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Friday, 17 December 2010

Bram Stoker vs "The Highgate Vampire"

A number of years ago, a friend gave me a copy of SeΆn Manchester’s book, “The Highgate Vampire” to read as it was something that had popped up on the internet occasionally when I'd been doing my own historical research about the cemetery.  As the title implies, the book is Manchester’s account of an alleged malicious vampiric presence that plagued Highgate Cemetery in the late 1960s / early 1970s and details Manchester’s role in ridding the world of it.

I’d come across many an online review from visitors who’ve been reprimanded by past Highgate guides for asking about vampires, ghosts and other supernatural entities so I decided to read Manchester’s book and see what all the fuss was about.

The second chapter details Manchester’s introduction to the Highgate Vampire case and it was when I reached page 23 that a simple description used by Manchester leapt out at me.  The phrase described the face of a creature allegedly seen lurking in the cemetery and it dawned on me that I’d read the description somewhere but just couldn’t quite put my finger on it.  The phrase was “and upon the face was an expression of basilisk horror”.  Despite this little mental niggle, I continued to read.

It was when I got to Manchester’s discovery of the vampire on page 55 that the pennies started to drop and they did so en masse:

".. Gorged and stinking with the life blood of others, fresh clots of which still adhered to the edge of the mouth."
"The glazed eyes stared horribly - almost mocking me, almost knowing that my efforts to destroy it would be thwarted."

The above descriptions sounded uncannily like parts of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” (in particular, from Jonathan Harker’s journal, chapter 4 - page 58 of my copy – published by Arrow Books):

".. For on the lips were gouts of fresh blood, which trickled from the corners of the mouth… It seemed as if the whole awful creature were simply gorged with blood."

"There was a mocking smile on the bloated face which seemed to drive me mad."

"…and the eyes fell full upon me, with all their blaze of basilisk horror."

I sat down with both books open in my lap and read them side-by-side and discovered that there were actually a number of spookily similar uses of wording, plot twists and phrasing, as listed below:

1)      Mental patient in both novels discovered with severe neck trauma

From “The Highgate Vampire”, page 58 (Manchester describes the mysterious disappearance and subsequent discovery of a patient who went a walkabout from The Priory in Roehampton.  This hospital specialises in (and I quote from their website) “the management and treatment of mental health problems”):

"He was later found covered in blood in Highgate Cemetery and died some ten days later in Whittington Hospital.  According to official sources, the blood had poured from a throat wound."

From “Dracula”, page 293 (chapter 22 - Jonathan Harker describes the discovery of Dr Seward’s patient, Renfield, at the sanatorium that Dr Seward oversees):

"..they had found Renfield, lying on the floor, all in a heap.  His face was all bruised and crushed in, and the bones of the neck were broken."


2)   Descriptions of the Count


From “The Highgate Vampire”, page 112:

"Flared nostrils connected to a thin, high-bridged nose.  The mouth still set in its cruel expression with lips drawn far back as if unable to contain the fangs."

From “Dracula”, page 25 (chapter 2 - Jonathan Harker’s description of the Count):

His face was a strong – a very strong – aquiline, with high bridge of the thin nose and particularly arched nostrils;…”

From “Dracula”, page 291 (chapter 21 - Dr Seward's description of the Count):

"The waxen face, the high aquiline nose, in which the light fell in a thin white line; the parted red lips, with the sharp white teeth showing between."


3)   Things to say when staking a vampire

From “The Highgate Vampire”, page 113 (Arthur, Manchester's assistant, is urging him to kill The Evil One):

"In God's name strike!" cried Arthur.

From “Dracula”, page 219 (chapter 16 - Arthur Holmwood is being instructed on how to effectively stake what used to be Lucy Westenra):

"..strike in God's name, …

(Two Arthurs involved in each respective staking?  Would it surprise you even more if I mentioned that two female vampire victims are called Lucy in “Dracula” and Lusia in “The Highgate Vampire”?!)


