Unreal Bodies, Unholy Blood

The vampire, possibly the most enduring mythic figure of the modern age, emerged out of the shadows of the Enlightenment.  To be sure, folkloric accounts of lamiae, strigae, and incubi predate the Christian era and continued to haunt the European imagination throughout the Middle Ages, when vampirism was generally associated with witchcraft.  But early in the 18th century, vampire panic began to spread out of Hungary and Rumania into France, the citadel of deism.  Dom Augustin Calmet, in his Traité sur les apparitions des Esprits, et sur les vampires ou le revenans de Hongrie, de Moravie, &c (1746), documented hundreds of cases of vampirism, and though he did not pronounce them authentic, neither did he dismiss them.  Calmet’s treatise was mocked by Voltaire but avidly studied by the Romantic literati, who made the vampire a seductive trope in their revolt against the tidy worldview of the Enlightenment.  Whether or not writers like E.T.A. Hoffman, Coleridge, Southey, Keats, Byron, Le Fanu, Poe, and others believed in vampires, they certainly found them useful as figurative manifestations of the darker regions of the human psyche.

The emergence of the Romantic vampire cannot be adequately understood without reference to The Vampyre (1819), a novella that created an instant sensation in England and France.  Initially attributed to Byron but in fact written by his erstwhile physician, John Polidori,...

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