Mashups!! Jane Austen and Vampires

MashUps: Jane Austen and Vampires


What is a Mashup?
When I first became aware of the term “mashup,” I automatically thought of the music industry with its remixes and creative imaginings of oldies and the classics. By definition, a “mashup” is creating a new entity from two or more unrelated sources. Although some believe this subgenre has hit its peak, mashups still garner a substantial chunk of the market. That fact probably lies in the reality that a reader of paranormal would find mixing a Jane Austen classic with vampires intriguing. Many authors are finding a new market, whether they write science fiction, fantasy, paranormal, mystery, or humor. Recently, we have seen mixes of William Shakespeare, Mark Twain, Leo Tolstoy, and Louisa May Alcott. It is not just Jane Austen. There is a crossover appeal, very much like the steampunk genre. Think about Hemingway or Flaubert or F. Scott Fitzgerald; there are endless possibilities because the past is always in the process of being reinvented.

Is Jane Austen spinning in her grave because of all the sequels, variations, and mashups? Maybe, because I sometimes write the genre, I do not believe so. Austen wrote in an era when women could not openly express their imaginations without censure. We must not forget that Austen loved stories of all kinds, as well as a bit of gossip and scandal, and she possessed a “twisted” sense of humor. In the movie Becoming Jane, Anne Hathaway refers to it as “ironical.”
How does one mix together Jane Austen and Vampires?
220px-Burne-Jones-le-VampireVampires first appeared in literature in 18th Century poetry before becoming one of the stock figures of Gothic fiction when Polidori published The Vampyre (1819), which was reportedly influenced by the life of Lord Byron. Draculadid not appear until 1897.
One finds the roots of vampire fiction in the early 1700s when the Serbian monarchy exhumed the remains of suspected vampires. In 1748, August Ossenfelder released the short German poem “Der Vampir,” which had strong erotic overtones. Goethë’s “Die Braut von Korinth” and Bürger’s “Lenore” followed, each with vampiric elements. In English literature, Robert Southey’s “Thalaba the Destroyer” (1797) was one of the first examples. Lord Byron’s “The Giaour” (1813) and Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Christabel” (1816) followed. Even in Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff’s housekeeper accuses him of being a vampire.
Dracula remains the definitive description of the vampire in popular fiction. In it, Dracula’s “disease” is a contagious demonic possession, with undertones of sex, blood, and death. All of these elements probably struck a cord with Victorian England, where tuberculosis and syphilis were common fears. A decade before, in 1888, the British press had sensationalized Jack the Ripper’s reign in East London. Stoker’s Abraham Van Helsing became the model for all other vampire hunters. Some believe Stoker wrote Dracula to subtly criticize Victorian stuffiness, and others agree it was a social commentary on Stoker’s friend Oscar Wilde and his legal situation. Images, themes, and even actual phrases from Wilde’s trial for sexual inversion appear in the book. Count Dracula symbolizes an aristocrat, who socializes with middle and lower class people to survive – creating an image of the British aristocracy having to interact with the changes occurring in the wealthy middle class. Note how the middle class vampire hunters are the powerful characters in the book. Also, notice how all the vampires in the book are female, except Count Dracula. Vampirism allows Lucy and the others female vampires to dominant, and Dracula’s reign represents the British fear of being “contaminated” by an outside force.

Modern vampires have evolved from those repulsive figures: They are romantic and sexy bad boys, a stark contrast to Eastern European folklore. Christian symbols no longer repel them. Anne Rice’s Lestat De Lioncourt makes both a fanatically religious girl and a nun his victims. The moon does not influence them, nor are they only sustained by drinking blood. Modern vampires can fly, can feed off energy, and can “sparkle” in the sunshine. Modern vampires may possess unusual talents and may be very passionate about things other than blood. Bonnie Anderson says in “Vampire Showdown: Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula Verses Anne Rice’s Lestat,” that “The true fans of horror no longer want to be frightened by the mere fantasy of the fearsome. We want what scares us to our very core: Ourselves. We want to see ourselves dressed up and romanticized, satirized, and suffering and sinning. And then we want to see it again.”
There have been vampires in every film genre, even children’s works: the Count on Sesame Street. Exhibiting self-control is a recent trait of vampires. Modern vampires are more sympathetic to humans. Our current vampires are less monstrous – downright sexy, in fact, and infinitely more human. Contemporary vampirism is about desire. Romance with the undead is intense and forever and perfect. These are female centered story lines featuring a powerful love, which surpasses the limits of mortality.

Bela Lugosi as Dracula

Bela Lugosi as Dracula

So, why is vampire literature so popular and in what way does Jane Austen fit? Beyond the broody, often lonely, male as a main character, vampire stories welcome anachronism. They are striking examples of the juxtaposition of past and present. Vampire stories of old were sources of terror, but contemporary vampirism is seen as desire. They are female-centered narratives, containing a powerful love that transcends the limits placed upon it. In a time after the World Trade Center disaster, we are less likely to make heroes out of those who hide their thoughts and feelings; so recent vampires must become infinitely more human. I mean, let’s face it, unless one is a vampire, there are no longer impediments to marriage. Today, Las Vegas is our Gretna Greene. Vampires who are sympathetic to humans, but whose goal is a relationship and respect are all the rage. As the majority of the readers of vampire literature are women, some believe it is a post-feminist way of taking on power: Women standing up and demanding respect. There is an allure of the forbidden, and the virtue of the individual prevails as a major theme. Now, look back at each of the underlined phrases. Are they not part of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice?

