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  • Writer's pictureAbby Brenker

The Earliest Vampire Stories: The First Works to Translate Vampire Lore Into Modern Day Horror

Vampires have come a long way. From True Blood to Twilight, modern day depictions of Vampires have become dreamy heart throbs, if not still dangerous. Often their allure is that despite their instinctual need for blood, they are willing to put it all aside when the right gal comes along. Notably both Twilight and True blood introduce alternatives to human blood drinking, a way to humanize the vampires that those franchises center around. But more importantly, a way to make their human love interests possible. 

In 1872 a novella was published that set the groundwork for modern day depictions of vampires in literature. Written by Sheridan Le Fanu, Carmilla predates Bram Stoker’s Dracula by 25 years. 

A vampire leans over a sleeping woman while a man watches
More details Illustration by D. H. Friston from Carmilla's Original Publication in The Dark Blue Magazine.

As a character, Carmilla is a female vampire who preys on our protagonist. Carmilla is often described as a gothic lesbian vampire story. Many believe that both Carmilla, and the real life Elizabeth Bathory, who may have bathed in the blood of virgins, laid the groundwork for modern day vampire stories. 

This isn’t a bold or unprecedented claim. Vampires have long been associated with seeking the love and blood of young, beautiful women (and men.) Striping out the roles of genders within these works, which have ebbed and flowed over time, there is certainly often a sense of sexuality connected to the violence of vampires. From Dracula and Carmilla to Interview with a Vampire, Twilight, True Blood and The Vampire Diaries (just to name a few.) 

Cover page of The Black Vampyre

In 1819, well before Carmila or Dracula were published, a short story called The Vampyre was written. The Vampyre by John Williams Polidori came out of the same contest run by Lord Byron that produced Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. Some speculate that The Vampyre was born out of spite for Lord Byron. 

Also in 1819, a short story called The Black Vampyre written by Uriah Derick D’Arcy was released. In Andrew Barger’s 2012 book, he calls this story the first Black vampire story, the first comedic vampire story, the first vampire story written by an American writer and the first anti-slavery vampire story. The Black Vampyre: A Legend of St. Domingo is set in Haiti and has similarities to the Haitian origins of Zombies. In the story, an enslaved person is tragically killed and then resurrected as a vampire who seeks revenge. 

1819 was a big year for horror. It produced two pinnacle vampire texts, along with Frankenstein. These works were some of the earliest to translate the folklore and mythology around vampires into stories that laid the groundwork for modern horror and fantasy tropes. 

If you've read Dracula, perhaps it's time to explore The Black Vampyre, Carmilla and The Vampyre as your next exploration.

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