After a brief flirtation with sunshine it’s raining in Nova Scotia again. These bonus posts take so goddamn long that I left the intro for last and now I can’t think of anything to write. OH WAIT, I KNOW. A bunch of bugs have appeared in my house and I thought they were roaches, but they aren’t. The pest guy was delighted to inform me of this good news and did nothing for the bugs because he didn’t know what they were.

Dracula Daily resumes soon so here’s the bonus post I promised!

Chapter 2 of Reading the Vampire is titled “Vampires in Greece: Byron and Polidori.” Gelder asks about where the vampire as a folkloric figure comes from. While many sources go back to either Vlad Tepes or Countess Elizabeth Bathory, both from Eastern Europe, scholars seem to accept that the concept pulls from many different places. Gelder cites Montague Summer’s histories of the vampire, which say that the legend of the vampire is most powerful in modern Greece. The first story written about vampires in English is John William Polidori’s “The Vampyre,” where its hero travels to Greece very similarly to how Jonathan Harker travels to Transylvania.

Polidori was Lord Byron’s physician, escorting him when he went on his grand tour of the continent, meeting Mary Godwin, Percy Shelley, and Claire Clairmont. When Byron suggested they each write a ghost story, Mary famously wrote Frankenstein, and Byron wrote a fragment of a vampire novel; Polidori wrote one as well shortly after.

It seems that Byron was obsessed with Greece. At the time he had already written “The Giaour” (1813) lamenting the Turkish occupation of Greece. The whole thing is self-insert fanfic about saving Greece from Islam or something. “Giaour” is (was?) a derogatory Turkish term for Christians. The poem is the tale of a Christian man, formerly Muslim, who is nationless. He elopes with a woman named Leila who is subsequently murdered by her betrothed—a Turkish man named Hassan. The Giaour takes revenge and kills Hassan. The Giaour also dies at some point and comes back as a vampire and feasts on his own family.

But first, on earth as Vampire sent,
Thy corse shall from it’s tomb be rent:
Then ghastly haunt thy native place,
And suck the blood of all thy race;
There from thy daughter, sister, wife,
At midnight drain the stream of life;
Yet loathe the banquet which perforce
Must feed that living living corse:
Thy victims ere they yet expire
Shall know the demon for their sure,
As cursing thee, thou cursing them,
Thy flowers are wither’d on the stem.

Our hero is now an exile, suffering eternally, in classic Byronic fashion. “Like so many vampire narratives, the fantasy indulged in here is one of incompletion; the Giaour remains a vampire so long as national identity is unattainable.”

I also feel like I should note here that I don’t know a thing about Lord Byron, but I do love the romantics.

The aforementioned “fragment of a novel” that Byron wrote is about another grand tour by a young and nameless narrator and “a mysterious older man he greatly admires, Augustus Darvell.” (Romance!) Darvell is a traveller and citizen of the world himself, whose nationality our narrator cannot discern. The two travel east together and Darvell’s health rapidly declines. Somewhere near the border of Greece and Turkey, Darvell expires and asks for the narrator to never tell anyone about his death. The fragment, cryptic and unfinished, ends there, but apparently Polidori had an account of the rest of the story: The narrator would go home and discover Darvell alive and well in society, our hero having since slept with Darvell’s sister.

All that other stuff apparently happens in Polidori’s “The Vampyre,” which he seems to have written deliberately as an expansion and fulfilment of Byron’s idea. Evidently, it might also be said that Aubrey and Ruthven’s relationship in “The Vampyre” might be similar to that of Byron and Polidori himself.

Gelder in this section is critical of an essay written by Patricia L. Skarda (“Vampirism and Plagiarism: Byron’s Influence and Polidori’s Practice”) where she reads Polidori’s work as plagiarism of Byron. Gelder quotes Skarda, who claims in the shadow of Polidori’s criticism of Byron that “Polidori, like a willing rape victim, sacrifices himself in life and Aubrey in his fiction to the father-god he found in Byron.”

Blinking white guy gif

Gelder says this claim “comes from reading the story for its hysterics only.”

I find Skarda’s statement pretty shocking, but Gelder looks into it more, thank you Gelder. He suggests that “The feminising and subordination of Polidori in relation to a masculine, assertive Byron” might come from another essay (Andreas Huyssen, “Mass Culture as Woman: Modernism’s Other”) that compares Flaubert (cool, aesthetic, authentic) to his character Madame Bovary (emotional, passive, reads pulp novels). Gelder compares this to Aubrey and Ruthven, except that Aubrey opens the story by realising nothing he could learn from stories applies to reality, and self-consciously builds Ruthven into something he is not.

