Although not the first work to present this kind of character, “Dracula” by Bram Stoker was the first novel to truly have success
The creative process wasn`t a spontaneous one, as many would imagine. It took decades to complete the novel, Stoker spending a great deal of time documenting in the British libraries.
The myths may have left their mark on Count Dracula – the character, but the notion of an aristocratic-vampire is a huge step forward! It became the first vampire character that managed to sneak in the collective subconscious, influencing even to this day.
Although Stoker’s vampire summarizes all available superstitions [up to that time], the character in itself brings a new and exciting twist: the undead is of noble origin and retains the title of Count.
The author thus creates a huge gap between the aristocrat Dracula represents and the corpses leaving their tombs at night to feed. The latter behaved more like the zombies in voodoo culture, while Dracula is endowed with intelligence and has other interests outside the “running” after blood.
The Count is able to plan the journey and even counterstrike some obstacles, avoiding difficult situations throughout the story and especially he allows for an evil character to be exposed by the [first] hunter: Van Helsing.
Even his image is a special one. He seems to be endowed in order to seduce his victims.
Traditional vampires used their powers to subdue victims, but Dracula is shown as a courtly gentleman, with good quality clothing – even manages to mimic life for a few days as his lawyer visits him to sign the contract for buying the future home in England.
The general image of a vampire is supposed to be complete with a shroud and / or semi-decomposed clothes, unkempt appearance [hair disheveled, broken nails because of numerous exits from the tomb] and blood – incriminating evidence around the mouth of any vampire.
We rarely find dialogues in the old stories, but we can not put too much emphasis on this because there weren`t so many writers [of short stories and novels] that focused on these issues ahead of Stoker. The classic poems present scenes of vampires and their victims [almost always undead relatives or lovers] without much dialog.
In the legends who inspired Bram Stoker, the vampire is a creature of darkness that shows a lot of negative aspects – that Irish has introduced in the description of Dracula. Associated with the shadows and night, the Church used the vampire to incite fear and it was considered a servant of the devil; the vampire was “kept out of the world by the light of God” during the day.
Unlike other mythological creatures, the vampire did not have duality before the changes made by Stoker! While in other cases demons behaved like normal people while the sun was in the sky [often taking the appearance of a member of the community], and after nightfall their monstrous side would manifest, the vampire spend the day in the cemetery, more precisely in its grave. The night was dedicated to hunting!
Stoker changed certain elements without changing the nature of his character.
Like other vampires, Dracula cann`t move during the day, but neither is he trapped in the cemetery. His coffin travels without major issues from Transylvania all the way to Britain -he even uses of his powers to subdue the will of the crew and changes the environment to his liking [causes fog and storm during the trip]. No other vampire before Dracula was so strong and had so many supernatural powers.
His duality occurs at nightfall, when he is both the courteous aristocrat who commands respect, and bloody and scary vampire, bringing more of an animal.
† Count Dracula
At it`s core the legend of the Demidoff Princess is a tale of good old greed and craving for money.
The legend of Père-Lachaise is a rather interesting one as it is based on a couple of true facts. That`s why I think of it as an urban myth rather then a legend.
It all started around 1880 when some newspapers began running a story about a Russian princess who would leave a fortune to the person who would stay inside the chapel on top of her tomb for a year and a day.
It was reported that the princess was inside a glass coffin and that to make sure that her companion would see her at all times, the walls of the chapel had all been covered with mirrors. The only thing he or she was allowed to do was read.
There should be no contact with any living soul, not even the servant who would bring food on a daily basis.
Now this weird bit of news got picked up by foreign newspapers and started circulating around the world. Soon, the director of the Père-Lachaise Cemetery received letters from everywhere, from people who wanted to take up this challenge and stay in the tomb.
Quite a few of them were women.
Both the text and the reaction to the myth were analyzed by Frédéric Ortoli and his opinion on the matter can be found in his “La Tradition” [a magazine he kept, pertaining folklore, legends and superstitions]. According to him, the legend was fueled for so long and even picked up in other countries because it was linked to the human fear of being buried alive.
