In the Open Graves, Open Minds Project, we unearthed depictions of the vampire and the undead in literature, art, and other media, before embracing shapeshifters and other supernatural beings and their worlds. OGOM opens up questions concerning genre, gender, hybridity, cultural change, and other realms. The Project extends to all narratives of the fantastic, the folkloric, the fabulous, and the magical.
Happy holidays to all from OGOM. Here’s a cover from a turn-of the-19th-century satirical magazine Puck announcing a very mischievous Easter:
However you are spending the bank holiday, I hope you catch some mummers or pace egg plays as they are always a delight. We have already had reports from Todmorden and St Albans. You can read about the play’s themes and significance in our earlier post here.
If you are short of ideas for pace eggs, we do have some that would appeal to gothic sensibilities….wow just wow!!
Mummer or Pace egg Plays are often performed today in areas such as St Albans, Todmorden & Hebden Bridge. They have a hero-combat theme. St George fights and conquers all manner of enemies (The dragon, The Turk etc.). The other major motif is death and resurrection so those killed are ‘cured’ and will live to fight another day. These plays are secular, so the resurrection here often involves a magic cordial, but they do share the Christian theme of renewal and rebirth at Easter.
Todmorden in West Yorkshire is launching it’s Centre for Folklore, Myth and Magic on Easter Saturday so do go along and find out more. You can pop into some of those wonderful bookshops such as Lyalls (Rochdale Rd, Todmorden OL14 5AA) and Border Bookshop (61a Halifax Rd, Todmorden OL14 5BB) that we have been hearing so much about too; peopled by interesting OGOM inspired staff :-).
Animal heads have existed since medieval times, the nobility staged elaborate mummings at court involving swan heads, peacocks & dragons. Similar heads can still be found in St Albans in C21st (above) and are strangely unsettling to see.
A more sinister version of mummers emerged in folk horror’s The Wicker Man (1973). A film which draws heavily on the sources in J.G. Frazer’s The Golden Bough (1890).
Mikel Koven has written a provocative account of folklore in the film in relation to Frazer who coincidentally features heavily in my forthcoming book on the shadow and my essay on folkloric shadowless demons in the special edition of Gothic Studies on Folklore (next but one issue).
Folklore and Folk Horror are really thriving in Gothic Studies just now and the University of Hertfordshire have just launched their MA in Folklore Studies, the first of its kind in the UK. Applications are open!
This website is, among other things, a resource through which OGOM research can be disseminated. So, for those who are interested, I have made available my paper from the symposium ‘Rebellion, treachery, and glamour: Lady Caroline Lamb’s Glenarvon and the progress of the Byronic vampire’ on the Repository page here. This talk covered the interconnections between Glenarvon, John Polidori’s The Vampyre, and today’s vampire lovers.
I’ve also made available my paper from the fabulous IGA 2018 conference at MMU, “Two kinds of romance”: generic hybridity and mongrel monsters from Gothic novel to Paranormal Romance’. MA students at Bath Spa University, where I was kindly invited to talk recently by my doppelgänger Prof. William Hughes, may be interested too–it’s substantially the same talk. In this I discuss the shifts in genre from the Radcliffean Gothic novel to contemporary paranormal romance by way of the Gothic Romance of the 1950s-70s.
Victorian physician John Polidori took the vampire out of the forests of eastern Europe, gave him an aristocratic lineage and placed him into the drawing rooms of Romantic-era England. His tale The Vampyre,, published 200 years ago – on April 1 1819, was the first sustained fictional treatment of the vampire and completely recast the folklore and mythology on which it drew. The vampire figure abandoned its peasant roots and left its calling card in polite society in London.
The story emerged out of the same storytelling contest at the Villa Diodati that gave birth to that other archetype of the Gothic heritage, Frankenstein’s monster. Present at this gathering were Polidori (then Byron’s physician) as well as Mary Godwin, the author of Frankenstein, Claire Clairmont, Mary’s stepsister, Mary’s soon-to-be husband Percy Shelley, and – crucially – Lord Byron.
