I have always been fascinated by vampire mythology. I won’t bore you with the countless tales of vampiric literature I have devoured over the years or my nerdish need to analyze them within their own genre.
Instead, I will discuss a book that I came across at a used book sale. The book was simply entitled, Girls Night Out. I assume that at some point it had a dust jacket that explained exactly what it was about. But, beggars can’t be choosers when it comes to the world of used book buying – mainly, because beggars can make out like bandits when they are at a used book sale.
After getting past the title listed on the spine of this book (there was no dust jacket to tell me the full title), I opened it to the title page to make sure it wasn’t some homage to that awful underaged sex orgy celebration called, “Girls Gone Wild.”
Imagine how surprised I was to find that this was a celebration of women – vampiric and otherwise – who had just cause to be celebrated for their choices and stances. No underaged sex, or boob flashing for the attention it might bring, here. There was no shame and/or disillusion wafting through some poor girl’s memory after a night of drunken decisions. In fact, I really want to find the dust jacket just so I can celebrate this book being nothing like I thought it would be when I first found it in the stacks.
Girls Night Out: Twenty-Nine Female Vampire Stories is a volume of stories about female vampires. The collection spans literary time frames, and includes short stories that most likely inspired Bram Stoker’s Dracula. It also includes stories that were most likely inspired by that same work.
The important thing to remember about this collection is that Bram Stoker isn’t a part of it. While this collection acknowledges Bram Stoker, he is only used as a touchstone for establishing the mythology – and even then, it is only in the introduction.
I assume that the introduction acts as a frame of reference for those who are new to the vampire literature genre. That assumption worries me because I would like to believe that most people know that vampires didn’t begin with Bram Stoker. It also worries me because I would like to believe that most people know who Bram Stoker was and that he wrote other things and that there are entire genres of fiction that Bram Stoker would actually fit into. But, I do understand having a solid starting point. Hopefully, everyone has heard of Bram Stoker, even if their only reference has to do with that awful movie starring Winona Ryder (Gary Oldman kicked ASS though – but that was to be expected).
Just to be sure, we will start with this simple fact: Bram Stoker published Dracula in 1897. Dracula was a very good book that many of us had to read at some point in our literary studies. Now, lets move on to Girls Night Out.
The only central point of Girls Night Out is the female vampire.
26 years before Stoker published Dracula, a work by Joseph Le Fanu entitled, Carmilla, was published. Carmilla was a centuries old vampire who not only preyed upon young women, she also beguiled her way into these women’s homes. Her charm would become a narrative characteristic that was used by Bram Stoker and most other tellers of vampire stories.
Girls Night out employs those characteristics in stories like The First Time and The Scent of Vinegar, even though these stories have more specific sexual connotations. But there are also the more modern tales of vampiric females within this dense collection.
All of these stories employ a specific Mythos. No matter when they were written, there is that same element of seduction side-by-side with logic. Each story features a strong woman, regardless of whether that woman is the protagonist or antagonist.
One of my favorite stories is the one entitled, Madeleine. Madeline is a vampire who revels in all that she is. She can stalk her prey using their thoughts and smells. She finds an amazing amount of pleasure in simply deciding upon a victim and how she will take him or her.
One day, she kills a simple clerk who had grand plans. She then has to deal with the repercussions of his fiance, Olivia. Olivia is aware of what Madeleine is from the first moment that she begins to mourn her fiance’s death. There is such beauty in Madeleine’s world, but when you step inside of Olivia’s you find your loyalties shift, immediately. Olivia’s simple acceptance and knowledge of what comes next, is so badass, that it becomes an enjoyable story of revenge before you are even aware of it.
I also love the story, I Vant To Be Alone, a story that utilizes the vampire legend to explain what really happened to Greta Garbo. I Vant to Be Alone will make you want to go back and check the dates to see if Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire was inspired by it or the inspiration for it.
Good Lady Ducayne provides a very interesting take on a fairly traditional Victoria theme. An older woman hires a young woman as her traveling companion. The young woman begins to weaken and suffer an illness that causes her to waste away.
All of these stories will fit into a specific mold. On my first read, I kept thinking how gothic or Victorian the stories were. But, once you have read them all beginning to end – paying especial attention to the seductive qualities of the language and the characters – you will see that the stories move past genre.
Yes, the stories will all touch upon what we have come to view as simple vampire legend. Yes, these stories will provide sometimes a small glimpse and sometimes a full out exploration of the vampire mythos. But, what these stories also provide are strong female villains along-side the heroines.
It kind of reminds me of the Disney villainess.
There is something seductive about her. There is something terrifying about her. But, because she is female, you still don’t see it coming.
The only real difference is that these female villains deal in blood and sex and true power.