Before Edward, before Louis and Lestat, there were three famous vampires that set the stage for all who appeared after. Enter Varney, Carmilla, and Dracula. Read through this triptych of vampire novels to gain an understanding of the origins of vampires and their habits.
Varney the Vampire; or, the Feast of Blood had a humble beginning as a serialized gothic horror story that ran in penny dreadfuls from 1845 to 1847. It was finally published in book form in 1847. Varney the Vampire introduced many of the themes and devices used in vampire fiction even to this day: Varney has fangs, leaves two puncture wounds on the necks of his victims, has hypnotic powers, and has superhuman strength. Unlike later fictional vampires, however, he is able to go out in daylight and has no particular fear or loathing of crosses or garlic. In addition, he can eat and drink in human fashion when needed for disguise, but human food and drink do not generally agree with him.
Varney also introduces the concept of the “sympathetic vampire.” He loathes his condition, but is a slave to it. This concept has remained a theme throughout much of vampire literature, including such characters as Countess Zaleska in the film Dracula's Daughter, Barnabas Collins in the television show Dark Shadows, Mick St. John in the television show Moonlight, Louis in Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire, Kain in Legacy Of Kain, Morbius in Forever Knight, Angel and Spike from the show Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Bill Compton in Charlaine Harris' The Southern Vampire Mysteries, and Edward and his family in Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series (who solve the problem by going “vegetarian”— drinking only animal blood instead of human).
Carmilla was a Gothic novella first published in the magazine The Dark Blue in 1872, and then in Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s collection of short stories, In a Glass Darkly the same year. Carmilla, the title character, is the original prototype for a legion of female and lesbian vampires. Carmilla selects only female victims, becoming emotionally involved with a few. Like Varney, Carmilla was not confined to darkness. She had unearthly beauty, was able to pass through solid walls, and could change into a large black cat (compared to Dracula, who changed into a large dog).
Carmilla had a heavey influence on Bram Stoker’s Dracula. In the earliest manuscript of Dracula, the castle is set in Styria, although Stoker changed the setting to Transylvania in a later version. Stoker's posthumously published short story Dracula's Guest, which was removed from Dracula to cut down on the novel’s size, shows a more obvious and intact debt to Carmilla. Both stories are told in the first person. The descriptions of Carmilla and the character of Lucy in Dracula are similar, and have become archetypes for victims and seducers alike in future vampire stories. The investigative character of Stoker's Dr. Abraham Van Helsing is a direct parallel to Le Fanu's vampire expert Baron Vordenburg.
Dracula was first published as a hardcover book in 1897 by Archibald Constable and Co. It is an epistolary novel, told as a series of letters and journal entries. Dracula's influence on the popularity of vampires has been singularly responsible for many theatrical, film, and television interpretations since its publication.
Stoker came across the name “Dracula” in his reading on Romanian history, and chose this to replace the original name, Count Wampyr, that he had intended to use. Historically, the name "Dracula" is derived from a secret fraternal order of knights called the Order of the Dragon, founded by Sigismund of Luxembourg (king of Hungary, Croatia and Bohemia, and Holy Roman Emperor) to uphold Christianity and defend the Empire against the Ottoman Turks. Vlad II Dracul was admitted to the order around 1431 because of his bravery in fighting the Turks. From 1431 onward, Vlad II wore the emblem of the order and later, as ruler of Wallachia, his coinage bore the dragon symbol. The name Dracula means "son of Dracul.” Vlad III, the son of Vlad II, otherwise known as “Vlad the Impaler,” was revered as a folk hero by Romanians for driving off the invading Ottoman Turks, and is said to have killed as many as 100,000 by using his favorite method of impaling them on a sharp pole.