Friday, 27 June 2014

What I've been Reading: The Princess Bride, The Count of Monte Cristo

I suppose after last week's little rant about idiot abridgements, it was only natural I returned my attention to the most lauded and memorable 'good bits' version it's been my pleasure to read. I am talking, of course, of S. Morgernstern's Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure, The Princess Bride, abridged for us lesser mortals by William Goldman. This was partly because of a recent argument I got involved in regarding the sexism that pervades said text (no matter how much I love it, it does. There is. Sob. Sorry) and partly because of the way Goldman's attitude towards adventure fiction reveals a parallel, but very different course, to my own.

The Count of Monte Cristo was written at a time when the genre lines that govern fiction were not so strictly defined. We do Dumas as much as a disservice by pigeon-holing him as a historical Romance writer as we do by perpetuating the myth that he wrote children's books. The 'Rome' section (the bit I've just read) is as pure and concentrated Gothic as Udolpho. It's all Italian banditti, Edmond-the-Vampire and slightly strained reference to Lord Byron. In fact, the novel itself follows the pattern of a Gothic beautifully,we follow our hero from pastoral (or perhaps maritime) idyllic poverty, through terror and bondage (and that word is ruined forever) into the more violent, 'primitive' places where different rules govern behaviours and men - remote islands, Italian forests, the Eternal City - only to bring that terror back with us to the stylish salons of the so-called civilised world. In fact, the evidence is that Dumas really wanted to write a Gothic in the truest sense of the word, in that he wanted to start the book in Rome, have us meet Edmond-the-vampire before we met Edmond-the-poor-but-honest sailor. Like the ambiguous, Byronic villains whose apparent supernatural origins are eventually explained away, we were supposed to be mystified by the terrifying, 'savage' honour of 'Sinbad the Sailor' before we understood the betrayal that had shaped him.

Thanks to the intervention of Auguste Maquet, however, that is not the story we have. So we, with our more rigid interpretations of genre conventions, we find ourselves expecting Napoleon, vengeance, true love and high adventure and instead get dropped in the catacombs of San Sebastiano with a bunch of Byronic bandits. 

Well I, for one, am not complaining. *Whistles innocuously*

Mmm. Edmond Dantès
But coming back for a moment to The Princess Bride, Goldman perfectly captures the savage realism and emotional challenge that novels like Monte Cristo offer to young readers. Especially denuded of the societal satire, the dirty bits and the political context, these stories are incredibly shocking beneath their veneer of 'far away and long ago.' The Three Musketeers is a tale of friendship that overcomes all odds and then just sort of... ends as the four men go their separate ways. The Count of Monte Cristo is about a man getting vengeance on his betrayers, on the man who stole his future and his wife and then, all obstacles removed, their enduring love for each other admitted, he.... goes off with someone else. The Princess Bride is about a couple who brave the the Cliffs of Insanity, the Fireswamp, torture, only for one of them to die and the other to marry another. No one even 'gets' Humperdinck!

They aren't fair, these novels. There is no Providence, no ever loving God looking out for the virtuous. And actually, come to think of it, our heroes aren't that virtuous. Goldman captures - perfectly - the frustrations of a child who has grown up with the sanitised, naive, 'happy ending' versions of these stories, only to discover in adulthood that they weren't simple or as reassuring, that the undercurrent of discomfort they created was their real legacy, their enduring power. 

After all, Who said that life was fair? Where is that written?

Friday, 20 June 2014

What I've been reading: The Count of Monte Cristo and Fables: March of the Wooden Soldiers


They killed...

Okay, I'm not writing this just now. Let's do the other book I've been reading, because that makes me happy.I'm together. I promise.

So. The Count of Monte Cristo, or as it should be known, "Stop cutting lumps out of my novels!" I get it, I do, I really do. They are intimidating tomes. My copy of Monte Cristo could probably be used as an offensive weapon but really? Seriously? The trouble I went to trying to get a copy of this that was complete and unabridged was ridiculous. Many translations don't even bother telling you that they've whacked great chunks off the word-count, just, "here, have a shorter novel. No need to thanks us for it."


Is it because they thing Dumas wrote children's novels? Is it because we still think of his work as 'trash', despite its enduring popularity? Are we just missing the entire point of the genre in which he was writing?

