In Haunt

Vampires are characters that have fascinated people across time and across cultures; sinister creatures with a penchant for the life forces of others.  We may think of them as the blood-sucking aristocratic villain popularised by Dracula, or perhaps the shady figures of folklore… but exploring beyond the stereotypes and delving into the depths is a brand new anthology  – published on 22 October ­– Visions of the Vampire: Two Centuries of Immortal Tales.

British Library Publishing

Edited by Dr Sorcha Ní Fhlainn and Dr Xavier Aldana Reyes (both founding members of the Manchester Centre for Gothic Studies, Manchester Metropolitan University), this collection of short stories spans over 200 years, highlighting the metamorphosis of the vampires through the short story form. From early depictions to contemporary examples, it is a bold volume offering an evocative encounter with one of fiction’s most-feared characters, from multiple perspectives.

The book is the latest in British Library Publishing’s hardback horror fiction series, dedicated to exploring the many literary angles of the horror genre, with this volume just in time for Halloween!  There is also a digital launch planned for the 30th of October, with more details to follow.

Horror fans, literature lovers and the curious alike are set to be intrigued by this impressive  collection, with just over 300 pages of content. Are vampires all bad? Do they affect their victims in the same way? The variety of stories shed light on this fascinating subject; from the genre-defining classics of Bram Stoker and John Polidori, to the menacing modernity found in the work of contemporary authors such as Anne Rice and Angela Carter.

This is an opportunity to see the vampire figure evolve across the pages, with stories spanning folkloric beginnings, the nineteenth century ‘craze’, consequent character experiments, and much more besides.

Here at Haunt Manchester, we decided to speak to the Editors behind the choosing of the tales, to hear their side of the story…  

Hello Sorcha and Xavier – news of Visions of the Vampire: Two Centuries of Immortal Tales is incredibly exciting! What defines a vampire… or is that a contentious question?

Xavier: "We had to ask ourselves that very question. Should we simply go for the more traditional model of vampirism (the long cape and fangs, the suave, blood-sucking aristocrat), or would we allow for other forms of life-draining too? Would the latter not prove too expansive? In the end, we decided that a more nuanced understanding of the vampire was preferable, both because it would make the collection more varied and because some of the classics we were keen to include, like ‘Luella Miller’ and ‘Good Lady Ducayne’, definitely push the boundaries of what we might understand by that term. I would say the vast majority of vampires in these stories fit the elements we have come to associate with them, like the imbibement of blood or supernatural longevity, but we have deliberately kept in a couple that will gently prompt readers to question their assumptions."

Given that the anthology covers over 200 years, what do you think it is about these creatures that makes them so enduringly fascinating?

Sorcha: "Vampires have changed shape and form in many ways over two-hundred years, from shape shifters to children, and vary significantly in their typologies! I think that the best way to think about a vampire is that they drain you of vitality – be that energy, blood, body fluids, or hope! Not all vampires are terrible companions, of course, but they do require some form of sustenance that requires a sacrifice of some kind in order to sustain themselves. We see so many of our fears and desires through their eyes – the desire for power, influence and control, and to defy death by any means possible. Some are apologetic and slip away, while others remain defiant about their place in the world – one great example of this is where two different vampires debate undead justice: Suzy McKee Charnas’s Dr Weyland shares philosophical musings with Chelsea Quinn Yarbro’s savant vampire Saint Germain when they meet under dire circumstances in one of our included tales, 'Advocates'. I refuse to spoil it for any readers but it does demonstrate how vampire variants can collide not only in their undead biology but also in their competing and contradictory worldviews. That vampire fiction offers us these imaginative philosophical and cultural debates makes them endlessly appealing in Gothic literature!"

Further considering the time-span of the book, has the human relationship with/perception of vampires changed in a significant way over the centuries. Why do you think this is, and is this shown in the tales at all?

