Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Vampires of Paris

You might think that vampire characters would have been numerous in penny dreadfuls of the nineteenth century but there are only four titles known to scholars. The most famous title would be James Malcolm Rymer’s Varney the Vampire; or, The Feast of Blood a romance [109 pts, 1845-47] illustrated by Bourne/Pickering, London: E.Lloyd, 1847.

The next title is problematic: The Vampire Demon; or, the Martyred Virgins, [60 pts with coloured plates] London: Newsagents’ Publishing Company, c.1849. This title is untraced but is listed in Montague Summers Gothic Bibliography, where he calls it ‘in some sort a sequel to Varney.’ Summers personal knowledge of penny bloods seems to have been negligible. One source he used in the Gothic Bibliography was probablyMichael Sadleir (mentioned in the Preface) and much was probably drawn from private pd collectors like Waite and Ono. TheVampire Demon might have been one of the spurious titles invented by the Australian practical joker and bookseller J. P. Quaine. Other titles manufactured by Quaine such as The Skeleton Clutch; or,the Goblet of Gore appear in the Bibliography. No such title exists in any institution or private collection.

The third title is Dashing Duval; or, The Ladies’ Highwayman a StirringTale of The Olden Time, illustrated by R. P., London: “Best for Boys” Publishing Co., 1888. Claude Duval is the hero, his companions are Paul Clifford and Captain Blood, and the villain is Van Vaughan the Vampyre. “Best forBoys” was publisher of E. Harcourt Burrage ‘formulated and produced’ Ching-Ching’s Own series begun on 14 Jun1888.

Another problematic title is The Skeleton Count; or, theVampire Mistress, purportedly written by Elizabeth Caroline Grey for The Casket in 1825. The story is available in The Vampire Omnibus [1995] by Peter Haining but has yet to be found in the original by any other researcher. Haining, a prolific anthologist, has a dodgy reputation as a fabricator. He may have written this account himself.

A new find was Heroes Three; or, the Vampires of Paris, [31 Mar 1899] from Boys of England and Jack Harkaway's Journal of Fun, Travel and Instruction, Vol. LXVI, No. 1689. This certainly looked like a vampire on the cover of the first installment but it wasn’t. The Vampires of Paris were a group of cracksmen and jewel thieves under the influence of a Moriarty-like figure named Monsieur, but the creature with a “parrot-like beak” and tentacles was not a vampire, but a hissing monster known as “Black Death,” that guarded the lair of the ‘Vampires.’

Jack Vandelour was the name of the English boy hero. Monsieur had a daughter, Lucille. Lucille was not a vampire either but she did have odd fanged teeth and decidedly strange desires.

“This worry and anxiety about the handsome lad is bringing on one of my old frenzies,” she almost gasped. “I feel inclined to hiss and bite. A greenish tinge is slowly but surely overspreading my face, and I can see minute scales forcing their way through the skin, transforming me into a veritable serpent! Even my hair is becoming agitated. What a heritage my mother the serpent woman has bequeathed me! As beautiful as an angel, but shunned for her terrible affliction, my father married her for her wealth.

“The curse that marred her life has fallen upon me, and now, to add to my terrible burden of woe, my father, after losing nearly all his money, has taken to evil ways, and is dragging me down to deeper depths of infamy with him!”

Suddenly a faint hiss escaped her lips, when, rushing to a couch, she buried her face in a cushion, gnawing and biting at it furiously, and raising her head at intervals to hiss loudly.

When she attacks the boy Jacques (one of the Vampires of Paris who is madly in love with her) Monsieur chokes her with a leather belt and “throwing her over his shoulder, he bore her screaming and hissing, to a padded room, and left her there a prisoner.”

Heroes Three; or, the Vampires of Paris is a wonderful serial but unfortunately (considering the promise given in the cover illustration) the only ‘vampires’ in the story are the safecrackers and thieves that make up the“Brotherhood of the Vampires of Paris.” As far as I know the story was never issued in penny parts, a pity since it was well-written for a penny dreadful, full of enjoyable suspense, skullduggery and absurdity, and probably would have had excellent sales on the cover illustration alone.

Summing up: there are only two verifiable penny dreadful serials of the Victorian era featuring vampires out of the five titles; Varney the Vampire and Dashing Duval.

1 comment:

  1. This old world would be much easier to navigate if everyone followed Lucille's example and delivered a little explanatory lecture whenever they acted oddly. This sort of expository dialogue is preposterous, but I must admit I rather enjoy it.