Sunday, June 03, 2012

Classic Literature: The House of the Vampire

The House of the Vampire was a novella by George Sylvester Viereck, published in 1907. What makes it interesting is the fact that whilst Viereck nods towards the blood drinking corpse within the dialogue of the book, his vampire is a psychic vampire and an unusual one at that.

The terms psychic vampire and energy vampire are often interchangeable and they often prey on lifeforce or life energy, on the victim's youth and sometimes even emotions (or a specific type of emotion). In this the vampire, Reginald Clarke, feeds on ideas, skills and artistry. Let me explain...

As a child he discovered his nature. He was particularly poor at mathematics whilst a friend had notable skills. Within a month, without realising what he was doing, he had taken the boy’s skill at mathematics and the boy himself had become a dullard when it came to maths. As he grew he realised what he capable of and absorbed other people's skills and traits both positive and negative but eventually began to hone his power and was able to take only what he wanted.

He sees himself as an artistic receptacle, taking from those doomed to mediocrity and making their art something special – though he actually selects rather talented artists. His victim becomes enamoured with him, drawn to him and (of course) discover they suffer from artistic block. When he has taken all he wants he discards them. He also casually feeds, we see him steal the vocal skill of a woman and the steps of a dancer as he watches them perform. However with his prime victim, through the course of the story a young poet and novelist called Ernest Fielding, the theft is more thorough. Reginald claims that Shakespeare was a creature such as he.

I mentioned a nod towards the atypical vampire and it is when Ethel, a former lover and victim of Reginald, falls for Ernest. She tries to convince him of Reginald’s nature and suggests that if (undead) vampires are thought to exist—creatures who “every night some mysterious impulse leads to steal into unguarded bedchambers, to suck the blood of the sleepers and then, having waxed strong on the life of their victims, cautiously to retreat.”—then why not creatures like Reginald? It is also insinuated that the more traditional vampires start their activities when alive and then continue into the grave.

The language is a tad too flowery, but the concept is great. This would seem to be the spiritual forebear of Fitz Leiber Jr’s The Girl with Hungry Eyes, though Reginald uses art and the girl uses her image and advertising. If you want to check the story out for yourself you could buy it in novella form or look over at its wikisource page.

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