Teens embrace the concept of vampirism as an alluring idea – to be young and beautiful forever. Were women in Austen’s time not on the shelf by their early twenties? Remember that Anne Elliot had lost “her bloom” by age 27? Plus, teens think of themselves as immortal. They exist in a time of surging hormones, and they love the idea of power over another. And as a post-menopausal woman myself, the concept of being “hot blooded” appeals to me. Paranormal romance is about power. The females are tough chicks, who kill demons and hunt vampires.
And let us remember that the Twilight series has its roots in classic literature. If you have not noticed the similarities before, let me point out that Twilight is Pride and Prejudice.New Moon finds its basis in Romeo and JulietWuthering Heights becomes Eclipse, andBreaking Dawn mixes The Merchant of Venice and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Vamplit has the allure of the forbidden. It is quite simply a love story. The current audience for vamplit is a mix of those who grew up on Dark Shadows, Anne Rice’s series, Buffy the Vampire SlayerX-Files, and Harry Potter.
So, why is Austen so easy to adapt to these subgenres? I would say because her works allow modern authors to insert their ideas into Austen’s point of view. Jane Austen was a forward-looking writer, who wrote thematic masterpieces. Although she writes intriguing characters, Austen’s strength lies in how the theme permeates every word. And is it fair to parody Austen? We must remember that the Lady wrote her own parody of Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho.
JeffersVDDRegina Jeffers speaks of Vampire Darcy’s Desire. In this book, I tried to keep certain elements of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Wickham, the book’s vampire, still tries to seduce Georgiana, and he still takes Lydia to Northumberland (where Newcastle is located). Darcy, a dhampir, desires Elizabeth as a man, and he knows he must break the “curse” upon his family in order to make her his wife. When Darcy first meets Elizabeth, he is withdrawn from society, is generous and protective of his sister, and dutifully oversees his estate. Yet, to this mix of Jane Austen, I have added the folk elements of the Baobhan Sith (Scottish female vampires), a traditional Scottish folk song entitled “Lord Thomas and Fair Ellender,” references to Celtic gods, vampiric legends, apotropaics, and bits of Stoker’s Van Helsing.
Vampire Darcy’s Desire presents Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice as a heart-pounding vampire romance filled with passion and danger. Tormented by a 200-year-old curse and his fate as a half-human/half-vampire dhampir, Fitzwilliam Darcy vows to live forever alone rather than to inflict the horrors of his life on an innocent wife. But when he comes to Netherfield Park, Elizabeth Bennet captivates him as no other ever has. Uncontrollably drawn to each other, they are forced to confront the seductive power of forbidden love, while dark forces are at work all around them. Most ominous is the threat from George Wickham, the purveyor of the curse, a demon who vows to destroy each generation of Darcys.
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Legend of the Church Grim and Its Appearance in Harry Potter

The Church Grim, Kirk Grim, Kyrkogrim (Swedish) or Kirkonväki (Finnish) is a figure from English and Scandinavian folklore, said to be an attendant spirit, overseeing the welfare of its particular church. English Church Grims are said to enjoy loudly ringing the bells. They may appear as black dogs (even as other animals, such as rams, horses, roosters or ravens) or as small, misshapen, dark-skinned people.

The Swedish Kyrkogrim are said to be the spirits of animals sacrificed by early Christians at the building of a new church. In parts of Europe, including Britain and Scandinavia, it was believed that the first man buried in a new churchyard had to guard it against the Devil. To save a human soul from the duty, a completely black dog would be buried alive on the north side of the churchyard, creating a guardian spirit, the church grim, in order to protect the church.

The Scandinavian and Nordic Kyrkogrim or Kirkonväki can also occasionally appear as pale-skinned ‘ghosts,’ said to be the spirits of the folk who lived in the proximity of the church that they now ‘guard.’ William Henderson in his Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties (p.274) attributes it to a foundation sacrifice and points out that the Kirkogrim of Sweden appears in the form of a lamb which, in the early days in Christianity in Sweden, was buried under the altar. The Kirkegrim of Denmark took the form of a ‘grave-sow.’

“The Church-grim” by Eden Philpotts is a short story published in the September 1914 edition of The Century Magazine, New York.

Harry_Potter_and_the_Prisoner_of_Azkaban In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Sybill Trelawney, the divination teacher, associates Harry’s tea leaves with the Grim, which she calls “a black dog who haunts churchyards.” The Church Grim inspired the creation of the Grim, which is said in the book to be an omen of death, which is more in keeping with the legend of Black Shuck – “The Grim” is a Lancashire name for a similar creature.

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Exquisite Excerpt from “Vampire Darcy’s Desire”

Excerpt from Regina Jeffers’ “Vampire Darcy Desire”

Vampire Darcy’s Desire presents Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice as a heart pounding vampire romance filled with passion and danger. Tormented by a 200-year-old curse and his fate as a half-human/half-damphir, Fitzwilliam Darcy vows to live forever alone rather than to inflict the horrors of life as a vampire on an innocent wife. However, when he comes to Netherfield Park, he meets the captivating Elizabeth Bennet.

As a man, Darcy yearns for Elizabeth, but as a damphyre, he is also driven to possess her. Uncontrollably drawn to each other, Darcy and Elizabeth are forced to confront a “pride and prejudice” never before imagined – while wrestling with the seductive power of forbidden love. Meanwhile, dark forces are at work all around them. Most ominous is the threat from George Wickham, the purveyor of the vampiric curse, a demon who has vowed to destroy each generation of Darcys.

[This excerpt comes from the end of Chapter 25 of my 2009 novel, Vampire Darcy’s Desire. In this novel, Darcy carries the “curse” of vampirism, but he has made a pledge for the plague on his family to end with him. Mr. Wickham, who is the vampire in this novel, has taken Lydia Bennet in retaliation against Darcy and Elizabeth. Therefore, Darcy has confronted Wickham, and in the process has been taken prisoner. Elizabeth and Colonel Fitzwilliam have set out to save Darcy from his enemy. Darcy’s cousin, Damon Fitzwilliam, has learned of where to find Wickham. He will investigate before placing Elizabeth in danger.

