Part of my Women Writers of Folklore and Fiction series.
We tend to think of vampires as revenants, creatures that have come back from the dead and who feast on the living to maintain their existences. But it’s not just the undead who siphon away the life of their prey. Today’s post looks at two stories about such “living vampires”: Mary Elizabeth Braddon‘s “Good Lady Ducayne” (1896), and Emilia Pardo Bazán‘s “Vampiro” (1901).
Both stories have similar structures: young, vulnerable women are “acquired” by an extremely elderly and obscenely rich person–the living vampire–who siphons the life from their victim(s) in order to rejuvenate themselves.
In “Good Lady Ducayne,” the prey is eighteen year old Bella, whose mother was abandoned by Bella’s father. To earn extra money for the family, Bella goes into service. She is hired as a companion by rich old Lady Ducayne, who pays her an incredibly generous salary–and takes her to Italy! If that sounds too good to be true, it is.
- Read “Good Lady Ducayne” at Project Gutenberg Australia, here.
In “Vampiro,” the prey is fifteen year old orphan Inesiña, the parish priest’s niece. Inesiña’s uncle arranges for her to marry seventy-seven year old Don Fortunato, the richest man in the province. The town gossips seem to think Inesiña got a good deal; how long can her husband live? Well….
- Read my translation of “Vampiro” at the Ephemera blog, here.
“Good Lady Ducayne,” which was published the year before Dracula, is the earlier story, so it’s possible that Pardo Bazán could have read it. Braddon, I think, was more of a commercial or popular author (her most famous novel is the juicy, scandalous Lady Audley’s Secret), while Pardo Bazán was more of a literary writer and critic, so I don’t know how likely it is that she would have come across Braddon’s work. On the other hand, Pardo Bazán was intellectually curious, and familiar with literature and literary movements outside of Spain, including in England, so who knows.
It’s also perfectly plausible that the two writers came up with their stories independently. Braddon wrote a lot of supernatural stories, and working girl Bella is a heroine who would resonate with her working and middle class female audience. Pardo Bazán often touched on the second-class status of women in her writing, and judging by the tone of “Vampiro,” the cold blooded and transactional nature of marriage arrangements (and how little say the bride sometimes had) really riled her. It’s interesting, but not too surprising, that both authors came up with a vampire metaphor to describe powerless women being victimized, even consumed, by patriarchy and/or economic inequalities.
I’d read “Good Lady Ducayne” before, and I like it, but “Vampiro” is more powerful. It’s more overtly indignant, full of sarcastic asides and biting quips; as I said, she clearly felt strongly about the subject matter. But it’s also beautifully written and entertaining, not just a screed. The cynical authorial voice is quite effective. I was also amused to spot the English quack doctor that Pardo Bazán slipped into the story in passing; he’s like a counterpoint to the sinister Italian quack in “Good Lady Ducayne.” Maybe Pardo Bazán did read Braddon’s story!
At any rate, it’s fun to compare these two different approaches to the basic storyline. Do check out both stories. I hope you enjoy them!
About The Unequal Marriage
About five years ago, I was searching for an image of a Russian wedding, to accompany this post. I found quite a few beautiful paintings on Wikimedia Commons, but I was struck by how unhappy all the brides looked. Then I found this on Wikipedia (archived link from Sept. 24, 2013):
The Unequal Marriage (1862), is a painting depicting the wedding ceremony of an elderly, high-ranking official and a young, visibly unhappy girl. This was one of the celebrated denunciatory pictures of the 1860s, revealing the unequal position of women and the corruption of bureaucracy. This critical mode, reflecting the general striving for reform in Russia after the Emancipation reform of 1861, was intended to arouse the dormant social conscience and change society.
(The Wikipedia page is different now). I’m pretty sure that this led me to another article somewhere about this Russian trend of painting unhappy brides, but I can’t find it now. The best I can do is this blog post, which is a poor translation of the writer’s original Cyrillic blog. But you get the idea. It’s fairly interesting.
And The Unequal Marriage was perfect for this post.
Featured image and Lady Ducayne illustration from Strand Magazine, February 1896. Source: Internet Archive