Frayling Reading Guide

Buy at Amazon Frayling, Christopher. Vampyres: Lord Byron to Count Dracula. Faber & Faber, 1992. ISBN: 9780571167920.

Introduction: 'Lord Byron to Count Dracula'

This is Frayling's introductory essay: the rest of the volume consists of extracts from other sources, essays, stories, etc, like a kind of anthology. This section occupies pp. 3–84.

The argument is as follows:

One of the central features of the gothic novel is a new sense of the significance of dreams, especially nightmares as we see in Horace Walpole and The Castle of Otranto, then the painter Fuseli, and novelist Ann Radcliffe who both used to eat quantities of indigestible stuff before retiring to trigger the desired experiences. Drugs and stimulants were common in this group of writers and artists: the poet Southey resorted to nitrous oxide (laughing gas) administered by scientist Humphrey Davy; famous additional gothic dreamers and writers are Charles Robert Maturin of Melmoth the Wanderer fame and Matthew Lewis, responsible for The Monk (p. 3). Both Byron and Shelley took opium. Frayling states that Bram Stoker's Dracula was triggered by a horrible nightmare Stoker had in 1890 (p. 4).

Frayling then moves on to a description of the symbolic attributes of blood in various cultures and various periods, then passes on to the scandalous high-society love affair of Byron and Lady Caroline Lamb. The French had fun with it: Cyprien Bérard's two volume Lord Ruthwen [sic] ou les Vampires (Paris 1820) described 'ce Don Juan vampirique' or as one critic put it 'ce Lovelace des tombeaux' (quoted on p.9).

Frayling quotes Mary Shelley's famous account of the story-writing competition in Switzerland while Byron's party of writers and poets were confined to their villa by poor weather, published in the third edition of Frankenstein in 1831, which reveals that ghost stories translated out of German and French were read aloud to while away a sultry, rainy evening, leading to Byron's proposal that they each write a ghost story (p. 11). Frayling says this account is 'almost completely fictitious' and written fifteen years after the event, and that Polidori's diary is the only one contemporary with the events. Mind you, Frayling does argue his case, and if one needed a detailed account of these transactions this would be a good place to come (pp. 13–18). Polidori had an interest in the 'occult'. He was an expert in somnambulism and animal magnetism, having published a dissertation on these subjects the previous year. Evidently Mary Shelley's denials that her husband had any part in the creation of Frankenstein are inaccurate: Shelley was involved in detail and throughout (p. 17). The bottom line is that Mary Shelley's account has made Frankenstein and The Vampyre seem like late products of the Gothic novel; 'in fact, that "wet, ungenial summer" sounded the death knell of the Gothic just as surely as Jane Austen's more famous satire in Northanger Abbey' (p. 16).

Polidori…is nearer to the clinical horror tales of the late nineteenth century than to the overripe terrors of Mrs. Radcliffe and others…Polidori's strange fusion of clinical realism with weird incidents… (p. 17)

There are various literary precedents, which Frayling lists, but the main ones are the line of late eighteenth century German vampire stories developed by Goethe and Tieck and other writers. Frayling argues, however, that the 'English group who were involved in that "wet, ungenial summer" succeeded in fusing the various elements of vampirism into a coherent literary genre…for the first time' (p. 18), and that Polidori was the first to exploit the theme in a systematic way. It is clear from what Frayling quotes that the continental stuff could have given English-speakers most of the details if they had had access to it. Translations appeared in the London periodical press in the 1730s, and vampirism was discussed by various worthies of the Enlightenment, such as Voltaire, Diderot and Rousseau (p. 23). So the existence and characteristic behaviour of vampires would have been available to many educated English speakers by the 1740s at the latest. There were always doubts about the accounts, rationalist, for the main part, which asked, inter alia, 'Why is this demon so partial to base-born plebeians? Why is it always peasants, carters, shoemakers and innkeepers? Why has the demon never been known to assume the form of a man of quality, a scholar, a philosopher, a theologian, a landowner or a bishop? I will tell you why. It is because men of education and men of quality are not so easily deceived as idiots and men of low birth and therefore do not so easily allow themselves to be fooled by appearances' (quoted on p. 30).

