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Saint-Germain, the central figure in a series of novels by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro is a 4,000-year-old vampire, Yarbro developed Saint-Germain from a historical personage, the Count de Saint Germain, a mysterious individual and reputed alchemist who lived in eighteenth-century France. He moved in cultured circles of his day, composed music, and was fluent in several languages. The count was a prince from Transylvania, whose real name was Francis Ragoczy according to most sources. His money came from international trade, possibly centered on jewels. The few accounts of his life suggested that he was of medium height, wore black and white, rarely ate in public (even at his own parties), claimed extraordinary powers (including an age of several thousand years), and encouraged an aura of mystery about the details of his life. In the historical Saint-Germain, Yarbro found someone who closely fit her evolving image of what a vampire should be. She made Saint-Germain her central character by merely using the facts about him in a vampire mythic context.
At the same time, Yarbro was consciously reworking the Dracula myth as it had developed through the twentieth century. She approached the vampire logically and saw many problems in the tradition. First, she removed the overlay of medieval Christianity, which left very little “evil” in the vampire’s character. In his bite he shared a moment of sexual bliss and had the power to grant a degree of immortality. Second, she decided that the vampire would need to be quite intelligent to survive in what was a hostile environment and would find creative and entertaining ways to spend the centuries of time.
Yarbro also found the essence of vampirism to be the act of taking the blood, the intimacy of contact, and the “life” that came from it—rather than the nourishment of the blood’s ingredients. Thus the bite became a sexual act.
Yarbro introduced Saint-Germain in Hotel Transylvania (1978), a novel set in eighteenth-century France. This historical romance revolves around the relationship of Saint-Germain and a young woman, Madelaine de Montalia. Some years earlier, Madelaine’s father had promised her to a group of Satanists with whom he had become involved. As she and Saint-Germain were falling in love, the coven of devil worshippers began to put pressure on her father to live up to his bargain and turn her over to them for their own cultic purposes.
Hotel Transylvania slowly revealed facts about Saint-Germain, though an alert reader might guess what was coming when, early in the first chapter, he repeated Dracula’s famous line, “I do not drink wine.” Saint-Germain was a vampire, but a vampire of a different breed. In conversations with Madelaine, Saint-Germain slowly revealed his nature. He was many centuries old. As a vampire he needed only small quantities of blood to survive and would normally take only a wineglass full. Contrary to popular opinion, he was not affected by sacred objects, such as the crucifix. He could walk freely on consecrated ground. He was negatively affected by running water and sunlight, but drew strength from his native soil. He had constructed shoes with hollow heels and soles into which he put the earth that countered the effect of running water and allowed him to walk around in daylight. Among his few superhuman abilities was his strength, which he amply demonstrated in his final confrontation with the coven of Satanists.
Saint-Germain possessed very human emotions, though time had taught him to stay above most affairs of humans. He had developed his own set of morals, especially concerning attacks on individuals for his blood supply.
Periodically, however, he had fallen in love, as he did with Madelaine in Hotel Transylvania. His love affairs revealed his quite different sexuality—while he could participate in most sexual activity, he could not have an erection. The bite, however, was a more than adequate substitute for him and for his sexual partner. Sexual relations were limited in that they could not occur between two vampires. Thus if an affair between a vampire and human progressed to the point that the human became a vampire, the affair would necessarily end. They could, and often did, remain friends, but the affair was not part of their immortal existence.
The centuries-old saga of Saint-Germain has been laid out in the subsequent novels, the second of which, The Palace (1979) was set in fifteenth-century Florence and the third, Blood Games in Rome under Nero. In each of these, Saint-Germain confronted life-and-death experiences that forced discussion of the possibility of the “true death.” Vampires could be killed by the severing of the spine (such as when the head is cut off) and by being consumed in fire.
The Palace also introduced Saint-Germain’s former lover and present-day colleague, Atta Olivia Clemens, and the account of her origin was spelled out in Blood Games. She had been forced into a marriage with an influential Roman official who had ambitions to become emperor. He was also somewhat of a pervert, and forced her to have relations with many men while he watched. Then she met Saint-Germain, and he arranged for her to escape her husband’s power and become a vampire. He created a new vampire by drinking too much blood from someone or allowing them to drink of his blood.
While the origin of Saint-Germain was never fully revealed, Yarbro did construct a history for him. He was born 4,000 years ago, in what is today Transylvania, of Proto-Etruscan stock. His people had a vampiric priesthood and, as he was born in the winter (the dark of the year in agricultural societies), he was initiated into the priesthood. Some details of this priesthood were provided in the Path of the Eclipse. The protector god of his people was a vampire, and the priests also were vampires. Saint-Germain had been initiated, but before he could assume his position, he was captured and taken into slavery. He served very successfully in the army of his captors, for which he was rewarded with execution. Saint-Germain, however, survived because his executioners did not know they had to either decapitate him or burn his body.
More recent volumes have brought Saint-Germain into the twentieth century in Nazi Germany (Tempting Fate, 1982) and in various other modern situations (The Saint-Germain Chronicles, 1983). In the meantime, Olivia has continued her career quite apart from Saint-Germain, though they occasioanlly make contact through correspondence. During the time of the Emperor Justinian, she moved from Rome to Constantinople and before her return to Rome in 1214 C.E. had lived for a time in Tyre (in the Holy Land). She left Rome for France in the seventeenth century where, following an adventure with the famous Musketeer d’Artagnan, she has drifted in obscurity.
By 2009, Yarbro had produced twenty-two Saint-Germain novels and two volumes of Saint-Germain short stories, the latter volumes showing no diminution in quality. In addition to these works, there have been an additional three Olivia and two Madelaine volumes. Yarbro’s novels have been consistently characterized by well-thought-out plots and set in thoroughly researched historical settings.
Yarbro received the Bram Stoker Lifetime Achievement Award at the meeting of the Horror Writers Association, June 12–14, 2009, in Burbank, California.