Some “psychic vampires” as part of my Women Writers of Folklore and Fiction series.

Today I’m sharing another “living vampire” story by a woman author, this time American: Mary Wilkins Freeman (1852-1930). The story “Luella Miller” is from her 1903 collection Wind in the Rose-bush, and Other Stories of the Supernatural, which M. R. James once commended as “quite successful domestic New England [ghost fiction]: I like it.”

368px Illustration Cuscuta europaea0
Cuscuta europaea, clinging to its host plant. From Flora von Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz 1885. Source: Wikimedia

The living vampires from my last post were active predators who sought out their victims. Luella Miller is passive, more like a parasitic vine that wraps itself around a healthy plant and clings to it until the plant dies.

She had blue eyes full of soft pleading, little slender, clinging hands, and a wonderful grace of motion and attitude.

Luella doesn’t need to hunt down prey; they come to her willingly, men and women alike, and gladly sacrifice themselves to care for their “helpless” friend. In Luella, Wilkins-Freeman describes a real-life type of abusive personality, what people call a “psychic vampire” or “energy vampire,” and though there seems to be a supernatural element to Luella’s fascination, in many ways it isn’t the point of the story.

  • You can read “Luella Miller” at Project Gutenberg, here.

The narrator of “Luella Miller” is an elderly lady, quite the opposite of Lady Ducayne and Don Fortunato: she is spry, healthy, even young for her years, and completely self-sufficient. She is one of the few people in the village who saw through Luella’s glamour, partly because her longtime beau Erastus threw her over to marry Luella–and become Luella’s first victim. And it’s interesting that many of Luella’s women victims are also described as strong, capable, and self-sufficient, until they get caught up in Luella’s net. Like Mary Elizabeth Braddon and Emilia Pardo Bazán, Wilkins Freeman wove feminist themes throughout her short stories, and one might read “Luella Miller” as a observation about how misguided societal norms of beauty and femininity were at the time, in valuing a frail, dependent type of womanhood. Or one can read the story as a general observation about human nature; it works either way.

I like Mary Wilkins Freeman a lot, and Wind in the Rose-bush is a great collection. Do check out “Luella Miller,” and the rest of the stories as well.


One More Vampire for the Road

I got the idea for this living vampire mini-series after realizing that “Vampiro” reminded me a lot of “Good Lady Ducayne,” and “Luella Miller” occurred to me soon after. I thought it was interesting that all these contemporaneous living vampire stories were by women, while all the vampire stories by men that I could think of (from that time period) were about revenants, undead monsters. I had a theory that this difference articulated the feeling of women writers from that period that the living represented more of a threat (to women) than anything undead or otherworldly.

I still hold that theory. But I also thought of a living vampire story by a man, albeit possibly from a slightly later time period: “Miss Avenal” by W. F. Harvey (1885-1937), first collected in the 1928 collection The Beast with Five Fingers and Other Tales.

Arundel mill and castle 1837 jpg Portrait
Arundel Mill and Castle, John Constable (1837). Source: WikiArt

“Miss Avenal” follows the same structure as “Good Lady Ducayne” and “Vampiro”: a private nurse is hired by an ailing woman who takes her to a remote retreat in the countryside. As Miss Avenal recuperates, the nurse grows weaker…

Harvey had been a medical doctor, and he wrote several sympathetic stories from the viewpoint of nurses, who as practitioners of an all-woman profession were underappreciated and probably underpaid. So “Miss Avenal” could have thematic similarities to “Vampiro” and “Good Lady Ducayne” (vampire as predator of marginalized women). But Harvey’s story feels quite different; it reminds me of some of John Buchan’s supernatural stories, with allusions to the old ways and the old beings. There is a suggestion that Miss Avenal is not exactly alive, but is some ancient, undying, but otherworldly creature–and that she’s not the only one.

At any rate, it’s a lovely story. Unfortunately it’s probably not public domain in the United States, and I couldn’t find it online. You can find it in the excellent Wordsworth collection The Beast with Five Fingers. Harvey is an underappreciated writer, and another one that I really like a lot. I highly recommend the collection, and not just for this story.


Featured Image: Morning Glories, Kamisaka Sekka (1909). Source: Fuji Arts

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