Subsequent generations of writers in the genre have had to define their works only in relation to this novel, whether they were adhering to its example or departing from it. But if we go back in time, we see a different story, or rather, different stories. While his contemporaries may not have achieved the same immortality, Bram Stoker was certainly not the only Victorian writer to tell a tale of vampires. Instead, it is a curious relic of a time when readers had different expectations from vampire fiction. The story opens in Belgium, where members of high society have gathered into a pleasure-seeking community, their mores described with satirical bite by Marryat.
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Subsequent generations of writers in the genre have had to define their works only in relation to this novel, whether they were adhering to its example or departing from it. But if we go back in time, we see a different story, or rather, different stories. While his contemporaries may not have achieved the same immortality, Bram Stoker was certainly not the only Victorian writer to tell a tale of vampires.
Instead, it is a curious relic of a time when readers had different expectations from vampire fiction. The story opens in Belgium, where members of high society have gathered into a pleasure-seeking community, their mores described with satirical bite by Marryat. Into this milieu comes a strange young woman named Harriet Brandt:.
Her figure was tall but slight and lissom. It looked almost boneless as she swayed easily from side to side of her chair. Her skin was colourless but clear. Her eyes, long-shaped dark and narrow with heavy lids and thick black lashes which lay upon her cheeks. Her brows were arched and delicately pencilled and her nose was straight and small. Not so her mouth however which was large, with lips of deep blood colour, displaying small white teeth. To crown all, her head was covered with a mass of soft, dull, blue-black hair, which was twisted in careless masses about the nape of her neck and looked as if it was unaccustomed to comb or hairpin.
Harriet is a curious mixture of the alluring and the crude. Harriet explains that she spent the previous ten years in a Jamaican convent school. She finds her new surroundings in Belgium to be fascinatingly exotic and is prone to behaving like an overexcited child.
Meanwhile, the crass and vindictive Baroness Gobelli goes about forging a relationship with Harriet for her own ends. This spiteful scheme successfully leads to Harriet falling in love with Ralph, which turns out to be merely the first step in her trail of romantic destruction.
But Harriet can do more than break hearts. Although she does not realise it, she is a vampire who drains the life of those around her. Margaret is the first person in the story to feel this effect:. Some sensation which she could not define, not 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. Before long, even the Baroness has turned upon this fatal girl. In casting the vampire as a destructive newcomer to a close-knit community, Marryat was staying true to the conventions of 19th century vampire fiction.
As a story, Carmilla is noted for its lesbian subtext, and this perhaps creeps into The Blood of the Vampire :. Marryat departs from her predecessors in coming up with an origin for her vampire. Her father was a cruel vivisectionist named Henry Brandt, who:. This piece of backstory appears to have been borrowed from H. Doctor Moreau was first driven from London due to the cruelty of his experiments on animals, then he retreated to an obscure island to continue his work, and he was eventually killed by his test subjects.
There are those, on the other hand, who draw from their neighbours, sometimes making large demands upon their vitality—sapping their physical strength and feeding upon them, as it were, until they are perfectly exhausted and unable to resist disease […] I should certainly say that your temperament was more of the drawing than the yielding order, Miss Brandt, but that is not your fault you know. It is a natural organism.
Yet, the novel also gives a supernatural element to its vampirism. Vampire bats, native to the Americas, have no role in European vampire folklore, but had by this point found their way into vampire literature. Bram Stoker introduced the now familiar idea that vampires can turn into bats; Marryat, meanwhile, establishes that a pregnant woman bitten by a vampire bat will give birth to a vampire child. An entire body of superstition surrounds pregnancy and malignant effects on unborn children, while certain vampire beliefs give a role to animals, like the superstition that a body will rise as a vampire if a cat jumps over its grave.
Marryat does away with the conception of the vampire as a living corpse. Nowhere does the novel indicate that Harriet or any of her ancestors ever came back from the dead or required particular measures to kill. Instead, Marryat draws upon another time-honoured Gothic motif: that of the cursed family. Harriet is unfortunate enough to be afflicted with two family curses: one the secularised curse represented by her father, the other a more conventional supernatural curse originating with her bat-bitten grandmother, who was not only cursed, but also black.
This brings us to an aspect of The Blood of the Vampire that is impossible to miss: its racism. An early scene has Harriet going off on a deeply bigoted rant about black servants back in Jamaica.
But for much of the novel Marryat is clearly indulging racism, rather than satirising it. Classism, as well as racism, runs through the novel. Ralph Pullen expresses discomfort with being around the Baroness and her husband due to their low-class backgrounds.
An inescapable sourness permeates The Blood of the Vampire , its racism and classism being merely the two most obvious manifestations. The steadfastly unsentimental tone starts to change towards the end, but the streak of bitterness remains. When the Baroness sees the error of her ways and begins speaking of God and Christ, her pious speeches seem no more than token gestures on the parts of both character and author.
Distraught at her inability to prevent her loved ones from dying, Harriet commits suicide through a dose of chloral, ending her cursed bloodline once and for all.
Although a prolific author in her day, Florence Marryat was overshadowed in literary circles by the reputation of her father, Captain Frederick Marryat.
The Blood of the Vampire , along with the rest of her substantial bibliography, was swiftly forgotten after her death. Unlike most electronic versions of public-domain texts, this is a well-produced edition with a number of thoughtful touches. Editor Greta Depledge provides an informative introduction, while multiple appendices offer historical context. As a novel, it was never destined to join the ranks of the classics. Bleating Heart Press Ms. En Scene Sidequest.
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The Blood of the Vampire
Florence Marryat 9 July — 27 October was a British author and actress. The daughter of author Capt. Frederick Marryat , she was particularly known for her sensational novels and her involvement with several celebrated spiritual mediums of the late 19th century. She was a prolific author, writing around 70 books, as well as newspaper and magazine articles, short stories and works for the stage. From to , she had a performing career, at first writing and performing a comic touring piano sketch entertainment, together with George Grossmith and later performing in dramas, comedies, comic opera with a D'Oyly Carte Opera Company , her own one-woman show, and appearing as a lecturer, dramatic reader and public entertainer. During the s, she ran a school of Journalism and Literary Art.