A quarter hour later, he stood before the church’s graveyard. Everything appeared quiet, but after the past hour of listening to two grown men excitedly share what they knew of the grave sites looming before him, Damon Fitzwilliam had to steel his nerves before proceeding. As rambunctious children, he and Darcy had often played soldiers, hiding behind family headstones in a pretend battle; and in the military, he had spent more time than he cared to remember with the dead. Yet this was different, and the colonel sensed it. In this cemetery, death lived.

The colonel chastised himself for his fear and quickly crossed the mounds to exit through the shrubbery outlining the graves. A glance over his shoulder showed him a low, creeping fog spreading across the granite memorials.

His drunken informants had told him that the house was behind the cemetery; they had forgotten to mention the hill and the wooded field. Luckily, light streamed from the house’s windows, serving as a beacon for him as he took unsteady steps on the hill, and the colonel made his way stealthily through the forested area to exit where the steps led to the kitchen. In the back of his mind, Damon reasoned how country homes would never be lit up as such at that time of night, but this was no ordinary household. Armed with cloves of garlic and a crucifix purchased in one of the small villages through which he and Elizabeth had passed, he edged the kitchen door open and slipped into a perfectly clean room. At first, its pristine appearance shocked him, but then he remembered that Elizabeth had told him that Wickham never ate regular food. The pots and pans and kettle were purely for show–Wickham’s playing at being the master of his small estate.

Leaving the kitchen behind, Damon followed a staircase leading to the private living quarters, but again these offered no insights into how to defeat Wickham, because they stood unused–sparsely furnished–a mausoleum to an unemployed life. Only one room was locked, and although he wished to force his way into it and see what it might hold, a pulsating cadence caused him to curtail his search and find his way towards the center of the house. Drawn by the unusual sound, he crept on all fours. Damon edged forward to where the upper floors overhung the center hall. He glued himself to the wall, crouched so that he might respond if necessary, and looked upon what he could not explain. The sound increased as he peered between the slats of the railing to the room below. He feared that his presence might affect the show, but nothing stopped the accentuated movements as one after another shadowy eidolon entered a spiritual gambol. They turned and twisted and oscillated to an undulating rhythm. Periodically, one pasty form would hazard a challenge to another, and the room would fill with squeals of despair and of yearning before returning to the murmured chants.

Then a creature as pale as the colonel had ever rose from his grotesquely adorned chair. He held out his hand to a pretty sort of girl with curls pinned tightly to her head. Then, horror of horrors, the image the colonel assumed to be George Wickham looked on in infinite sadness as the girl slid into his embrace. Wickham brought her closer still, swaying with her in a primitive invitation to passion. His hands searched her body, and then wordless voices rose in exultation as Wickham lowered his head and drank the girl’s blood. Damon bit back a cry of dark, piercingly pure contempt for the display. He shuddered in anguish at his inability to change what was happening to the girl. With a despairing gesture, he withdrew to the servants’ stairs. He must escape before the surging call of the coven sucked him into their fold.

Slipping cautiously along the passageway, he rested a split second with his fingers on a door’s handle, before a muffled sound on the other side sent his heart racing. Frozen with fear, Damon prayed that what was on the other side would not find him. He pressed his ear to the door, listening with all his senses, but he heard only a soft wind. A mysterious presence moved through the closed portal, and the colonel could feel it so exactly, it was as if he had seen through the door. He knew the moment it moved on, and he eased the handle to the right, sliding the door aside only far enough to fit his body through before silently resettling it.

Clinging to the wall, Damon stepped softly, trying to escape his fear and what had happened in this house. On the battlefield, he knew death danced all around him, but he had never felt it before, never knew it to fill his lungs like acrid smoke, never smelled the stench of decay so clearly. He felt totally unprepared for this battle.

A door stood ajar on the other side of the hearth–a door not open previously, and despite his desperate need to flee the room and the house, Damon made his feet step to where he could peer into the space. Before him, Wickham paced to and fro, and then he stepped to the side, and the colonel had to stifle every impulse to rush forward to save his cousin. Darcy slumped against the wall, held in place by attached chains. Darcy was alive! Damon’s first instinct had been to storm the scene and fight Wickham to the death, but how did one kill something already dead? From a distance, he heard the murmuring increase, but Damon continued to watch as Wickham bent to taunt Darcy. The tension rose between the two, and for a moment, Damon thought that Wickham would attack Darcy also, but then he realized, The fiend had just fed; Wickham would not feed again so soon. And despite the number of vampires dancing ceremoniously in the main hall, Damon realized that Darcy’s enemy would allow no other to touch his cousin. Wickham would want to destroy Darcy himself. If he had wanted Darcy dead, Damon’s cousin would no longer be breathing.

Assured that he could do nothing at the moment, Damon let himself from the kitchen’s perceived security. If what his drinking consorts said had been true, he was still not safe. Damon slipped the crucifix from his pocket and lifted his sword in readiness for any attack. He wove his way among the trees and climbed the hill, but when he reached the cemetery, Damon circled the hedgerow on the outside. Loudly repeating every prayer he could remember, he vigilantly watched as the fog he thought to be part of the countryside congregated solely in the church’s cemetery. From it, specters formed and disintegrated before his eyes. Some challenged his progress, but all retreated from the raised silver weapon he carried and from the sign of the Lord’s forgiveness.

Reaching the road to the inn, Damon followed the embankment; the mist trailed him, but the spectral provocations–strange, unheard presences–kept their distance. He congratulated himself for having left the horses at the inn. A nervous mount would serve no master. Damon kept up his litany of invocations and refused to look about to see what might await him. He figured the prayers would not hurt, and they definitely made him feel safer.

When he arrived at the inn, Peter let him through the locked door. Damon had set the man on guard when he had departed for Wickford Manor, and he was thankful for his foresight. He handed the garlic and the crucifix to Peter. “Keep them close,” he warned.

“I saw what followed you, Colonel. If these keep that evil away, ye won’t be able to pry them from me.” The coachman bolted the door. “Will they not try to enter these premises?” He listened closely to the night’s howls.