Look, I'm on chapter 37 of 116 and I love this book. It's got everything I want in a novel - fighting, fencing, torture, poison, true love... Well, sort of. The first thing that always astonishes me about Dumas is that, the second you forget that you are holding a veritable doorstop, you are swept up in the pace, the character, the wit, the dialogue. The second thing that surprises me about Dumas is his realism. Yes, okay, not realism-realism, but psychological realism, political realism. This is probably because our understanding of him is filtered through abridgements, through film and television adaptations that take at face value Dumas' claim as a moral authority, that give us clean jawed, morally upright heroes and excise all those nasty, dirty bits. Abridgements and adaptations that pay into the conception of the Historical Romance as trash inhabited by stock characters.

Look, we know Dumas was a hack. We know he wrote at a terrifying speed but has it occurred to you that his perennial popularity has less to do with the swash and the buckle, and more to do with the fact that he was damned good at this? We are told, again and again, that this is a novel of providence, a novel where Dantès is transformed into its agent. It seems to me that it is more a novel written against naïveté, against the idea of an impassive, providential force. The characters who believe their virtue will protect them, will justify them, are doomed to fail. It is only those who take fate into their own hand who will succeed. God offers no justice, it is left to mankind to take vengence, to reward virtue and to punish wickedness. That the near-blameless Abbé Faria is twice foiled in his attempts to escape on the very eve of their accomplishment should convey this. That, after foresight, intelligence and labour fail, Dantès then escapes through mere opportunism and base cunning should suggest that fate does not favour those who work hard, that providence does not support virtuous. In a cold and Godless universe, The Count of Monte Cristo tells us that mankind is the highest authority, and that it is a race of crocodiles.

Truly, excellent stuff. What's more, that Edmond Dantès is a bit of a dish, isn't he? (here we go again)

Lovely covers.
Alright, alright, I can do this now. Fables: March of the Wooden Soldiers is the fourth trade paperback in Bill Willingham's Fables and has art from Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, P. Craig Russel and Craig Hamilton. The premise of the series is that the characters of all stories have been driven out of their homelands by the forces of a creature called The Adversary, and that the survivors have sought refuge in our 'mundane' world, and have settled in an area of New York known as 'Fabletown'. 

The main thrust of the series focuses on the modern day, political situation in Fabletown, especially the characters of Snow White and Bigby Wolf and the title story takes up shortly after where volume three (Storybook Love) leaves off. After it's slightly fragmentary predecessor, March of the Wooden Soldiers is a comic that has very much found its feet. It has developed into a strong, sardonic and powerful mix of detective story and fantasy adventure. The main characters are really hitting their pace as engaging, interesting figures with story arc that is separate from their fairytale origins. Good stuff.

The real power, though, is in the conception. The very basis of Fables is that your imaginative landscape has been laid to waste, that all the varied and magical lands of narrative have been torn up, pillaged and destroyed, leaving a few impoverished survivors to make a desperate living in a mundane, hostile world. To a reader, a storyteller, this will always be painful, and this is where Fables finds its real wings. They take the investment, the magic, the hope that you as a reader have placed in these characters, they take everything they represent to you and they...


They killed Tam Lin.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

The Earl Method: how to read a 19th Century novel

As the undefeated champion of Varney, The Vampyre, as the mad, Twitter advocate for a faithful film adaptation of The Three Musketeers, and the girl whose summer reading list consists of at least three books that could conceivably be used to bludgeon someone to death, I thought I'd share a few tips on how to approach those kinds of books that give you arm-ache if you attempt to read them while lying on your back.

Now, while the so-called 'Earl method' is created with the 19th Century serial novel in mind, it works with most books of impressive length, regardless of their century (I'm looking at you, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell).

So, for the intimidated I bring you my tried and tested technique: no pills, no drugs, no unnatural exercises, this is...

The Earl Method: How to read a 19th Century Novel

You will need:

A novel. Specifically one you've always been meaning to read, but never quite got round to. It's probably one sitting on a bookshelf, looking erudite and gathering dust. Otherwise, there should be one at your library or local bookshop. If you have an e-reader, try Project Gutenburg
A bookmark. Even if you don't normally use a bookmark.
This is what happens to paperbacks if you don't use a bookmark
A table, work-surface, or the ability to read lying on your front.
Tea. Lots of tea.
... and maybe a biscuit or so.