Byron’s contribution to the contest was an inconclusive fragment about a mysterious man, Augustus Darvell, characterised by “a cureless disquiet”. Polidori took this fragment and turned it into the sensational tale of the vampire Lord Ruthven, preying on the vulnerable women of society.
After its magazine debut the story was published in book form and went through seven English printings in 1819 alone. It was adapted for the stage the following year by melodramatic playwright James Robinson Planché, one of a growing number of vampire theatricals inspired by Polidori, such as those by Charles Nodier and others.
It was then expanded into a two-volume French novel by Cyprien Bérard, Lord Ruthwen ou les vampires. By 1830 it had been translated into German, Italian, Spanish, and Swedish.
Despite all these imitations and adaptations, “Poor Polidori”, as Mary Shelley liked to call him, has all but been forgotten and his lively tale has often been dismissed as a crude narrative, written under the influence of a greater, more subtle talent, Byron. And yet it was Polidori not Byron who succeeded in founding the entire modern tradition of vampire fiction.
Peasant to patrician
The vampire prior to this had been a blood-gorged, animalistic monster of the Slavic peasantry. In his study of the origins of Vampire lore, Vampires, Burials and Death, American scholar Paul Barber described the traditional image of the undead bloodsucker thus:
with long fingernails and a stubbly beard […] his face ruddy and swollen. He would wear informal attire — a linen shroud – and would look for all the world like a dishevelled peasant.
Polidori transformed the East European peasant vampire of old into a pale-faced, dead-eyed, licentious English aristocrat. This deceiving, dashing and cursed creature was in possession of “irresistible powers of seduction”, haunting the drawing rooms of Western society undetected. In the hands of Polidori, under the influence of Byron, vampires transitioned from dishevelled peasants into alluring, seductive aristocrats in the 19th century.
This elevation in social status is not all. Polidori’s The Vampyre is responsible for a number of groundbreaking innovations. He established links to the aristocracy – where there had never before been an urban vampire, let alone one as educated and high in social rank. He also introduced the notion of the vampire as sexual predator, showing his readers, for the first time, the vampire as rake or libertine – a real “lady killer”. As he wrote in his novella:
The guardians hastened to protect Miss Aubrey; but when they arrived, it was too late. Lord Ruthven had disappeared and Aubrey’s sister had glutted the thirst of a VAMPYRE!
Mad and bad
Lord Ruthven is a satirical portrait of Byron as a seducer of women in polite society. “Mad, bad, and dangerous to know” – as the aristocratic writer Lady Caroline Lamb described the lover who had spurned her. This is the image we have of the vampire. Lamb cast Byron as the dark and duplicitous Gothic seducer, Lord Ruthven in her 1816 novel Glenarvon. In turn, Polidori took the name Lord Ruthven in order to create the first literary vampire.
Lord Ruthven spawned a series of saturnine or demonic lovers in turn, from the Brontës’ Mr Rochester to the more sexy incarnations of Dracula and the contemporary paranormal romances of mortal women seduced by brooding bad and dangerous vampires.
Polidori’s vampire, despite being something of a blank canvas, is sexualised and mesmeric, providing a template not only for Count Dracula but for the “Byronic hero” that features in Gothic romance from pre-Victorian times down to present-day paranormal romances such as Twilight. Edward Cullen – played by Robert Pattison, continuing the tradition of British actors playing vampires from Christopher Lee to Gary Oldman – is a reproduction of this earlier archetype. He’s something of a consumerist fantasy – as expensive as diamonds, marble or crystal:
His skin white […] literally sparkled, like thousands of tiny diamonds were embedded in the surface. He lay perfectly still in the grass, his shirt open over his sculptured incandescent chest, his scintillating arms bare […] a perfect statue carved in some unknown stone, smooth like marble, glittering like crystal.
Cullen’s aristocratic charm and anachronistic way of speaking (“I endeavoured to secure your hand” he tells Bella) indicate he is a relic of earlier models of vampiric masculinity, further evidence of the long-reaching legacy of Polidori’s vampire.
