Bram Stoker created the Vampire Legend Right? WRONG!

Hello again Readers. I have just completed another book on my Kindle Fire, a collection of ghost stories written by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu.  I have my own very personal reasons to be interested in this writer. First of all he was Irish as were indeed my forebears. Perhaps even more importantly my late father shared a very similar name and I am sure he read these stories before me.


The short story or novella I have just completed is titled CARMILLA. I had never previously heard of it and at first I failed to realise that I was becoming engrossed in a vampire story though there are some clues in the first chapter!  Not any old vampire mind, this is a lesbian vampire! The story is set in the Austrian province of Styria which borders Hungary. An old castle or schloss is home to a nineteen year old girl and her father, the mother long dead . Nearby is General Spieldorf’s schloss and a ruined village, plus a roofless old church containing mouldering  tombs of the proud family of Karnstein . Quite early in the story the girl relates a strange and scary dream which took place when she was just six years old. She dreamed that she heard a noise, woke and found a very pretty face of a young lady looking back at her……..This is a story well-told and I was introduced to some words that were completely new to me – oupire and revenants!.

Having enjoyed the story I wondered where the inspiration came from? Had the writer been inspired by the works of others? Who wrote the very first vampire story and when?  Had Le Fanu travelled to places where similar stories were told? With the wonders of modern technology and the internet at my fingertips I soon had my answer.

I quickly found an excellent document written by Matthew Gibson of University of Central Lancashire(ISSN 1932-9598) see hyperlink at base..

A possible inspiration for le fanu’s “carmilla”

In this paper Matthew Gibson provides some very good evidence suggesting where the inspiration came from. Unlike Bram Stoker’s Dracula, we do not have lists of works consulted yet there are parallels with other works which might indicate he read or knew about them. For example  Dom Augustin Calmet’s Treatise on Vampires and Revenants,  translated into English in 1850 as The Phantom World. A scene at the end of Carmilla where the vampire is enticed into a church looks like it was taken wholesale from one of Calmet’s accounts . Another source may be William  Sabine Baring-Gould’s The Book of Were-wolves (1863). This work drew attention to Wagener’s  earlier researches into Erszebet Bathory, the Hungarian Countess who killed her female servants  in order to rejuvenate herself with their blood.

Le Fanu’s depiction of the area around the Schloss seems to  indicate a very clear understanding of what the region of Styria was like at the time, with its gigantic forests, ruined castles and  decay. He also  uses names that betray a knowledge of its region, Baron Vordenburg’, for example: Vordernberg was in fact the Styrian residence of the Archduke John, the region’s most illustrious citizen. How could Le Fanu have created this setting without any prior knowledge, provided either by friends descriptions and travelogues or guides of Austria that would have been available at the time? Matthew Gibson puts forward a particular book to be another possible source of inspiration- Captain Basil  Hall’s Schloss Hainfeld; or a Winter in Lower Styria (London and Edinburgh, 1836), a romanticized memoir of Hall’s stay, with his wife and young children, at the abode of Countess Purgstall during the winter of 1833-4. The Countess in the 1836 book does have some remarkable similarities to Le Fanu’s Camilla. Countess Purgall was formerly Miss Jane Anne Cranstoun in the 1836 story. If you translate Cranstoun into German, the native language of Austria, you get Karnstein, a family name used by Le Fanu in Camilla.

According to Wikipedia Le Fanu’s  story was to greatly influence Bram Stoker in the writing of Dracula. It also inspired several films, including Hammer’s The Vampire Lovers (1970), Roger Vadim‘s Blood and Roses (1960), Danish director Carl Theodor Dreyer‘s Vampyr (1932) and Harry Kümel’s Daughters of Darkness in 1971.

As an aspiring writer I am fascinated by the writing process and how such illustrious writers such as  Le Fanu and Stoker researched the all important background detail to their works. Its very clear both were inspired by previous stories, both  using elements of other works to create their own.( Looks to me that Stoker used the same method to dispose of a vampire as Le Fanu!)  My own works will be historically based. I really enjoy researching to find those all important background details . It is clear from reading Le Fanu that setting the scene and introducing your main characters needs to be carefully done but there is nothing wrong with borrowing from the works of others. I also like the way he plays with words – Cranstoun to Karnstein!

Until next time reader, I will follow Bram Stoker’s example and leave a list of works I have consulted in this blog..Oh yes nearly forgot, now the really good news! You can download both Bram Stokers Dracula and Le Fanu’s Camilla totally free of charge to your Kindles or E-readers. I found Camilla in an anthology called In a Glass Darkly Book 3 of 3 on Amazon where you can also get your free copy of Dracula. Of great interest is the method used to kill a vampire in both books – and its NOT what you have seen in the movies! I wont spoil your enjoyment by revealing all here, you can find it for yourselves!

Reference Section

Matthew Gibson , A possible inspiration for Le fanu’s “carmilla” (ISSN 1932-9598)

Oh yes, what are Oupires and Revenants ? Oupire is another term for vampire and …. A revenant is a visible ghost or animated corpse that was believed to return from the grave to terrorize the living!