Voltaire added in the supplement to his Dictionnaire Philosophique: 'What! Vampires in our Eighteenth Century? Yes…in Poland, Hungary, Silesia, Moravia, Austria and Lorraine—there was no talk of vampires in London, or even Paris. I admit that in these two cities there were speculators, tax officials and businessmen who sucked the blood of the people in broad daylight, but they were not dead (although they were corrupted enough). These true bloodsuckers did not live in cemeteries: they preferred beautiful places…Kings are not, properly speaking, vampires. The true vampires are the churchmen who eat at the expense of both the king and the people' (quoted on pp. 30–31).

Rousseau seems to think that vampires are largely created by the fervid imaginations of an ignorant and parasitic clergy; next that vampires are 'an extremely potent symbol for characterizing even the ordinary ties of dependence that bind individuals together in civilized society' (p. 33).

Robert Southey transcribed both the Arnold Paole story and Tournefort's adventures on the island of Mykonos, [two classic sources of vampire lore] in the notes to his "rhythmical romance" Thalaba (1799) [a further obvious source, hence, of vampire lore in English]; the introduction to Polidori's Vampyre refers to the same sources. (p. 37)

By 1826 Frankenstein and The Vampyre were playing in English theatres as a double bill and in 1846 Knight's Penny Magazine 'lashed out at the "cheap weekly sheets" which were "foisting trashy tales and tired vampire stories on 'the working people, and especially the young'"' (p. 38). In the mid-Victorian period the vampire was a commonplace symbol for any exploitative relationship: temperance people used it about publicans and innkeepers, the pro-cremation lobby as an argument invoking the fear of premature burial (p. 38).

Then came Varney the Vampire:

The plot of Varney [which Frayling claims was lifted straight out of Polidori and derivatives] contains three main ingredients: Sir Francis Varney's attempts to seduce the innocent heroine; the local villagers' realization that Varney is a vampire and organization of a mass counter-attack; and a wedding scene [actually several], where Sir Francis is denounced in the nick of time and chased out of the area…Eventually, in a scene which was lifted from the melodramitization of Frankenstein, Sir Francis Varney, exhausted by his unsuccessful endeavours and disillusioned by an unsympathetic world, leaps into Mount Vesuvius, never to be heard of again. (p. 39)

If Rymer makes full use of Polidori, he also invents new variations on the theme, variations which will be reworked by later writers including Bram Stoker. Varney includes an original sub-plot concerning a Hungarian vampire count (the first in English literature); comic relief (straight out of the music hall) in the irrepressible double act of Admiral Bell and Able-Seaman Jack Pringle [straight out of Smollett]; and a whole series of scenes set in and around country churchyards, crypts, charnel houses and undertakers' parlours, the atmospheric detail of which was evidently based on close observation of early Victorian funerary customs. (p. 39)

Yet, for all its absurdity, Varney did introduce new stuff which was picked up by Stoker, including:

  1. The "initiation" of the heroine, through contact with the vampire.
  2. The suggestion of sexual attraction, followed by revulsion, followed in turn by attraction again, between female victim and tormenting vampire.
  3. The incongruity of a central European folk-myth in an English rural setting.
  4. The respect of the hunter for the hunted.
  5. The…methodical, scientific approach to dealing with the vampire. This foreshadows Bram Stoker's treatment of the vampire-hunter Professor van Helsing…This aspect of both Varney and Dracula may perhaps be taken to represent the conflict between Victorian scientific positivism…and the forces of the unknown.
  6. Some more specific motifs, including a vigil at the witching hour by the tomb of a suspected vampire…the vampire's transmutation into a wolf, the arrival of a deserted ship and the chase to the vampire's resting-place.

(pp. 40–41)

'Leonard Wolf [editor of Dracula] has said, "There is nothing in Varney, nothing at all, that is capable of sounding anything like the chords of dark understanding that reverberate in page after page of Stoker's Dracula"' (quoted on p. 41).