As Catherine Spooner, Professor of Gothic Literature at Lancaster University, has argued in a collection of essays about Vampires – Open Graves, Open Minds: Representations of Vampires and the Undead which I co-edited in 2012: “Over a period of about 200 years vampires have changed from the grotty living corpses of folklore to witty, sexy, super achievers.”
Polidori died in London in August 1821, weighed down by depression and gambling debts. It is said that he committed suicide by means of cyanide but that, to protect his family’s name, the coroner gave a verdict of death by natural causes. Sadly he wasn’t to know the fame his creation would achieve as the star of hundreds of books, plays and films – and millions of nightmares.
The first news stories are starting to appear now about our exciting bicentenary event, like this one…
To mark the bicentenary of the publication of John Polidori’s gothic tale The Vampyre, academics from across the world will gather at the Open Minds, Open Graves Symposium. It is well known that Polidori’s vampire emerged out of the same storytelling contest at the Villa Diodati in 1816 that gave birth to that other archetype of Gothic heritage, Frankenstein’s monster. Present at this gathering were Polidori (who was Byron’s physician); Mary Godwin, Frankenstein’s author; Claire Clairmont, Percy Shelley, and (crucially) Lord Byron. Byron’s contribution to the contest was a fragment about a mysterious man characterised by ‘a curious disquiet’. Polidori took this fragment and turned it into the tale of the vampire Lord Ruthven, preying on the vulnerable women of society. The Vampyre was something of a sensation and spawned stage versions and imitations that were hugely popular. It marked the beginning of European literature’s endless fascination with the figure of the vampire.
On 6-7 April 2019, the Open Graves, Open Minds research group at the University of Hertfordshire will present ‘Some curious disquiet’: Polidori, the Byronic vampire, and its progeny’. A symposium for the bicentenary of The Vampyre, at Keats House, Hampstead.
“The symposium will celebrate Polidori for
having succeeded in founding the entire modern tradition of vampire fiction. In
the hands of Polidori (inspired by the figure of Lord Byron), vampires
transitioned from dishevelled peasants into alluring seductive, aristocrats.
This elevation of social rank is not all. Links to the aristocracy in England were
established. There seemed never to have been an urban vampire, nor an educated
vampire prior to this. A predatory sexuality had been introduced in relation to
the vampire. We see for the first time the vampire as rake or libertine, a real
Dr Sam George
Senior Lecturer in Literature at the University of Hertfordshire and convenor
of Open Minds, Open Graves
“Mad, bad, and dangerous’—and hot! That’s how Lady Caroline Lamb saw the poet Byron, the lover who discarded her. And that’s the image we have of the vampire in the twenty-first century. Lamb cast Byron as the dark and duplicitous Gothic seducer, Lord Ruthven, in her novel Glenarvon (1816). In turn, John Polidori, Byron’s physician, took the name Lord Ruthven in creating the first literary vampire, 200 years ago in April in his novella The Vampyre. Polidori’s vampire is a satirical portrait of Byron as a seducer of women in polite society. Ruthven spawned a series of demonic lovers from the Brontës and Daphne du Maurier to the more sexy incarnations of Dracula and the paranormal romances of mortal women seduced by brooding bad and dangerous vampires. At this symposium, leading scholars of the Gothic tell this story of the legacy of Polidori’s disquieting vampire.”
Dr Bill Hughes
Open Minds, Open Graves project
“Lord Ruthven is a seminal vampire,
eliciting both desire and disgust. He creates the possibility for the
villainous bloodsucker to become the romanticised vampire of the late twentieth
century. Without Polidori’s The Vampyre,there could be neither Dracula nor
his lineage. Lord Ruthven’s seductive, Byronic powers make him the first
vampire you would invite into your home, and possibly your bed!”
