Dejan Ajdačić

The Vampire Motif in European and Balkan Slav Literatures

The Vampire Motif in European and Balkan Slav Literatures

Dejan Ajdačić

As opposed to grotesque, semi-human Graeco-Roman demons or the cannibalic creatures of Christian hell and temptational visions, vampires, like the Romanian Count Dracula, are creatures of human form and origin. These agents of death, darkness, the anti-world, jeopardize life and promote the principle of ruin and destruction. Although the demon rising from his grave to suck blood had existed in Graeco-Roman literature, it was only under the influence of numerous forensic records from southern Hungary, "the Viaggio in Dalmazia" by Fortis, Chaumette Dessfossé from Bosnia, the scientific records like dom Calmet's "Dissertationis" that the erudite XVIIIth century Europe linked him to the territories populated by Balkan Slavs. The South Slav word "vampire" has since been present in European languages. Although it originated in Balkan-Slav folklore, the vampire as a literary character first appeared in European literatures in the sadistic demonology of pre-Romantism and Romantism, and only somewhat later in Bulgarian, Serbian, Croatian Romantic and Realist literatures. This prompted a literary historian to write the following: "We had to turn to Europe to fully understand the opportunities our own heritage was offering us".

Interpretations of vampirish appearances are conditioned by the understanding of their destructive need and their double life. In the era of the analytical view of the world, authors were looking for that part of the vampirish, formerly human beeing, which drove the vampire to destruction and blood-sucking. The quasi-rationalistic documents of the XVIII century mentioned the body, the soul of the spirit (corpus, anima, spiritus) as the source of vampirish powers. In the period of analytical psychology, the hypothesis about the origin of pathological motivation of symbolically understood vampirism focused on the unconscious and the subconscious. The preponderance of synthesis over the analytical principle is obvious in the interpretation of the vampire as a divided creature torn apart by internal tensions of man, who within himself holds one or more demonic creatures. Louis Vax sees the vampire in the light of the duality of the victim and monster in one creature. The social and functional analyses of folk beliefs in vampires represent these demons as deviant figures rejected by society. From the viewpoint of universal pessimism, vampires represent a type of omnipresent evil.

The possibilities the writer has in shaping the traits of a vampire through the relationship between the characters, as well as the relationship between the characters and the narrator in a literary text, cover a wide range - from the simple transposition of the folk beliefs in this demonic creature to the partial resort to these beliefs and psychological, sociological, literary transformed and richly-layered meanings. The measure in which a literary work respects the traits of the folklore demon determines the measure of implied ideas the demon carries in tradition. Departure from tradition enables the development of new ideas which are not immanent in the folk source. However, some traits of the demon are always transposed, but his appearance also varies depending on the intentions of the author who is transposing the vampire motif. Depending on their understanding of the vampire in Balkan Slav folklore, learned writers in Europe included in their texts elements of an unknown and even exotic folk tradition, adding a new creature to the demonological Pantheon. At the turn of the XVIII century, some traits of the vampire corresponded to certain needs of the spirit of Gothic-Romantic literature, a literature dominated by the horrific and the terrible.

Western European writers are less familiar with the elements of folk superstition, but, although it is not part of them, and therefore does not inhibit them, they adhere to these elements thoroughly. If they use the vampire motif in the cliched way, the motif's possibilities are relatively limited. And so we find the well-known protection from vampires by garlic in Lawrence Durrell's "Balthazar", and the powers of the clergy to destroy the vampire in Gautier's story "La Morte Amoureus" or Mérimée's "Constantin Yacoubovich". Mérimée's ballad "Cara-Ali" can be cited as an example of departure from folklore. In the ballad, a vampire Turk leaves his Kuran with magical powers to the man who had killed him, and afterwards sucks all his blood. As opposed to the cliche or to the complete departure from the beliefs of the Balkan peoples, the domestic writer is able to include in his text the less known, poetically fructuous parts of the tradition, like the Bulgarian writer Yordan Radičkov in his story "Cigansko petle" ("Baruten bukvar") in which the vampire was stopped when he was given a sieve to count its holes.

