Although occultists like the antiquarian Montague Summers would like to claim that the belief in vampires is global and transhistorical (and therefore probably true), the vampire is a thoroughly modern being. Like the Gothic genre itself, stories of vampires emerge in the Age of Enlightenment, as instances of primitive superstition that help define the rational scepticism of northern, Protestant Europe.
“The ghost-stories are begun by all but me,” John William Polidori wrote from Geneva on 17 June 1816 as one of five participants in perhaps the most famous literary competition of all time. Polidori was the handsome, arrogant, and often quick-tempered outsider in a group that also included Percy Shelley, radical poet and thinker, and a married man; his lover, Mary Godwin, the only child of the philosopher William Godwin and the passionate advocate of women’s rights, Mary Wollstonecraft; Lord Byron, the most celebrated (and then notorious) literary figure of the age; and Claire Clairmont, Mary’s step-sister and Byron’s newest mistress.
In a recent article for The Huffington Post, journalist Erin Schumaker advises students not to let their brains waste away over the summer: “you might be better off skipping the beach read this summer in favor of something a little more substantive.” Yet some of us might find the idea of settling down on a sun lounger with War and Peace less than appealing. To help you out, we asked staff at Oxford University Press for a list of summer classics that will help you relax without letting your brain get lazy!
Two hundred years ago today Lord Byron wrote a brief, untitled Gothic fragment that is now known as ‘Augustus Darvell’, the name of its central character. The most famous author in the world at the time, Byron produced the tale when he was living at the Villa Diodati, on the shores of Lake Geneva, and in the daily company of Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Godwin (the future Mary Shelley), and John Polidori, Byron’s personal physician.
Two hundred years ago, on 16 June 1816, one of the most remarkable gatherings in English literary history occurred in a villa just outside Geneva. Present at the occasion were Lord Byron, who had left England in April to escape (unsuccessfully, in the event) the scandal surrounding his separation from Lady Byron; John Polidori, whom Byron had engaged as his personal physician.
There were many books on vampires before Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Early anthropologists wrote accounts of the folkloric vampire — a stumbling, bloated peasant, never venturing far from home, and easily neutralized with a sexton’s spade and a box of matches. The literary vampire became a highly mobile, svelte aristocratic rake with the appearance of the short tale The Vampyre in 1819.
People have enjoyed the horror genre for centuries, reveling in the spooky, toe-curling, hair-raising feelings this genre elicits—perfect for Halloween! Whether you’re trick-or-treating, attending a costume party, or staying home, we’ve put together a list of Oxford World’s Classics that will put you in the mood for this eerie night.
This year is the 250th anniversary of Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto, first published on Christmas Eve 1764 as a seasonal ghost story. The Castle of Otranto is often dubbed the “first Gothic novel” due to Walpole describing it as a “Gothic story,” but for him the Gothic meant very different things from what it might do today.
By Robert Morrison
According to Gerard Manley Hopkins, when Thomas De Quincey was living in Glasgow in the mid-1840s he “would wake blue and trembling in the morning and languidly ask the servant ‘Would you pour out some of that black mixture from the bottle there.’ The servant would give it him, generally not knowing what it was. After this he would revive.” What “it” was, of course, was opium, the drug that De Quincey became addicted to in 1813 — two hundred years ago this year.
By Robert Morrison
In The Metaphysics of Morals (1797), Immanuel Kant gives the standard eighteenth-century line on opium. Its “dreamy euphoria,” he declares, makes one “taciturn, withdrawn, and uncommunicative,” and it is “therefore…permitted only as a medicine.” Eighty-five years later, in The Gay Science (1882), Friedrich Nietzsche too discusses drugs, but he has a very different story to tell.
By Alice Northover
One of the great advantages of being OUPblog editor is that I read practically everything that was published on the blog in 2012: the 1,088 articles, Q&As, quizzes, slideshows, podcasts, videos, and more from the smartest minds in the scholarly world. When I first attempted the list, I had 30 articles bookmarked and I’d only made it six months back. I’m sure I’ll hate myself for missing a piece tomorrow.
By Robert Morrison
Two hundred and one years ago this month, along the Ratcliffe Highway in the East End of London, seven people from two separate households were brutally murdered. News of the atrocities quickly spread throughout the country, generating levels of terror and moral hysteria that were not seen again until three-quarters of a century later when Jack the Ripper launched his savage career in a neighbouring East End district. Britain had no professional police force until 1829, and so the task of apprehending the killer (or killers) fell to an ill-coordinated group of magistrates, watchmen, and churchwardens who were woefully unprepared for the pressures of a major murder investigation,
Stephen Asma, author of On Monsters looks at Where the Wild Things Are.