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Brief History of Vampires


Twilight is but the latest episode in a long and deep Vampire history, for centuries the tall, dark, and undead have haunted the pages of literature. Today we chronicle the history of these blood sucking creatures of the night.

1816
A group of friends were holidaying in a villa near Lake Geneva during the unseasonably cold “year without a summer.” John William Polidori, Claire Clairmont, Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Shelley decided to pass the time with a ghost story competition. This epic gathering produced two of the first vampire tales in English literature – Polidori’s The Vampyre and Lord Byron’s unfinished Fragment of a Novel. Mary Shelley’s entry was to become the basis for her classic contribution to horror, Frankenstein.

1845-47
Vampire stories started to become more popular in this period and they also began to make their way on to youth reading lists. James Malcolm Rymer published Varney the Vampire as a series of penny dreadfuls (which were an early type of pulp pamphlet aimed at working class adolescents). The serialization proved to be very popular, so much so that it was later published as a single epic book. The story was highly influential on future vampire lore, perpetuating many themes common in vampire tales today such as having fangs leaving two puncture wounds, coming through a window to attack a sleeping maiden, hypnotic powers, and superhuman strength. Varney was also the first example of a sympathetic vampire who loathes his own condition but is helpless to stop it.

1872
Sheridan le Fanu’s classic novella Carmilla was the one of the first to successfully add erotic fixations into vampire literature, with a female vampire seducing the novel’s heroine to draw her vital fluids. This was also one of the first examples of the lesbian vampire trope.

1897
Dracula by Bram Stoker; the quintessential vampire book is published. The book mixed medieval myths and previous vampire fiction with sex, blood and death to create a novel that struck a chord with late 19th century Britain. Stoker’s vampire hunter, Abraham Van Helsing, helped create a trend for heroes willing to fight the undead. After Dracula, authors continued to create vampire stories but most failed to captivate reading audiences in the same way. No new concepts were introduced until the golden age of science fiction.

1954
I am Legend by Richard Matheson popularizes the use of vampires in science fiction in his post-apocalyptic vision of a world crippled by a disease that induces vampirism. The book has been adapted into multiple films over the years. I am Legend is often referred to as the first modern vampire novel.

See more vampire history… and a list of twenty of the strangest vampire titles on record.

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