Thursday, 1 April 2010

Guest Blogger -- Taliesin from Taliesin Meets the Vampires

Today, Taliesin (aka Andrew M. Boylan) is here to talk about a very wicked topic -- women who write vampire stories! Specifically, Andy will be discussing Elizabeth Grey. Who was she? Find out below...

Interesting Shorts: The Skeleton Count, or, the Vampire Mistress

I was rather honoured when approached to provide a guest blog for Something Wicked and I suggested that a piece I was researching for my blog was an ideal vehicle. Over at my blog I like to occasionally look at interesting short stories, perhaps because they have certain films based on them or just for historical interest.

The Skeleton Count, or, the Vampire Mistress (for reference this is printed in The Vampire Omnibus, edited by Peter Haining, my edition being the 1995 edition) is interesting for a number of reasons, but from a Something Wicked point of view I felt that it really fit. This was first published, in the Penny Dreadful called the Casket, in 1828. As such the story by Elizabeth Grey is the first published vampire story by a female author. In many respects, therefore, this makes Grey the literary grandmother of Marissa and Nicole.

There are frustratingly few details about Grey, however the Penny Dreadful was a favourite form of literature for the masses and painted often lurid stories. It was from the Penny Dreadfuls that we gained the long tale of Varney the Vampire.

The story surrounds the Count Rudolph of Ravensburg Castle, who did a deal with the Prince of Darkness for immortality. He is not, however, our vampire. The price for his youth and immortality – we discover later – is that between dusk and dawn he becomes a skeleton. However, as an experimenter in the occult he looks to resuscitate the dead, and he uses occult and alchemical techniques to raise Bertha (a peasant’s deceased sixteen year old daughter) from the dead.

What he doesn’t know is that the technique he used causes her to come back to life as a vampire and, as the two become lovers, she sneaks out of the bed chamber to quench her unholy thirst. Interestingly, though fangs are not mentioned, she does have “sharp teeth” that, when she visits a maiden, “punctured the white shoulder, and the partially exposed bosom of Theresa Delmar.” This is not, however, an erotic attack and she is not a precursor to the Sapphic Carmilla. Vampires are known, in this story, for attacking children and young women – probably as they made for easier prey.

At one point she is shot and ‘killed’ but, like Ruthven in the Vampyre and Varney she is restored by the moon and we see “another phase in the fearful existence of the vampire bride! For as the beams of the moon fell on the inanimate form of the being of mystery and fear, sensation seemed to slowly return, as when the magic spells of the Count of Ravensburg resuscitated her from the grave.”

She does not fear sunlight, sitting out with the Count and sleeps in a bedchamber – when not sneaking off for blood, a task made easier when the Count begins his skeletal transformation. However, we discover she can be killed. “Nothing but fire or a sharp stake will kill a vampire” we discover and the stake is to be thrust, not through the heart but through the abdomen.

So, there we have it, Elizabeth Grey, the first female author of a vampire story, that we know of at least, and her story that had some very familiar vampire imagery within its length – as well as the, at that time, contemporary use of the vampire’s tie with the moon (interestingly, when the villagers are speaking of their dilemma we hear that “nothing was talked of but vampires and wehr-wolves, and other human transformations more terrific”, reminding us of the close connection between the vampire and werewolf myths).

Andrew M. Boylan

[Ms. Grey's short story can be found in the novel whose image appears at the beginning of this post]


  1. Thanks for the great post Taliesin! We love having you here! Marissa.

  2. I really enjoyed your article Andrew. I have a copy of the book and had forgotten all about it. Makes you wonder if Stoker got his inspiration for the Bloofer Lady from this story.

  3. Marissa, no problemo.

    Vamplit... We'll never know for sure, though penny dreadfuls were not made to stand the test of time and it was published 19 years before he was born - it is actually a bit of a miracle that this (which was a fragment of a wider Count Rudolph story) survived.

    It would be nice to think that it had at least a touch of an effect (even indirectly). It is also interesting to note that she is called a vampire bride (and the story makes it clear that Bertha and Rudolph are unmarried lovers)... perhaps the first female vampire to be named as a vampire bride? (if anyone can think of an earlier example then comment away).

    Incidentally there is a passage in Varney (that I mention in the article linked within this article) that is very reminiscent of Lucy in her tomb...

  4. Thank you so much for stopping by and for such a great and interesting post, Andy. Nice to know we women had it right even way back when! ;-)

  5. Very interesting. A woman would certainly know the appeal of the vampire. (I do, when he looks like Rob Pattinson anyway!)

  6. Nicole, it does show a rich heritage of female genre writers, from Grey, to Rice through to the new pioneers such as yourself and Marissa.

    Tina, and what is wrong with Max Schreck pray tell? ;)