The second story in the Oxford Book of Gothic Tales that I’m going to write a little about is “The Bloody Countess,” by Alejandra Pizarnik. The Story was written in 1968 and is about an old favorite of Vampire fans, the Countess Elizabeth Bathory.
In popular folklore, the woman was famous for torturing and murdering 650 young women, and even bathing in their blood to maintain her youth. In reality, she was accused of killing 80 and was locked away in her tower. Who knows the truth? It may lie somewhere in the middle. What is for sure is that her exploits (fictional, contrived or real) have spawned a near cult like following among vampire aficionados.
Despite some of my familiarity with other stories and movies surrounding the topic, this story seemed original and fun to read. It wasn’t the typical Gothic story, although it carried some of the elements. But, it was dark, and real, and…and yes, Gothic. I enjoyed it deviously.
Let me share some things (Gothic Elements) that I really liked:
The story is very unorthodox in its introductory paragraphs, in that it is more as a book review on Valentine Penrose’s famous work. This threw me off at first, and pleasantly so. It soon surprised me by slipping right into The Gothic. Her prose inspires visions of the deepest Gothic Traditions, eliciting the darkest fears from the sensations (emotions) derived from her descriptions. Take the following excerpt for example:
“She inscribes the underground kingdom of Erzsebert Bathory within the walls of her torture chamber, and within her medieval castle. Here the sinister beauty of nocturnal creatures is summed up in the silent lady of legendary paleness, mad eyes, and hair the sumptuous color of ravens.”
The heavy feeling of place established her is very similar to what we see in the masters of Gothic fiction. You can feel the weight of despair, the almost supernatural beauty (tinged with an almost undead nature) of the Countess in her “sumptuous” hair and legendary paleness.
In the Gothic tradition, Ms. Pizarnik speaks of the Countess’s torture and likens the inevitable death of her victims—and more accurately the throes of death— to sexual release in an all-too familiar metaphor: “To strip naked is a prerogative of Death: another is the incessant watching over the the creatures it has disposed. But there is more: sexual climax forces us into death like gestures and expressions (gasping and writhing as in agony, cries and moans of paroxysm).”
Like Stoker or Radcliffe or Le Fanu, the act of debauchery is compared literally with death—on equal terms. Sexual gratification IS death of femininity and by extension virtue. There can be only one outcome for the offender.
These are only a few items in this story that I found very satisfying. I will not here continue as I think that each of you should experience her writing first hand if you have not already done so.
So far, the Oxford Book of Gothic Tales is great (I suppose that is why Oxford has claimed the anthology). I have one more story for the 20th century, and then I am going to spend a little time going through the 19th century stories.
Keep a lantern lit. Good bye and God’s speed.