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Happy Halloween From Literary Traveler!

October 31, 2012 in American Authors, American History, Bookstores, Classic Literature, Dark New England, Edgar Allen Poe, Famous Museums, Halloween, History, Holidays Literary Traveler, Horror, Horror Writers, Massachusetts Travel, New England Travel, Psychology, Short Stories, Stephen King, Vampires in Literature

Literary Traveler has been very excited about Halloween…and it’s finally here! To celebrate, we’d like to show off all the work we did in advance of the spookiest day of the year. All Treats.

Halloween Reflections – “Halloween is a time when the veil between the dead and the living was at its thinnest.”

Mercy Brown: American Vampire – “Like the vampire, tuberculosis visited ordinary communities seemingly at random – preying upon family members, slowly robbing them of their life and turning them into fevered ghostly individuals with a persistent bloody cough.”

The House of the Seven Gables – “If Hawthorne’s The House of the Seven Gables house was once haunted by the uneasy ghosts of family (his ancestors were involved in the Salem witch trials), the resident ghost today seems to have the philanthropic and busy spirit of Miss Emmerton.”

The Hawthorne Hotel – “Despite general manager Judi Lederhaus’ assertions, hundreds of tourists stream into the stately lodgings ready to embark on a supernatural safari.”

The Psychology of Salem – “The most dangerous element of the teenage mind is the inability to grasp the concept of linear thinking. Some teenagers cannot see beyond immediate gratification.  This makes decision making tricky.”

Master of Creep: Edgar Allen Poe – “Poe created complete universes in which the reader starts to believe the narrator.”

The Salem Witch Trials – “In 1692, fear spread through Salem, Massachusetts like contagion, infecting the minds of the mainstream, and claiming the lives of those among the periphery.”

Literary Traveler Goes to Salem – “I mosey by a zombie playing the saxophone for a couple of onlookers and I am officially sold on the city of Salem.”

Mercy Brown: American Vampire

October 24, 2012 in American Authors, American History, American literature, children's literature, Dark New England, European Writers, Gothic Literature, Halloween, Horror Writers, Literary Movies, New England Travel, Vampires in Literature, Women Writers

Halloween is big in the Northeast – a liberating blast of Pagan thrills before the bleak snows and Puritan thrift of winter. As the festival approaches, New England’s colors turn from fresh blues and greens to the long black shadows and pantomime reds of autumn. Many associate this creepy side of New England with Salem and its persecution of ‘witches’. Vampires, it is widely believed, were a European legend that was successfully exported to America, and from there they entered myth, legend and popular culture.

For anyone looking for clues about the origins of the modern American vampire, the papers of a London playwright seem to offer a tantalizing possibility. It is true that Bram Stoker kept a newspaper clipping about the 1892 case of the exhumation of a Rhode Island ‘vampire’ called Mercy Brown, but the date of the source seems to have been too late to have influenced Dracula. These ‘hick’ vampires from a depressed Rhode Island farming community are not like the aristocratic vampire of Stoker’s fiction: for one thing they really existed, and for another they tragically reveal attempts to come to terms with an urgent problem – TB.

Like the vampire, tuberculosis visited ordinary communities seemingly at random – preying upon family members, slowly robbing them of their life and turning them into fevered ghostly individuals with a persistent bloody cough. The disease could manifest soon after it was contracted, dragging on for years – or, as in the case of Mercy Brown – it could lay dormant for a decade before it quickly progressed.

Mercy Brown was the second last member of her family to die from the disease. Several years after her mother and sister were buried, Mercy and her older brother Edwin took ill. When Mercy died, the community immediately began looking for answers. After a doctor reported that Mercy’s heart contained tuberculosis germs, the locals insisted on extreme measures.  They burned Mercy’s heart and fed the ashes to her brother, who died soon thereafter. It seems that Mercy’s father allowed the exhumation because he was under great pressure from his frightened neighbors in Exeter, Rhode Island.

Mercy’s grave is now a destination for tourists, goths, and ‘legend trippers’ – those who visit graves to seek evidence of the occult at supposedly haunted spots in Rhode Island. In Mercy’s time, these myths seemed disturbing eruptions of superstition. New fiction was even blamed by some observers for encouraging this superstitious behavior in a century that considered itself progressive and rational.

