Rebecca Stewart: The Satanic, Romanticism, and Vampires: How Vampires in The Black Vampyre and Carmilla Relate to the Satanic

What do you think of when you hear the word “Satanic?” Is it a little red man with horns and a pitchfork? Maybe you think of the “satanic panic” that riddled the 1980’s? What about Romanticism, Byron, Blake, Burke, and the Shelleys? In 1821, that is just what Robert Southey thought of when he thought of Satan. Southey wrote in A Vision of Judgement, “The school which they have set up may properly be called the satanic school characterized by a satanic spirit of pride and audacious impiety. It was well understood that those he wrote of were romantic poets lead by Byron and the Shelleys (Wittreich).

Romanticism was a literary and art movement from around 1790 to 1850. Romanticism appreciated the beauty of nature and focused on the individual. “The romantic movement was a rebellion in the name of individualism” (Thorslev). It explored and celebrated emotion rather than reason and romanticized the idea of isolation. Romanticism takes the big, catastrophic feelings like true love, and grief, while also discussing the joy of simple pleasures like golden daffodils. William Wordsworth, an iconic romantic poet, famously defined poetry as, “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings” As the romantic era thrived it became home to the supernatural such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and vampires as well as ideas like the Satanic and characters such as the Byronic hero.

John Diekhoff gave us his definition of satanism which Southey would likely agree with, Diekhoff suggests that Southey’s Satanic School, or the likes of Byron and Shelley, are “literary heretics” who believe Satan is the central figure of Paradise Lost, that Milton, its author, identified with, and that Milton’s Satan was “a thoroughly admirable moral agent” (Wittreich).  It can be assumed that Robert Southey’s satanic insult towards the romantic poets was not intended to be of benefit to their work. Unfortunately for Southey, what began as an insult turned into one of, if not the, most iconic stamps on literature romanticism left, the Byronic hero.

 Peter Thorslev, author of “The Byronic Hero and Heroic Tradition” suggests that the very essence of a Byronic hero is made up of two things. His sensibility and his satanism. He defines his satanism as rebellious, specifically in rebellion to piety, and the influence of Paradise Lost. Thorslev argues that it would be difficult to overemphasize the influence Paradise Lost had on writers such as Blake, Byron, and Shelly. Satan in Paradise Lost was accepted as the hero of the story by most, and specifically by romantic poets. These influences created the romantic Satanic we know today. romantic satanism not necessarily evil, rather rebellious, especially towards the piety (Thorslev), chaotic, envious, prideful, and in most cases, has an understandable grudge, likely towards a creator. Mary Shelley illustrates this clearly in her iconic novel, Frankenstein, in which, while discussing none other than Paradise Lost, the creature exclaims, “Many times I considered Satan as the fitter emblem of my condition; for often, like him, when I viewed the bliss of my protectors, the bitter gall of envy rose within me” (Shelley). The use of the satanic is purposeful here, as proven by the epigraph of the novel which quotes Satan in Paradise Lost saying “Did I request thee, maker, from my clay, To mould me man, Did I solicit thee from darkness to promote me” (Milton 743-745)?

The Black Vampyre was published in 1819 in an American magazine by Uriah Derick d’Arcy. The Black Vampyre tells a story of a young, enslaved boy who is killed by his captor and resurrected as a vampire. The young vampire then seeks revenge against the captor. It would be a disservice to ignore the idea of the captor, Mr. Personne, in some way, being the vampire’s “creator.” If it were not for his attempts at murdering the boy, perhaps he would not have been a vampire? This draws a clear comparison to Shelley’s satanic hero in Frankenstein. The vampire kidnaps the Personne child, “her baby, whom she had left in the cradle, there was nothing to be seen, but the skin, hair, and nails” (D’Arcy 38-39)! After the kidnapping of the child though, he educates and raises the boy, “Here is your son, who has grown considerably… his education has not been neglected” (D’Arcy 52). He is in some way responsible for Mr. Personne’s death by first burning him and then causing him such heartbreak after the loss of his son he died right there, “Mr. Personne was seized with a violent spasmodic affection; and shortly after expired” (D’Arcy 39), but later resurrects him, turns the Personnes into vampires and allows them to be together again, “Her first husband got up out his coffin, and with all the grace so natural to his countrymen, made her a low bow in the last fashion, and opened his arms to receive her” (D’Arcy 48). The vampire too, becomes both the victim and the victimizer. The Black Vampyre contains a true Byronic hero, who is rooted in the satanic.

