Well, we’re a few days into Women in Horror Month (it’s been relocated from February to March, in case you missed the memo) so I’ve naturally been thinking about gender and genre. It could be argued that the horror subgenre most closely associated with female authors today is vampire fiction, but this wasn’t always the case. Historically, the authors who did most to define vampire literature — John Polidori, Sheridan Le Fanu, Bram Stoker — have been male; their female contempories, like E. Nesbit, were concerned less with vampires and more with ghosts and hauntings. But in my time digging around the nooks and crannies of horror history, I found a few exceptions.
One of my past projects was a three-part blog series about race, gender and sexuality in nienteenth-century vampire literature. For the gender portion of the series, I talked about three comparatively little-known Victorian vampire stories by female writers: Eliza Lynn Linton’s “The Fate of Madame Cabanel” (1880), Mary Cholmondeley’s “Let Loose” (1890) and Violet Hunt’s “The Prayer” (1895).
That series wasn’t my first trip through the history of vampire literature — I’d previously written a series picking out one vampire story per decade from the 1810s onwards, including a number by women. Elizabeth F. Ellet’s “The Vampyre” (1849) is, admittedly, not a particularly strong entry in the genre, being largely an imitation of Polidori’s same-titled story, but it nonetheless has historical interest. Anne Crawford’s “A Mystery of the Campagna” (1886) was also a little on the flat side. But things became considerably more interesting when I arrived at the tales of occult novelist Dion Fortune — whose vampires were purportedly drawn from life. After those came Irina Karlova’s Dreadful Hollow (1942), a mystery novel influenced by the vampires of Hollywood. And, of course, the modern era saw a much larger female presence in vampire fiction: the later posts in the series took me into the work of Anne Rice followed by Nancy Collins, Tanya Huff and Stephenie Meyer and, finally, B. E. Scully and Harriet Muncaster.
I’m far from finished, and I hope to spend more time with the forgotten women of vampire literature later this year. Stay tuned…