Today, Taliesin (aka Andrew M. Boylan) is here to talk about a very wicked topic -- women who write vampire stories! Specifically, Andy will be discussing Elizabeth Grey. Who was she? Find out below...
Interesting Shorts: The Skeleton Count, or, the Vampire Mistress
The Skeleton Count, or, the Vampire Mistress (for reference this is printed in The Vampire Omnibus, edited by Peter Haining, my edition being the 1995 edition) is interesting for a number of reasons, but from a Something Wicked point of view I felt that it really fit. This was first published, in the Penny Dreadful called the Casket, in 1828. As such the story by Elizabeth Grey is the first published vampire story by a female author. In many respects, therefore, this makes Grey the literary grandmother of Marissa and Nicole.
There are frustratingly few details about Grey, however the Penny Dreadful was a favourite form of literature for the masses and painted often lurid stories. It was from the Penny Dreadfuls that we gained the long tale of Varney the Vampire.
The story surrounds the Count Rudolph of Ravensburg Castle, who did a deal with the Prince of Darkness for immortality. He is not, however, our vampire. The price for his youth and immortality – we discover later – is that between dusk and dawn he becomes a skeleton. However, as an experimenter in the occult he looks to resuscitate the dead, and he uses occult and alchemical techniques to raise Bertha (a peasant’s deceased sixteen year old daughter) from the dead.
What he doesn’t know is that the technique he used causes her to come back to life as a vampire and, as the two become lovers, she sneaks out of the bed chamber to quench her unholy thirst. Interestingly, though fangs are not mentioned, she does have “sharp teeth” that, when she visits a maiden, “punctured the white shoulder, and the partially exposed bosom of Theresa Delmar.” This is not, however, an erotic attack and she is not a precursor to the Sapphic Carmilla. Vampires are known, in this story, for attacking children and young women – probably as they made for easier prey.
At one point she is shot and ‘killed’ but, like Ruthven in the Vampyre and Varney she is restored by the moon and we see “another phase in the fearful existence of the vampire bride! For as the beams of the moon fell on the inanimate form of the being of mystery and fear, sensation seemed to slowly return, as when the magic spells of the Count of Ravensburg resuscitated her from the grave.”
She does not fear sunlight, sitting out with the Count and sleeps in a bedchamber – when not sneaking off for blood, a task made easier when the Count begins his skeletal transformation. However, we discover she can be killed. “Nothing but fire or a sharp stake will kill a vampire” we discover and the stake is to be thrust, not through the heart but through the abdomen.
So, there we have it, Elizabeth Grey, the first female author of a vampire story, that we know of at least, and her story that had some very familiar vampire imagery within its length – as well as the, at that time, contemporary use of the vampire’s tie with the moon (interestingly, when the villagers are speaking of their dilemma we hear that “nothing was talked of but vampires and wehr-wolves, and other human transformations more terrific”, reminding us of the close connection between the vampire and werewolf myths).
Andrew M. Boylan
[Ms. Grey's short story can be found in the novel whose image appears at the beginning of this post]