“This is so more than for which we bargained, Peter, but those creatures must be invited in by someone who lives within. No one will act so foolishly.” Damon leaned against the door to steady his nerves.

Fearing someone might hear, the servant leaned closer. “Did ye find him, Colonel? The Master? He be alive?”

Damon gave a curt nod. “Now I must devise a plan to rescue Mr. Darcy from that hellhole.”

“Bless you, Sir.” Peter started for the pallet upon which he would sleep that night. “When ye be ready, I be ready, Sir. The Master be a good man.”

“That he is, Peter.” Damon moved towards the inn’s stairs. “I must speak to Mrs. Darcy. To tell her what I have discovered.”

“The Mistress will certainly be glad to hear it.” The servant settled onto the straw-stuffed mattress.

Damon allowed his gaze to travel up the stairs, resting it on Elizabeth’s door. “Mrs. Darcy is an exceptional woman. Good night, Peter.” He knew she would be awake, waiting for his news. Slowly, he climbed the steps; they had a daunting task ahead of them. What if we cannot save Darcy?

* * *

 “Someone looks for you, Darcy.” Wickham had paced the room, agitated by the intrusion into his home.

Darcy attempted not to react; he forced his breathing to remain even, but the joy of knowing another knew of his capture played havoc with his composure. He kept his eyes closed, fearing that Wickham could read his countenance.

Wickham leaned down, his face only inches from Darcy’s. “Do you want to know who it was?”

Darcy opened his eyes slowly and smiled. “As you appear intent on telling me, I see no reason to waste my energy with guessing.”

Wickham walked away casually, although he knew apprehension. “It was your beautiful wife, Mrs. Darcy.” Wickham straddled a straight-backed chair, turning it to where he could watch Darcy’s reaction.

For a split second, Darcy’s heart skipped a beat. He did not want Elizabeth to place herself in danger for him, but then the truth flashed in Wickham’s eyes. “You are quite amusing, Mr. Wickham, but the thought of my wife being here is ludicrous. I told you from the beginning, with your seduction of her sister, Elizabeth has severed her ties with me. However, if I did not speak the truth, and my wife had been here, you would not have enough ghouls in your congregation to hold me in these chains, for she would not stop until I was free. Trust me, Mr. Wickham, there is no way that you could defeat her. She is more than either of us can manage.”

Wickham sat in complete silence; Darcy chose to ignore him and closed his eyes again. Finally, Wickham barked out a forced laugh. “You have me there, Darcy. Your rescuer was a man. Maybe you would have been better off with your wife; at least, she would not turn tail and run.” He stood with that statement. “The man favored you in many ways, Darcy–not quite as tall, however. Should I send for reinforcements?”

“Probably a stranger enticed by tales of the unknown.” Darcy hoped to convince his enemy to ignore the incursion.

“I can smell human blood.” Wickham looked off, as if no longer seeing Darcy. “Did you know that? I smell it as easily as I once smelled a rose. It is metallic and bittersweet. Have you ever tasted it, Darcy? It is addictive.”

At first the words were offensive, but then Darcy’s pity replaced his anger; and despite his personal loathing of Wickham’s baseness, he suddenly experienced empathy for what once must have been a proud and handsome man–a man who had loved a woman too well and lost everything because of it. “I have not tasted it,” Darcy spoke softly, not wishing to break the understanding between them.

Wickham laughed lightly at his own show of weakness. “That was a foolish question, was it not? Of course, you never succumbed to the noxious hunger that consumes me. You are too honorable to allow the poison to cross your lips.”

Darcy shook his head, a deep sadness overcoming him. “I simply want it to end, Mr. Wickham. It is not honor which drives me; it is the fear that my child–my son–could know suchdespondency–could live an inconsolable life. I would not term that honorable–it is pure cowardice.”

Wickham watched as Darcy once more took up his resigned vigil against the wall. An understanding had passed between them; he imagined that in another lifetime, he and Darcy might even have been friends, but circumstances prevented that ever becoming true. Wickham respected Darcy as much as he abhorred him. “Never fear, Darcy,” he said as a way of parting. “I may yet do the honorable thing and fight you to the death, so to speak.”

Darcy forcibly relaxed the pain in his shoulders and arms. Wickham had imprisoned him twenty-four hours prior, and other than the occasional break he had negotiated to meet his personal needs, Darcy had remained restrained by the shackles. Wickham, as he expected, had brought him no food or drink; he was to die of starvation, and Darcy accepted it. “You will inform me when you make the choice, will you not, Wickham?” he mumbled as he closed his eyes and welcomed sleep. He heard the door before him close and knew when the bolt slid into the latch, but Darcy remained in repose. Images of Elizabeth filled his mind; remembrances of their time together overspread his thoughts as sleep found him.

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The Hound of Hergest Court, Inspiration for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Hound”

hergest-court Hergest Court, found in Kington, Herefordshire, was once a fine home, but it is but a “shadow” of its former greatness. However, its decline appears appropriate when one considers the history of the building and of its owner.

Many people believe the building haunted. Sir Thomas Vaughan (see Friday’s post) came to reside at Hergest Court in the late 1400s. At that time (Think “War of the Roses” and its aftermath.), the house was a grand one. Unlike the image we had of Vaughan in the previous post, Haunted Britain says he was known as the Black Squire or Black Vaughan.

We do know that Vaughan switched his allegiance to the Crown from the Lancastrians to the Yorkist leaders. As reported in Friday’s post, Vaughan was decapitated by Richard III. Others believe he fell at the Battle of Banbury in 1469. The decapitation tale is the one that leads us to stories of ghosts and bloody hounds.

The tale goes that when Vaughan lost his head, his faithful black bloodhound set up a great howl before scooping up the head and run off to Hergest Court with it. Thomas Vaughan’s body was buried in the family vault at Kington’s church. However, without his head, Vaughan’s ghost transformed into a black bull that roamed the district, accompanied by the bloodhound.

