Anna S. Oppenhagen-Petrescu
Department of Sanguinary History
A Handbook for the Educated Vampire
†††† Death is such a Victorian conceit.
†††† Death is solemn, it is colorless. The unfortunate maiden is laid in a long bed with a silk scarf at the neck, scented with oils so that her stink does not offend delicate nostrils, her hair brushed to a lustre never achieved in life, skin powdered pale and smooth, lips drawn in obscene red: all to give the appearance of life just snuffed out, so recently that the body has not yet realized it has not merely dozed off in the midst of a pleasant afternoon. Why, her eyelashes never laid so coyly dark upon her cheek! Her color was never so high and fever-flushed! Her teeth never sat so white upon her scarlet lips, her curls never clustered so black around her seraphic face!
†††† In short, all effort has been made to make the poor corpse appear immortal, to dress it as a vampire. After all, it is not a proper funeral if she does not look so fresh that she could leap at any moment from the coffin and affix her teeth to a relative's jugular. It is a fetish, really, the just-dead virgin. As if death were a door from which she must emerge a whore, demoniac, and hungry.
†††† The vampire, on the contrary, is essentially Byronic.1 It walks in beauty like the night, and through the night, and in it, it is always windswept and brooding, dandified by the accessories of death—the cross, the coffin, the shroud. But these things are merely fashion, no more intrinsic to the vampire self than a widow's peak or a Lugosian laugh. What is necessary is the predatory instinct, and the eternal study of death, since the vampire is its most skilled practitioner. The vampire is not half in love with easeful death, it is easeful death, and it has some small duty to make of death an art, an ecstasy, a philosophy. Else why be a demon? Certainly mortals cannot get away with such pretension. One might casually wonder whether the vampire was a product of the Gothic imagination, or the Gothic imagination was a product of the vampire—if one were predisposed to ponder such questions. The vampire, by its nature, does so. Unable to see itself in a looking-glass, it is the vainest of all creatures, and considers its own nature incessantly. These days, there are night-conferences in Bulgaria and Romania, with endless papers and sample chapters of promised masterpieces.2
†††† Of course, being Byronic, the ideal vampire is male,3 heroic in his way, a frontiersman braving the wilds of humanity, piling high his carcasses on the plains.
†††† I am not an ideal vampire.
†††† But surely my curls were never so black and shining as the day they lay me in the dirt. I listened to them mumble the old 23rd and counted like sheep the thud-falls of shoveled earth on the lid of what I must assume was a very expensive coffin. Death, as I have said, is Victorian—thus, no family would allow themselves to be seen in public with sub-par funerary rites.4
†††† I will not here indulge in that most vulgar of recent fashions, autobiography. Suffice it to say that I, along with every other vampire since the classical age of our Slavic forefathers,5 clawed my way out of that very well-appointed coffin and into the inevitably moonlit night. I availed myself, as so many of us do, of the graveyard caretaker as my first victim—how many of us recall the awkwardness of that first exsanguination! It is so much like making love for the first time; one has no clear idea what goes where, but clutches stiffly to whatever seems more or less correct, spraying fluids all over one's best evening clothes and mumbling apologies to the hapless partner, who no doubt experienced none of the crude pleasure one hoards to oneself. Of course, the experience of feeding is hardly the psycho-sexual revelation recent extra-cultural authors have claimed—do you, dear reader, find yourself in involuntary climax when ingesting a plate of pasta and a modest red wine? Certainly not. Yet certain in vogue lady novelists would have their deluded readership believe our own furtive suppers are orgiastic communions of the highest order.
†††† Ah, but I have forgotten the tiresome necessity of all vampiric literature—I have not given my credentials. I ought to simply attach a notice my parentage to my lapel or my Curriculum Vitae, perhaps even have it notarized like the breeding papers of a half-feeble spaniel. But certainly, without credentials, I can have nothing of importance to say. Very well.
†††† I was authored by a very beguiling old debauch by the name of Ambrose Mosshammer who asked me to stay after his Herodotus6 seminar for special instruction. I fully expected to be accosted in his windowless eighth floor office—though when I imagined his skeletal had groping my breasts and tearing my new wool skirt, I did not quite realize that he would simultaneously be whispering the tale of Gyges in my ear and divining the path of my jugular with his tongue before slashing into my throat with his gnarled, ancient teeth. It was certainly not what I had been led to expect young ladies experienced behind the closed doors of the offices of elderly colleagues. (I beg the forgiveness of any vampiric readers, for whom this recitation must be as tedious and gauche as a human reading about the expulsion of the placenta from his mother's womb. But the forms must be followed.)