Now, the table/worktop/seat in front of you on a bus isn't necessary, but it can be helpful. You don't need to lay the book flat,but by leaning it against the edge, you should overcome most arm-strain problems. Alternatively, if you read in bed, simply push the book into your pillow and raise yourself on your arms to create the optimum angle.

Now, there's the matter of weight sorted out. Excellent. Now, here's ten tips to make sure you finish it:

It works from books like this...
  1. Take your time. Reading one of these tomes is a big commitment in time, and the novels weren't designed to be speed read. Just... make peace with that before you start. This is going to slow down your reading rate.
  2. Find out how it was published originally. This might seem a little weird, but it can help with expectations. Was this a three volume novel? Was it serialised in a magazine? Is it a 'penny dreadful'? What was its genre and target audience? These questions will affect both the pacing and the novel's general tone. A novel published over half a dozen years will not be consistent throughout, may, in fact, not be a novel as we understand it. Try to meet it on its own terms.
  3. Set yourself a target (especially if you have a deadline)... Have a look at the chapter lengths,the volume lengths, the overall novel length, and set yourself a target. This is especially helpful with serial novels. Breaking it up can really help get into the rhythm of a novel. Something that was published in monthly instalments is not intended to be read in a handful of sittings - its pace anticipates gaps, permits recaps. More 'literary' novels frequently have lulls where your interest may wane - if you read a little every day or so, you can get through the slow bits.
  4. ...but don't make it a chore. If you don't meet a target, don't treat it like the end of the world. You're supposed to be enjoying this. Also, don't read it like you're trying to wring sense from every paragraph. There's a chance it won't all be directly important. Especially in penny-a-page fiction, there will be filler. In Historical Romances, there will be lumps of history. There may well be masses and masses of back-story. Feel free to skim this stuff - although remember skipping and skimming are not quite the same. ones like this.
  5. Read another book, as well. No matter how much you're enjoying it, reading two hundred pages of hundred and fifty year old prose in a sitting will make the head swim. If you've met your target for the day, or are bogged down and unable to go on, read something else - something short, something familiar, something ultra-modern - whatever you need. This book's not going anywhere.
  6. And on that note, don't be afraid to take a break. If it's wearing you down too much, put the book down and walk away. This is not quitting - you just need to do it sometimes. I left Middlemarch for two years at the end of chapter ten, then I picked it up again and finished it. I'm currently in a similar situation with both Vanity Fair and Les Misérables. I'll come back to them. So will you.
  7.  Google is your friend as are the notes at the back of the book. If you get totally lost in the references/ quotations/ historical detail, you are not alone. On a similar note, try reading the phonetically rendered regional accents aloud. Oh, and swearing every time you encounter one. It'll make you feel better.
  8. Remember that there is no shame in giving up...
  9. ...but don't do it anyway.
  10. And it goes without saying, but If there is a film version, try to forget about it. It won't be anything like the book.
So, there are my tips. Do you have any more? Or do you use a different method entirely?

Friday, 13 June 2014

What I've been reading: We Have Always Lived in the Castle, To Kill a Mockingbird, Preacher: Until the End of the World

I finished Gone With the Wind this week. My review is that the last chapter had my hands involuntarily clenching into fists so often that my knuckles started to ache. Let's be done with it.

So, now I've finally driven an iron stake through the heart of that dreadful book (not literally - I what do you take me for?) I've been free to follow my own projects and catch up with some real reading. Yay!

And, you know, it's felt like the Gods of Literature have been rewarding my for my perseverance. I have just read three books (three!) which demanded that desperate, breathless haste, three books that demanded I surrender those so-called necessities of sleep, food and personal hygiene, three books that were pretty damned close to flawless. I honestly don't think I've had a streak this good before. Kind of frightened of breaking it.

So, these books:

These 'Penguin Modern Classics' covers are bit boring.
I have been meaning to read Shirley Jackson's We Have Always Lived in the Castle for years. It's one of those books you hear whispers about, the sort of book that's mentioned in interviews by writers that you love, or tucked into book reviews as a standard against which someone fails or succeeds. Bookshops tend not to carry it, um and arr about it being in print. If you try to get a copy from the library you'll discover that there's only one in the county, and they'll take three months sending it to you.