Dr Kaja Franck
Postdoctoral researcher at the University of Hertfordshire
The event will
trace Polidori’s bloodsucking progeny and his heritage of ‘curious disquiet’ in
literature and film. The delegates have been selected for their expertise in
the Byronic, the Gothic, and the vampiric. The Symposium is to be held at
Keats House, Hampstead, home of the poet. They hold a first edition of The Vampyre.
of Hertfordshire’s MA module ‘Reading the Vampire: Science, Sexuality and
Alterity’ is now in its ninth year
I had a great time yesterday at Bath Spa University giving a presentation on the evolution of the Demon Lover in Gothic Romance and paranormal romance. I was invited by my doppelgänger Prof. Bill Hughes and heard a variety of excellent papers from postgraduates on the MA in Crime and Gothic Fictions, covering such diverse topics as eco-Gothic, natural disaster, serial bingeing, embodiment, urban legends, and Scottish Gothic. I’d like to thank Bill and everyone who came for such a stimulating conversation.
If anyone wants to hear more on the development of the Demonic Lover in their role as vampire, there is still time to come and see me and some very notable scholars of the Gothic talk on the origins of the literary vampire in John Polidori’s The Vampyre, whose bicentenary we are celebrating at this fabulous symposium.
Part of the Gothic Bible Project, and following our inaugural Gothic Bible conference in 2017 (which you can read all about here) ‘Buffy and the Bible’ will take the hit show Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003) as a case study to interrogate the relationship between religion and popular culture, and we welcome papers and posters that explore this theme in any aspect of the Buffyverse.
5. CFP symposium: The Gothic 1980s: The decade that scared us, Manchester Metropolitan University, 8 June 2019. Deadline 29 March 2019.
But why the Gothic grip on a decade many see as a time of electronic dance music, brash pop culture and new technology? ‘The Gothic 1980s: The decade that scared us’ is a symposium determined to stretch beyond the stereotypes attached to the era and invites participants to delve into the themes of what was ultimately a divisive, often dark, and certainly fascinating, decade.
6. A free panel discussion: HAUNT Manchester and Not Quite Light present: Following Hauntology: twilight streets and dark horizons, Manchester Metropolitan University, 27 March 2019
A panel discussion featuring a number of academics, artists and innovators discussing ideas and themes around Hauntology. Hauntology is a way of thinking about our world as intrinsically ghostly; one in which our present is always already ghosted by unresolved pasts and unrealised futures.
This symposium will focus on literature, arts and practice where individuals, groups, artists and writers explore a range of topics and themes deemed sacred and their interaction with death. Across all religions and cultures, death and dying has always loomed over sacred sites, texts, practises and journeys, and death has always commanded ritual and sacred attention. The theme ‘death and the sacred’, therefore, provides a fruitful topic for thinking about how the uniquely ordained, set aside, extraordinary features of particular locations and sites, bodies, practises and belief systems are influenced, reformed and repurposed by death.
‘Mad, bad, and dangerous’—and hot! That’s how Lady Caroline Lamb saw the poet Byron, the lover who discarded her. And that’s the image we have of the vampire in the twenty-first century. Lamb cast Byron as the dark and duplicitous Gothic seducer, Lord Ruthven in her novel Glenarvon (1816). In turn, John Polidori, Byron’s physician, took the name Lord Ruthven in creating the first literary vampire, 200 years ago in his novella The Vampyre. Polidori’s vampire is a satirical portrait of Byron as a seducer of women in polite society. Ruthven spawned a series of demonic lovers from the Brontës and Daphne du Maurier to the more sexy incarnations of Dracula and the paranormal romances of mortal women seduced by brooding bad and dangerous vampires. At this symposium, leading scholars of the Gothic tell this story of the legacy of Polidori’s disquieting vampire.