4)   The inexplicable wounding and death of local animals

From “The Highgate Vampire”, page 44 (Manchester details mysterious animal deaths):

"For a number of weeks, dead animals, notably nocturnal ones, kept appearing in Waterlow Park and Highgate Cemetery itself.  Further inspection revealed that what they all had in common were lacerations of the throat and they were completely drained of blood.”

From “Dracula”, page 87 (chapter 7 - after the Demeter has crashed, a cutting placed in Mina Harker’s journal tells of a “large dog, a half-breed mastiff” discovered dead):

"It must have been fighting, and manifestly had had a savage opponent, for its throat was torn away, and its belly slit open as it with a savage claw."


5)   Children lured away by women in white, necks bitten

From “The Highgate Vampire”, pages 121-122 (Manchester visits the cemetery in which Lusia is supposedly resting):

"And now a child had complained of being bitten by someone or something that enticed the youngster from the neighbouring recreation park into the wooded part of the graveyard".

Also from “The Highgate Vampire”, page 123 (upon interviewing the victim):

"He described his “lovely lady all in white” as being “very blonde with big starry eyes”.  It would seem that she allured him into the cemetery’s wood…  He woke with the familiar small incisions on his throat which his parents ascribed to animal or insect bites."

From “Dracula”, page 213 - 214 (chapter 16.  Seward, Holmwood & Van Helsing visit the churchyard in which Lucy is supposedly resting):

“He pointed; and far down the avenue of yews we saw a white figure advance – a dim white figure, which held something at its breast… …. we could not see the face, for it was bent down over what we saw to be a fair-haired child.”

From “Dracula”, pages 180-181 (a newspaper report about the “Bloofer Lady”):

"…. the first child missed gave as his reason for being away that a “bloofer lady” had asked him to come for a walk… The wounds seem such as might be made by a rat or a small dog"


6)   Female victims of the Vampire hypnotised

From “The Highgate Vampire”, pages 88-89 (Manchester hypnotises Lusia):

“I brought Lusia to the place and induced a deep trance which eventually produced the following remarkable utterances from her lips:

“……. ……… you have lost… dark… just darkness… so dark…”

From “Dracula”, page 317 (chapter 23 - Van Helsing hypnotises Mina Harker):

Van Helsing:  “What do you see?”
Mina Harker: “I can see nothing; it is all dark.”

From Dracula, page 338 (chapter 25):

“He asks her what she can see or hear.  She answers to the first:
“Nothing; all is dark.”

While Manchester wasn’t brave enough to plagiarise Stoker word-for-word, it’s glaringly obvious he's taken liberties in the striking similarities of phrasing, events and wording used in ”The Highgate Vampire” that already appear in “Dracula”. And the reason Manchester gets away with such obvious creative poaching is because “Dracula” is in the public domain, i.e., no legal action can be taken against him by Stoker’s family.

In an interview with Manchester from the 27/02/1970 edition of the Hampstead & Highgate Express, the paper claimed ‘his theory is that the King Vampire of the Undead, originally a nobleman who dabbled in black magic in medieval Wallachia "somewhere near Turkey", walks again.’

(For the record, Wallachia was the principality ruled by Vlad Tepes, a.k.a. Vlad the Impaler, who (it’s been claimed) was one of the main historical figures on whom Count Dracula was based)

Manchester is quoted as saying, “His followers eventually brought him to England in a coffin at the beginning of the 18th century and bought a house for him in the West End,” and that “his unholy resting place became Highgate cemetery.”

Frankly, Manchester’s house-moving nobleman is beginning to sound an awful lot like Bram Stoker’s Count to me.  After all, the reason Jonathan Harker visits Transylvania is because the Count has employed the services of the legal firm for which Harker works by getting them to procure him an estate in Purfleet, Essex.

Fast forward fifteen years to page 89 of “The Highgate Vampire”: the home of Sir William Ashurst, Lord Mayor of London in the late 17th century, was knocked down after his death and St Michael’s Church was built on top of it.  This statement is mostly factually accurate.  In fact, the cemetery’s Terrace Catacombs were so named because they were literally built into what used to be the terrace of Sir William’s home.  However, Manchester also claims that the time of Sir William’s death (1720) just happened to be the “height of a vampire epidemic” in London that originated from south-eastern Europe.  He claims that the nobleman arrived in England and rented a property that “cast its shadow where now stands the Columbarium”.