The Black Vampyre’s vampire is Haitian. The Haitian Revolution, which lead to Haiti’s independence in 1804, was, at the time of The Black Vampyre’s publication, the only colonial revolution against slavery to be successful. It is difficult to think of a situation that leans more into individualism, rebellion, and a rightful grudge against one with more power, than a revolution. D’Arcy also took inspiration from the same places as romantic authors. Take for example, Mr. Personne attempting to sacrifice the young, enslaved child to Moloch, “where he had intended to have dedicated the sable brat, with his nine lives, to Moloch!” (D’Arcy 38) In the footnote, Moloch is referenced as a fallen angel from Paradise Lost by John Milton.

Carmilla was published in 1872 written by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu. The novella is an account of Laura’s life when she was younger when her and her father accepted an unexpected guest in their home. Laura and Carmilla proceed to get very close, romantically, very fast. Laura remembers the kisses, embraces, and touches she could not help but return, “I used to wish to extricate myself; but my energies seemed to fail me” (Fanu 32). A mark of the romantic hero’s satanism was a rebellion to piety (Thorslev), we see this in Carmilla “I often wondered whether our pretty guest ever said her prayers. I certainly had never seen her upon her knees” (Fanu 52). Carmilla also shows a rebellion towards piety and a grudge towards a creator, when Laura’s father says, “We are in God’s hands: nothing can happen without his permission, and all will end well for those who love him. He is our faithful creator; He has made us all, and will take care of us” (Fanu 40), Carmilla responds with, “‘Creator! Nature!… And this disease that invades the country is natural. Nature. All things proceed from Nature—don’t they? All things in the heaven, in the earth, and under the earth, act and live as Nature ordains? I think so’” (Fanu 40).

Throughout the novella, Carmilla is gentle, loving, beautiful, and charming, yet Carmilla is slowly killing Laura. The question can be raised though, did she want to? Laura recalls that she had lasted much longer than all of the other victims, “It could not be that terrible complaint…called the oupire, for I had now been suffering for three weeks, and they were seldom ill for much more than three days, when death put an end to their miseries” (Fanu 61). After Carmilla’s identity is reviled to be Mircalla, we also learn she committed suicide, “A person…puts an end to himself… becomes a vampire… This happened in the case of the beautiful Mircalla” (Fanu 120). With Carmilla, or, Mircalla’s kind demeanor, tragic past, and longevity of her visit with Laura, I believe she has been both victim and victimizer.

John Milton was a Protestant with Puritan leanings, so  there is no surprise we can see similarities between Vampire works and Lucifer in The Bible. In The Black Vampyre, the vampire is rich, charming, gorgeous, and deceiving. He was described as, “a perfect model of the Congo Apollo. He was drest in the rich garb of a Moorish Prince” (D’Arcy 20). He used his looks to charm and deceive Mrs. Personne into marrying him, even with the priest’s objection. Carmilla is from high society, beautiful, and yet again, deceiving. Laura describes her as, “slender, and wonderfully graceful… Her complexion was rich and brilliant; her features were small and beautifully formed; her eyes large, dark, and lustrous; her hair was quite wonderful” (Fanu 28). We also read, “Her family was very ancient and noble” (Fanu 30). Carmilla goes on to deceive Laura using her looks and romance. Both vampires are undeniably similar in how they are described, but they have also both been written in a similar way to how the devil is described in The Bible. For example, “Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.  It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness” (The Daily Walk Bible 2 Corinthians 14-15). This describes Satan and his servants appearing beautiful, even though he is dangerous, and then, “and Satan, who deceives the whole world” (The Daily Walk Bible Revelation 12:9), stating simply how he deceives people.  