1. Cine Excess XIII: Independent Visions of Excess, 7-9 November 2019, Birmingham City University. Deadline: 6 September 2019 For its 13th annual edition, Cine Excess focuses on independent visions of excess and the contribution of independent filmmakers working outside of the mainstream … Continue reading →
1. First, a conference CFP: Utopia & Dystopia: Conference on the Fantastic in Media Entertainment, University of Southern Denmark, 28-29 May 2020. Deadline: 10 December 2019. This conference invites new research in the fantastic. Why is the fantastic more popular … Continue reading →
Reblogged from EUP Blog, 8 July 2019 The first issue of Gothic Studies published by EUP is also the first ever issue devoted to werewolves. In the twenty-first century, the era of late capitalism, new werewolf myths have emerged from our cultural … Continue reading →
As you may know from previous posts, I have been tracing the genetic mutations from which the genre of paranormal romance arose by looking at an earlier manifestation, Gothic romance (or romantic suspense). This genre flourished from about the 1940s … Continue reading →
Conference report by Daisy Butcher, PhD candidate, University of Hertfordshire On Friday the 28th of June I attended the Queer Fears Symposium run by my wonderful secondary PhD supervisor Dr Darren Elliott-Smith at the Odyssey Cinema in St Albans. The … Continue reading →
Some more CFPs and Calls for Articles: 1. Myth and Art Revisited conference, National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Greece, 18-19 December 2019. Deadline: 31 July 2019. This international two-day conference hosted by the Department of English Language and Literature, … Continue reading →
Next year will be the tenth anniversary of the OGOM Project. Sam and I are working on something very special and magical for our celebrations and 2020 conference. All will be revealed soon but some of our background research involved … Continue reading →
Some exciting conferences coming up! 1. Gothic Manchester Festival Conference 2019 ‘Gothic Times’, Manchester Metropolitan University, 26 October 2019. Deadline: 30 July 2019. In the opening decades of the twenty-first century, with Trump in the White House and Brexit on … Continue reading →
Sorry for the delay, but we’ve finally produced the report on our fabulous symposium for the bicentenary of John Polidori’s The Vampyre, which was held 6-7 April 2019 at Keats House, Hampstead. You can read the report by following this … Continue reading →
Woo hoo we’re excited to announce that OGOM’s Dr Sam George and Dr Bill Hughes have edited the first ever issue of Gothic Studies on werewolves and it is out now from Edinburgh University Press: ‘Werewolves and Wildness’ 21.1 (May … Continue reading →
Happy holidays to all from OGOM. Here’s a cover from a turn-of the-19th-century satirical magazine Puck announcing a very mischievous Easter: However you are spending the bank holiday, I hope you catch some mummers or pace egg plays as they … Continue reading →
Mummer or Pace egg Plays are often performed today in areas such as St Albans, Todmorden & Hebden Bridge. They have a hero-combat theme. St George fights and conquers all manner of enemies (The dragon, The Turk etc.). The other … Continue reading →
OGOM’s recent symposium, ‘Some curious disquiet’: Polidori, the Byronic vampire, and its progeny‘ was a huge success and we’d like to thank again everyone who made it possible, form the brilliant speakers to the very supportive visitors and the staff … Continue reading →
Vampire’s rebirth: from monstrous undead creature to sexy and romantic Byronic seducer in one ghost story The Nightmare by John Henry Fuseli. Detroit Institute of Arts Sam George, University of Hertfordshire Victorian physician John Polidori took the vampire out of … Continue reading →
The first news stories are starting to appear now about our exciting bicentenary event, like this one… To mark the bicentenary of the publication of John Polidori’s gothic tale The Vampyre, academics from across the world will gather at the … Continue reading →
I had a great time yesterday at Bath Spa University giving a presentation on the evolution of the Demon Lover in Gothic Romance and paranormal romance. I was invited by my doppelgänger Prof. Bill Hughes and heard a variety of … Continue reading →
Quite a few calls for papers and articles here. We’ve also added two new useful links – Gothic Feminism and the journal Thinking Horror. 1. Call for articles: Deadline Extended till 15 April 2019 – Irish Journal of Gothic and … Continue reading →
Tickets are selling rapidly for the Polidori Vampyre Symposium so do book here before it’s too late! The programme is available here and we think it’s looking fabulous–see the images below. ‘Mad, bad, and dangerous’—and hot! That’s how Lady Caroline … Continue reading →
Booking for the symposium for the bicentenary of John Polidori’s The Vampyre is now open–click here. It’s going to be a fabulous event: have a look here for full details and here for the programme of brilliant speakers.