Writers, to whom folk beliefs are part of their personal and their collective cultures, are more inhibited by the vampirish tradition only in stories aspiring to resemble folk literature, which is particularly characteristic of the period of broadening the scope of topics. In domestic literatures, the vampire motif remained a topic challenging authors even in periods when it was no longer in fashion in foreign literatures. Particularly interesting examples of the freer development of the vampirish motifs are Radičkov's story "Vodoley", Vinaver's "Vampire-water" ("Vampir-voda"), "The Dictionary of the Khazars" ("Hazarski rečnik") by Pavić, and Pekić's novel "How to Kill a Vampire" ("Kako ubiti vampira").

The impression of all-inclusiveness of folk life in literary works containing the motif of vampirism is not necessarily conditioned by the exhaustiveness of the presented beliefs and customs pertaining to vampires. The spirit of original folklore in written literature can be achieved also by interweaving beliefs in vampire and other beliefs and customs, which, for example, regard, blood-brotherhood, the ancestral cult, the protection of children. The differences in treating the motif of vampirism arise from the thorough or unthorough transposition of folk tradition into literature. Domestic writers include the motif of vampirism in their narration of death, as Crnjanski did when he described how someone wanted to pierce the heart of deceased mother Čarnojević with metal needles. In the works of foreign authors, there is no such omnipresent basis and the local spirit appears either as an exotic atmosphere, as in the work of the Countess Rosenberg, Charles Nodier, or as a disguising element of the inauthenticity of mystified folklore. In the mystifications of the Balkan Slav folklore, the presence of the vampire even confirmed the alleged authenticity of the work. Relying on the travel accounts and scientific documents on occult occurrences, Mérimée wrote an analytical "ethnographic" note "On Vampirism" and five typologically extremely diverse ballads in his "La Guzla". Francis Levasseur also mystified superstitious beliefs in vampires in his plagiarism "La Dalmatie ancienne et moderne". However, there are works, like Paul Féval's novel "La Ville-Vampire", which do not belong to the genre of mystification, and which depict the Balkans as an empire of vampires. After sucking the blood of a countess, vampire Gezi hums a "song in the Serbian language, usually spoken by vampires". Geographically locating part of the plot in Dalmatia and the vampire city Sél?ne in Belgrade's vicinity, the writer imaginatively describes the mystic atmosphere of the world beyond. The mythical creation of an invisible to mortals round space with galleries of semi-transparent shadowless stone in a desolate field, with a faint and cold light amid the surrounding darkness is based on the immaterialization of urban space.

Possessing various possibilities of varying the vampire motif, artists present them as fantastic, but also as allegorized characters, as creatures possessed by the impulse to destroy others. The way of presenting vampire characters in written literature is conditioned by the writer's intentions and methods of convincing of or casting doubt in the reality of their existence. The shaping of a demonic creature reaffirms or disputes rational experience, concealing or uncovering the need to present the demonic state as possible.

The relationship between the victim as a live creature and the offender as a reanimated corpse is presented in the light of obsession by domination and power. This is why vampirism evolves as an internal conflict between brother and sister or between blood brothers, as an unseparable link between the subjected and superior creatures. In written literature, vampirism most often elaborates the subjects of love or power.

The destructive macabre erotism in the psychological presentation of the fantastic motif of vampire is founded on immoderate impulses in a lovers' relationship. According to Peter Penzolt's psycho-analytical interpretation, vampirism is linked to the oral stage of psychological development. Sucking is presented as a sort of erotic relationship (except in stories in which a bogus vampire reaches his forbiden love by frightening the villagers). It was only written literature, which engaged in elaborating the psychology of fatal love, that was able to attach an erotic meaning to the vampire. Erotic passion is mutual if the lover craves for the vampirish creature or it is one-sided if the lover is the vampire's victim against his or her own will. In both cases, passion transcends the border of death only to return to the object of its obsession unsatiated.