Worth it. Oh, it is worth it.

Will you judge me if I say it's charming? Even if I assure you I'm not gushing or being sentimental? This book is like a spell, one that weaves itself about you, much as the narrator Merricat rings her house with protective amulets.

Yes, Merricat. At first, I didn't trust her, viewed her with the same aggressive curiosity, the same unease, that she gets from the villagers. As the novel unfurled (and it does unfurl, like something natural, like a leaf,) as it became clear that Merricat is not the kind of person one can trust, I began to do so. Caught in her hostile, lonely, beautiful world, captured by her strange, angry magics, I was captivated by her, began to like her, love her, trust her. Oh, Merricat may be a villain, but she is more faithful, more consistent than any of the other characters in the book. We see their grotesquenesses through her eyes. Her life of rejection, of isolation, of otherness we recognise; we know her intense wild joy from the shadow-versions of it that we have lived.

Or that was how I felt about it, anyway.

It is a book about food, how the way it is portioned out, created, corrupted, denied, the way it is analogous with love. It is a mythic book, one where the ineffectual, childlike rituals of our narrator slowly become a potent magic, one with a power to shape the world, to bind Merricat herself- the true 'terrible one' at the heart of the novel. I could write about this for hours. I should probably stop now.

On to another book about rural American life, another bood with a precocious, tomboyish narrator, another book I had been planning to read for a while. Although, I suspect the comparisons should stop here because the novel is Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird.

I'd always been a bit dubious about reading this. You need to understand that, in my mother's view, Atticus Finch was basically the perfect man. When it came down to it, Atticus Finch played be Gregory Peck was the equivalent of... I don't know... probably Henry Tilney played by Paul McGann. From the comparison, you can probably guess that my mother and I have values regarding these things.

Well, I shouldn't have waited so long. The book is as good as the hype, better maybe. I could scarcely go two pages without finding a sentence, a paragraph, an exchange, that I wanted to read aloud to whatever long suffering person was in the room with me.

As to Atticus Finch? No, I would not leave home for Atticus Finch. I can understand why someone would, though. His attitudes to gender and race are not modern, but are about as progressive as is possible for the time the novel is set. He also shows a remarkably accurate (albeit slightly paternalist) understanding of the very modern concept of privilege. A wonderful, beautiful, powerful book. I'd recommend it to anyone, but particularly as an antidote to the poison that was Gone With the Wind.

Last, but by no means least, we reach Preacher: Until the End of the World. Whereas this week's other books are tender, melancholy and poetic, while they focus on isolation, outsider statues, the effects of hatred and human compassion, Preacher is gleefully, viciously aggressive. While its main theme is a careful, moral exploration of religion and power, if it has an overall message, that message is that violence solves things. I won't pretend it isn't dark and nasty, that it doesn't splash itself across our minds with glorious, visceral impact. That is kinda the point.

Okay, it is not the book to read if you are triggered by... well, anything. It is bloodthirsty,it is vicious, it gives you a world that will kick you when you are down, one that will only back off it you kick back harder than you can imagine. In terms of the series, it's far better than the first instalment. I adored this book, but it's one of those when, on the brink of recommending it, I realise that it would not be everyone's cup of tea.

Steve Dillon's art is, of course, wonderful. There is a power and clarity to his lines that suits Garth Ennis' script perfectly. There are very few comic book artists who draw faces so expressively. There are even fewer who can make someone being shot in the head look so beautiful. Ennis' work - which didn't entirely convince me in Gone to Texas - is far stronger here, working with a wit, confidence and subtlety which drew me in from the very start.

Used for review purposes
I had real trouble finding an image that was neither too horrific, or too spoilerific. Still, lovely stuff.

Unashamedly violent, this book is not without tenderness, not, indeed, without a guiding morality. The scenes between Jesse and Tulip are painful in their sweetness, the balancing of moral relativity and moral absolute careful. There is some questionable content, sure - some jokes made that perhaps would not be made today, that perhaps should not have been made then. Some assumptions that aspects of the plot imply gave me pause. I can see this book being problematic, if not outright hurtful. But it is pervaded by a sense of joyous and perverse irresponsibility, a glee in showing the nightmares of the conservative mind that I personally did not find it offensive. Even if I did, I might forgive it: moving, harrowing, and wonderfully crafted, it also manages to be great fun, and that's better than you're going to get nine times out of ten.

