France, Vampires in

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The cover of the menu from the Count Dracula restaurant in Paris, France.

France, Vampires in

(pop culture)

French records supply only a limited number of texts for vampire researchers. Among them are folklore stories of the melusine, a creature reminiscent of the classical lamiai figure. Melusine reportedly was the daughter of King Elinas and his fairy wife. Angry at her father, she and her sisters turned their magic against their parents. For her actions, her mother turned her into a serpent from the waist down. Melusine would remain this way until she found a man who would marry her on the condition that he would never see her on Saturday (when her serpentlike body reappeared). She found such a person in Raymond of Poitoi, and, once married, she used her magic to help him build a kingdom. The problem emerged when their children arrived—each was deformed. The situation came to a head when one of the children burned an abbey and killed 100 people. In his anger, Raymond revealed that he knew Melusine’s secret. She reacted by accepting the curse upon her and realizing that she was condemned to fly through the air in pain until the day of judgment. Until the castle fell, she would appear before the death of each of Raymond’s heirs to voice her lament. She thus became the banshee—the wailing spirit of the House of Lusignan. Even after the castle fell to the French crown, people reported that Melusine appeared before the death of a French king. She was not a vampire, but did show the direction in which at least one of the older vampires evolved.

When the idea of the vampire was introduced into France at the end of the seventeenth century, it was an unfamiliar topic. The subject seemed to have been raised initially in 1693 when a Polish priest asked the faculty at the Sorbonne to counsel him on how he should deal with corpses that had been identified as vampires. That same year, newspaper reports of vampires in Poland appeared in a French periodical, Mercure Galant. A generation later, the Lettres Juives (Jewish Letters), published in 1737, included the account of several of the famous Serbian (mistakenly reported as Hungarian) vampire cases. However, the issue of vampirism was not raised for the French public until the 1746 publication of Dom Augustin Calmet‘s Dissertations sur les Apparitions des Anges et des Espits, et sur les revenants, et Vampires de Hingrie, de Boheme, de Moravie, et de Silésie. This treatise by the French Bible scholar continued the vampire debate that had been centered in the German universities. The debate had reached a negative conclusion concerning the existence of vampires, and Calmet called for what he thought of as a more biblical and scientific view, which considered the accounts of vampires in Eastern Europe, and called for further study. While not accepted by his colleagues, the book was a popular success, reprinted in 1747 and 1748, and translated into several foreign languages.

Calmet brought the debate into the Parisian salons, and he soon found a number of detractors. Voltaire reacted sarcastically and spoke of businessmen as the real bloodsuckers. Diderot followed a similar line in his salon of 1767. Only Jean-Jacques Rousseau argued in support of Calmet and his rational approach to the evidence.

French Vampires: No survey of French vampires would be complete without mention of the several historical figures who have been cited as actual vampires. Leading the list was Gilles de Rais (1404–1440). A hero of France, de Rais was a brilliant general who fought with Joan of Arc—but was also a man known to have few equals as a sadistic murderer. He tortured and killed a number of young boys (and a few girls), receiving intense sexual gratification in the process. He also practiced a form of Satanism. It was only with great difficulty that he was brought to trial. Upon conviction, he was strangled and his body burned.

Somewhat different was the Viscount de Moriéve, a French nobleman who, by strange fortune, kept his estates through the period of the French Revolution. Following the revolution he took out his animosity against the common people by executing many of his employees one by one. Eventually he was assassinated. Soon after his burial, a number of young children died unexpectedly. According to reports, they all had vampire marks on them. These accounts continued for some 72 years. Finally, his grandson decided to investigate the charges that his grandfather was a vampire. In the presence of local authorities, he had the vault opened. While other corpses had undergone the expected decomposition, the viscount’s corpse was still fresh and free of decay. The face was flushed and there was blood in the heart and chest. New nails had grown and the skin was soft.

The body was removed from its resting place, and a white thorn was driven into the heart. As blood gushed forth, the corpse made a groaning sound. The remains were then burned. There were no more reports of unusual deaths of children from that day forward. J. A. Middleton, who originally wrote of de Moriée, discovered that he had been born in Persia, married an Indian, and later moved to France as a naturalized citizen. She believed that he had brought his vampirism with him from the East.

While the de Moriéve case carried many of the elements of traditional European vampirism, that of Francois Bertrand did not. During the 1840s Bertrand, a sergeant in the French Army, desecrated a number of graves in Paris before being caught in 1849. After opening graves, he would mutilate bodies in a ghoul-like fashion. His story became the basis of a famous novel, Werewolf of Paris (1933) by Guy Endore.