†††† Alden's blood tasted faintly of dust and the glue of book-bindings, as well as a peculiar undertaste of sandalwood and tobacco. It was not unpleasant, but I was rather in a rush to finish the process, once I realized what was afoot. There is no need to dwell in ritual—that sort of decadence can be safely left to Catholicism. He proffered his wrist in a most gentlemanly manner, and I availed myself of the necessary blood. I cannot overstate his professionalism and patience, truly, the old ones have a gravitas the younger generation of fiends cannot match.
†††† I left his office with a rumpled skirt and a torn blouse, carried by his graduate students out to the parking lot, where I could safely be assumed to have been a victim of an over-zealous mugger. A few days later, I had risen from my grave and thusly embarked on my postdoctoral career.
Anna S. Oppenhagen-Petrescu
1. Some speculation has inevitably arisen over the years as to whether Byron himself was a vampire, given his notorious lifestyle, early "death," and histrionic personality. (See: The Secretest Man of Blood: The Case for the Inclusion of Lord Byron in the Rolls of the Black Temple, Greek District, by Horace Fossbinder, University of Ecbatana Press, 1989) Certainly his overwrought behavior would seem to fit the mold of the undead, but the practice of "claiming" historical personages as members of our community when no conclusive evidence can be established as to their orientation is a specious pastime at best. George Gordon, Lord Byron may or may not have been a vampire—and if he was we clearly must assume the vampirism of his sister Augusta as well—but the essential fact is not whether or not the ichor of Hades flowed like a river of darkness in his veins, but that he provided by both literary and personal example the model of the modern vampire in all his melancholy, foppish, and melodramatic mania.
2. A few examples of this rather precious phenomenon include: Hunter, Hunted: The Vampyre as Essential Other, Devouring God: a Study of the Golden Age of Vampirism, 1672-1899, Mater Terribilis: Colonial Women Vampires and Republican Instruction, and my own monograph: Exsanguinations: A History of the Non-Western Vampire, Pt. 1: The Near Eastern and Pacific Island Varieties. The recent popularity of the Vampiric Bildungsroman—that is, personal accounts of a vampire's own death and rebirth and subsequent education have caused many to declare that the field of vampiric scholarship has become nothing more than a postmodern exercise in biographical masturbation. Such naysayers are invariably passed over for invitation to the next year's conference—which will be held in Lodz, Poland in 2005, incidentally. (July 25-29th, proposals due to the chair by Solstice.)
3. I intend to present a study of this subject at the Lodz conference, entitled Vlad Tepes as Ur-Childe Harold: Byronism in Early Vampires. While it might be logical to infer that the female vampire is conversely BrontŽan in formulation, a kind of flesh-eating Jane Eyre, this is pure nonsense. The female vampire is also Byronic—the demonizing process is the great equalizer, and the vampire psyche knows little sexual difference in this arena. In fact, historically, the female vampire been held to an even higher standard of metaphorical and literary conformity than the male—we must be twice as Gothic in order to appear as terrifying as our masculine counterparts.
4. For a discussion of human funerary rites and vampiric birth rituals, see Geraldine Shulkin's recent article My Cup Runneth Over: The Black Mass and Parallels in Protestantism. In it she posits the controversial theory that Martin Luther himself was demoniac, and that his famous 95 theses were in fact a hex in 95 verses, the iron nails being required to bind the Wittenberg spell to the Church and ensure its fracture and decline from the 16th century onwards. German dark scholarship finds this notion rather ridiculous, and this author is inclined to agree. Luther's unusual dietary preferences are a matter of record, but it has been generally accepted that this was merely a pose in order to gain popularity within our community, not a genuine conversion. No credible evidence has been brought forward, even by the excellent Madame Shulkin, that would convince this scholar otherwise.
5. Some argue that in fact, to root our culture in the Slavic age (4th century AD) is facetious, that genealogies of vampirism ought to extend into Jewish myth and the earliest records of man (See Vagina Dentata: The Lilith Question and Further Inquiries Into the Proto-Semitic Vampire, University of Constantiople Press, 1998)—radical scholars claim that the vampire predates man, but they are never invited to the better departmental parties, nor do they dress in a manner which might result in them being taken seriously as academics, and thus are easily ignored. This historian believes that to claim Lilith as some kind of primal foremother of our race is feminist claptrap, and ought to be confined to the pages of cheaply made paperbacks.
6. Classicists have long been notorious as the most ravenous of the various breeds of dark creatures—they prey almost exclusively upon the very young and engage in all sorts of arcane rites which deviate from the accepted Slavic forms. It is considered somewhat daring among my colleagues that I admit to having been authored by such an unpalatable character, but I consider it a mark of pride, as it is equally well known that classicists prefer boys. I appreciate Dr. Mosshammer's confidence in me, and his willingness to include me in his department despite what must have been intense reservations.
© 2004–2007 Anna S. Oppenhagen-Petrescu, Catherynne M. Valente