Sorcha: "I love the fact that vampires continue to evolve with the times – it makes them endlessly appealing as no two are completely alike. Vampires continue to adapt with the mood of the times, slip into our world in various guises —as beautiful women, aristocrats, longed-for companions, feared-elders, and occasionally encounter others of their own kind — and alter our perceptions of the possible. Unlike other revenants, vampires rarely present death as an end; it is a new form of life beyond the mortal coil, and that is an exciting and often quixotic dream in Gothic fiction. The tales each vampire tells is absolutely informed by the political, social and cultural philosophy of the era in which they emerge in print or on-screen. Stoker’s Dracula is as much fascinated with the coming of the twentieth century as it is about the anxiety of the shrinking of the modern world (the Empire and its European boundaries), bringing political and social power into contestation against a fantastical world (Romania and beyond) that cannot be quelled. In more modern tales, vampires become increasingly more human and act as cultural reflections for our own isolation and fears, and offer hope and a voice to those who feel marginalised. Vampire fiction has thrived for so long because it appeals to the outsider in all of us — it brings to bear painfully human feelings for vampires as well as their human counterparts in the tales. 

Can you tell us about why you are each drawn to the study of vampires – and what can exploring their cultural significance potentially bring to a wider audience? 

Xavier: "It is hard to study the Gothic and not have to deal with those pesky bats! Ever since Bram Stoker connected the motif of the ancient ancestral castle with the aristocratic version of the vampire in Dracula, they have evolved together as stalwarts of barbaric orders and foreign ‘Otherness’. In my research, for example in Gothic Cinema, I have been interested in why we keep returning to a small number of monster myths that we recycle endlessly. It partly has to do with the fact that they have become universally recognisable, and tried-and-tested formulas are good formulas in the industry. But it also has to do with the fact that it is possible to update them in ways that speak to our present times and concerns. Across the centuries, vampires have to signify everything from anxieties about the afterlife, immigration, dangerous forms of sexuality and gender subversion. Hopefully the readers Visions of the Vampire will be able to appreciate this evolution, as well as the myriad permutations of the monster."

Sorcha: "I have been obsessed with vampires in fiction and film since my childhood! For me, vampires have always possessed an outlook on life (and death) that I have found gives voice and empathy to the various points of view. I find their disclosures intriguing and reflective of many modern philosophies of how to organise the world, survive human pain and loneliness, and to imagine existence beyond death. In my monograph Postmodern Vampires: Film, Fiction and Popular Culture, I was keen to examine how vampires are deeply attracted to modes of power and contemporary socio-cultural discourse – in my findings, vampires tend to either ape or mimic structures of power in the American imagination, with the American president in particular as a site of vampiric inspiration because they feed upon the attention it attracts; as Nina Auerbach notes: ‘Vampires go where power is’.  In my findings, vampire evolution changes with the shifting emphases on religion, scarcity, gendered expectations, cultural capital and marginalised points of view in culture as they rise to the surface. Readers of Visions of the Vampire will note their ascension into a variety of powerful roles in the tales, from aristocrats to barristers, to influential friends, patrons and neighbours. They are consistently with us in a variety of guises."

What considerations were you trying to make when selecting the tales for the anthology… as this must have been a difficult choice!? Can you perhaps tell us a little more about the chronology and selection process?

Xavier: "The collection came together very organically and effortlessly. Sorcha is our resident vampirologist, and the first essay of any substantial length I ever wrote (for school) was on Dracula adaptations! Sorcha and I have long contributed to each other's research, but we wanted to collaborate on a project that would centre on our common interests. When the British Library got in touch with the idea for this anthology, all the pieces fell into place. We decided we wanted to create a collection that would work as an introduction to vampire short stories for the general reader, but also appeal to the horror aficionado. We have therefore included classic writers like John William Polidori, Bram Stoker, Anne Rice and Angela Carter alongside lesser-known ones like Ernst Raupach and P. Schuyler Miller. Visions of the Vampire spans two centuries, from 'The Vampyre' (1819) to John Ajvide Lindqvist's 'Let the Old Dreams Die' (2011), which continues his much-loved novel Let the Right One In. We are particularly delighted with the international and gender spread of the stories. We dug up so many of them that we probably have enough left over for an encore."

Sorcha: "You can’t ever keep a good vampire down… an undead encore may surface (in true Gothic style)."

The book is available to order online here.   

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