Further Reading? Vampyre by John Polidori (1819)  (credited by some as the creator of the vampire genre of fantasy fiction.)


28 August 1814 – 7 February 1873) was an Irish writer of Gothic tales and mystery novels. He was the leading ghost-story writer of the nineteenth century and was central to the development of the genre in the Victorian era. Three of his best known works are Uncle Silas, Carmilla and The House by the Churchyard.


About bakersfieldlad

July 2015...... I published my first book on Amazon - "Savilles Spinnney". On April 1st 2015 I published my second book - "Arsenic Sally". Christmas Day 2015 I published my third book " Murder Mystery and Mayhem on the Railways 1830-1899. That's 3 books in roughly 18 months. I enjoy researching and see no reason to stop writing. There will be many many more books and while I would love to be taken in by a publisher I am content to make my books available via Amazon. Keep checking my blogs for updates about my upcoming projects......
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5 Responses to Bram Stoker created the Vampire Legend Right? WRONG!

  1. Abbs Pepper says:

    Lord Byron also wrote a vampire story, alongside Mary Shelley and John Polidori – they set themselves a challenge one dark-and-stormy night in Italy. Can’t remember the name of Byron’s story but his vampire anti-hero was Lord Ruthven.

    • Hi Abbs, I found that link to Byron too but then other research suggests the story was really down to John Polidori . Certainly he was with Shelley and Byron at the genesis of the story that would be called “The Vampyre”, this from Wikipedia..

      Polidori was one of the earliest pupils at recently established Ampleforth College from 1804, and in 1810 went up to the University of Edinburgh, where he wrote a thesis on sleepwalking and received his degree as a doctor of medicine on 1 August 1815 at the age of 19.

      In 1816 Dr. Polidori entered Lord Byron’s service as his personal physician, and accompanied Byron on a trip through Europe. Publisher John Murray offered Polidori 500 English pounds to keep a diary of their travels, which Polidori’s nephew William Michael Rossetti later edited.[2] At the Villa Diodati, a house Byron rented by Lake Geneva in Switzerland, the pair met with Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, and her husband-to-be, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and their companion (Mary’s stepsister) Claire Clairmont.

      One night in June, after the company had read aloud from the Tales of the Dead, a collection of horror tales, Byron suggested that they each write a ghost story. Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote “A Fragment of a Ghost Story” and wrote down five ghost stories recounted by Matthew Gregory (“Monk”) Lewis, published posthumously as the Journal at Geneva (including ghost stories) and on return to England, 1816, the journal entries beginning on 18 August 1816. Mary Shelley worked on a tale that would later evolve into Frankenstein. Byron wrote (and quickly abandoned) a fragment of a story, “Fragment of a Novel”, about the main character Augustus Darvell, which Polidori used later as the basis for his own tale, “The Vampyre”, the first vampire story published in English.[3][4]

      Dismissed by Byron, Polidori travelled in Italy and then returned to England. His story, “The Vampyre”, which featured the main character Lord Ruthven, was published in the April 1819 issue of New Monthly Magazine without his permission. Whilst in London he lived on Great Pulteney Street (Soho). Much to both his and Byron’s chagrin, “The Vampyre” was released as a new work by Byron. Byron even released his own “Fragment of a Novel” in an attempt to clear up the mess, but, for better or worse, “The Vampyre” continued to be attributed to him.

      He is known for his associations with the Romantic movement and credited by some as the creator of the vampire genre of fantasy fiction. His most successful work was the 1819 short story, The Vampyre, one of the first vampire stories in English. Although originally and erroneously accredited to Lord Byron, both Byron and Polidori affirmed that the story is Polidori’s

      Well there you go…… its amazing where a story can lead you and Camilla was only a novella too!

  2. PPS Abbs – there is an amazing link between Byron’s family and my upcoming novel. They actually owned the estate and church where my story will unfold. Some Byron ancestors were buried inside the church which still stands to this day.So were the victims of the monster in my story………but outside in the churchyard……..

  3. Matthew Gibson says:

    Thank-you so much for publicising my article, Michael. The piece extends and embellishes work that was originally published in my book Dracula and the Eastern Question: British and French Vampire Narratives of the Nineteenth Century Near East (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006). I decided to go into greater detail about the reasons for seeing Basil Hall’s book as being the major source for Carmilla, and so wrote and published the article. I have recently brought out a new book on the Gothic, The Fantastic and European Gothic: History, Literature and the French Revolution (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2013), which deals with writers like Hoffmann and Paul Feval, but includes a piece on Le Fanu as well.
    I no longer work at UCLan, and am now at the University of Macau in Southern China. I hope to be in touch.
    best wishes

    • Hi Matthew, I was really fascinated by your article and it certainly did explain to me how Le Fanu could have been inspired to write Camilla. I hope to track down the books you refer to and read them. I also must read John Polidori too and see what the reputed first ever vampire story was like. Its amazing where a google search for imformation can take you!

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