Friday, 21 October 2011


Man, I love the Internet archive. Yesterday, I found The Nineteenth Century's 18th volume, which contains the July 1885 issue. What's the big deal about that? It features Emily de Laszowska Gerard's  'Transylvanian superstitions' (pp. 130–50); a known source for Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897).1

Internet archive

'More decidedly evil, however, is the vampire, or nosferatu, in whom every Roumenian [Romanian] peasant believes as firmly as he does in heaven or hell.'2 Until recently, it was generally assumed Gerard 'invented' nosferatu, as attempts to antedate the word went nowhere. However, I uncovered a source preceding her usage—by twenty years. Thanks to Google books.

Gerard's nosferatu appears several times in Stoker's novel. 'Friend Arthur,' says Van Helsing, 'if you had met that kiss which you know of before poor Lucy die, or again, last night when you open your arms to her, you would in time, when you had died, have become nosferatu, as they call it in Eastern europe, and would for all time make more of those Un-Deads that so have filled us with horror.'

His blunt comments on what he intends to do once the vampirised Lucy Westenra is located—"I shall cut off her head and fill her mouth with garlic, and I shall drive a stake through her body"—clearly echo Gerard's prescription for 'very obstinate cases' of nosferatu visitations.

John Seward and Van Helsing even follow through with the gruesome deed: 'The Professor and I sawed the top off the stake, leaving the point of it in the body. Then we cut off the head and filled the mouth with garlic. We soldered up the leaden coffin, screwed on the coffin lid, and gathering up our belongings, came away.'

Later, he speaks of the vampire's pestilential nature—as does Gerard—and the great fight ahead: 'The nosferatu do not die like the bee when he sting once. He is only stronger, and being stronger, have yet more power to work evil.'

The word has resonated with us ever since. It is commonly recognised as a synonym for vampire. When F. W. Murnau wanted to distance his 1922 film from its obvious source—futilely, as it turned out—he used the word as its title.

1. B Stoker, Bram Stoker's notes for Dracula: a facsimile edition, annotated & transcribed by R Eighteen-Bisang & E Miller, McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, Jeffereson, N.C., 2008, p. 304. Appendix IV. The article's pagination is listed as '128–144'. A different edition of the magazine may've been used, or a standalone issue. Internet archive hosts a bound volume.

2. E de Laszowska Gerard,  'Transylvanian superstitions', The Nineteenth Century, July 1885, p. 142.

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