In the Shadow of Dracula
Leslie S. Klinger, editor and annotator
Trade Paper, 432 pages, $16.99
Review by Sheila M. Merritt
“THE DEAD TRAVEL FAST” is engraved on a signpost in Bram Stoker’s “Dracula’s Guest.” And the departed also retain an undying appeal, as exhibited in The Shadow of Dracula, a collection of classic vampire tales edited and annotated by Leslie S. Klinger. While many of the stories in the anthology have been reprinted, so to speak, to death, Klinger’s introductions and notations highly enhance the reading. There are old friends/fiends whose names bring back memories from beyond the grave: “Carmilla,” “Lord Ruthven,” “Count Magnus,” and “Varney the Vampire.” Well-known vampiric sites such as “The Tomb of Sarah” and “The Room in the Tower” are also revisited. For review purposes, accent will be placed on captivating yarns of less notoriety; works that are, indeed, more in the shadow of Dracula than others.
As in J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s famous “Carmilla,” a lady is a vamp in “The Vampire Maid.” Hume Nisbit’s tale concerns a femme fatale who makes the first person narrator weak in the knees and vulnerable at the neck: “Fathomless velvety eyes these were, yet before they were shifted from mine the appeared to have absorbed all my willpower and made me her abject slave. They looked like deep dark pools of clear water, yet they filled me with fire and deprived me of strength.” “The Vampire Maid” (1890) predates Dracula (1897) but not “Carmilla” (1872). It is certainly possible that Nisbit was thematically influenced by Le Fanu, since the ripe sexuality of the female predator evokes memories of Carmilla’s libidinous activities.
Another attractive woman who proves dangerous is “Luella Miller.” Lovely and lethal Luella is the marvelous creation of author Mary E. Wilkins-Freeman. The character is a psychic vampire who enthralls and enslaves those who love and admire her. She thrives on their lifeforce, and their desire to please her. Seemingly incapable of caring for herself, she relies on others to maintain her existence. They feed her, clothe her, and tend to all her needs. Manipulative and self-oriented, Luella is a leech of the worst kind. Those who provide for her weaken and die, and she blossoms when they languish. Psychologically smart, and skillfully written, the narrative explores the entanglements of parasitic relationships.
“Good Lady Ducayne” is unlike the two aforementioned sirens in appearance. Though once beautiful, she is now elderly and way past her prime: “He had seen terrible faces in the hospital–faces on which disease had set dreadful marks – but he had never seen a face that impressed him so painfully as this withered countenance, with its indescribable horror of death outlived, a face that should have been hidden under a coffin-lid years and years ago.” The prescription for her longevity depends on partaking of blood – blood of young women companions. Editor/annotator Klinger has this to say about Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s tale: “The story is another echo of the legendary depredations of Countess Elizabeth Bathory, who preyed on young women to prolong her vitality. Here the Lady Ducayne exhibits seemly moderation, and while she may kill her victims, she compensates them well!”
Traditionally, vampire victims experience lassitude. In “The Stone Chamber,” however, the emphasis is on radical personality changes in those who are bitten. This story by H.B. Marriott Watson dwells on the possession of the prey. Gothic and brooding in tone, the haunted location of the title is beautifully employed as a place of horrific infestation: “Voices cried all night in that chamber – soft, pleading voices. There was nothing to alarm in them: they seemed in a manner to coo me to sleep. But presently a sharper cry roused me from my semi-slumber, and getting up, I flung open the window. The wind rushed round the Abbey, sweeping with noises against the corners and gables.”
In the Shadow of Dracula compiles twenty-one works of interest to aficionados of vampire fiction. The trappings of Victoriana and gothic literature are well represented. The downside of period pieces is, of course, the sometimes cumbersome language that reflects their respective eras. Reading such narratives can be slow and require a great effort of concentration. Thankfully, Leslie S. Klinger’s annotations clarify and elucidate the potentially troublesome verbiage and stylistic elements of the times, and put a historical perspective on the stories. The illustrations by horror artist Michael Monomivibul also add to the appreciation of these classic tales, capturing the haunting atmosphere. Dracula cast a long shadow, but, as this tome reiterates: He didn’t walk the night alone.