With all the rain and the wind that has been filling my days lately, I was in that perfect situation where I could well imagine all the gothic parameters of a novel. On a particularly stormy night, I read the House of the Vampire, by G.S. Viereck, a gothic/vampire novel that would prove to be innovative, in more ways than one...
The novel is original in that it portrays - for the first time - a bisexual protagonist, who also happens to be a vampire. This is, however, 1907, so any references to sexuality are nuanced rather than explicit.
We follow the story of Reginald Clarke, a man who enjoys a magnetic power over everyone else in his surroundings. He is mentioned by his full name (which was rather tedious) every time he is seen somewhere and his powers are immediately felt:
"On the street, as in the salon, his magnetic power compelled recognition"
He's on the lookout for a new protégé, because that's what he does: he takes advantage of them, squeezes out all inspiration and work, and moves on to the next victim:
"He had entered her life and, behold! the world was transfixed on her canvases in myriad hues of transcending radiance; he had passed from it, and with him vanished the brilliancy of her colouring, as at sunset the borrowed amber and gold fade from the face of the clouds"
This time it is Ernest, a writer in the making, who will provide the source of inspiration for Reginald. Ernest is described a young, fragile man who needs the loving caress and words of kindness of "his room-mate and best friend" Jack. I suppose that even this timid description of a homosexual couple would have caused uproar at the turn of the 20th century (Jack will in the end also take Ernest's place as protégé).
Reading this novel, I had the feeling of experiencing a combination of the film Metropolis with all its extravagance, and of any bad romance novel from the 1980s, with their oversimplification of feelings. The description of Reginald's house has all the elements that would scream "this is not a common human being", but not in a good way. There is overindulgence and opulence everywhere, so that the first reaction a negative one is. When Ernest and Reginald meet there, even a handshake produces extraordinary feelings:
"To shrivelled veins the pressure of his hand imparts a spark of animation, and middle age unfolds its petals in his presence, as a sunflower gazing at late noon once more upon its lord."
For me, this is a sample of bad romance writing, but I have to accept it as a common practice at that time, where more complicated feelings were not allowed...
The interesting part in this book was the "evil" Reginald bestows upon his victims. He is "the miner". He captivates them with animal attraction, and moves for the kill:
"It was a well-formed, manicured hand that seemed to reach under his skull, carefully feeling its way through the myriad convolutions where thought resides."
This is exactly what happens to Ernest, who feels his thoughts evanescent: he can no longer sit down to write a play. To his surprise, however, it will be Reginald who, at a soirée, will read out this same play as his own creation... Reginald is described as a vampire, with the difference that instead of sucking blood, he sucks the thoughts out of his victims' skulls. They were then left as living dead, not being able to regain their skills and create any work.
After reading this book, I felt that Viereck chose a bisexual villain to justify this over-the-top behaviour and a homosexual victim to portray the fragility and the susceptibility. Nowadays, this would be considered stereotyping, and this is exactly how I felt while reading the book. While the vampire plot is very interesting, I couldn't help but feel that it was not the focus of the book - rather the personal relationships and the cause of their detriment...