Approach with caution,  but if it's your kind of thing? Hell, let's tall about books.

Friday, 6 June 2014

What I've been reading: The Severed Streets, Good Omens and, *sigh* Gone with the Wind

Yay! I've been waiting for this!

So. The Severed Streets, by Paul Cornell, is the sequel to 2012's London Falling and is part of a genre that I have taken to calling the supernatural-police-procedural-set-in-London. Among this rather niche interest group, Cornell is probably my favourite as he is the darkest, most merciless, and the most likely to give you nightmares

To be more specific, both books follow the experiences of a group of Metropolitan Police Officers after the investigation of a drugs bust grants them the Sight and reveals a whole other, much scarier side, to the London they know. Their remit becomes the investigation of crimes that have 'impossible' aspects to them, 'impossible' because the suspects or motives involved concern this other, invisible London. In The Severed Streets this refers to the Ripper, a killer who travels among the protests and riots of 'The Summer of Blood', able to walk through walls, to create riots, a Jack-the-Ripper whose victims are rich, white men.

I think what I like best about these books is the powerlessness of the main characters. They are thrown into a big, terrifying supernatural world, of whose rules they know nothing, and in which the abilities they have been granted seem woefully inadequate. The real sense of fear and frustration which pervades these books makes the narrative race along with an almost hallucinatory intensity, something even more pronounced here than in London Falling. Cornell is also more openly political in this novel, clearer about his intentions and themes, better at balancing the different moods and experiences of the characters, working overall with an assurance that makes The Severed Streets far stronger than its prequel.

Still, much as I love it, I would say that the very pace of the novel can work against it. As well as telling a breakneck mystery/thriller, Cornell is constructing a very complex world - as such it is possible to get lost and confused, to miss vital bits of exposition. I would advise anyone who hasn't read London Falling to read it first, and anyone who has read it to reread it before embarking on The Severed Streets. And, if you like your crime/horror fiction intense and gruesome, I'd suggest you do so asap.

Okay, that was a long review. So, let's not talk about Gone with the Wind, suffice to say I haven't finished it yet and it doesn't look like it's getting any better. It's making me think of this parable.

Much loved, as you can see.
Indeed, on the theme of heaven and hell, there is Good Omens, an absolute masterpiece from Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. If you haven't read this, all your friends are laughing at you behind your back. It tells of the end of the World, the rise of the anti-Christ, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the battle between Heaven and Hell and it's hilarious. Smart, sharp and incredibly silly, its sheer awesome has not diminished in the 24 years since its publication (although it has dated a little).

If you have read it before and you're feeling down, maybe read it again. That's what I'm doing. Lovely stuff.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Won't Somebody Think of the Children? Problems of gender in vampire fiction, part 3:

This is the third in a series of posts about 19th and early 20th Century vampire fiction, the first and second can be found here and here.

Bad Motherhood and Hungry Vampires:
Perhaps the most significant difference between male and female vampires in the late 19th Century is this: female vampires are hungry.

Oh, male vampires eat people, don't worry about that. But they are not ravenous about it. No. Male vampires may be calculating, conniving, vengeful, insidious. They may be as loathsome and inexplicable to good WASPy masculinity as any stereotypical seducer, but of the bunch only Varney approaches that desperation, that female need for his victims. Besides, even when he gets to that state of frantic single-mindedness, the object of his interest is beautiful, innocent young women. It's peculiar, perhaps, but it isn't unhealthy. Female vampires can't even manage good ol' heterosexuality. Oh, they may bite the odd, unwary man but that's more of an afterthought. Female vampires have a very particular form of sustenance.


The fear in these narratives, the terror of female sexuality is as nothing to this fear of the influence a corrupt woman might have upon the innocence of youth. As early as Varney, the Vampyre we are told that this is the peak of all horrors the vampire can bestow. When asking Charles Holland if he would wed a woman who has experienced vampiric attack, Marchdale's strongest argument is, “if you wed, you would look forward to being blessed with children—those sweet ties which bind the sternest hearts to life with so exquisite a bondage. Oh, fancy, then, for a moment, the mother of your babes coming at the still hour of midnight to drain from their veins the very life blood she gave to them.”