Frayling publishes 'A Vampire Mosaic Vampires in folklore, prose and poetry, 1687–1913'; this is too long for transcription here but it occupies pp. 42–63 and contains several things of interest. Frayling notes that his list includes only substantive references, i.e. people who go about biting others and drinking their blood; unlike James Twitchell who considered psychological vampirism, i.e. those who mysteriously drain others vitality and will to live, a numerous tribe, and hence saw vampires everywhere. In Swinburne's Chastelard Mary Queen of Scots appears as a vampire, with Darnley among her victims. 'Swinburne was reading the words of de Sade at the time, although this acted only as a catalyst. In Juliette, and especially Justine, de Sade had explored the relationship between blood and sexuality (adding blood to his already extensive list of aphrodisiacs and stimulants for men)' (p. 53). 'In essence, there were four archetypal vampires in nineteenth-century fiction: the Satanic Lord (Polidori and derivatives), the Fatal Woman (Tieck, Hoffmann, Gautier, Baudelaire, Swinburne and Le Fanu), the Unseen Force (O'Brien, de Maupassant) and the Folkloric Vampire (Merimee, Gogol, Tolstoy, Turgenev, Linton and Burton). One might add also the "camp" vampire…' (p. 62). [With the exception of the latter, Dracula pulls all these strands together.]

…the Polidori Vampyre spawned a fully-fledged literary genre, with well-defined rules and a series of plot formulae which could be manipulated to suit popular taste at any time between 1820 and 1850; the location might change (Ruthven was reincarnated in Greece, Italy, the Balkans, rural England and Scotland—he appeared north of the border, not because of any Byronic associations but because the English Opera House was stuck with an extensive stock of unworn kilts) but the story remained more or less the same. The Ruthven phenomenon (perhaps the first literary formula in history to originate with high culture and, eventually, to feed into workingclass pulp literature); this illustrates well what Tsvetan Todorov defines as a genre (in his Introduction à la Littérature Fantastique, 1970): 'texts which do not represent a significant shift in ideas which are held at a given time about a type of literature' and 'which do not normally qualify for inclusion in the history of literature, and thus pass into another category—known as "popular" or "mass" literature seem peculiarly appropriate as examples for genre or formula analysis. (pp. 63–64)

Stoker's knowledge of the Irish civil service leads to some interesting speculations including 'the distance between Dublin Castle and Castle Dracula—at a symbolic level—was not quite as great as the maps show. Certainly, both the ancestral home of the Karnsteins and Dracula's establishment in the land beyond the forest represent superb metaphors for the gingerbread court of the Viceroy in the late nineteenth century, tales of bureaucracy and imagination, perhaps' (pp. 65–66). [There's more here, and a number of other writers have explored this idea, namely that an Irishman, used to being treated as a subhuman primitive by the English establishment, might well have conceived at one level of the Carpathian count's inroads into comfortable, genteel, damnably complacent and condescending England with distant satisfaction, and to the objection that the English win in the end…well, they do, don't they?]

Stoker was a regular visitor to the soirees of Sir William and Lady Francesca Wilde; all three were interested in collecting Irish folktales, some of which have vampiric figures: 'If vampires like to rise from the dead at twilight, there is a surprising amount of evidence to suggest that the Celtic twilight was particularly congenial to them' (p. 66) [despite the fact that vampires, per se, do not appear to figure in Irish tradition]. During his researches for Dracula Bram Stoker read Baring-Gould's Book of Werewolves (p. 71).

Frayling speaks of E. D. Gerard's The Land Beyond the Forest, and Stoker's debt to it: 'Much of the lore in Dracula comes from a chapter in this book, published as an article in 1885, sometimes almost verbatim. Bram Stoker was not an experienced writer of fiction when first he embarked on his masterpiece in spring 1890 (he had yet to publish his first full-length novel), and the research sources he was using—their phrases, their information, their ideas—were transposed all too obviously into the finished text. Only when he was writing from his own experience, and about places he knew well, did he manage to "cut loose" from his research' (pp. 72–3). Frayling, as you may have begun to guess, is not infallible in his judgements; we shall assess this last one when we come to the text of Dracula itself.