In Goethe's "Braut von Korinth" ("Corinthian bride"), also based on Fortis, a Christian girl, engaged to a pagan by a solemn oath, leaves her grave to suck lover's blood, but says she must go to others as well - because young people always succumb to her rave. Goethe's ballad provoked numerous praise and condemnation even at the time it was printed. Numerous translations spread its glory throughout Europe. It inspired Gautier's poem "Les Taches Jeune" and the story "La Morte Amoureuse". A young priest kisses a dead courtesan, Clarimonde, and she then wishes to suck the blood out of her lover's heart and then the blood of other young men. The monk sprinkles holy water over the dangerous deceased woman and she turns to ashes and bones. A woman-vampire appears also in a story in the fourth volume of Hofmann's "Serapionsbrueder" as well as in the work of Cheridane le Fanier. In Edgar Allan Poe's story "Berenice", a beautiful girl the hero loves falls ill and dies. While he is reading in his library, a pale, frightened servant comes in and tells him about a desecrated grave and a heart still ticking. The servant draws his attention to his muddy and bloody clothes, while the teeth, with which the hero was obsessed even while Berenice was alive, fall out of a box. Poe's stories interweave beauty, fatal, partially deerotic love, an atmosphere of horrific events which increase the impression of his characters' obsessiveness and restlessness to the utmost. Turgenyev's character in his a la Poe story "Prizraki", flying in the night through space and time with a pale and unreal girl, feels faint as if she were sucking his blood. The smell of blood on her lips makes him suspect that she is a vampire, but she disappears like an apparition. Edwin Clapp read Keats' stances on the victims of "La Belle Dame Sans Mercy" in the context of a beautiful lady's vampirism.

Baudlaire's concept of a woman-vampire in his poem "Les Métamorphoses du Vampire" has completely distanced itself from the Balkan Slav demon. The poet presents the insatiability of the lover and her merely apparent illusive beauty and passion through the transformation of a passionate woman into a shrivelled, horrible bag of bones, a skeleton.

In Mérimée's ballad "Le vampire", which the famous mystifier allegedly wrote down as a fragment, the bleeding corpse of a Venetian with a beard and long nails, from whom ravens flee, urges the deceived girl Maria to kiss his pale and bloody lips. The vampirish seducer smiles as a sleeping man tortured by terrible love.

In Romantism, the male vampire acquired the traits of an amoral and lonely man loathing the world and people. The story "Vampire", which Dr. William Polidori continued after Byron started it and published under his name, speaks of Lord Ruthwen, a cinic who was killed in Greece, seduced a friend's sister and strangled her on their wedding night. Cyprien Bérard's French adaptation of Lord Ruthwen, signed by Nodier, became a major theater hit and a model for the new works of Scribe and Mélesville, Brazier, Gabriel, Armand and Alexander Dumas. Byron's "Giaour" was cursed that his corpse rise from his grave and suck the blood of his tribe. The characters of the Wandering Jew and the Byronic vampire are interwoven in Maturin's "Melmot the Wanderer".

At the end of the XIX century, vampires, now less present in literature, acquired the traits of a dandy. Abraham Stoker's "Dracula" (of 1897) was accepted as a fructuous model in trivial literature and movie scripts. The hero, a Romanian count, simultaneously represents an individualized exotic and imitable hero. In Stoker's novel, the conflict between Puritan moralism and the Count's dangerous erotism develops through the persecution of the demon, who is defeated at the end.

Vampirism can be part of a fugitive statement or comparison expressing the restlessness of the spirit of the dead hero. So, in the case of Chateaubrinad's dead René, the fatal spirit haunts Seluta, like those phantoms of the night living off mortal blood.