What an image! It calls to mind Lilith birthing monsters, of Lady Macbeth calling on the spirits of the air to 'unsex' her. A woman who walks outside the divinely ordained strictures of behaviour is, after all, made unfit for her purpose. That purpose being, of course, the nurturing children.

So these vampire-women are a monstrous inversion of the female-biology-as-destiny. Not only are they 'failed' women, rendered incapable of 'normal' reproduction - their appetites, their hunger, lead them to steal that role, that purpose from other women. Harriet Brandt – oh, unwittingly – causes the death of Margaret Pullen's baby by her smothering, off-putting attentions. Sarah, cruel, wicked, sexually deviant, steals the village children to extend her cursed life. Lucy Westernra is a siren, calling toddling East End babes from their games. Dracula's 'brides' fawn and squabble until they are handed what is generally assumed to be a baby in a bag.

The combined image of violence and motherhood – the vampire in her bloodstained shroud, clutching a child to her breast, her face buried in its neck – is such a stark perversion of breastfeeding, of a mother's kiss, that it sits uneasily even with the modern imagination. If we add to the mix the Victorian preoccupation with eugenics and social reform, we see the vampire as the 'unfit' mother, causing the death of her own, and other women's babes. In the light of the high infant mortality rates of the time, this serves to make all women deeply suspect.

Of course, male vampires also suggest an amalgamation of violence and reproductive capacity but, with women, this implication is intensified by the non-supernatural reproductive aspect of femininity. The preserve of life and death, the role of judge and creator are – in Christian iconography – male. The taking and creation of life is pre-ordained – it is God's will, God's plan.

Vampires reproduce in a way that has no divine sanction, they live through taking life. They are an attempt, by a bodily entity, to take control. It is no surprise that Dracula is an alchemist, a proto-scientist, a necromancer trying to wrest control away from divinely ordained means. In becoming a vampire, he is seeking knowledge that, properly, belongs to God. Vampire women, too are attempting to move one step up that hierarchical ladder that places men above women, God above men. They are taking agency, attempting to control their own reproduction. But, like Dracula, they merely find themselves sliding lower. As he attempted to attain the heights of knowledge, of immortality, he became instead grotesque, sub-human, effeminate. Likewise, these women become not liberated or rational, they become mindless sleepwalkers, clutching after their own failed femininity. They become desperate gluttons, furious seductresses, snatching the children they have denied themselves with bloodied hands.

By inference, of course, this warning applies to all men who would be gods, to all women who would be men, who would through sexual agency, through abortion or contraception, seek to attain the male privilege of manoeuvring in the world. By seeking to become masculine, all these women do is fail in their femininity. The men have it worse, of course, by seeking Godhead, they fail in their humanity, because what fate could be worse than becoming a woman?

The Vampire as Cougar:

Of course, if it's difficult being a young, sexually desirable female vampire/victim, if it is all always your fault on account of your weird sexual desires, your frankly alarming reproductive capability, and your inexplicable desire to be something more than a smiling supporter of the substandard men in your life, it sucks1 even worse being a female vampire if you are past nubility.

After all, the sole function of both women and sex is the divinely ordained function of reproduction, and that power is made to be legislated and controlled by men. So, if you can keep these naturally perverse women under control for long enough, then at the age of... oh, somewhere between 35 and 50... they politely disappear. God alone knows where they go, although we suspect its something to do with charity drives and hospital visits. It's not like they have anything left to live for.

Bitter irony aside, even I was surprised by the number of these 'middle aged' female vampires. Oh, they have no representatives as iconic as the white whiskered Dracula, but they exist in some numbers, and the chaotic implications effect they have upon patriarchal and reproductive norms is remarkable. Not only do these cougar-vamps refuse to have the decency to remain in their places and their graves, they have the unspeakable audacity to want to cling on to life beyond their reproductive prime. Again, it's almost as though they want to be men.

They can't manage it, of course. So, we have Mrs Amworth (1922/3), a widow and gadabout who stirs up a small rural community with her whist drives and dinner parties. How are these men to cope? Especially as she refuses to do the decent thing and quieten down into respectable, invisible middle age? Yes, that Mrs Amworth, who has the audacity to look ten years younger than her actual age! I mean, what kind of irresponsibility is that? She might almost be giving the message to men that she is reproductively available! Heavens, if she looks that young, they might almost be deceived by her!