Because of the times, many feared the ghost enough to refuse to go about their daily business; therefore, twelve priests were summoned to conduct an exorcism.(Keep a straight face during this next explanation!) The priests managed to reduce the ‘Black’ spirit to the size of a blow fly. They then imprisoned the spirit in a snuff box, before burying it under a heavy stone slab on the bed of the lake at Hergest Court.

Whoops! The priests forgot about the black hound. The Black Dog began to find its way into the local folklore. What made the tale hang on was the fate of the Vaughan family, which finally died out in the 19th Century. According to those who have too much time to think on these things, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle once was a guest at Hergest Court. Instead of fearing the tale, the genius of Conan Doyle brought the tale to Devon, making the tale of the Black Dog into one of his most famous tales “The Hound of the Baskervilles.”200px-Cover_(Hound_of_Baskervilles,_1902)

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“Memento mori,” or “Remember to Die”

Memento mori (Latin ‘remember (that you have) to die’), or also memento mortis, “remember death”, is the Latin medieval designation of the theory and practice of the reflection on mortality, especially as a means of considering the vanity of earthly life and the transient nature of all earthly goods and pursuits. It is related to the ars moriendi or “Art of Dying” and related literature. Memento mori has been an important part of ascetic disciplines as a means of perfecting the character, by cultivating detachment and other virtues, and turning the attention towards the immortality of the soul and the afterlife.

Memling Vanity and Salvation~Public Domain Hans Memling (circa 1433–1494) - Earthly Vanity and Divine Salvation by Hans Memling. This triptych contrasts earthly beauty and luxury with the prospect of death and hell.

Memling Vanity and Salvation~Public Domain
Hans Memling (circa 1433–1494) –
Earthly Vanity and Divine Salvation by Hans Memling. This triptych contrasts earthly beauty and luxury with the prospect of death and hell.

For art historians, memento mori refers to specific artistic or symbolic reminders of the above. In the European Christian art context, “the expression… developed with the growth of Christianity, which emphasized Heaven, Hell, and salvation of the soul in the afterlife.”[Memento Mori, Museum of Art and Archaeology, University of Missouri.]

Historic Usage

Dance of Death (1493) by Michael Wolgemut, from the Liber chronicarum by Hartmann Schedel

Dance of Death (1493) by Michael Wolgemut, from the Liber chronicarum by Hartmann Schedel

Plato’s Phaedo, where the death of Socrates is recounted, introduces the idea that the proper practice of philosophy is “about nothing else but dying and being dead.” The Stoics were particularly prominent in their use of this discipline, and Seneca’s letters are full of injunctions to meditate on death.

Popular belief says the phrase originated in ancient Rome: as a Roman general was parading through the streets during a victory triumph, standing behind him was his slave, tasked with reminding the general that, although at his peak today, tomorrow he could fall, or — more likely — be brought down. The servant is thought to have conveyed this with the warning, “Memento mori.”

It is further possible that the servant may have instead advised, “Respice post te! Hominem te esse memento! Memento mori!”: “Look behind you! Remember that you are a man! Remember that you’ll die!”, as noted by Tertullian in his Apologeticus.

Europe — Medieval through Victorian
The thought came into its own with Christianity, whose strong emphasis on divine judgment, Heaven, Hell, and the salvation of the soul brought death to the forefront of consciousness. Many memento mori works are products of Christian art, although there are equivalents in Buddhist art. In the Christian context, the memento mori acquires a moralizing purpose quite opposed to the Nunc est bibendum (now is the time to drink) theme of Classical antiquity. To the Christian, the prospect of death serves to emphasize the emptiness and fleetingness of earthly pleasures, luxuries, and achievements, and thus also as an invitation to focus one’s thoughts on the prospect of the afterlife. A Biblical injunction often associated with the memento mori in this context is In omnibus operibus tuis memorare novissima tua, et in aeternum non peccabis (the Vulgate’s Latin rendering of Ecclesiasticus 7:40, “in all thy works be mindful of thy last end and thou wilt never sin.”) This finds ritual expression in the rites of Ash Wednesday, when ashes are placed upon the worshipers’ heads with the words “Remember Man that you are dust and unto dust you shall return.”

The most obvious places to look for memento mori meditations are in funeral art and architecture. Perhaps the most striking to contemporary minds is the transi, or cadaver tomb, a tomb that depicts the decayed corpse of the deceased. This became a fashion in the tombs of the wealthy in the fifteenth century, and surviving examples still create a stark reminder of the vanity of earthly riches. Later, Puritan tomb stones in the colonial United States frequently depicted winged skulls, skeletons, or angels snuffing out candles. These are among the numerous themes associated with skull imagery.

Another example of memento mori is provided by the chapels of bones, such as the Capela dos Ossos in Évora or the Capuchin Crypt in Rome. These are chapels where the walls are totally or partially covered by human remains, mostly bones. The entrance to the former has the sentence “We bones, lying here bare, await for yours.”

The famous danse macabre, with its dancing depiction of the Grim Reaper carrying off rich and poor alike, is another well-known example of the memento mori theme. This and similar depictions of Death decorated many European churches. Danse Macabre, Op. 40, is a tone poem for orchestra, written in 1874 by French composer Camille Saint-Saëns.

Timepieces were formerly an apt reminder that one’s time on Earth grows shorter with each passing minute. Public clocks would be decorated with mottos such as ultima forsan (“perhaps the last” [hour]) or vulnerant omnes, ultima necat (“they all wound, and the last kills”). Even today, clocks often carry the motto tempus fugit, “time flees.” Old striking clocks often sported automata who would appear and strike the hour; some of the celebrated automaton clocks from Augsburg, Germany, had Death striking the hour. The several computerized “death clocks” revive this old idea. Private people carried smaller reminders of their own mortality. Mary, Queen of Scots, owned a large watch carved in the form of a silver skull, embellished with the lines of Horace.

