Michael Delahoyde, PhD

Professor of English


Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University

in 19th-Century Literature


The Penguin Book of Vampire Stories. Ed. Alan Ryan. NY: Penguin Books, 1987.

“The Vampyre”:

John Polidori’s 1819 short story seems to characterize Byron as the vampire Ruthven.

Varney the Vampyre:

James Malcolm Rymer’s (1814-1881) serial novel — a “penny dreadful” — published 1845-1847 “may well qualify as the most famous book that almost no one has read.” But Stoker did.

A stormy setting is established in historical present tense. We linger in a bedroom, then zero in on a girl:

A creature formed in all fashions of loveliness lies in a half sleep upon that ancient couch — a girl young and beautiful as a spring morning. Her long hair has escaped from its confinement and streams over the blackened coverings of the bedstead; she has been restless in her sleep, for the clothing of the bed is in much confusion. One arm is over her head, the other hangs nearly off the side of the bed near to which she lies. A neck and bosom that would have formed a study for the rarest sculptor that ever Providence gave genius to, were half disclosed. She moaned slightly in her sleep, and once or twice the lips moved as if in prayer — at least one might judge so, for the name of Him who suffered for all came once faintly from them. (27)

With the historical present tense and the lingering close focus on the girl, we as readers are placed in a voyeuristic position. Later we will learn her name is Flora, “just budding into womanhood, and in that transition state which presents to us all the charms of the girl — almost of the child, with the more matured beauty and gentleness of advancing years” (27). Yeah, we get it: she’s a virgin. And obviously Flora faces the threat of a kind of “deflowering.”

The vampire appears framed in the window and Flora is nearly paralyzed.

The eyes look like polished tin; the lips are drawn back, and the principle feature next to those dreadful eyes is the teeth — the fearful-looking teeth — projecting like those of some wild animal, hideously, glaringly white, and fang-like. It approaches the bed with a strange, gliding movement. It clashes together the long nails that literally appear to hang from the finger ends…. The glance of a serpent could not have produced a greater effect upon her than did the fixed gaze of those awful, metallic-looking eyes that were bent on her face. (29)

Her hair is her undoing: “the figure seized the long tresses of her hair, and twining them round his bony hands he held her to the bed” (30). “The glassy, horrible eyes of the figure ran over that angelic form with a hideous satisfaction — horrible profanation” (30). After the prolonged teasing, the story stops at the biting: “The girl has swooned, and the vampire is at his hideous repast!” (30).

In the next chapter, male characters with militaristic names, Bannerworth and Marchdale catch a glimpse of the vampire. “‘God help us!’ ejaculated Henry” (33).

Throughout volume 1, Miss Flora is attacked again and again. Other victimizings occur in volume 2, which includes travel to Italy to attack the daughter of Polidori. Exhausted, bored, and conscience-stricken (like Barnabus Collins of Dark Shadows), Varney finally jumps into Mt. Vesuvius. (Blacula may be the next vampire in the early 1970s to commit suicide.)


Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s (1814-1873) novella (1872) influenced Stoker. Carmilla succeeds largely because expectations of women are so minimal. Vampirism here, like lesbianism, is given license because of the Victorian belief that such things cannot possibly exist. “If you were less pretty I think I should be very much afraid of you” (87). No one recognizes the Carmilla anagram in Millarca.

Works Cited

The Penguin Book of Vampire Stories. Ed. Alan Ryan. NY: Penguin Books, 1987.