghost. With time, the owners decided to put up the object for sale, but with a much lower price than, in reality, the house was worth it.

Once, Athenodorus Cananites – a stoic philosopher – visited Athens. During his visit, he accidentally encountered an announcement about the sale of a house, which in no case corresponded to the actual value of the property. Intrigued, he learned from the local residents about the mystery of the possessed home. Information only encouraged the intelligent man to buy possession.

When the night came, Athenodorus asked to set the couch in front of the house, put writing materials, an oil lamp and leave him alone at home for the night.

Part of the night was exceptionally quiet. At one point, however, Athenodorus heard the chains rattling. Instead of looking towards the sound, he focused on writing, pretending to be not interested. However, the sound did not stop and seemed to be getting closer. In the end, the sound was already so clear and close enough that Athenodorus looked up and saw the ghost. The ghost looked at him and raised his hand and began to sway his finger at him. The philosopher, while maintaining the “stoic” peace, raised his hand, ordering the ghost to wait and returned his eyes to his notes. The impatient ghost rattled his chains again and nodded toward Athenodorus.

The man finally got up, picked up an oil lamp and followed the ghost that moved slowly due to the chains, that were constraining his movement. Athenodorus followed the ghost into the yard, where the ghost suddenly disappeared. The philosopher marked the place where he last saw the ghost with leaves and grass.

On the next day, Athenodorus asked the local authorities to make excerpts in the market place. To everyone’s surprise, there was a buried skeleton of a man in the ground, who was bound by chains and certainly tortured before death. The remnants of the unfortunate were removed from the earth, and the local authorities – at public expense – set up a dignified burial. Thanks to this, the mortified soul of the deceased could go away in peace, and the house in Athens was never again haunted.



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