Guest Post: Destiny Richards

This paper was completed as a primary source project for EN634: Victorian Literature

Florence Marryat’s The Blood of the Vampire

The novel The Blood of the Vampire was published in 1897, the same year as Bram Stoker’s Draclua, and yet is has received barely a glimmer of the recognition of Stoker’s classic. Marryat’s novel follows Harriet Brandt who leaves her home, a nunnery, in Jamaica and travels to Europe. She is accompanied by a friend who is ill their entire trip and who Harriet writes off as just being frail. She attempts to introduce herself into society but almost everyone she comes into contact with seems to fall weak and, if they keep prolonged contact they die, as in the case of Mrs. Pullen’s baby who Harriet is very fond of and spends much of her time holding.

Harriet is not aware of the horrible effects she has on those that are closest to her. In fact it takes until the end of the novel for her to be self aware of what she is and that her “vampire blood” is something she acquired from her mother who was the ancestor of a woman who was bitten by a vampire bat. Her mother was also known as a priestess of a foreign religion and had “black blood”. Her father was a scientist who went mad vivisecting animals. The slaves at his home rose up against him and killed him because they found his mad behavior so terrifying. This information about Harriet’s parents comes from Dr. Phillips who becomes involved after the death of Harriet’s friend and the Pullen baby. He knew Harriet’s parents and is the first to confirm that she is a psychological vampire, whose magnetic personality not only attracts those around her, specifically men, but she also drains their energy to the point that if they stay near her for long enough they die. Hammack elaborates more on the role of the doctor stating, “According to a doctor who serves as the mouthpiece for Marryat’s vampire theories, Harriet has supposedly inherited her bat like qualities from her mother, an evil mulatto whose own mother had been bitten by a vampire bat. Yet she is a psychic vampire whose ‘thirst for blood’ is more metaphorical than literal. Harriet has acquired a draining personality, rather than a giving one, which leads her to unknowingly deplete the health and strength of her intimates. She exhibits a predisposition for sadistic pleasure as well as a vengefulness elicited when she is disappointed in love. Although she does not actually drink blood, Harriet does render her companions anemic” (887).

After the death of the baby Harriet goes to stay with a Baron and Baroness and their son Bobby at their estate. During this time she and Bobby grow very close and she leads him on thinking that she loves him and they might even become engaged. She loves receiving attention from all men. Harriet eventually becomes enamored with a writer named Anthony Pennell. She convinces herself that she does not possess vampire blood and she marries him believing that her love for him is stronger than any curse of her blood she might possess. The two go on an extended honeymoon across Europe and after six weeks of being near Harriet he dies. Some nuns who have befriended her care her for but eventually she commits suicide because she feels the blood of her parents curses her and she cannot live a life with any sort of meaning.

This novel has many similarities with Dracula. The threat of the foreigner invading society and gaining a place is prevalent in both novels. Both novels also play upon idea that some humans, because of their blood or abilities, can have power over others. So why is The Blood of the Vampire not as popular as Dracula? According to Brenda Mann Hammock,

Despite its title, its literary quality, and its protagonist’s similarities to both Joseph Sheridan Lefanu’s female vampire and Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Marryat’s novel has received scant attention in the criticism of vampire literature. Although published the same year as Stoker’s text, The Blood of the Vampire may have suffered because of its authors even more pronounced reliance on the rhetoric of Victorian sociomedical theories. Unlike Bronte’s, Marryat’s portrait of a female vampire reads like a medical case study” (886).

In the article, Editor’s Preface: Hybrid Forms and Cultural Anxiety, there is an at length discussion that builds upon what Hammack states in her article, about what the character of Harriet says about the Victorians and their society as a whole versus earlier times in society. The article states,

The racial hybridity that Brenda Mann Hammack considers in “Florence Marryat’s Female Vampire and the Scientizing of Hybridity” is hardly benign. Situation Marryat’s The Blood of the Vampire against the backdrop of earlier vampire literature, she links the novel to Late-Victorian pseudo-scientific theories about “maternal impression”. Here, the therapeutic effects of the exotic cross-products that Stevenson had welcomed are replaced by psychic perils as dangerous as Dracula’s. the monstress whose bat like propensities Marryat dramatizes is not merely a product of crossbreeding, by also the offspring of a pregnant mother terrorized by wild beasts. (751)

This novel was not very widely read during the time shortly after it was published. There are a few articles that discuss the novels that were going around in the reading circles and circulating libraries and The Blood of the Vampire was mentioned. One of the reasons for this might be because Harriet was such a new woman. She does not act like the other upper class women that are mentioned in the novel. She does not carry herself with a sense of propriety or put on airs just to fit in with those around her. Even though she has money her background and mixed heritage make it difficult for her to fit in. In comparison to other novels of the time the most relatable to Harriet in heritage is Bertha from Jane Eyre and she is definitely not the protagonist of the novel nor admirable in any way. Sara Willburn elaborates in depth about Harriet’s character saying,

While Harriet has been described as having had a sheltered upbringing in a convent, her characterization as an “unsophisticated” is somewhat surprising given her wealthy colonial background and her independent voyage with a school chum from Jamaica to one of the most popular English resorts. Here it is interesting that the danger of Harriet, unlike her later in the novel, is classified as a lesbian threat, and furthermore, that a lesbian danger is described as unsophisticated, practically accidental. All the same, it is still a serious threat: thus potentially categorizing a mixed raced union as threatening in the same way as a same sex marriage in terms of white nations building. Furthermore, it also hypothesizes that a wealthy colonial might be able to rule the passion of an English woman. (442)

In conclusion, even though this novel was not very well known among the Victorians, it is very distinctive and explains a lot about their culture. The Blood of the Vampire elaborates greatly on the idea of the new woman and what that meant for women in society. The vampire in this novel is extraordinarily unique because of the fact that she does not physically drink blood, but instead takes away the life energy of those around her. Harriet is self aware of what she is and in the end becomes a hero because she realizes she is a monster and eliminates herself before she can hurt others that she loves. This novel deserves more recognition.

Works Cited

Marryat, Florence. The Blood of the Vampire. Kansas City: Valancourt Books,   2009. Print.

Hammack, Brenda Mann. “Florence Marryat’s Female Vampire and the Scientizing of Hybridity.” Studies in English Literature 48.3 (2008): 885-96. Jstor. Web. Mar. 16-2016.

Knoepflmacher, V.C. “Editor’s Preface: Hybrid Forms and Cultural Anxiety.” Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 48.4 (2008) 745-54. Jstor. Web. Mar. 20-2016.

Willburn, Sarah. “The Savage Magnet: Racialization of the Occult Body in Late Victorian Fiction.” Women’s Writing 15.3 (2008): 436-53. Academic Search Complete. Web. Mar. 16-2016.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.