Some regard Bram Stoker or Sheridan Le Fanu as the founding authors of vampire fiction, but as it turns out, vampire fiction was born the year 1816, when a volcanic eruption caused such upheaval in the climate that there was a year without a summer. The eruption caused the temperature to drop worldwide to the point that crops failed and there was ice in rivers in New England in July and August.
People were starving and freezing with nothing to do but wait it out and hope to survive. Dismal times, to say the least.
In Switzerland in the year 1816, Mary Shelley, Lord Byron, and John William Polidori were cooped up with nothing to do and no place to go. So what would a bunch of authors do if they were stuck inside all summer long? Read some ghost stories, of course! (They were reading Fantasmagoriana, which is a collection of German ghost stories that I now have to go and check out.)
The friendly group challenged each other to write something inspired by these stories and the rest is history. An entire new genre was born that has shaped Gothic horror and even romance ever since. It is so freaking awesome that this is how Lord Byron’s Fragment of a Novel, Vampyre, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and John William Polidori’s Lord Ruthven (which is based on Lord Byron, makes me want to do some more research on him) came about!
After the publication of Byron, Shelley and Polidori’s works, there was a string of comic-like serials called penny dreadfuls that featured a vampire character called Varney the Vampire. This string of serials amounts to over 600,000 words and is the origin for many of the tropes and character traits modern audiences associate with vampires. It also marked the beginning of some serious changes to how the character is represented in fiction.
The penny dreadful series led to the creation of Carmilla, the lesbian vampire story by Le Fanu, and later, Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Here’s where the sexual aspects of the vampire myth begin to be explored and take shape. It is so interesting to see the milestones of this literature and how these authors built on myth and legend and were inspired by one another. The constant evolution and adaptation of the creature, his habits, and his history are fascinating to see developing.
Varney the Vampire was perhaps the first of the sympathetic vampires and later, in Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, Lestat. These characters paved the way for the sexy, charismatic vampires we see in Twilight, True Blood, and The Vampire Diaries today.
There are those who hold to the belief that vampires are evil and their representation in dark fantasy should remain so. On the other side of the coin, we see that writers are exploring other motives for vampire fiction aside from bloodlust in the romance genre. Perhaps it is fitting that this is happening, for surely there is some remnant of humanity left in them even though they have become vampire.