What?  No mention of the term “King Vampire of the Undead” or his Wallachian origins in this later version?  Even the Gothic Press website (a site that heavily promotes and sells Manchester's books) now claims that it was the MEDIA who dubbed the vampire the “King Vampire of the Undead”!  Why could it possibly be that Manchester would want to distance himself from using the term “King Vampire of the Dead”?  It might have a little something to do with the fact that the term “Un-Dead home of the King Vampire” is used in chapter 27 of “Dracula” in Van Helsing’s Memorandum (page 376).

The Gothic Press’ website claims that Manchester’s follow-up novel “Carmel” is not only a completion of Dracula but a sequel.  The reason for this, I hear you ask?  The website claims that Stoker neglected to tie up many loose ends in Dracula and that these loose ends are resolved, courtesy of Manchester, in “Carmel”!  Unbelievable…

Let’s take a look at the Gothic Press publishing house itself.  The website describes itself as a not-for-profit organisation that gives the public access to works on subject matter that would otherwise remain under the radar.  Its banner proudly proclaims that it includes works by Sean Manchester and the first picture on the site (at the top of the page) is that of Lord Byron, from whom he claims to descend.  Manchester even dedicates “The Highgate Vampire” to the memory of Lord Byron. There is no evidence that Manchester actually runs this press but it’s been reported that he currently resides in Bournemouth.  The business seller’s address on eBay’s Gothic Press shop is listed as being in Bournemouth.  In fact, nobody else’s books appear to be for sale via the site, and the only photographs are ones that mostly include or feature Manchester (sometimes inexplicably dressed in period costume, like some second-rate Mills & Boon character).  It’s clear that if he doesn’t own or manage this website, then someone very close to (or in adoration of) him certainly does.

Regarding the proceeds of the book, I noted on one of the first pages of “The Highgate Vampire” that “All proceeds of this book will be contributed towards The Church of the Holy Grail”.  So I visited the church’s website and what did I see on the third line down?

Primate & Bishop: The Right Reverend Seán Manchester, O.S.G.

The Gothic Press website notes that part of Manchester’s ascent through the ranks of the church includes that “he assumed the primacy of the autocephalous jurisdiction Ecclesia Apostolica Jesu Christi”.  Now, Dictionary.com offered me up one of two very interesting definitions of the word ‘autocephalous’, the most relevant being:

Autocephalous:
2. (of a bishop) subordinate to no superior authority; self-governing.

Blimey!  He’s the principal of the very church that receives the book’s proceeds!  Well, well, well….

In conclusion, I’m of the opinion (based on all of the above) that Manchester has effectively made it impossible for me to take him seriously as a self-proclaimed expert on the subject because of his creative reliance on another author, as well as his total lack of hard evidence.  While he provides a bibliography on page 169, he curiously states in the acknowledgements afterwards that, “The textual sources from which I have drawn information for my research are too numerous to be listed here.”

There are no copies of police, doctor or veterinary reports included in this book and Manchester excuses away the lack of photographic evidence by claiming that, “Each failure of this supernatural being to be recorded by sophisticated means only served to confirm for me the true picture, albeit a picture of object horror” (pages 44-45).

The “neo gothic mansion” that the vampire allegedly lived in no longer exists due to its convenient demolition and the book contains only pictures of Lusia as portrayed by a model.  From the outset, Lusia’s true identity is a mystery (“... a beautiful twenty-two year old woman, whom I shall call Lusia”).  Elizabeth, one of the two girls who allegedly saw bodies rising out of graves in Highgate Cemetery, is coincidentally of eastern European descent and the origin of her surname conjures up suggestions of “good vs evil” (Wodjyla stems from the Polish word “woj”, meaning “warrior”).

It’s my opinion that Manchester is nothing more than a frustrated gothic romance novelist who desperately wishes he’d gotten in there first to write “Dracula” but instead has provided us with a half-baked, substandard facsimile.