The Literary Vampire: France’s real contribution to vampire lore came in its nurturing of the literary vampire. Soon after its publication, copies of “The Vampyre” (1819), written by John Polidori but mistakenly attributed to Lord Byron, arrived in Paris. It was hailed as a great product of Byron and inspired several of the literary elite, most notably Jean Charles Nodier who wrote Le Vampire, a drama based on Polidori’s story and featuring his vampire star Lord Ruthven. Le Vampire led to other Parisian vampire plays, several of them farces, and was translated into English for performance in London.

Through Nodier the vampire was introduced into French romantic literature. The romantic exploration of the inner self, often with the assistance of mind-altering drugs, soon encountered the negative aspect of the human psyche. The vampire emerged as a symbol of the dark side of human nature and most of the French romantics utilized it at one point or another. Théophile Gautier authored a vampire story, “La Morte Amoureuse” (published in English as “The Beautiful Vampire” and “Clarimonde”) in 1836 and a poem titled “Les Taches Jaunes” (“The Yellow Bruises”). Poet Charles Baudeliare wrote several vampire poems including “The Vampire” and “Metamorphoses of the Vampire”, both published in 1857. Alexandre Dumas brought to an end this generation of romantic interest in the vampire with his short story “The History of the Pale Woman” and his dramatic version of Le Vampire (1851). During this era, Alexey Tolstoy, the first Russian writer of vampire stories, published his novellas “Upir” and “The Family of the Vukodlak” in French, and they were first circulated and read in the salons of Paris.

Since the mid-nineteenth century, the vampire has appeared only occasionally in French novels. Paul Féval wrote two vampire novels, Le Vampire (1867, English translation as The Vampire Countess, 2003) and La Ville Vampire (1875, English translation as Vampire City, 2003). Later novelists included Gustave Lerouge, La Guerre des Vampires (1909); Jean Mistler, Le Vampire (1944); Maurice Limat, Moi, Vampire (1966); Claude Klotz, Paris Vampire (1974); and Christine Renard, La Mante au Fil des Jours (1977).

In the last generation, the French have picked up on the contemporary vampire craze, and while French authors have not utilized the vampire to anything like the extent of English-speaking countries, a number of French vampire novels have appeared, and their number has been supplemented by the many novels originally written in English, including those by Stephen King and Anne Rice, that have been translated and published in France. Among the authors producing multiple titles are Jeanne Faivre d’Ardier, Claude Klotz, and Michel Pagel. In addition, a steady supply of texts aimed at children and teenagers built around the vampire theme continue to appear. Most of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel novels were also translated into French.

The Cinematic Vampire: France produced two of the earliest vampire films. Le Vampire (1914) was a silent film in which a man attempted to get a vampire bat to kill his wife. Les Vampires (1915) was a ten-part serial built around a secret society of supercriminals. It starred Eugene Ayme as Le Grand Vampire (a criminal master, not a real vampire) and Juliet Musidora as Irma Vep (an anagram of vampire). After these early movies, it would be 30 years before the next vampire films were produced. Immediately after World War II, Jean Painleve directed a documentary on Le Vampire. It was followed by a short feature that appeared in 1947 as Les Vampires. Over the next 20 years, a number of vampire movies were produced in France, most now forgotten. Rising above the crowd was Et Mourir de Plaisir (Blood and Roses), produced by Roger Vadim and starring his wife Annette Vadim as Carmilla in this remake of the Sheridan Le Fanu tale.

The French movies have become known for continually pushing the amount of overt nudity and sex on the screen. Et Mourir de Plaisir paved the way for the work of Jean Rollin, the French director who has most frequently utilized the vampire theme. His first feature-length vampire film, Le Viol du Vampire (Rape of the Vampires), inaugurated a series of increasingly explicit films that have become among the most notable of all vampire motion pictures. La Viol du Vampire was followed by La Nue Vampire (The Nude Vampire, 1969), Le Frisson des Vampires (Sex and the Vampires, 1970), and Le Cult de Vampire (The Vampire Cult, 1971). Through the 1970s he produced Requiem pour un Vampire (1972), Levres se Sang (1974), and Fascination (1979). After his 1982 feature, La Morte-Vivante, it would be a number of years before he again approached the vampire, but finally in 1995 he returned to the theme in the well-received Les Deux orphelines vampires (1995).