Still, she embarrasses herself as our culture tells us all mature women must do if they attempt to be sexually active. She throws herself at confirmed bachelors, makes unwelcome moves upon respectable, married women and tries to bite the boy who mows her lawn. Shocking stuff. No alternative but to drive a stake through her heart.

Or we have Lady Duncayne (1896), a withered old hag: improper, idle, grotesque. She is a contradiction, a recluse who spends her year circling the pleasure spots, she hungers after continued life long past the date that nature would have told her to be off this earth, to stop being a bother.

Hugely rich, she squats over opulence that she cannot enjoy; too much money to spend it,too much life to enjoy it, she clutters up the fictional landscape, monopolising doctors, hotel rooms, attention, refusing to move over and accept that her bit is done. She employs young women, healthy, robust, nubile young women, steals them away from families and beaus, stifles them in aged company and lack of occupation. If this weren't enough, of course, she literally steals their life, transfusing their fresh, young blood into her withered veins. There is a terrible selfishness in Lady Duncayne; refusing to accept that her day is past, that all the things her gold can buy should pass on to other, younger pairs of hands. She even tries to steal the love interest of the heroine, buying his services as a doctor so that he would be incapable of marrying, of joining the wider current of young, attractive life.

And, like the vampires that have gone before them, these women are effeminate rather than masculine. In refusing to be demure, retiring, they have cast aside what little elevation brought to them by the civilising property of being 'feminine' and are instead sunk to the level of 'bad women'. They are immoral, lacsivious. Lady Ducayne, we are told, reads French novels and laughs at them, while she sleeps through English sentimental literature. She thinks that anyone, anything can be bought. Her power of temptation is not her sexual allure, but her money - the filthy lucre offered to those for whom liquidity is a pressing need. The cost, however is either the life or the morality. She is the Marxist vampire in the truest sense, exploiting the working poor, bleeding them dry, failing even to show the 'feminine charity' expected in one of her rank.

Mrs Amworth seems harmless in comparison, a mere gossip, a mayfly, a flirt. Still, she is disturbing to the established order. She dares to be sensually aware after the death of her husband and her fertility. She speaks warmly, even lasciviously, of the caress of the earth which one feels in the grave – that perverse female sexuality at work again. When she desires a man,she will claw at his window, screeching and battling to get in. If she slips through a crack in his armour, she will stifle him with her neediness. The image – a woman-become-animal scrabbling for admittance – leaves one in no doubt as to the view of female desire or affection held by the authorial voice. To let her in, after all, is to chance damnation. It is telling that she is 'discovered' by a trope often found in the folklore surrounding witches – an injury inflicted in her transformed state being noticeable upon her human body. Like a folkloric witch, she is a mature female body out of control, in need of reprisal.

Just as male vampires defile the sanctity of female chastity and young female vampires bring corruption to the sacred role of motherhood, so mature female vampire unsettles the balance, the equilibrium of the family unit. If Mrs Amworth can get a respectable village of middle-aged rustics behaving like excitable teenagers, what hope then for the younger generations? And it is at the younger generations that she is casting her cap, barging younger, more viable, women out of the way. Who does she feed upon but her gardener? A scarcely legal boy, who is doubtless utterly overcome by the attentions of an experienced woman who looks younger than her years. And when the gardener ails, she attempts to 'trap' other men into relationships, or she displays her sexual ambiguity by attacking a woman only identified as 'the Major Pearsalls's wife.'

To a certain extent, Luella Miller (1903) can be seen in this way, although she is by no means 'aged'. She is desirable, improperly so for a married woman. She draws people in – male or female – she enchants them, makes them lose all sense of self-preservation. Like Harriet Brandt, she is suffocating, bringing on an unexplained malaise to all who are foolish enough to help her. Again, like Harriet, she seems unaware of the effect she has. However fatal, she is no femme fatal. The pain she causes leaves her hurt and bewildered – pathetically so.

Pathetic is the word for it: A feminist hatred of effeminacy? 
To stay with Luella Miller for a moment, it's interesting the way this discourse of good and bad women plays in to early feminist discourse. After all, much has been made of Wilkins Freeman's feminism, the way that her story critiques the society which requires women to be beautiful but useless, the way she contrasts Luella Miller's repellent babyishness with the brusque, working class practicality of Lydia Anderson. Yet however scathing a critique this is of the society that keeps women of a certain class unable to help themselves, the very vitriol of Lydia's narration establishes it as a tale of woman against woman.

