Gustav Meyrink and the figure of the vampire


I haven’t read this one properly yet, but it looks interesting…

When the satirist, fantasist, and occultist Gustav Meyrink (1868–1932) began publishing in the early twentieth century, the figure of the vampire was already wellestablished as a literary motif in German literature. During this period numerous works appeared that depicted vampires based upon the model of Bram Stoker. While commonly conceived as a fearsome, bloodsucking, and seductive creature, short stories by Gustav Meyrink challenged this conventional representation of the vampire. The following study introduces Meyrink’s vampire tales and highlights how the author employs and comments on the traditional features of this motif, in the process of which he radically reshapes the motif itself. The result is that Meyrink offers his readers descriptions of vampiric phenomena informed by esoteric thought and turn-of-thecentury occultist trends. If vampires and their monstrous kin are indeed carriers of culture, as Jeffrey Cohen, a leading critic of monster theory, contends, then Meyrink’s creation of an esoteric vampire gives voice to the significant role of the occult movement at the turn of the century and its place within the crisis of modernity.” (p.601)

“As recent scholarship on the theory of the monstrous has shown, literary vampires and their monstrous kin are endemic to their age, functioning as cultural messengers conceived by their authors to embody characteristics inherent to a given time and place. Jeffrey Cohen states that we can read ‘‘cultures through the monsters they bear.’’ The literary vampires of Gustav Meyrink, the roots of which can be found in the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century [-p.603] occult movement, are such culturally-imprinted monsters, offering insight into his concerns about the esoteric practices of his day. If every age indeed embraces its own vampire, as Nina Auerbach contends, then Meyrink’s creation of the esoteric vampire is quite in tune with the esoteric climate at the turn of the century.” (pp.602-603)

In spite of the fact that German authors had worked with vampire motifs for 150 years before Meyrink, early twentieth-century vampire literature crouched in the shadow of Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897). The image of the vampire common in this period is rooted in Stoker’s novel and its German cinematic counterpart, Nosferatu: Eine Symphonie des Grauens (1922). Stoker is responsible for a new representation of this folkloric figure in the literature and film of the [-p.604] twentieth century, namely as an exceedingly sexual being defined by its undead state and propensity for the ‘‘ravenous drinking of blood.’’ And although not attributable to Stoker himself, according to Peter Nusser, following Dracula, the image of the vampire quickly became synonymous with ‘‘Trivialliteratur.’’ In his study Trivialliteratur, Nusser states that the public’s fascination with the vampire is intertwined with erotic carnal instincts as well as social concerns of victimization at the hands of the ruling nobility. The monstrous leading characters in Meyrink’s vampire tales betray a close affinity to the trademark features of their pulp fiction counterparts, including the lust for blood, a demonic essence, and, in rare cases, a seductive demeanor. These shared characteristics allow for an analysis of Meyrink’s interaction with this popular image and at the same time reveal that the techniques with which he bestows these qualities upon his literary figures are often unconventional.” (pp.603-604)

“The rise of occultism in the second half of the nineteenth century lent renewed zeal to the investigation of vampirism. Spiritualists and Theosophists, both prominent groups in the occult movement, developed various theories which incorporated this phenomenon into their worldview. A primary theory originates from their belief in the existence of the astral body, an energy force which lives on after the human body has expired.” (p.608)

Ref: (italics in original, emphases in green bold mine) A. BOYD ‘GUSTAV MEYRINK AND THE EVOLUTION OF THE LITERARY VAMPIRE: FROM FEARED BLOODSUCKER TO ESOTERIC PHENOMENON’   Neophilologus (2006) 90:601–620


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