By demonizing passion and linking it to an element of the vampire motif, live relatives or lovers can also be described as obsessed by vampirish passion. Here, reanimation of the dead body is not the chief element of vampirism. Casting doubt in the belief in the possibility of the impossible accompanies the transformation of the fantastically mervelous into the unusual, the inexplicable into what can be explained by dreaming, hallucination, exhaustion, excitement, visions caused by narcotics, the delusion caused by the end of the state of supposed death. Neither the protagonists, nor the victims nor the readers have proof that the destructive lover, relative or demon had been dead, but there is no doubt that they act like vampires. The whole action with the vampires is moved to a world beyond reality. For example, in Feval's novel on a vampire's abduction of Cornelia, the author at the end reveals that the whole plot was a dream of Anne Radcliffe, a famous authoress of Gothic novels. In "The Fall of the House Usher", Edgar Allan Poe, a master of altering the magical and the unusual, creates an atmosphere of suspense and terror already in the description of his arrival in the castle. Underscoring the unusual bond between the twin brother and sister - the last descendants of an old family, he describes the brother's ill state after his sister's death. The horrific atmosphere of the reanimation of the buried woman, appearing in white bloody dresses from the cellar and falling on her brother's body as if he were a corpse is accomplished by the crumbling down of the castle, which additionally highlights the fantastic dimension of the described event with the potential transits of vampirism, but the author explains the event as the sister's cataleptic state from which she has awoken.

Literary works, in which there is no sharp line separating the fantastic and the key to its rational explanation, are characterized by more prominent toying with the real and the unreal. Heroes, as victims or witnesses of other heroes destructive behaviour, can associate vampires or can feel like vampires. In Mérimée's dramatic mystification "La Belle Sophie", the vampire motif is introduced in a recently married girl's premonition that she will soon die and is expressed in the moan that a leaden corpse is pressing her bossom and her calls for help at the moment the Bey is strangling her, biting her neck and sucking her blood. On her deathbed, Barbey d'Aurevilly's Lea ("Lea") hugs her lover Reginald, who is thinking of the vampire's teeth piercing the neck and sucking its prey, while her mother sees the blood on the lips of the insatiable lover. In his other works, Barbey d' Aurevilly develops the vampire motif as psychologically transformed monstrosity.

In Kostić's melodramatic Oriental story "Maharaja", in which this Serb and Balkan writer achieves exoticism by moving the plot to India, a Maharaja, who detests love, falls in love with Meyma and kills her with his teeth while kissing her. There are also works in European literature placing the vampirism in Far East countries.

In the second part of the "Alexandrian Quartet' ("Balthazar'), Percewarden speaks of the poet Negroponte who meets an ideal woman at a carneval with a ring with a yellow jewel and thinks she might be a vampire. Both the Eastern and Western traditions present the carneval time of lasciviousness and freedom as in impure period in which all forces, even the forces of death, reach their climax. The poet, a victim, of the perfect lover, the woman-vampire, is left with traces on his neck resembling the bite of a weasel. "I have only impression of white teeth... At last, with this vampire's love, I feel I can live again, feel again!" The narrator cites Negroponte's "famous" poem on lips drinking the blood of poisoned loves bodies and love feeding on blood. He roams the Venetian channels at nights, returns exhausted. When he dies, the traces of the bite are sprinkled by talc so that his sister can see the body. Through Percewarden's words, Durrell describes Negroponte as a worshipper of the devil and a follower of Byron and Baudelaire, nothing in this way the literary context of the vampire motif in this episode of his novel.

In his story "Cherry liquor" (The Unicorn Hunt), Macedonian writer Vlada Urošević writes of a student, who, looking for a room enters a mysterious house of three sisters. When he lies in his bed, one of the sisters approaches him naked, and then the others who also fall upon him, and he then feels that someone has bitten his neck. By using the fantastic of the magical, the student does not awake in the room he fell asleep in, but in the open, and establishes that the three sisters were killed in an earthquake the same day when their to let add appeared in the papers. The motif of vampirism, mentioned in only half a sentence, gives the whole story meaning.