Lydia's first grief with Luella is that ever popular one, the one that stems from the fear patriarchal culture drills into women from so young an age – the belief that other woman are the enemy because they are trying to steal your man. Indeed, the whole conflict of the story is framed as the struggles of a 'good' woman against a 'bad' one. After all, Luella is indolent, alluring, and callous whilst Lydia is hard-working, compassionate, practical, something that echoes the femininity/effeminacy discourse so closely that I am uncomfortable to claim Luella Miller as a feminist vampire text. Yes, it begins to unsettle that set of expectations but the demands of the vampire narrative are too strong. Luella's behaviour could easily be understood through the prism of Mrs Amsworth, Harriet Brandt. She preys on the children she teaches, the much younger men who admire her. Young women, full of hope and life, fall victim to her unnatural, widow's vanity. Rather than settle to housework and charity to her neighbours - as a woman without a man should, as Lydia did - she continues to intrigue. She even (how dare she?) marries again.

No, Luella is not the model of sedate, culturally acceptable femininity. She is a caricature of effeminacy, she is all the worst bits of which a bad woman is capable. That these are the necessary product of constructed, social femininity is besides the point. Everything she gets is got on the back of those feminine wiles of hers. A 'good' woman has no time for those - Lydia, pipped at the post on her one prospect of heteronormative life settles herself down to spinisterhood, to housework and to helping her neighbours. However, we know Luella is a bad 'un, from a patriarchal perspective, because before she married, she even worked. Shocking, isn't it?

Unsettling the misogynist discourse – where is the blame?

So, for all the questioning that Wilkins Freeman did of that model of gendered expectations (and Lydia certainly does unsettle them) the only vampire story I have found that directly addressed this culture of blame, of 'bad' women, is August Derleth's The Drifting Snow(1939). Here, the vampires are oddly helpless, revenants who have no power to leave the place where they died, no hope but to lure those who wish to aid them out to the same snowy death they encountered on the hill.

Their method of hunting is, of course, codified as feminine: their very existence draws men to them. And, of course, it is always men. The helplessness of these vampires entices the virile, the courageous to assist them, any 'feeding' that occurs is the parasitic effect of weakness upon strength. Naturally, in being drawn to this softness, the man is emasculated, is made a soft snow-vampire, is forced to wait and draw the attentions of those stronger than himself. We could expect, then, the old saw that if a woman is attractive to a man in any way, the consequences of that attraction are entirely her fault.

But Derleth undermines this, specifically and directly. “One night” the explanation goes, “[my father] found out that one of my brothers... had been very familiar with one of the servants, a very pretty girl, older than I was. He thought she was to blame, though she wasn't, and he didn't find it out until too late.”

"Though she wasn't". Three words. Three words and this story is turned on its head. The first vampire, it seems, is a woman wronged, a woman whose obvious allure meant the blame for a man's corruption was laid upon her head. But that assignment of blame is incorrect – the simple fact of her attractiveness does not excuse the male approach. The woman's death, cruel and unearned, finally imbues her with that power, that ability to draw men in to their destruction. But it is interesting that she does it not through her wiles, but through her very real, irredeemable helplessness - a self-effacement that is feminine rather than effeminate, a state to which she was already condemned by the moral laxity and prejudices of men. In under ten words, Derleth addresses the underlying prejudice of most late 19th and early 20th Century vampire fiction, "He thought she was to blame, though she wasn't".

The Alchemy of the Screen Vampire:

But here, in 1939, we have a break, because here comes the screen vampire, the cinematic history. Certain expectations, certain cliches emerge from the stories and become gospel. The vampire ceases to be an almost-ghost, an almost-witch, a borderline thing and becomes, triumphantly, a genre in its own right. There come a generation of vampire writers who have not read Dracula, or at least not until after they have seen Lugosi and Langella and Lee. 

What this does to the perception of the vampire as a gendered being may go some way to explain why a woman's lust for a vampire goes from deviant to predictable, and why it becomes so much harder for women to become vampires at all. 

Part 4 will come after a short hiatus.

1Pun totally intended.