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Gothic Horrors: The Regency Vampyre

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The “modern” vampire genre (or Vampyre, if you will) stems from James Polidori’s 1819 novel, The Vampyre, however the Gothic craze of the entire Regency era led to this printing, and in fact, real events in Europe led to the fascination of all things mysterious and horrible, as characterized in Jane Austen’s novel, Northanger Abbey. It should come as no suprise, then, that Northanger Abbey has finally been rewritten as an actual Vampire inspired novel (see Val McDermid’s Northanger Abbey, 2014). Writers have been trying to mash the two genres for years now, beginning with Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight (supposedly a nod to Pride and Prejudice) and Amanda Grange’s Mr. Darcy, Vampyre, to Jane Bites Back, and other similar tales.

According to legend, vampires are mythical beings who subsist by feeding on the life essence (generally in the form of blood) of living creatures (not unlike General Tilney, one might suppose…) In folkloric tales, undead vampires often visited loved ones and caused mischief or deaths in the neighbourhoods they inhabited when they were alive. They wore shrouds and were often described as bloated and of ruddy or dark countenance, markedly different from today’s gaunt, pale vampire which dates from the early 1800s. Although vampiric entities have been recorded in most cultures, the term vampire was not popularised until the early 18th century, after an influx of vampire superstition into Western Europe from areas where vampire legends were frequent, such as the Balkans and Eastern Europe,although local variants were also known by different names, such as vrykolakas in Greece and strigoi in Romania. This increased level of vampire superstition in Europe led to what can only be called mass hysteria and in some cases resulted in corpses actually being staked and people being accused of vampirism.

Frotspiece to Polidori's "The Vampyre".
Frotspiece to Polidori’s “The Vampyre”.

The charismatic and sophisticated vampire of modern fiction was born in 1819 with the publication of The Vampyre by John Polidori; the story was highly successful and arguably the most influential vampire work of the early 19th century. However, it is Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula which is remembered as the quintessential vampire novel and provided the basis of the modern vampire legend. The success of this book spawned a distinctive vampire genre, still popular in the 21st century, with books, films, and television shows. The vampire has since become a dominant figure in the horror genre.

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Strawberry Hill: A Gothic Fantasy

Strawberry Hill House, often referred to simply as Strawberry Hill, is the Gothic Revival villa that was built in Twickenham, London by Horace Walpole beginning in 1749. It is the type example of the “Strawberry Hill Gothic” style of architecture, and it prefigured the nineteenth-century Gothic revival. Walpole, an author in his own right (among many other things) was said to have been inspired by his home, to write the  novel, “The Castle of Otranto” generally regarded as the first gothic novel.

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Strawberry Hill House in 2012 after restoration

Walpole rebuilt the existing house in stages starting in 1749, 1760, 1772 and 1776. These modifications added gothic features such as towers and battlements outside and elaborate decoration inside to create “gloomth” to suit Walpole’s collection of antiquarian objects, contrasting with the “riant” (smiling) garden. The interior included a Robert Adam fireplace; parts of the exterior were designed by James Essex. The garden contained a large seat shaped like a Rococo sea shell.

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Castle of Wolfenbach by Eliza Parsons a review by Heather Laurence

“Dear creature! how much I am obliged to you; and when you have finished Udolpho, we will read the Italian together; and I have made out a list of ten or twelve more of the same kind for you.” “Have you, indeed! How glad I am! — What are they all?” “I will read you their names directly; here they are, in my pocket-book. Castle of Wolfenbach, Clermont, Mysterious Warnings, Necromancer of the Black Forest, Midnight Bell, Orphan of the Rhine, and Horrid Mysteries. Those will last us some time.” “Yes, pretty well; but are they all horrid, are you sure they are all horrid?” “Yes, quite sure; for a particular friend of mine, a Miss Andrews, a sweet girl, one of the sweetest creatures in the world, has read every one of them.” –Northanger Abbey If you were recently introduced to Northanger Abbey through the ITV film, or if you’ve already read the book, you may be curious to know more about the Gothic novels Catherine and Isabella planned to read together. The Castle of Wolfenbach was written by Eliza Parsons and published in 1793. Our heroine is a “wretched Matilda” as per Henry Tilney’s Gothic pastiche, and we meet her in flight from her lecherous uncle, seeking refuge in the suitably ancient and haunted Castle of Wolfenbach. As in Northanger Abbey, Matilda explores a forbidden wing of the castle, and makes the very discovery Catherine Morland had hoped for: the horrifying mystery of the missing Countess of Wolfenbach. (more…)
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William Thomas Beckford: Author, Architect and Rogue

You certainly must have heard before I can tell you that Col. Orde has married our cousin, Margt. Beckford, the Marchess. of Douglas’s sister. The papers say that her father disinherits her, but I think too well of an Orde to suppose that she has not a handsome independence of her own. Jane Austen to Cassandra May 29, 1811 William Thomas Beckford (1 October 1760 – 2 May 1844), usually known as William Beckford, was an English novelist, art critic, travel writer and politician. He was Member of Parliament for Wells from 1784 to 1790, for Hindon from 1790 to 1795 and again from 1806 to 1820. Beckford was born in the family’s London home at 22 Soho Square. At the age of ten, he inherited a large fortune from his father, a former Lord Mayor of the City of London, William Beckford consisting of £1 million in cash, land at Fonthill (including the Palladian mansion Fonthill Splendens) in Wiltshire, and several sugar plantations in Jamaica. This allowed him to indulge his interest in art and architecture, as well as writing. He was trained by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in music. Thirteen years later he married the fourth Earl of Aboyne’s daughter, Lady Margaret Gordon on May 5, 1783. However, Beckford was hounded out of polite English society when (probably unfounded) gossip accused him of “sexual irregularity”- at that time a capitol offense. Beckford chose exile, in the company of his young wife, whom he grew to love deeply, but who (more…)
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All Hallow’s Eve

Halloween, Hallowe’en, All Hallow’s Eve…they all sound mysterious and spooky; but where did this celebration of the underworld come from and when did it begin? Did Jane Austen ever go trick-or-treating? The celebration now known as Halloween has its roots in the Celtic festival of Samhain, one of the four Druid “Bonfire” festivals. Celebrated on November 1, midway between the Autumn and Winter Solstices, some scholars believe that it marked the end of the old year and start of the new. Samhain (pronounced sów-en) was not a god to be worshipped, but rather a term meaning “The End of Summer”. It was at this time that the harvest was brought in, preparations for winter completed, debts were settled and the dead buried before the coming winter. In the highly superstitious Celtic culture, it was also believed that at this time when “a new year was being stitched to the old” the veil between the present world and the next was especially thin, allowing the spirits of the departed, both good and evil to roam. Because of this belief, October 31 became a highly superstitious night. Some used the opportunity to entreat the dead for guidance in the coming year. Others carried on traditions involving the revelation of one’s sweetheart or good fortune for the coming year. Towards the close of the evening priests and townsfolk, dressed as spirits would parade through the village in order to lead the wandering ghosts back to their resting places. Far from being a burning (more…)