Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Vampire by Jan Neruda

“The air was as clear as a diamond, so soft, so caressing, that one’s whole soul swung out upon it into the distance.”

There is no vampire in The Vampire, a six-page undated short story by Jan Neruda (1834-1891), the Czech journalist, writer and poet of the 19th century. The ‘vampire’ is a young Greek artist or a creature in human form, with supernatural powers. He has an uncanny ability: sketching corpses. In other words, he sketches the doomed beforehand and completes it the day they die, as if prophesying their death.

Jan Vilímek/Wikimedia Commons
The Vampire, which is and isn’t a fantasy tale, is about six people who go on an excursion from Constantinople to the island of Prinkipo, in modern-day Turkey. They include a Polish family of four consisting of a man and his wife, their beautiful but ailing daughter and her handsome husband, and the narrator and his (or her) companion. On the way they meet the mysterious Greek artist who, later, sketches them on the beach from afar.

Back in their hotel, the Pole and the narrator ask the innkeeper about the identity of the artist and are told, “We call him the Vampire” because “he sketches only corpses” and “he never makes a mistake.”

The artist certainly doesn’t make a mistake when he sketches the girl with her eyes closed and a wreath on her brow.

I am assuming the translation is true to the original in the Czech language in which case the story reads quite well and manages to hold your interest, though it could have been longer.

A word about Jan Neruda
Jan Neruda was born in Prague, Bohemia. He was the son of a grocer who lived in the Malá Strana (Lesser Quarter) district of Prague. He studied philosophy and philology (the humanistic study of language and literature) and worked as a teacher until 1860. Thereafter, he became a freelance journalist and writer. He was a leading light of Czech Realism and promoted the idea of rebirth of Czech patriotism.

Neruda’s most accalimed work is Povídky Malostranské (Tales of the Little Side), a collection of short stories which “takes the reader to the Lesser Quarter, to its streets and yards, shops, churches, houses, and restaurants” and known for their “satirical depiction of the petty bourgeois of Prague.”

His bibliography
Hrbitovní kvítí (Cemetery Flowers), 1857
Knihy veršu (Books of Verses), 1867
Zpevy pátecní (Friday Songs), 1869
Povídky malostranské (Tales of the Little Quarter), 1877, translated into English for the first time in 1957 by mystery writer Edith Pargeter (aka Ellis Peters).
Písne kosmické (Cosmic Songs), 1878
Balady a romance (Ballads and Romances), 1878-83
Prosté motivy (Plain Themes/Simple Motifs), 1883
The Vampire, a short story

I’m looking for the translated version of Tales of the Little Quarter.

Interesting facts
The Chilean poet and Nobel laureate Pablo Neruda (real name: Neftalí Ricardo Reyes Basoalto) took “Neruda” as his pseudonym.

Jan Neruda once said, “Men are jealous of every woman, even when they don’t have the slightest interest in her themselves.”

In his first spaceflight in May 2009, American geophysicist and astronaut Andrew J. Feustel took a copy of Cosmic Songs with him.

The Jan Neruda Grammar School in Prague is, obviously, named after the Czech intellect.

You can read more about Jan Neruda here and here. The above profile has been culled out from these two sites.


  1. I believe I read this years ago, probably in college. I don't really remember much about it except the basic idea, though.

  2. Charles, I'd never heard of Jan Neruda till I found his name among a list of short story writers. I'm interested in reading short stories by non-English authors.

  3. Thanks for sharing this new to me writer with us. I will look for this very interesting sounding story-good to see you getting more into short stories-

  4. Mel, your wonderful blog on short stories has inspired me to read more short stories and novellas this year as well as in the coming years.

  5. the story is really interesting and exciting but it's so sad that the girl will pass away at the end .....

  6. What a blast... The story is AWESOME..