She’s sweet and chaste and pure and innocent and sexy and girl-next-door and religious and probably blonde, and she’s named Christabel. She’s the victim.
Her dark half and lover is mysterious and sexually experienced and seductive and exotic and blasphemous and probably brunette, and she’s named Geraldine. She’s the prototypical lesbian vampire.
Reveler upon opium when he was not writing poetry or literary criticism (or dodging bill collectors), poor, but brilliant, Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote, among other eerie poems, such as The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and “Kubla Khan,” a narrative ditty about a lesbian vampire named Christabel. It has gotten relatively short shrift among publishers and is not as well known among the general public as other of the poet’s works. If one has encountered the poem at all, it was most likely during a class concerning poetry or English literature. It is a disturbing poem, and, since it involves a good deal of horror, terror, revulsion, and abnormality, it is a good subject for study by horror writers, professional and aspiring.
While praying beside an oak tree in the wee hours of the morning, Christabel encounters a strange stranger named Geraldine, who says men have abducted her from her home. Enchanted by Geraldine’s seductive beauty, Christabel, perhaps knowing a good thing when she sees it (she may even regard Geraldine as a response to her prayer), takes the stranger home with her, whereupon Christabel’s father, Sir Leoline, a baron, becoming infatuated with Geraldine, orders a celebratory parade to declare her rescue. Here, the poem (another of Cole ridge’s “fragments”) ends, although the poet is alleged to have intended to finish it according to this storyline, identified by Coleridge’s biographer, James Gilman:
The verse is almost adolescent, or, as critics prefer to say, when addressing the work of a member of the literary canon, childlike:
Over the mountains, the Bard, as directed by Sir Leoline, hastes with his disciple; but in consequence of one of those inundations supposed to be common to this country, the spot only where the castle once stood is discovered--the edifice itself being washed away. He determines to return. Geraldine, being acquainted with all that is passing, like the weird sisters in Macbeth, vanishes. Reappearing, however, she awaits the return of the Bard, exciting in the meantime, by her wily arts, all the anger she could rouse in the Baron's breast, as well as that jealousy of which he is described to have been susceptible. The old Bard and the youth at length arrive, and therefore she can no longer personate the character of Geraldine, the daughter of Lord Roland de Vaux, but changes her appearance to that of the accepted, though absent, lover of Christabel. Now ensues a courtship most distressing to Christabel, who feels--she knows not why--great disgust for her once favored knight.
This coldness is very painful to the Baron, who has no more conception than herself of the supernatural transformation. She at last yields to her father's entreaties, and consents to approach the altar with the hated suitor. The real lover, returning, enters at this moment, and produces the ring which she had once given him in sign of her. . . [betrothal]. Thus defeated, the supernatural being Geraldine disappears. As predicted, the castle bell tolls, the mother's voice is heard, and, to the exceeding great joy of the parties, the rightful marriage takes place, after which follows a reconciliation and explanation between father and daughter.
Coleridge not-so-subtly plants some clues that Geraldine may be as monstrous as she is beautiful, for she refuses to thank the Virgin Mary for her rescue:
‘Tis the middle of night by the castle clock,
And the owls have awakened the crowing cock;
And hark, again! the crowing cock,
How drowsily it crew.
Sir Leoline, the Baron rich,
Hath a toothless mastiff bitch;
From her kennel beneath the rock
She maketh answer to the clock,
Four for the quarters, and twelve for the hour;
Ever and aye, by shine and shower,
Sixteen short howls, not over loud;
Some say, she sees my lady's shroud.
Is the night chilly and dark?
The night is chilly, but not dark.
The thin gray cloud is spread on high,
It covers but not hides the sky.
So free from danger, free from fear,
They crossed the court : right glad they were.
And Christabel devoutly cried
To the Lady by her side,
Praise we the Virgin all divine
Who hath rescued thee from thy distress!
Alas, alas! said Geraldine, I cannot speak for weariness.
