Black Coat Press, 2011
translated by Brian Stableford
"Who dared to lift the mysterious veil with which Heaven covers the accomplishment of its terrible will?"
While I'm not a huge fan of vampire fiction, last year I discovered Black Coat Press, and their lineup of novels featuring vampires sort of reinvigorated my interest. And while The Virgin Vampire isn't likely to land in the category of greatest vampire fiction ever written, it is still historically significant in terms of the history of vampire literature, and offers readers a look at an entirely different sort of vampire altogether.
Originally published in 1825 (or quite possibly 1824), La Vampire, ou la vierge de Hongrie is not your average vampire tale by any stretch. The story opens in 1815, as Colonel Edouard Delmont has resigned his army commission, and has informed his dutiful and loving wife Hélène that he wants to move the family to the countryside just out of Toulouse, to an area where he is "unknown" so that they can life a life of "peace and quiet." After the usual strangers-in-the-village uneasiness passes, the family settles comfortably in their new home where they find happiness for quite a long time; soon, however, Delmont is called away for a family matter, leaving Hélène and their two children in the hands of his former sergeant and now trusted servant Raoul. During his absence, the two Delmont children, accompanied by Raoul, make the acquaintance of a "foreign woman" along with her strange servant. While she is new to the area, to his horror, Raoul discovers that she is no stranger, and immediately writes the Colonel to inform him that Alinska is in the neighborhood, reminding him that he
"will never be happy or tranquil as long as that unfortunate Hungarian woman exists"or as long as she continues to pursue him. It isn't too long before some strange events take place in the area, including the discovery of a dead body drained of all of its blood, leading Raoul to bring up the subject of vampires:
"No blood!...No blood! O Heaven! The horrors of Hungary are being renewed in France!"Shortly thereafter Alinska's house burns down, and in doing her Christian and charitable duty Madame Delmont invites her to come to their chateau to live. Raoul, who has a "peculiar presentiment" that this is probably not a good idea, can't bring himself to tell Hélène of his misgivings because it would mean that he would have to reveal something involving the Colonel's past, of which his wife is completely ignorant. He promises himself that he will watch over Delmont's family, but not even he can imagine what's about to happen next.
If you're suspecting that you know how the story is going to play out from this point on, well, you're probably wrong. I know I was way off the mark with my own predictions, and that was a definite plus as far as the reading experience. But it's not just a matter of the book deviating from the usual path taken in vampire fiction as we know it -- as Brian Stableford says in his afterword, Lamothe-Langon's vampire is "not a predator in her own right," but more a "mere instrument of a higher power, more puppet than actor," caught up in a "plan for vampiric vengeance." This facet of the story is only one way in which The Virgin Vampire differs from the more familiar plots of vampire lore; another difference is found in the very nature of this "higher power." And there are many more deviations to be found here as well if you read carefully.
The Virgin Vampire is a fine bit of dark, supernatural, and gothic fun which can be chilling at times, and while I wouldn't say that Lamonthe-Lagon's writing is destined to make this book a classic, Stableford believes that this book is "not without literary merit as an item of dark Romantic fiction." I agree, and I also think that the story reveals much about the nature of Enlightenment thinking in terms of rational thought vs superstition.
It may be a bit tame for readers of modern vampire tales, but it does make for a rollicking good yarn; to be very honest, it was unputdownable fun. Considering that I'm not a rah-rah fan of vampire stories, well, that should say something.
recommended, but mainly for people interested in the history of literary vampires, and for readers who are looking for something entirely different in their vampire fiction.