Sunday 22 May 2011

De statu quodam peculiari mortuorum

I just came across another book online worth adding to the list of selected works on the right hand of this blog: The 1732 edition of Commericum litterarium ad rei medicae scientiae naturalis published in Nuremberg, which contains the most comprehensive contemporary debate on the Serbian (or Hungarian, if you will) vampires. I referred to the journal and debate in an early blog post on Joh. Frid. Glaser's tale of horror, calling this initial report on the vampires of Medvedja 'a piece of cultural history'.

So now it is no longer necessary to go to some library to follow the journal's accumulation of information about vampires, the speculations and the reviews of books on the subject, it is right here available on Google Books - in Latin, of course, but worth a look anyway. In fact, you might start with the recensio synoptica at the beginning of the book because it contains a lengthy survey of the debate with references to where you can find various contributions. Readers of Hamberger's Mortuus non mordet will recognize the names of contributors like Geelhausen and Segner.

It is also interesting to see the context of this debate. The issue that contains Glaser's letter, from week 11 ('hebdomas undecima') begins with mentioning and commenting on what has been received by mail:  A new medical book: Lexicon medicum universale, Glaser's letter and a short notice on a medical case. Then you find reviews of two medical books, a list of causes of death in Nuremberg during February of that year, and finally a table of meteorological observations in Nuremberg during that same month.

I can recall when I, a few years back, sat in a reading room with this journal from 1732 and 1733, and noted how remarkably much is actually written on the subject of vampires in 1732, and then all of a sudden within less than a year of the publishing of Glaser's letter, the debate stops. Of course, as we know, Calmet and others resurrected the vampire as a learned subject, and corpses were still staked and burned in certain regions of Europe. But the original and fervent debate of 1732 died out relatively fast.

Monday 9 May 2011

'Introuvable de nos jours'

The availability of Magia posthuma by Karl Ferdinand von Schertz still appears to be unknown to some scholars, as is shown by this quote from a new French book on vampires:

'Cet ouvrage, introuvable de nos jours est cité in A. CALMET, Traité ... et par M. SUMMERS, The Vampire in Europe ...'

The book is LES VAMPIRES: Du folklore slave à la littérature occidentale by Daniela Soloviova-Horvilla from Université de Picardie Jules-Verne. Anthony Hogg kindly mentioned the book to me recently.

Well, others have made the assumption about Magia Posthuma before her, so there is no reason to dwell more on it here, because this book certainly looks very, very promising.

Comprising 368 pages with a preface by Antoine Faivre (author of Les Vampires published almost fifty years ago in 1962), the book is divided into three parts: Firstly La vision du vampire chez les Slaves dealing with early Slavic conceptions of vampires from the 6th to the 19th century, next La divulgation des pratiques slaves en Occident au XVIIIe siècle dealing with some of the well-known descriptions and cases concerning vampires and Greek revenants, and finally Le vampirisme comme théme dans la littérature occidentale du XIXe siècle which traces the emergence and development of the early fictional vampire finishing with Bram Stoker's Dracula.

Soloviova-Horvilla herself has a background in Bulgaria which provides her with a working knowledge of the languages pertinent to the Slavic vampire (as Faivre says: 'de langue maternelle bulgare, elle possède aussi de solides connaissances en d'autres langues balkaniques, ainsi qu'en russe'), so her work obviously draws on a number of sources otherwise not easily available to Western scholars. Looking at her bibliography, she not only lists well-known sources like Bericht des Medicus Glaser, Visum et Repertum Über die sogenannte Vampÿrs, and Bram Stoker's notes at the Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philadelphia, but also Bulgarian and Serbian sources, as well as the correspondence of Augustin Calmet stored at Nancy.

The book indeed looks very interesting, and I hope to return to it in some future post when I have had more time to study it. Faivre in the preface says that every good library should have a copy of this book: 'Destiné à des lecteurs d'horizons divers tels que historiens des idées, de la littérature, des arts, linguistes, ethnologues, il se devra de figurer dans toute bonne bibliothèque - pas seulement dans celles des vampirologues.'

Les Vampires is published by L'Harmattan and is also available as an e-book in PDF.

Sunday 8 May 2011

'A thoroughly modern being'

'While it is probably safe to say that humans have been haunted by the hungry undead ever since they got a whiff of their own mortality, the vampire itself is, for Butler, a site- and time-specific thing, rather than the universally recognizable figure that Christopher Frayling has called “as old as the world”. Butler is not convinced that the vampire was “ever a cultural figure to be found the world over”, and Luckhurst would seem to agree, describing it as a “thoroughly modern being”.'

Butler is the author of Metamorphoses of the Vampire in Literature and Film, which has been mentioned on this blog before, and Luckhurst is the editor of a recent edition of Stoker's Dracula published by Oxford University Press. And the quote is from a recent article in The Sunday Times: The long life of the vampire by Toby Lichtig. The article also deals with a recent anthology titled Dracula's Guest: A connoisseur’s collection of Victorian vampire stories edited by Michael Sims, which, incidentally, has just been translated into Danish as Draculas Gæst: 22 af de bedste victorianske vampyrhistorier (Rosenkilde & Bahnhof). This to my knowledge is the first time a lengthy part of a text on vampires by Augustin Calmet has been translated into Danish. The part on Magia Posthuma is abbreviated, but the author and the title is mentioned. Unfortunately, the Danish translator has translated revenants in a way that, I think, does not make much sense in Danish. Still, I suppose it works alright as a (very brief) introduction to the subject.

In the Footsteps of Dracula

'Transylvania! To really be there at the top of the Borgo Pass, the site where Bram Stoker placed Count Dracula's "vast ruined castle," was the realization of a lifelong dream (maybe not everyone's dream, but it was mine). I was chilled to the bone by the piercing winds that overwhelmed the pale sunshine of May, but as I walked along the winding road that leads from Piatra Fantanele - the Romanian name for the Borgo Pass - to the borders of Moldava and the Ukraine, I knew in my heart that my journey had come to a successful end.'

Steven P. Unger's In the Footsteps of Dracula: A Personal Journey and Travel Guide (Audience Artist Group, 2010), available in a revised 2nd edition, is a highly personal, but also practical guide to 'Dracula tourism', i.e. traveling to Romania, Great Britain and Ireland in search of Bram Stoker's vampiric count and the 15th century prince who is usually regarded as his historical counterpart or inspiration. Abundant in black and white photos, anecdotes and tips on how to travel around Romania, I think the book is highly recommendable to anyone interested in travelling in Dracula's footsteps. It certainly is much more detailed than the guide that was included in Florescu and McNally's Essential Dracula some decades ago, possible the first guide of its kind.

The author fails to mention Bram Stoker's house in Chelsea, so obviously his guide can not be considered exhaustive, but perhaps he will keep expanding and revising the guide over the years to come? Still, it is reasonably priced at $20 or £10, and I am sure that many readers will be delighted by the author's enthusiastic approach to the subject.
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