The fire likes her, too; it leaps in her presence, to show the reader, again, that there’s something odd about Geraldine:
Smitten by her seductress, mesmerizing houseguest, Christabel assures Geraldine that Christabel’s father sleeps: “O softly tread, said Christabel,/ My father seldom sleepeth well.” Is Christabel’s caution a concern for her father’s rest or an invitation of sexual dalliance with Geraldine? Their destination, and they stealthy way in which they approach it, suggests that Christabel may not be as innocent and virtuous as she appears to be, for she leads her houseguest, with the utmost caution, to her bedroom, where she offers her a glass of wine that Christabel’s now-deceased mother (and, presently, her “guardian spirit”) made from wildflowers:
They passed the hall, that echoes still,
Pass as lightly as you will!
The brands were flat, the brands were dying,
Amid their own white ashes lying;
But when the lady passed, there came
A tongue of light, a fit of flame;
And Christabel saw the lady's eye,
And nothing else saw she thereby. . . .
The next moment, her name having been mentioned, the spirit of Christabel’s mother appears, but only Geraldine can see the phantom, and she orders the ghost to leave.
Sweet Christabel her feet doth bare,
And jealous of the listening air
They steal their way from stair to stair,
Now in glimmer, and now in gloom,
And now they pass the Baron's room,
As still as death, with stifled breath!
And now have reached her chamber door;
And now doth Geraldine press down
The rushes of the chamber floor. . . .
. . . O weary lady, Geraldine,
I pray you, drink this cordial wine!
It is a wine of virtuous powers;
My mother made it of wildflowers.
Invoking her authority to be alone with Christabel, Geraldine enforces her right, not wanting to be bothered by her enchanted hostess’ mother’s spirit hanging about like a spectral chaperone. Once the ghost has departed, Geraldine wastes no time in further seducing Christabel. She instructs Christabel to “unrobe” herself and to get into bed. Christabel does as she’s directed, obviously still under Geraldine’s spell. Unable to sleep, she studies Geraldine’s beautiful face and form, and the young hostess’ voyeurism is rewarded by a glimpse of Geraldine’s breast, which elicits a cry from the poem’s narrator for divine protection for Christabel:
O mother dear! that thou wert here!
I would, said Geraldine, she were!
But soon with altered voice, said she--
`Off, wandering mother! Peak and pine!
I have power to bid thee flee.'
Alas! what ails poor Geraldine?
Why stares she with unsettled eye?
Can she the bodiless dead espy?
And why with hollow voice cries she,
`Off, woman, off! this hour is mine--
Though thou her guardian spirit be,
Off, woman. off! 'tis given to me.'
Her charms having worked their magic, Geraldine, after a moment’s confused hesitation (probably included to make the meter work), gets into bed with Christabel, wherein they stretch out alongside one another, lay in one another’s arms, and, presumably, experience greater intimacies than those that a mere embrace may provide:
But now unrobe yourself; for I
Must pray, ere yet in bed I lie.'
Quoth Christabel, So let it be!
And as the lady bade, did she.
Her gentle limbs did she undress
And lay down in her loveliness.
But through her brain of weal and woe
So many thoughts moved to and fro,
That vain it were her lids to close;
So half-way from the bed she rose,
And on her elbow did recline
To look at the lady Geraldine.
Beneath the lamp the lady bowed,
And slowly rolled her eyes around;
Then drawing in her breath aloud,
Like one that shuddered, she unbound
The cincture from beneath her breast:
Her silken robe, and inner vest,
Dropt to her feet, and full in view,
Behold! her bosom, and half her side--
A sight to dream of, not to tell!
O shield her! shield sweet Christabel!
Yet Geraldine nor speaks nor stirs;At last, the mesmerizing Geraldine explains the magic of her enchanted “bosom” to her victim:
Ah! what a stricken look was hers!
Deep from within she seems half-way
To lift some weight with sick assay,
And eyes the maid and seeks delay;
Then suddenly as one defied
Collects herself in scorn and pride,
And lay down by the Maiden's side!--
And in her arms the maid she took. . . .!
And with low voice and doleful look
These words did say :
`In the touch of this bosom there worketh a spell,
Which is lord of thy utterance, Christabel!
So ends the first part of the poem, in which the princess Christabel, having befriended a strange, abducted woman, Geraldine, whom she’d met while she’d been praying in the woods near her father’s castle, shelters her for the night, only to be seduced by her houseguest’s beauty and to be spellbound by her magic breasts.