One thing that makes supernatural literary tourism so accessible in New England is the way real places and events often influence fiction. The great American horror writer H.P. Lovecraft referred to Mercy Brown’s case in his story, “The Shunned House.” Just as Mercy’s sad quiet grave can be found in a small cemetery in Rhode Island, the real Shunned House still stands – a private residence in Providence Rhode Island.  H.P. Lovecraft based his story on the history of the family who lived there, imagining the dead family members preying on the living, like the Exeter vampires. Even those who did not write about the vampire TB cases were aware of them. Thoreau for example wrote about a TB exhumation in his diary.

62 years’ after Mercy Brown’s exhumation, Richard Matheson published I Am Legend, a story about vampires that had a medical explanation. The story’s protagonist Robert Neville holes up in a house after a vampire apocalypse and studies the vampires that were his former neighbors until he finds the cause of their condition: a bacteria that fades with sunlight. Though the source of Matheson’s imaginings has not been revealed, it’s possible that he heard stories of vampire TB scares growing up in New Jersey.

For Young Adult author Sarah Thomson, history proved juicy enough to build her novel Mercy on. After many years of vampire fiction based on legend and folklore, Thomson’s is a historical vampire novel that tells the story of a real person, Mercy Brown, or the ‘last New England vampire’. As Thomson said in an interview, real life can often be scarier than fiction.

These days, thanks to its history of vampire panics, Rhode Island is the destination for ‘vampire hunters’, just as Salem is the home of witches. This time of year you’ll find a wealth of flamboyant tours, including the Ghosts of Newport and Providence Ghost Tour, of the area’s most haunted spots – but be prepared to find the real history a lot more frightening and tragic than your guides’ costumes.

 

Bram Stoker’s Legacy Lives On After Death

April 17, 2012 in Classic Literature, Gothic Literature, Literary News, Pop Culture, Travel to England, travel to Ireland, Vampires in Literature

Birthdays are not an occasion given much significance in vampire lore; it is death that denotes the beginning of a vampire’s immortality.  Therefore, it’s only fitting to mark the 100th anniversary of the death of Irish author Bram Stoker, whose characterization of Dracula was the vampire who spawned all others.  Although he died one hundred years ago April 20th, much like Dracula, he lives on.

As nearly everyone knows, there’s no shortage of vampires in pop culture today–from Twilight to True Blood, readers cannot seem to get enough of the undead. Do we have Stoker to thank (or to blame) for the overwhelming popularity of the vampire in literature? Although the myth of the vampire dates back to the 15th century when Vlad the Impaler, son of Dracul, whose reputation for sadistic killings inspired the story, Stoker’s Dracula, published in 1897, is often regarded as the archetypal vampire novel.

Museum exhibits, interdisciplinary conferences and events honoring Stoker’s centenary are being held throughout the year all over the world, including Dublin (where Stoker was born and educated) London and Salt Lake City. Vampire-themed conference topics like “Vampires and/as Science” and “Bram Stoker and Gothic Transformations” will take place at Trinity College and the University of Hull, respectively. Trinity College will also hold a separate Bram Stoker Centenary Conference this summer which focuses on the life and writing of the author, who graduated from the school in 1870.

Fans of the vampire genre and Gothic era can to pay homage to Stoker by taking in the vampire themed cruise, Vamps at Sea.  The Alaskan cruise honoring Dracula and his contemporary fanged bedfellows sails roundtrip from Vancouver this summer.  Special guests on Holland America’s week long voyage include John Edgar Browning, an expert on vampire lore whose forthcoming book focuses on Dracula and vampires in visual culture.  C.J. Ellisson, author of contemporary vampire stories targeted to the over eighteen set, will also be on board.  (The cast of Ellisson’s VV Inn series would make even the palest Twilight vamp blush.)  Another fitting guest rumored to make an appearance is Dacre Stoker, Bram’s great-grandnephew.

At the World Horror Convention, held this past March 31st, the Horror Writers Association also honored Stoker’s memory by giving away the “Bram Stoker Vampire Novel of the Century Award.” Richard Matheson’s 1954 novel I am Legend beat out Salem’s Lot by Stephen King and Anne Rice’s Interview with a Vampire for the title.  Upon winning the award, Matheson indicated that he was influenced by Stoker’s novel and its film adaptation.  Of his first experience with Dracula he states that “even as a teenager, the thought occurred to me that if one vampire is scary, what if all the world were full of vampires?”  Now, more than ever, it appears that his question has been answered.  Vampires are inescapable in popular culture, and none more infamous than Stoker’s Dracula.  So on April 20th, sleep until dusk, avoid garlic and raise a glass of red wine to Mr. Stoker.  Although he may have died one hundred years ago, not even a stake to the heart can snuff out his legacy.

 

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