Rollin created an era of French vampire movies, but after he moved on to other subjects few French producers have picked up on the theme. Through the late 1980s to the present less than a dozen French vampire movies have been released. The French vampire films include: Sexandroide (1987), which combined sex, science fiction, and vampires; Baby Blood (1990); Un Vampire au Paradis (1992); Trouble Every Day (2001); Fiancée of Dracula (2002); Blood Mallory (2002); Perfume (2007); and Les Dents de la nuit (2008).

Popular Culture: As in North America and the United Kingdom, the vampire has entered the popular culture of France, most notably in comic books. In the 1970s vampire stories began to appear in such horror comics as La Maison du Mystere and La Manoir des Fantomes. Among the early independent vampire issues was a 12-part serialization of Jacula: Fete in la Morgue, the translation of a 1969 Italian adult comic. As French comic books developed into some of the best examples of comic book art, vampires periodically appeared, though they were by no means as popular as in the United States. Among the outstanding issues were Philippe Druillet’s Nosferatu (1989) (also translated into English) and Le Fils de Dracuella by J. Ribera (1991) and its sequels.

Among the most noteworthy of French vampire comic books are the two series by Joann Sfar featuring as main characters the Grand Vampire (six volumes, 2001–2005) and the Petit Vampire (six volumes, 1999–2004). The latter series became the basis of a 52-episode animated television series in 2004.

Contemporary French scholars and writers have joined in efforts to educate the public on vampires and vampirism. This interest can be traced to the early 1960s with the publication of two books, Tony Faivre’s Les Vampires (now an extremely rare volume) and the very popular Le Vampire by Ornella Volta, which has been translated into English and Spanish. These initial efforts were followed by such volumes as Roland Villeneuve’s Loups-garous et Vampires (1963), Francois R. Dumas’s A la Recherche des Vampires (1976), Robert Ambelain’s La Vampirisme (1977), Jean-Paul Bourre’s Le cult du vampire aujourd’hui (1978), Roger Delorme’s Les Vampires Humains (1979), and Jean-Paul Bourre’s Dracula et les Vampires (1981). The first wave of French scholarship on the vampire was capped by Jean Marigny’s Le Vampire dans la Littérature anglo-saxonne (1985). Jacques Finné included an extensive list of additional French vampire titles in his 1986 bibliography. During the 1990s, partially in response to the 1997 Dracula centennial, French scholars expanded their work and produced a number of notable studies. The decade was launched by the likes of Jean Markale’s l’Enigme des vampires (1991), which was followed by an additional discussion of the vampire phenomena as a whole in La chair et le sang: vampires et vampirisme (1997) by Elisabeth Campios and Richard D. Nolane. The discussion of Dracula, his significance and the ties to Prince Vlad the Impaler, were carried forward by Denis Buican’s Les Metamorphoses de Dracula (1993); Matei Cazacu’s l’Historie du Prince Dracula (1996); and Jean Marigny’s Dracula: figures mythiques (1997). More recent studies include Sabine Jarrot’s La vampire dans la Littérature du XIX and XX siècle (2000) and Estelle Valls de Gomis’s Le vampire: enquête autour d’un mythe (2005).

The broad spectrum of French scholarship on vampires had been showcased in several anthologies of articles, the most notable being Les Vampires (1993), papers from a colloquy held at Cerisy, which includes both an introduction and papers by France’s two most notable vampire scholars, Jean Marigny and Antoine Faivre, and a bibliographical article on eighteenth-century studies of vampires. Other collections appeared as Les Vampires (1995) edited by Jean-Marie Beurq and Bruno Lapeyre, and Dracula: de la mort a la vie (1997) compiled by Charle Grivel. Many vampire novels have appeared in the French language, both translations of the more numerous English-language novels, and original novels by French-speaking novelists. Also, in anticipation of the centennial two fine collections of vampire fiction appeared: the first, compiled by Francis Lacassin entitled Vampires analogie (1995), includes many of the prominent nineteenth-century writings; the second, by Jean Marigny entitled Vampires et les Seins (1997) is a more extensive contemporary collection.

In 2005, Jacques Sirgent, a vampire enthusiast opened the Musées des vampires (Vampire Museum), in a Paris suburb. The Irish ambassador to France graced the opening with an appearance. The museum is open by appointment and those who wish to take a guided tour or attend a movie screening are invited to contact the museum directly.


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Druillet, Philippe. Nosferatu. 1989. Rept. Milwaukee, OR: Dark Horse Comics, 1991.
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———. The Vampire Countess. Encino, CA: Black Coat Press, 2003. 351 pp.
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Valls de Gomis, Estelle. Le vamire: enquÍte autour d’un mythe. Cheminements, 2005. 471 pp.
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The Vampire Book, Second Edition © 2011 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
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