A version of the theme in the artistic genre of still life is more often referred to as a vanitas, Latin for “vanity.” These include symbols of mortality, whether obvious ones like skulls, or more subtle ones, like a flower losing its petals.

After the invention of photography, many people had photographs taken of recently dead family members.

Frans Hals (1582/1583–1666) - Web Gallery of Art:    Frans Hals, Youth with a Skull, c. 1626-1628

Frans Hals (1582/1583–1666) – Web Gallery of Art:
Frans Hals, Youth with a Skull, c. 1626-1628

Memento mori was also an important literary theme. Well-known literary meditations on death in English prose include Sir Thomas Browne’s Hydriotaphia, Urn Burial and Jeremy Taylor’s Holy Living and Holy Dying. These works were part of a Jacobean cult of melancholia that marked the end of the Elizabethan era. In the late eighteenth century, literary elegies were a common genre; Thomas Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard and Edward Young’s Night Thoughts are typical members of the genre.

Apart from the genre of requiem and funeral music, there is also a rich tradition of memento mori in the Early Music of Europe. Especially those facing the ever-present death during the recurring bubonic plague pandemics from the 1340s onward tried to toughen themselves by anticipating the inevitable in chants, from the simple Geisslerlieder of the Flagellant movement to the more refined cloistral or courtly songs. The lyrics often looked at life as a necessary and god-given vale of tears with death as a ransom and reminded people to lead sinless lives to stand a chance at Judgement Day. Two stanzas typical of memento mori in mediaeval music are from the virelai ad mortem festinamus of the Catalan Llibre Vermell de Montserrat from 1399:

Vita brevis breviter in brevi finietur,
Mors venit velociter quae neminem veretur,
Omnia mors perimit et nulli miseretur.
Ad mortem festinamus peccare desistamus.

Life is short, and shortly it will end;
Death comes quickly and respects no one,
Death destroys everything and takes pity on no one.
To death we are hastening, let us refrain from sinning.

Ni conversus fueris et sicut puer factus
Et vitam mutaveris in meliores actus,
Intrare non poteris regnum Dei beatus.
Ad mortem festinamus peccare desistamus.

If you do not turn back and become like a child,
And change your life for the better,
You will not be able to enter, blessed, the Kingdom of God.
To death we are hastening, let us refrain from sinning.

In the late 16th and through the 17th century Memento mori rings were made.

Puritan America
Colonial American art saw a large number of memento mori images due to Puritan influence. The Puritan community in 17th-century North America looked down upon art, because they believed it drew the faithful away from God, and if away from God, then it could only lead to the devil. However, portraits were considered historical records, and as such they were allowed. Thomas Smith, a 17th-century Puritan, fought in many naval battles and also painted. In his self-portrait, we see a typical puritan memento mori with a skull, suggesting his imminent death.

Thomas Smith painted this art, Self-Portrait, in 1680, in colonial America. The Copyright has expired; the author died over 300 years ago. It is in the public domain, for public use.

Thomas Smith painted this art, Self-Portrait, in 1680, in colonial America. The Copyright has expired; the author died over 300 years ago. It is in the public domain, for public use.

The poem under the skull emphasizes Smith’s acceptance of death:

Why why should I the World be minding, Therein a World of Evils Finding. Then Farwell World: Farwell thy jarres, thy Joies thy Toies thy Wiles thy Warrs. Truth Sounds Retreat: I am not sorye. The Eternall Drawes to him my heart, By Faith (which can thy Force Subvert) To Crowne me (after Grace) with Glory.

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The Screaming Skull of Bettiscombe Manor

Mike Searle - From Bettiscombe - Church of St Stephen The church was entirely rebuilt in 1862 in the Perpendicular style by John Hicks of Dorchester.

Mike Searle – From
Bettiscombe – Church of St Stephen The church was entirely rebuilt in 1862 in the Perpendicular style by John Hicks of Dorchester.

Bettiscombe is a small village and civil parish in west Dorset, England, situated in the Marshwood Vale 4 miles (6.4 km) west of Beaminster. Dorset County Council’s 2012 mid-year estimate of the population of the civil parish is 70.

Skull Legend
Bettiscombe Manor, a manor house in the village, is known as “The House of the Screaming Skull” due to a legend dating from the 17th century. Other ghost stories are also associated with the manor.

The legend maintains that the skull is that of a Jamaican slave. John Frederick Pinney disposed of the Nevis estates and returned to the family home of Bettiscombe Manor in the early nineteenth century, accompanied by one of the family’s faithful black servants. While in his master’s service, the servant was taken seriously ill with suspected tuberculosis. As he lay dying, the servant swore that he would never rest unless his body was returned to his homeland of Nevis, but when he died, John Frederick Pinney refused to pay for such an expensive burial and instead had the body interred in the grounds of St. Stephen’s Church cemetery. After the burial, ill fortune plagued the village for many months and screams and crying were heard coming from the cemetery. Other disturbances were reported from the manor house, such as windows rattling and doors slamming of their own accord. The villagers went to the manor to seek advice. The body of the servant was exhumed and the body taken to the manor house. In the process of time the skeleton has long since vanished, except for the skull where it has remained in the house for centuries.

In 1963 a professor of human and comparative anatomy at the Royal College of Surgeons stated that the skull was not that of a black man but that of a European female aged between twenty-five and thirty.

Pinney’s Estate
The website Mountravers Plantation (Pinney’s Estate), Nevis, West Indies (by Christine Eickelmann and David Small) tells us about the island plantation at the center of this story. “Mountravers, also known as ‘Pinney’s Estate’, was a medium-sized sugar plantation on the Caribbean island of Nevis. It was made up of several estates and tracts of land. From the late seventeenth century until slavery was abolished in 1834, more than 750 enslaved people are now known to have lived on Mountravers. Successive members of the Pinney family owned the plantation, among them John Pretor Pinney, who settled in Bristol, England, in 1784. His family home in Bristol is now the city’s Georgian House Museum. Nevis was the premier landing point for slaves in the Leeward Islands between 1675 and 1730, and Bristol was the most important British slaving port in the 1730s.”