Amongst other probable sources of the latter, claims Frayling (and numerous other critics), is Wilkie Collins's The Woman in White, 'a successful attempt to revive the (unfashionable) epistolary novel…We know that Stoker found the name Dracula in a memoir he was reading, in Whitby public library, during summer 1890' (p. 77). '"Drac" meant dragon, "ul" meant "the" and "a" meant "son of", so "Dracula" meant "son of the dragon"' (p. 78).

Ludovic Flow has written about Stoker's work and about Dracula in particular: "He is the master of the commonplace style in which clichés flow as if they were impelled by the same pressure as genius. I don't say this lightly. There is a semi-heroic, Everyman quality about his intense command of the mediocre—as if the commonplace had found a champion who could wear its colours with all the ceremony of greatness. When such a man, just once, is thoroughly afraid, the charade stops and what you get is Dracula. (quoted on p. 79)

[No references in this book, or index, or bibliography; there is no work by Ludovic Flow in the National Library of Scotland, where I checked these references out.]

We note that so thorough was Stoker in preparing his materials that he was in correspondence with with the famous cultural scholar, Max Muller, about sources. Indeed Frayling suggests that Muller may be one of the models for Van Helsing (p. 82).

Sections 1–4: Source Material

This concludes the original essay part of the book: the rest is made up of source material, each entry being prefixed by biographical notes on the author:

  • Joseph Pitton de Tournefort, 'A Voyage to the Levant', pp. 87;
  • Dom Augustin Calmet, 'Treatise on the Vampires of Hungary and Surrounding Regions', pp. 92–103;
  • John Polidori, The Vampyre, pp. 107–125;
  • Lord Byron, 'Fragment of a Story', pp. 126–130; 
  • Alexandre Dumas, 'A Visit to the Theatre', pp. 131–144; 
  • James Malcolm Rymer, Varney, the Vampyre, pp. 145–161;
  • Johann Ludwig Tieck, 'Wake not the dead', pp. 165–189; 
  • E. T. A. Hoffmann, 'Aurelia', pp. 190–207; 
  • Fitz-James O'Brien, 'What was it?', pp. 208–220; 
  • 'X.L.', 'A Kiss of Judas', pp. 221–250; 
  • Alexis Tolstoy, 'The Family of the Vourdalak' pp. 251–279; 
  • Eliza Lynn Linton, 'The Fate of Madame Cabanel', pp. 280–293.

Section 5: 'The Genesis of Dracula'

'When Oxford University Press announced in 1983 that it was about to reissue Bram Stoker's Dracula as the hundredth title in the World's Classics Series, it did so as if looking down from the great height of some ivory tower; authors from the acknowledged great tradition, the press said, would "no doubt turn in their graves" if they knew that they would in future be sharing the library shelves with Bram Stoker. And when the novelist and biographer A. N. Wilson deigned to write an Introduction for OUP, he proved to be even more apologetic:

Dracula, is, patently…not a great work of literature. The writing is of a powerful, workaday sensationalist kind. No one in their right mind would think of Stoker as "a great writer". How can someone who is not a great writer be said to have written a classic?…[By making] your hair stand on end. And that, from the first page to the last, is what Dracula is meant to do. (section 5)

Apart from anything else, adds Wilson, Stoker hadn't even taken the trouble to do much background reading before cobbling together his magnum opus. At least if he had been a scholar, it is implied, he might have earned his place at the high table on that ticket:

Stoker was obviously well-enough versed in the better-known sensationalist vampire literature—Varney the Vampire, Carmilla and so on. It would seem likely that he did some—but very little—research for his fantasy and that, like Jonathan Harker, he 'had visited the British Museum, and made search among the books and maps in the Library regarding Transylvania'…Stoker's imagination was not a uniquely original one. Vampires from Varney and Le Fanu; a setting and a personage hastily 'got up' from a few hours in the British Museum. What is there left to say of Bram Stoker's originality or achievement? (section 5)