I feel like we could get a lot out of looking at this dynamic up and down through vampire fiction across the years and see some really interesting stuff. How many novels could we see this Polidori/Byron dynamic in? Interview With a Vampire? Twilight? Certainly we’ve seen the “feminising and subordination” in Jonathan Harker in Dracula already.

Apparently some dude named John Murray commissioned Polidori to write a journal of his grand tour with Byron, but the journals only became available in 1911. So in order to complain about Byron he probably had to write a novel about it.

While Byron wrote of a Greece out of time and depopulated (needing him, like the Giaour, to save it), Polidori’s Greece has a social element as an inhabited country. Byron seems to fall into the habit of treating Greece like a place that tragically no longer exists and has no people there, when it does. I’m a bit grateful to Polidori for reckoning with this, almost to spite Byron. This reminds me of the “Dead Indian” concept by Thomas King in his book An Inconvenient Indian, where he discusses the social phenomenon of North Americans treating Native Americans like a problem they no longer need to solve, acting as if native people are dead and extinct, with a culture free to harvest with impunity.

Gelder gets into the differences of how these authors treat the country through Leila, the woman who represents Greece in “The Giaour.” In a moment away from Ruthven, Aubrey encounters a woman named Ianthe, and the description of her seems an obvious callback to descriptions of Leila in “The Giaour.” Audrey drifts between his classical studies (old, academic) to the stories that Ianthe tells him (alive, word-of-mouth), including tales of vampires. Audrey tries to disavow her of her vampire beliefs but Ianthe pushes him to believe her instead.

The distinction is drawn between classical texts – which require contemplation and ‘proper interpretation’ – and what we might see here as popular fiction, which immediately realizes its content through a direct stimulation of the reader’s imagination. The former are dead texts, while the latter are very much alive – and seductive, too, for Aubrey’s ‘excitement’ as he listens to Ianthe is surely also sexual. But Aubrey is by now the perfect reader of popular fiction: he is easily seduced: he comes to believe in the illusion of vampires because they are now already familiar to him.

Ianthe and the community she belongs to believe in the vampire, and therefore the story is grounded in the reality of the people. The folk exist in Polidori’s “The Vampyre,” but not in the fragment. Polidori’s Greece is alive, and people live there and have their own culture. For Byron, it does not. Aubrey’s Ruthven can navigate upper crust society, but the folk see him for what he is: a vampire. “Polidori’s story seems to suggest that ‘society’ itself is vampirish; its aristocratic representatives prey upon ‘the people’ wherever they go.”

The vampire cannot be fully extricated from the people because they come from folklore of the folk themselves. In fact, it may be that folklore as a discipline and study may be because of vampires. This is reflected in the fiction itself via the rumors and gossip of the people, like the woman at the beginning of Dracula who gave Jonathan his crucifix. “‘The people’ are shown to be both superstitious … and right.” Apparently Professor Van Helsing later serves in this context to bring the superstitious folklore into London and bring the illusion into truth. Gelder discusses how often this happens in modern vampire stories such as The Lost Boys. Pop culture knowledge becomes an asset and transforms into science. It becomes redemptive when it becomes true.

Gelder reckons with folklorist accounts here for a bit and documents many details in the argument about where the vampire legend actually came from. It appears that, linguistically, there was some suggestion that the word “vampire” (vrykolakas) might have Slavic roots, but actually it looks like the Slavic word for “vampire” comes from the Greek word for “werewolf” (vilkolak) which in Slavic languages referred exclusively to vampires. Therefore, maybe the concept of the vampire originally came from Greece, but folklorists might be trying to turn the fluid folklore into science this time too. It’s the originality of the folk themselves that may in this case be immune to classification like this. As the legend becomes something the powers that be intend to nationalize, the true source of the tale slips out of their grasp. “…the vampire thus both enables a national identity to cohere, and ceaselessly disturbs that identity by showing it to be always at the same time foreign to itself.”

It’s satisfying to me to see this account of the vampire slipping through the fingers of the powers that be when they want to put it in a bottle and sell it in a nationalistic sense. Of course, vampires as a piece of folklore have been put into a bottle and sold for a long time now. It’s the struggle of the folk to so often have things that we made sold back to us. As long as the story doesn’t have a creator, there’s no copyright preventing anyone from cashing in—Bram Stoker included.

This reminds me of the popularity of the w-ndigo as a monster of fascination in the past few years. Of course because it’s out in the mythos one can assume that the w-ndigo doesn’t belong to anyone, but does belong to someone. “Dead Indians” are not dead. It’s time for folks to seize back our stories and beat our own Lord Byrons with them, up to and including gay vampires.

Before we move on I want to say that I’m just reading this book here and yes I am paraphrasing much of it. I may be misunderstanding a lot of it including whether or not Lord Byron is a cunt. So don’t get mad at me.

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