by Paul Féval; translated, edited, with an introduction, afterword and notes by Brian Stableford
(Sarob Press, 124 pages, hardback; first published 1867, this edition 1999.)
First published in book form in 1867, Vampire City is a parody of the Gothic literature which peaked in popularity some 70 years before then - a prospect quite probably more alarming than anything contained within the novel itself, since the Gothic idiom today reads, as we all know, practically as parody in the first place. Fortunately Vampire City doesn't parody through exaggeration, using straightforward stylistic imitation instead. The parodic elements arise straightforwardly enough from the ludicrous plot. Phew!
Brian Stableford's introduction to the novel's French author is intriguing rather than comprehensive, which is as it should be in a work of this sort, and as a bonus he introduces us to the delightful word "feuilletonist", one who (as Féval did) wrote for the magazine sections of 19th century French newspapers (themselves known as "feuilettons").
But we have not so much digressed as failed to broach the subject altogether; to wit, Paul Féval's Vampire City. Féval's narrator for the story is, somewhat libellously, the mighty Gothic powerhouse herself, Anne Radcliffe. The story is supposed to illustrate how her relatively humdrum life spawned such dramatic and overwrought novels. I'm not giving much away when I say it involves not just one vampire but an entire city of them!
There are corrupt aristocrats, worthy common folk, devoted couples and hideous supernatural beasties aplenty. What can I say? It's pure Gothic, which is to say that it's not a great riveting read: the plot is unlikely, the characters barely sketched and the story itself only competently written.
The important thing to know about Vampire City is that, as Stableford himself points out in the afterword, it's an interesting and relevant adjunct to the vampire mythos as we know it today. It shows just how influenced we have been by Bram Stoker's creation, almost to the exclusion of any other source.
If you're interested in vampires and their history then I recommend Vampire City for your learned shelves. If you're not, then this won't change your mind.
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© Stuart Carter 26 February 2000