The answer is: a great deal. A. N. Wilson had done some research for his anaemic contribution—but very little. For, over a decade before his Introduction was published, and sixty years after they were originally sold at Sotheby's, London, Bram Stoker's "original Foundation Notes and Data for his Dracula" were acquired by the Rosenbach Foundation in Philadelphia. A brief account of them had appeared in Notes and Queries in 1977. These show, says Frayling, that whatever his talents as a writer, Stoker did a great deal of research for the book, and it was several years in the writing. [There's a useful point to bear in mind here for the utility of good literary scholarship, and the consequences when people do it badly.] This is excellent: it shows a careful, adaptable, intelligent enquirer using a whole range of resources at his disposal: the section is on pp. 297–302. This included going round the graveyard at Whitby jotting down suitable names. '…we know that Stoker's visits to Cruden Bay in Scotland…every summer from 1893 onwards provided a suitably romantic setting for the actual drafting of the novel. Some have even suggested that there may be a Scots folkloric basis for Dracula but there is very little evidence for this' (p. 299).

These working notes show that Stoker worked on the novel over a much longer period than several biographers have suggested, some suggesting as late as 1895 or 1896. 'The book was intended to be set in the year 1893 (S. was as meticulous…about dates as he was about train timetables and weather conditions, and he made several efforts to make the timescale "fit")' (p. 299). The epistolary form was decided from the outset. 'The Count was originally, and somewhat prosaically, to be known as "Count Wampyr"; the first direct reference to "Count Dracula" occurs on the 29th February 1892, following Stoker's discovery of the name in William Wilkinson's book, probably in summer 1890 (see page 317). The novel was originally to be set in Austrian Styria; only later (1892) did Stoker decide to move it eastwards to Transylvania…' (pp. 299–300). [He knew his law stuff; he was himself called to the bar in 1890.]

The Munich episode, later published as 'Dracula's Guest' stayed in the book until final draft stage. The movement between England and East Europe was there from the beginning, as was the 'rules' for vampires; the title was decided at the very last moment; S. uncertain whether to call it The Undead or The Dead Undead: the contract for the book signed with Constables on 20 May 1897 gives the title as The Undead. '…timely reminder—as we examine his "Foundation Notes and Data"—that the novel isn't just a pile of pieces of information about the author (as it has tended to be treated by commentators in recent years); it is also a structure held together well below the surface of the text' (p. 302).

Bram Stoker's Working Papers for Dracula

pp. 303–316: This is a talk through the papers from the Rosenbach Stoker Collection, the documents being rearranged so far as possible in correct chronological order by the editor. He was working with train timetables and Baedekers to establish an exact and credible chronology. 

Bram Stoker's Research Papers for Dracula

pp. 317–347: This deals with the books and articles, identified by name and with key extracts from them, that S. used while researching the book. It is here that we get the following: 'Amazingly Bram Stoker first came across the name DRACULA while reading a memoir by the "Late British Consul Resident at Bukorest" in the public library at Whitby in Yorkshire. He even noted down the class mark! Since we know that Stoker was holidaying there, between July and September 1890 (when he scribbled his notes for Chapters VI–VIII of Dracula, the ones which describe events in Whitby between 26 July and 19 August), it seems certain he discovered Dracula that same summer, some four or five months after he started thinking about the book…The passage from Wilkinson's book reprinted here contains the one and only reference to the historical Dracula, Vlad the Impaler, in all of Stoker's research papers' (pp. 317–8).

For interest's sake, here is the reference:

…the year 1444; when Ladislas King of Hungary, preparing to make war against the Turks, engaged the Voivode Dracula to form an alliance with him. The Hungarian troops marched through the principality and were joined by four thousand Wallachians under the command of Dracula's son…[a later Dracula, presumably the son of the first takes up the war against the Turks once more—Wilkinson continues] Dracula did not remain satisfied with mere prudent measures of defence: with an army he crossed the Danube and attacked the few Turkish troops that were stationed in his neighbourhood; but this attempt, like those of his predecessors, was only attended with momentary success. Mahomet having turned his arms against him, drove him back to Wallachia, whither he pursued and defeated him. The Voivode escaped into Hungary… (p. 319)

Wilkinson adds 'Dracula in the Wallachian language means Devil. The Wallachians were, at that time, as they are at present, used to give this as a surname to any person who rendered himself conspicuous either by courage, cruel actions, or cunning' (p. 319).