While Lord Byron did little to stray from the folkloric ideas of the Vampire in his poem, The Giaour, he did suggest that the vampire was struggling his own hell, both the victimizer and the victim (Aquilina). In lines 749 to 752 Byron details an unquenchable thirst and an unimaginable hell, “And fire unquench’d, unquenchable, around within thy heart shall dwell, nor ear can hear, nor tongue can tell the tortures of that inward hell” (Byron)! This can be compared to Proverbs 30:14-15 which states, “There are those whose teeth are swords, whose fangs are knives, to devour the poor from off the earth, the needy from among mankind. The leech has two daughters: Give and Give. Three things are never satisfied.”

To no surprise, vampires are alive and well in literature and film over two hundred years after Byron’s The Giaour and D’Arcy’s The Black Vampyre and over 150 years after Le Fanu’s Carmilla. The satanic, the Byronic hero, and romanticism have piqued interests of people across the world for centuries. Next time you watch Twilight or The Vampire Diaries, think of Edward Cullen, Rosalie Hale, Damon Salvatore, and Stefan Salvatore in relation to the satanic. None of them are necessarily evil, even though they do things many would call immoral, they are all chaotic, they each hold a certain grudge against their creator, and when thinking of consent, it would seem their grudge is reasonable. Each of these characters have been both victim and victimizer. Some of the most popular vampires from the 2000’s have the same defining characteristics as they did 200 years ago, satanic characteristics. The romantic’s idea of the satanic did not die along with them, and while it is not the evil we may expect at the sound of the word, it has surely possessed literature and film for centuries.

Works Cited

Abildgaard, Nicolai. Archangel Michael and Satan Disputing about the Body of Moses. Painting .

Alighieri, Dante. The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri : Inferno, Purgatory, Paradise. 1265-1321.

Aquilina, Conrad. “The Deformed Transformed; or, from Bloodsucker to Byronic Hero – Polidori and the Literary Vampire.” Open Graves, Open Minds: Representations of Vampires and the Undead from the Enlightenment to the Present Day. Manchester University Press, 2013. 24–38.

Bainbridge, Simon. “Peter A. Schock’s Romantic Satanism: Myth and the Historical Moment in Blake, Shelley, and Byron.” Romanticism (Edinburgh) (2004): 258-260.

Byron, Lord. The Giaour. 1813.

D’Arcy, Uriah Derick. The Black Vampyre . Gothic World Literature Editions , n.d.

Fanu, Joseph Sheridan Le. Carmilla. Prabhat Books, n.d.

John W. Hoover, Paula A. Kirk, Chris Tiegreen. The Daily Walk Bible. Atlanta : Tyndale House Publishers, inc, 2011.

Lovell, Ernest J. Medwin’s Conversations of Lord Byron. Princeton Legacy Library , 2016.

Milton, John. Paradise Lost. 1667.

Parker, Fred. “Between Satan and Mephistopheles: Byron and the Devil.” The Cambridge Quarterly (2006): 1-29.

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein . London , 1818.

Simon, Edward. “What’s So ‘American’ About John Milton’s Lucifer?” 16 March 2017. The Atlantic . July 2023.

Taylor, Beverly. “Byron’s Use of Dante in ‘The Prophecy of Dante.” Keats-Shelley Journal (1979): 102-19.

Thorslev, Peter L. “THE BYRONIC HERO AND HEROIC TRADITION.” The Byronic Hero: Types and Prototypes. University of Minnesota Press, 1962.

Wittreich, Joseph Anthony. “The ‘Satanism’ of Blake and Shelley Reconsidered.” Studies in Philology (1968): 816–33.

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