It is as if the princess wanted to make sure that if she ever were to be buried alive then someone would be there to help her upon her awakening – hence the glass coffin and all the mirrors.
Almost all agree on the fact that the Russian Princess was in fact Lady Demidoff [born Stroganoff] who died in 1818. Her exact title remains unclear… some refer to her as a Baroness, some say she is a Countess and others refer to her as being a Princess.
But the Demidoff tomb doesn`t fit the description in the news. In stead there is another in the 48th division of the famous cemetery that resembles the one in the legend. It belongs to a rich family from Provence – the de Beaujour.
The legend resurfaced in 1894 with an added twist. It was said that all that attempted to complete the task either gave up or went insane. Hauntings were reported and some even claimed that the princess is a vampire.
To that end, many have analyzed the symbolism on the Demidoff tomb and came to the conclusion that it is a “center for vampiric activity”. Everything was taken into consideration and given a special meaning… starting with the exact date of her death [8th of April 1818] that contains the number “888”, to the supposed orientation of the tomb and the engravings on it [a lot of Egyptian symbols, bats and wolfs].
I cannot tell you at what point it turned into an urban vampire legend, but the legend of the Demidoff Princess continues to fascinate to this day.
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† Vampire Accounts
The following tale is presented in a great deal of books and has been a mystery for a number of years. Eventually it was debunked by Jordi Ardanuy. In the end he traced back the origin of the story to a writer called Alfonso Sastre. And he even managed to get a signed confession out of him which stated that the story was made up.
It would be easy for me to make an article but I prefer to leave the credit to the author so I added his text:
The journey of the damned coffin by Jordi Ardanuy.
Here`s the basic of the story [once again I encourage you to read the full text]
A coffin arrived in the harbor of Cartagena and it was sent on a land journey to A Coruña. On the way it did several stops and in those same locations [and in the vicinity] vampiric activity was reported. The strange thing is that the coffin wasn`t picked up at A Coruña and it was eventually resent to Cartagena – where it was taken by a Serbian nobleman.
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† Vampire Accounts
Back in 1997 Radio Prague had a very nice story to report.
“The archaeological investigation that has been carried out in the presbytery of the Chapel of the Holy Trinity in the Moravian town of Prostejov has brought to light a lucky and spectacular discovery: the tomb of a suspected vampire.
The director of the Archaeological Institute of Brno, Milos Cizmár, emphasizes the fact that the remains of the supposed vampire were discovered inside a coffin which had been secured with forged iron bars to make sure that it would not commit any crimes after its death.
The scientists think that this find must date back to the 16th or 17th Century, and that it demonstrates the fear for vampirism in those days.
When the coffin was opened, the archaeologists recognized the precautions that had been taken by the supposed vampire’s contemporaries to make sure that it would not come out of the coffin: a pile of stones covered the lower part of the legs of the cadaver and its torso had been separated from the rest of the corpse.”
We have no information on the identity of the person buried with this anti-vampire measure. To my knowledge not even a legend surfaced about it.
None the less… someone went to a great deal to prevent the dead from returning from the grave so it is a true vampire account.
The archeological find is legitimate and the number of “vampire graves” that were uncovered all over the Slavic territory is testimony to the fact that the belief in vampires was widespread throughout the Middle Ages in all of Europe.
Methods of dealing with the corpses of the supposed vampires were plenty and the ones exhibited by this particular case aren
t the worst Ive seen described. The ~Superstitions~ page should give you a good idea on that… along with the ~Vampire Accounts~ page.
Perhaps the reason why people were so scared of the undead was because according to Slavic belief, the vampire could even have sexual relations with his wife and produce a child that would be born without bones. The vampire wouldn`t only attack on a physical base but it would also instill fear in the villagers – so much that they no longer respected the dead and chose to mutilate the corpses of their family members.
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† Vampire Accounts