This section ends with several short pieces:

  • Emily Gerard, "Transylvanian Superstitions."
  • Charles Boner, "Transylvania," which had excellent and detailed pull out maps of the region.
  • A. F. Crosse, "Round About the Carpathians."
  • Major E. C. Johnson, "On the Track of the Crescent."
  • S. Baring-Gould, "Book of Were-wolves."

Section 6: 'Count Dracula'

Then a section simply called 'Count Dracula' which reprints 'Dracula's Guest' with explanatory notes arguing that it could not be merely a cancelled chapter of the larger novel as is sometimes stated. Then we get extracts from Dracula itself with notes relating these to Stoker's reading.

Section 7: 'Haemosexuality'

Then a section entitled 'Haemosexuality' [sic] pp. 385–422. Explores the association of vampirism with sadistic sexuality. Opens with a quote from Song One of The Songs of Maldoror by Lautreamont (1868) a bizarre piece about the pleasures of growing your nails long and slashing the chest of a boy lover and drinking his blood. This section deals with the long literary connections between love and death, between kissing and biting, between desiring and eating, [so that love and cannibalism are linked].

Amongst psychiatrists, the earliest to speak explicitly of the links between sadistic sexuality and vampirism was Richard von Krafft-Ebing, professor of psychiatry at the University of Vienna, and he first published it in his book Psychopathia Sexualis in 1886. This contained many classic case studies of sexual deviation (p. 388).

Then we get an extract from leading Freudian theorest Ernest Jones's On the Nightmare written in the 1920s and included because 'it is the most sane analysis of the psychological meaning of vampirism (from a Freudian perspective) that has yet been written' (p. 389). He concludes with a bit of Maurice Richardson's 'The Psychoanalysis of Ghost Stories' published in Twentieth Century magazine, December 1959, which has been very influential with later interpreters. Kraft-Ebbing says 'That lust and cruelty often occur together is a fact that has long been recognised and is frequently observed…' (p. 390) and cites a wide variety of sources ancient and modern including Lombroso. [The idea is that during particularly good sex, everything in the nervous system is excited, and so things like scratching and biting are, as it were, a reflex action resulting from stimulus elsewhere.] In psychopathic personalities, the urge to inflict pain is correspondingly heightened. There is a similar urge, in men, towards conquest and domination of the partner. Necrophilia he regards as merely an intensification of the urge to dominate without the least possibility of resistance. Krafft-Ebing gives further examples of exposure to other people's blood acting as an erotic stimulus.

'On the Vampire' by Ernest Jones pp. 398–417: a rather plodding piece; this is reportage rather than analysis, i.e. a statement of the fact rather than an explanation of it, except in vague Freudian terms.

Maurice Richardson invokes and recommends Jones's chapter. Richardson holds that only a Freudian reading can make any sense of the novel. 


pp. 423: Quotes an interesting passage from Joyce's Ulysses in which a moon maid meets a male vampire: 'He comes, pale vampire, through storm his eyes, his bat sails bloodying the sea, mouth to her mouth's kiss' (quoted on p. 423). And also from The Waste Land, the section beginning 'A woman drew her long black hair out tight…' which seems to allude to the section in Dracula where the Count crawls head downwards down the walls.

That's all the epilogue is, just these two passages set enigmatically together without comment.

Bibliography and Acknowledgements

Then 'Bibliography and Acknowledgements' which forms an excellent catalogue raisonné of the main materials in the field, including Montague Summers, and several continental works. Has Robert Eisler's Man into Wolf (1951). Here's Raymond McNally and Radu Florescu's two books, The Essential Dracula, 1979, and Dracula Prince of Many Faces, 1989.