Nevis AerialCC BY-SA 2.5 Aaron Vos - Own work The east coast of Nevis, partially protected by coral reefs. Long Haul Bay is seen in the foreground. Aerial shot taken from the northeast, depicting the east coast of the island of Nevis, Saint James Windward Parish, Saint Kitts and Nevis, West Indies. Long Haul Bay in the foreground. The islands of Redonda and Montserrat are visible at the horizon.

Nevis AerialCC BY-SA 2.5
Aaron Vos – Own work
The east coast of Nevis, partially protected by coral reefs. Long Haul Bay is seen in the foreground.
Aerial shot taken from the northeast, depicting the east coast of the island of Nevis, Saint James Windward Parish, Saint Kitts and Nevis, West Indies. Long Haul Bay in the foreground. The islands of Redonda and Montserrat are visible at the horizon.

Dark Dorset by Robert J. Newland and Mark J. North explains, “By the time John Pretor Pinney left Nevis in 1783 to settle down in Bristol, the Mountravers plantation was one of the most successful estates in all the Caribbean. Dependent on the labour of their black slaves, the estate produced about 30,000 kg (66,000 lb) of sugar annually and 32,800 litres (7000 gallons) of rum, and comprised of 393 acres, extending from the top of Mount Nevis on down to the sea. His combined estates have about 2000 slaves; a male slave was then worth about £50, a woman £37 and children about £14. John Prector Pinney’s son John Frederick Pinney (the second), in 1811 begins the sale (finalised in 1816) of the estate including, Mountravers and other properties to Edward Huggins for £35,650 (about £1.75 million today).” Anne Marie Pinney’s notes on the family’s papers mentions “the skull,” but no other mention is made.

Mountravers, also known as ‘Pinney’s Estate’, was a medium-sized sugar plantation on the Caribbean island of Nevis. It was made up of several estates and tracts of land. From the late seventeenth century until slavery was abolished in 1834, more than 750 enslaved people are now known to have lived on Mountravers. Successive members of the Pinney family owned the plantation, among them John Pretor Pinney, who settled in Bristol, England, in 1784. His family home in Bristol is now the city’s Georgian House Museum.

Nevis was the premier landing point for slaves in the Leeward Islands between 1675 and 1730, and Bristol was the most important British slaving port in the 1730s.

250px-F_Marion_CrawfordThis folktale brings us to the America writer, Francis Crawford. Francis Marion Crawford (August 2, 1854 – April 9, 1909) was an American writer noted for his many novels, especially those set in Italy, and for his classic weird and fantastic stories. Several of his short stories, such as “The Upper Berth” (1886; written in 1885), “For the Blood Is the Life” (1905, a vampiress tale), “The Dead Smile” (1899), and “The Screaming Skull” (1908), are often-anthologized classics of the horror genre. An essay on Crawford’s weird tales can be found in S. T. Joshi’s The Evolution of the Weird Tale (2004); there are many other essays and introductions. The collected weird stories were posthumously published in 1911 as Wandering Ghosts in the U.S. and as Uncanny Tales in the UK, both without the long-forgotten “The King’s Messenger” (1907). The present definitive edition is that edited by Richard Dalby as Uncanny Tales and published by the Tartarus Press (1997; 2008).

A footnote follows the story of The Screaming Skull, which reads [Note. - Students of ghost lore and haunted houses will find the foundation of the foregoing story in the legends about a skull which is still preserved in the farm-house called Bettiscombe Manor, situated, I believe, on the Dorsetshire coast.]

1958 American film "The Screaming Skull," NOT based on the UK legend

1958 American film “The Screaming Skull,” NOT based on the UK legend

Posted in British history, buildings and structures, castles, customs and tradiitons, gothic and paranormal, Great Britain, legends and myths, Living in the Regency, Living in the UK, real life tales, Regency personalities | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

UK Mystery: Stanton Drew Stone Circles

Location: near Stanton Drew and Bristol

Region: Somerset, England

Coordinates: 51.367797°N 2.575257°WCoordinates: 51.367797°N 2.575257°W

© Copyright Rosalind Mitchell and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

© Copyright Rosalind Mitchell and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Type: Henge monument

Condition: intact

The Stanton Drew stone circles are just outside the village of Stanton Drew in the English county of Somerset. The largest stone circle is the Great Circle, 113 metres (371 ft) in diameter and the second largest stone circle in Britain (after Avebury); it is considered to be one of the largest Neolithic monuments to have been built. The date of construction is not known but is thought to be between 3000 and 2000 BCE, which places it in the Late Neolithic to Early Bronze Age. It was made a scheduled monument in 1982.

The Great Circle was surrounded by a ditch and is accompanied by smaller stone circles to the north east and south west. There is also a group of three stones, known as The Cove, in the garden of the local pub. Slightly further from the Great Circle is a single stone, known as Hautville’s Quoit. Some of the stones are still vertical, but the majority are now recumbent and some are no longer present.

The stone circles have been studied since John Aubrey’s visit in 1664 with some excavations of the site in the 18th century. In the late 20th and early 21st centuries geophysical surveys have confirmed the size of the stone circles and identified additional pits and postholes. The Cove has been shown to be around one thousand years older than the stone circles. A variety of myths and legends about the stone circles have been recorded, including one about dancers at a celebration who have been turned to stone.


The Great Circle is 113 metres (371 ft) in diameter and probably consisted of 30 stones, of which 27 survive today. It was recorded by both John Aubrey in 1664 and William Stukeley in 1776. The Great Circle probably was surrounded by the ditch (approximately 135 metres (443 ft) outer diameter — now filled in) of a henge. The North East Circle is 30 metres (98 ft) in diameter and probably consisted of 10 or more stones, of which 8 survive today. The South West Circle is 43 metres (141 ft) in diameter and has 12 stones surviving today. An avenue extends to the northeast of the Great Circle towards the River Chew and a second avenue meets it from the north eastern stone circle.