Punishment for going back on one's word. In stories describing the making of promises and the death of one of the lovers or blood brothers, brother or sister who had taken a vow, the dead person appears as a vampire to take the person who had broken his promise into death.

Combining the interpretation of the vampire motif as destructive erotism with the understanding of vampirism as punishment for breaking one's promise in his story "Ligea", Edgar Allan Poe tells the story of a character, who, after the death of his beautiful, passionate and educated wife, goes back on his word that lie will not find another and marries a blue-eyes girl who falls ill and dies soon. When he starts thinking of Ligea while standing over the blue-eyed girl's body, the girl seems to return to life, by turning red, letting out a moan and moving. The hero finally seeks dark-eyed Ligea under the veil. There is no destructiveness in the story, however, so that one may say that the motif of vampire as a reanimated corpse is only partially achieved. The Serbian counterpart to Ligea is Jovan Subotić's ""Sablja-momče, cvet-devojče" ("Sabre-Boy, Flower-Girl") in which it is the other way around - the girl promises her young man who soon dies, that she will not marry, and when she goes back on her word, the young man, wrapped in a shroud, comes at midnight and takes her away. There are stories in Serbian literature of a blood brother promising to be his wedding "dever" (the groom's advocate) and the vampire taking him to the world of the beyond (At. Nikolić, J. Veselinović, B. Nušić)

Ridiculing the fear of vampires follows the demystification of folk superstitition. Its humorous denial in the manner of critical ethnology is achieved by presenting the hero's inopportune fear or taking advantage of superstition. Literary intentions of humorous-critical ethnology in each individ­ual text depend on the authors attitude towards oral and written tradition. In the ironic poem "Jeannot", Mérimée obese Jeannot at the cemetery at night. Fearing something he perceives as gnawing of a vampire, he wants to protect himself and bends to take some earth to eat and is bitten by dog. There are more stories of lascivious fellows who mask themselves as demons to ridicule vain fools and gullible cowards (M. Glišić, "Raspis hvalisavog kapetana" "The Proclamation of the Vain Captain"). Matavulj's hero Bukar ("Bakonja fra Brne") takes advantage of monks' fear and raids their rich monastery. Both Glišić and Vrčević write of a secret lover posing as a vampire to freely enjoy himself with a young widow because the villagers are afraid to approach her home until he is discovered (V. Vrčević "Seoska osuda na smrt novog vukodlaka" "The Village's Death Sentence of the New Werewolf", Glišić "Bata Mata" "Brother Mata").

Foreign writers do not have the need to enlighten to Balkan peoples, to whom they do not primarily address their writing, so that their reasons for demystification are rather of a literary than of a non-literary nature. There are numorous parodies, particularly of Polidori's above-mentioned work. Sometimes, even the titles are humoruous, like "Les Étrennes d'un Vampire, manuscrit trouvé au cimeti?re du P?re-Lachaise" ("A Small Christmas Gift of a Vampire, a Manusript Found at the Pere-Lachaise Cemetery").

Jovan Jovanović Zmaj's "Čemer-deka i pelen-baka" ("Wretched Grandpa and Wormwood Grandma") is one of the best known Serbian parodies of Serbian poems. Zmaj used the motives of promises of eternal loyalty of Subotić's poem "Sabre-Boy and Flower-girl"; in his story, Grandma awaits Grandpa with a hawthorne stick "So that he steps rising from his grave". Vinavers "Vampir voda" ("Vampire Water"), one of the best parodies, is based on attaching a new, humorous meaning to a whole series of folk narrative genres which highlight the blood-sucking nature of power.

The possibilities of using the motif of the Balkan Slav vampire in various literatures, which this paper merely noted, raise a series of literary-historical and poetical questions, regarding the relationship between different cultures and literatures. The transformations of this demonological creature show us the characteristic reflections of destructive impulses in human relationships determined not only by the art spirit of the time, but also by the author's personal stand on tradition as the intermediary of all-human substance.

На Растку објављено: 2007-03-18
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