Monday, August 4, 2008

A Note on Bad Captions

I know it seems much ado about nothing, but I'm delving into this matter further. But the way I see it, it's the bricks that make the house.

In the previous installment of this saga, I talked about a seeming discrepancy regarding a caption for a picture found in Christopher Frayling's Vampyres: Lord Byron to Count Dracula (London: Faber and Faber, 1992).

The book that seems to have inspired its inclusion in Frayling's book, was Ornella Volta's French book,
Le Vampire: La Mort, le Sang, la Peur (Paris: Jean-Jaques Pauvert Éditeur, 1962). I also quoted Frayling's "Bibliography and Acknowledgments" to this effect.

However, some eagle-eyed readers might have noticed that the quote that I gave seems to refer to an Italian edition:

On the erotic angle, Ornella Volta's Il Vampiro (1962) is interesting (if a little strange at times) and has some extraordinary illustrations (p. 424)

There was an Italian edition by this name. However, it wasn't published until 1964. See: "Il Vampiro", Il Catafalco - L'avello dei vampiri.

This leaves us with two possibilities: either Frayling got the date of the book wrong or he got the name of the book wrong. Unfortunately, we have little to go on, because Frayling's "Bibliography..." is surprisingly bereft of bibliographic detail. I'm reminded of the atrocious (though not to put Frayling in the same league) bibliography featured in Dudley Wright's famous work, Vampires and Vampirism (1914; 2nd edn. 1924).

Even Montague Summers was moved to comment on it in his "Introduction" to The Vampire: His Kith and Kin (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., Ltd., 1928):

In the Bibliography we have such entries as "Leo Allatius," "Encyclopaedia Britannica" ; "Frazer's Golden Bough," "Nider's Formicarius," "Phlegon's Fragments," "William of Newbury," all of which are not merely unscholarly and slovenly, but entirely useless from the point of view of reference. (p. xii)

Couldn't agree more.

That said, Frayling's book (and yes, his Bibliography too) certainly make a compelling read. In fact, it might even surprise you to know that it's one of my favourite works on vampires.

That doesn't mean it should be spared from criticism, of course. Indeed, Frayling has no qualms dishing it out himself in the same book:

On vampirism in general Montague Summers's two books, The Vampire: His Kith and Kin (1928) and The Vampire in Europe (1929), and Dudley Wright's Vampires and Vampires (1914) are unreliable and have for too long been treated as gospel. (p. 424)

This fuss about captions also has a deeper undercurrent.

You see, finding 18th century images depicting vampires is quite a difficult task. In fact, I haven't been able to find any such image, thus far. It's possible that vampires were never depicted in that era, via illustration.

Therefore, it's a blight on academic pursuits into the field to misrepresent pictures in such a way.

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