Wednesday 23 December 2015

Around the World in 80 Gays : Part 25 - A Vampire

LAST TIME : 75) Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) met 73) Natalie Clifford Barney (1876-1972) in 1882, almost 2 decades before her romance with 76) Olive Custance (1874-1944), who went on to marry Oscar’s former partner 77) Lord Alfred Douglas (1870-1945), and who were part of the literary circle surrounding Oscar’s mother, which also included 78) Bram Stoker (1847-1912).
78) Bram Stoker will forever be remembered as the creator of Count Dracula, the world’s most famous fictional vampire. His mother was a social campaigner in Dublin and was friends with Sir William and Lady Jane Wilde, 75) Oscar Wilde’s parents.

Bram’s sexuality has been discussed in several modern biographies of him. Even though he lived a perfectly standard heterosexual life some parts o f his earlier life lead some biographers to wonder if some same-sex attraction was present, present in particular some of his correspondence with the actor-manager Sir Henry Irving and the American poet Walt Whitman. Stoker was employed by Irving and his Lyceum Theatre Company and they were, indeed, very close. Whitman was one of Stoker’s heroes and after they met in 1884 Whitman was impressed by his Irish admirer. The author Fay Weldon has even gone so far as to label Stoker “a closet gay”.

Victorian perceptions of same-sex relationships were different to ours. Even 75) Oscar Wilde wouldn’t label himself as homosexual. Oscar actually had a relationship with the woman 78) Bram Stoker married. Florence Balcombe has a 2 year romance with Oscar in the mid-1870s. It ended when Florence announced she had become engaged to Stoker. They married in 1878.

One thing Bram Stoker and the Wilde’s all shared was a fascination for the supernatural. A new religion called Spiritualism was popular in Britain and Ireland at that time, and the Victorians loved ancient traditional myths and superstitions even though the society was nominally staunchly Christian. Lady Wilde published 2 books on traditional customs, superstitions and beliefs of Ireland and influenced Oscar in his creation of his own supernatural tales such as “The Canterville Ghost”. Bram Stoker, however, looked further afield for his inspiration for “Dracula”.

Our modern image of a vampire owes much to Bram Stoker. Until “Dracula” vampires were hideous zombie-like creatures (the modern movie zombie is a classic medieval vampire). Stoker turned the vampire into an aristocratic, elegant and charming gentleman who seduces his victims.

Stoker read and researched many vampire legends and came up with his fictional vampire’s name from the Romanian Prince Vlad III “Tepes” Dracula (d.1476). “Dracula” means “son of the Dragon”, Vlad’s father having been a Knight of the Order of the Dragon. So, if Bram Stoker made Prince Vlad the “father” of his Count Dracula then he surely chose 79) Countess Erzsebet (Elizabeth) Bathori (1560-1614) as his “mother”.

79) Countess Erzsebet Bathori has gone done in history as the world’s worst serial killer. She had more in common with the fictional Count Dracula than Prince Vlad. Erzsebet was of countly rank, Vlad wasn’t (he was a sovereign prince); Erzsebet came from Transylania, Vlad didn’t (he came form neighbouring Wallachia); Erzsebet drank human blood, Vlad didn’t (he just tortured and killed people); and Erzsebet’s bloodlust was in part sensual, Vlad’s wasn’t (he was just sadistic).

It is through the stories of Countess Erzsebet that a lot of the sexual and predominantly lesbian theme has entered modern vampiric culture. The great Hammer Films exploited this theme, aided by the Countess’s own lesbian activities, to include lesbian themes into their many vampire films. In 1971 they turned the Countess’s own story into the film “Countess Dracula”.

Hammer Films is now synonymous with gothic horror. It was a relatively small film studio and often worked on several films with the same actors and sets at the same time. Music is always a vital part of any horror film and Hammer had the distinctive talents of 80) James Bernard (1925-2001) on more than 30 of their films, including some of their most famous – 4 Dracula films, 4 Frankenstein films among them. He also wrote the music for “The Quatermss Xperiment”, “The Hound of the Baskervilles”, “She”, “The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires” and “The Devil Rides Out”.

But it is James’s wartime work which helps us to complete our trip “Around the World in 80 Gays”.

After being conscripted into the RAF James found himself studying cryptography. He was sent to a top secret location, the government’s code-breaking centre at Bletchley Park. There he was appointed to the team which has the task of decoding the Nazi’s Enigma codes, and the James Bernard’s colleague who is credited with cracking those codes was …

1) Alan Turing (1912-1954), the man with whom we began our 80 Gays journey back in January.

In celebration of the completion of our journey I’ve compiled the following meandering montage of images representing each of the 80 Gays.
I hope you have enjoyed this journey. It’s been great fun to put together. There are many other routes and diversions I could have made but I hope the final route has been diverse, informative and, above all, entertaining. Who knows, I may go “Around the World in Another 80 Gays” in 2017.

I’m taking a couple of weeks off now, while I concentrate on my final preparations for my talk and display for Nottingham University in February. I shall be back briefly in New Year’s Eve with my list of some in the people in the lgbt community who left us during 2015. I’ll be back on 11th January 2016.

It’s Christmas Eve tomorrow, so let me take this opportunity to say Merry Christmas to you all and thank you very much for your continued interest.

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