A review by joecam79
Dracula's Guest: A Connoisseur's Collection of Victorian Vampire Stories by Michael Sims


I recently picked up this anthology again after a hiatus of three years and finished reading it over a weekend. To be honest I can’t really explain why I had lost interest midway through it the first-time round, because this is a highly readable anthology of vampire tales.

The book’s subtitle – A Connoisseur’s Collection of Victorian Vampire Stories – gives a good indication of what lies buried between its covers. I’m not too sure, however, whether it is helpful to describe the works within as “Victorian”, which suggests that the stories are exclusively by English authors of (more or less) the 19th Century. Although the Victorian era is the main source for the material in this anthology, editor Michael Sims casts his net much wider. He starts, for instance with two accounts of purportedly real-life vampiric manifestations, by 18th Century French authors Jean-Baptiste de Boyer, Marquis d’Argens and Antoine Augustin Calmet. There follow Lord Byron’s “The End of My Journey” and Polidori’s “The Vampire”, generally considered the prototypes of English vampire fiction. Again, they precede the Victorian era. On the other hand, M.R. James’s classic story “Count Magnus” and Alice and Claude Askew’s “Aylmer Vance and the Vampire” are probably too late to be considered “Victorian”.

Alongside British authors, Sims includes works by Continental (Johann Ludwig Tieck, Gautier, Aleksei Tolstoy) and American (Mary E. Wilkins Freeman) authors. For greater variety, the anthology also features “vampires” of a figurative nature – indeed, whilst all tales feature the supernatural, some of the ‘monsters’ within are not always of the bloodsucking type.

As for this being a “connoisseur’s collection”, I would say that this is a fair description. Editor Michael Sims cannily mixes the familiar with unfamiliar, with works by established authors of horror fiction (Bram Stoker, M.R. James) sitting alongside lesser-known pieces – such as an extract from Emily Gerard’s retellings of Transylvanian lore, which would exert a marked influence on Stoker’s Dracula. This should make this volume attractive both to newcomers to the genre and to more seasoned vampire buffs. A foreword to the collection and a brief biographical introduction to each story completes a captivating anthology.