A (now recumbent) standing stone called Hautville’s Quoit lies across the river to the north on an alignment with the centres of the Great Circle and the southern circle. It is a large stone close to Hautville Quoit Farm, recumbent since at least the mid 17th century but assumed to have originally been upright. Described by Stukeley in 1723 as being 13 feet (4.0 m) long, it is now about half that length, Grinsell suggesting that fragments have occasionally been broken off for mending the roads. Stukeley also referred to the presence of a second stone.

Further to the west is a cove of two standing stones with a recumbent slab between them, which can be found in the garden of the Druid’s Arms public house. All are of different heights, the stone to the north east being 4.4 metres (14 ft) the south western 3.1 metres (10 ft), and the north eastern 1.4 metres (4 ft 7 in).[14] The stones of The Cove are mineralogically different from those in the nearby stone circles. A long barrow burial chamber has been found under the stones of The Cove. It is thought that this predates the erection of the stones by approximately a thousand years.


Aerial video of the south west circle at Stanton Drew stone circles
In 1740 the site was surveyed and mapped by John Wood, the Elder, who noted the different stones used. He suggested the layout was based on the Pythagorean planetary system, and thought it was used as the Druid’s “University.”

When one of the stones fell in the mid 17th century, some human bones were discovered accompanied by an object described as a “round bell, like a large horse-bell”. The burial date and the purpose of the bell-like object are unknown.

Geophysical Survey

The Great Circle
Geophysical work by English Heritage in 1997 revealed a surrounding ditch and nine concentric rings of postholes within the stone circle. More than four hundred pits, 1 metre (3 ft 3 in) across and at 2.5 metres (8 ft 2 in) intervals, stood in rings at the site.[4] The ditch is 135 metres (443 ft) in diameter and about 7 metres (23 ft) wide. A 40 metres (130 ft) wide entrance was visible on the north east side. No surrounding bank has been identified although the site awaits excavation.

The geophysical work transformed the traditional view of Stanton Drew as being a surface monument and the Great Circle is now seen as being one of the largest and most impressive Neolithic monuments to have been built. Analogous with the circles of postholes at sites at Woodhenge, Durrington Walls and The Sanctuary, it is thought that the pits would have held posts which would have either been freestanding or lintelled as they could not have supported a roof at that size. The postholes in nine concentric rings held posts up to 1 metre (3.3 ft) in diameter.

Nearby and to the north east is a smaller ring of eight stones in the centre of which the geophysical work identified four further pits. A third ring of twelve stones, measuring 43 metres (141 ft) wide, stands to the south west.

The Cove

A fluxgate gradiometer survey in July 2009 investigated standing stones in the garden of the Druids Arms public house known as The Cove, which showed that the stones date from nearly a thousand years before the stone circles. The conclusion from the study was that these upright stones are likely to have been the portals or façade of a chambered tomb.

In 2010, a further survey was carried out by Bath and Camerton Archaeological Society and the Bath and North East Somerset Archaeological Officer. This involved high data density magnetometer, resistance pseudosection profiles and photographic surveys showed a new henge entrance and further detail of post holes.

Myths about Stanton Drew

Being a henge and stone circle site, astronomical alignments are a common theory to explain the positioning of the stones at Stanton Drew. Similarly, there are less well evidenced theories relating to ley lines.

Theories suggest the site was dedicated to funerary ritual. There are several local traditional stories about the megalithic complex. The best known tells how a wedding party was turned to stone: the party was held throughout Saturday, but a man clothed in black (the Devil in disguise) came and started to play his violin for the merrymakers after midnight, continuing into holy Sunday morning. When dawn broke, everybody had been turned to stone by the Demon: so the stone circles are the dancers, the avenues are the fiddlers and The Cove is the bride and the groom with the drunken churchman at their feet. They are still awaiting the Devil who promised to come back someday and play again for them.

Wade and Wade (Somerset by Wade, G.W. & Wade, J.H. at Project Gutenberg) in their 1929 book “Somerset” suggest:

One of the curiosities of the place is Hautville’s Quoit, which, to save time, should also be looked for on approaching the village. (Enter iron gate on L. a few hundred yards before reaching tollhouse, and search backwards along the hedge bordering road.) It is a large stone, which legend says was hurled by Sir J. Hautville (whose effigy is in Chew Magna Church) from the top of Maes Knoll. The famous “druidical remains” will be found near the church. About 50 yards from the entrance to the churchyard take a lane to the L. leading to an orchard: the stones will be observed in the field beyond (admission free, but field closed on Sundays). The “remains” consist of three contiguous circles. The first is of considerable area, and is marked out by twelve large stones, only three of which remain upright; a smaller circle of eight stones lies just beyond; and a third circle of eight will be found farther away in an orchard on the R. The two larger circles have each a few scattered stones thrown off as a kind of avenue. Standing apart from the circles is a curious group of three stones huddled together in a garden abutting on the churchyard, from which they can be easily seen by looking over the W. boundary wall. These mystic rings probably had the same origin (whatever that may have been) as that of the more famous circle at Avebury in Wiltshire, with which they should be compared. The proximity of Maes Knoll is comparable with that of Silbury Hill. A ridiculous theory suggests that the monoliths were erected as a trophy after one of Arthur’s victories. Arthur is connected to the site because a site in the nearby village of Camerley is reputed to be the location of Camelot in an oral tradition. The stones are of a reddish hue similar to that described in the Arthurian legend as connected to Camelot and to a sword that was seen in a stone near to Camelot. The country story is that a local wedding once took place on a Sunday, when the frivolous guests would insist on winding up with a dance. The penalty for a “Sabbath” thus “profaned” was the prompt transformation of the bridal party into stone. Hence the local appellation of “The fiddlers and the maids.stantondrew-2011pano

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