Despite the adolescent versification and the clumsy plot, the poem does have a certain seductive and mesmerizing effect upon the reader, drawing him or her into the magic of Geraldine’s enchanted “bosom” and suggesting that the poor, chaste Christabel, despite the narrator’s continued pleas for her protection, is, both sexually and otherwise, her houseguest’s victim:
Her slender palms together prest,
It was a lovely sight to see
The lady Christabel, when she
Was praying at the old oak tree.
Amid the jaggéd shadows
Of mossy leafless boughs,
Kneeling in the moonlight,
To make her gentle vows.
Heaving sometimes on her breast;
Her face resigned to bliss or bale--
Her face, oh call it fair not pale,
And both blue eyes more bright than clear.
Each about to have a tear.:
With open eyes (ah, woe is me!)
Asleep, and dreaming fearfully,
Fearfully dreaming, yet, I wis,
Dreaming that alone, which is--
O sorrow and shame! Can this be she,
The lady, who knelt at the old oak tree?
And lo! the worker of these harms,
That holds the maiden in her arms,
Seems to slumber still and mild,
As a mother with her child.
A star hath set, a star hath risen,
O Geraldine! since arms of thine
Have been the lovely lady's prison.
O Geraldine! one hour was thine--
Thou'st had thy will! By tairn and rill,
The night-birds all that hour were still.
But now they are jubilant anew,
From cliff and tower, tu--whoo! tu--whoo!
Tu--whoo! tu--whoo! from wood and fell!
And see! the lady Christabel
Gathers herself from out her trance;
Her limbs relax, her countenance
Grows sad and soft; the smooth thin lids
Close o'er her eyes; and tears she sheds--
Large tears that leave the lashes bright!
And oft the while she seems to smile
As infants at a sudden light!
Yea, she doth smile, and she doth weep,
Like a youthful hermitess,
Beauteous in a wilderness,
Who, praying always, prays in sleep.
And, if she move unquietly,
Perchance, 'tis but the blood so free
Comes back and tingles in her feet.
No doubt, she hath a vision sweet.
What if her guardian spirit 'twere,
What if she knew her mother near?
But this she knows, in joys and woes,
That saints will aid if men will call :
For the blue sky bends over all!.
No wonder lesbian and feminist critics regard this fragmented poem as one of the great ones of world lit.
The lesbian vampire has since become a staple of erotic horror, appearing in many legitimate, if “R”-rated, films, including:
Eternal (2004): Detective Raymond Pope’s search for his missing wife leads him to the estate of a wealthy woman, Elizabeth Kane, who may be the latest incarnation of Countess Elizabeth Bathory, the vampire who bathed in virgins’ blood.
Lost for a Vampire (1971): A writer researching a book visits an all-girls’ boarding school inhabited by lesbian vampire students.
Vampyros Lesbos (1971): In Turkey, American lawyer Linda Westinghouse’s dreams about being harassed and seduced by a dark-haired lesbian vampire beauty come true.
Les Frissons des Vampires (1970): Honeymooning couples are victimized by a castle of lesbian vampires.
Vampyres (1974): A lesbian couple lures innocent passersby to their deaths, one of the seductresses finally falling prey to a woman she seduces.
The Velvet Vampire (1971): A vampire woman comes out of the desert to seduce a hippie couple.
The Vampire Lovers (1970): The first of a trilogy of films about lesbian vampires, this one recreates, more or less faithfully, Sheridan LeFanu’s novel, Camilla. The lesbian is rival against a man for the affections of a woman whom both desire. He wins.
Blood and Roses (1960): A dead vampire’s spirit lives again by possessing Camilla, who narrates the tale.
Daughters of Darkness (1971): A honeymooning couple encounters Countess Elizabeth Bathory, who seduces the bride.
The Hunger (1983): Miriam Blaylock seduces scientist Sarah Roberts.
One into which it was harder for some critics to sink their teeth into is Lesbian Vampire Killers (to be released in 2009), a comedy in which men seek to rescue their women from a gang of lesbian vampires who have victimized a small Welsh town.