Vampires: Myths and Metaphors of Enduring Evil

By Peter Day | Go to book overview

“One for Ever”: Desire, Subjectivity, and the Threat of
the Abject in Sheridan Le Fanu's Camilla

Hyun-Jung Lee

At the end of Arthur Machen's late-Victorian Gothic tale The Great God Pan (1894), a physician named Robert Matheson describes the shocking, repulsive death of Helen Vaughn, evil incarnate:

Though horror and revolting nausea rose up within
me…, I remained firm. I was then privileged or
accursed, I dare not say which, to see that which was on
the bed, lying there black like ink, transformed before
my eyes. The skin, and the flesh, and the muscles, and
the bones, and the firm structure of the human body that
I had thought to be unchangeable, and permanent as
amant, began to melt and dissolve.

I knew that the body may be separated into its
elements by external agencies, but I should have refused
to believe what I saw. For here there was some internal
force, of which I knew nothing, that caused dissolution
and change…. I saw the form waver from sex to sex,
dividing itself from itself, and then again reunited. Then
I saw the body descend to the beasts whence it ascended,
and that which was on the heights go down to the
depths, even to the abyss of all being.

[….]

I watched, and at last I saw nothing but a substance as
jelly… as a horrible and unspeakable shape, neither man
nor beast, was changed into human form, there came
finally death.1

The narrator presents Helen's demise as a series of metamorphoses fluctuating along the entire spectrum between indefinable matter and articulate human form. We detect the influence of fin-de-siècle evolutionary theory, especially degeneration theory, in the fluid transformation from human to beast and back again. However, several other details draw our attention. First, Helen's body changes because of “some internal force”: unlike in evolution or degeneration, it is not socioenvironmental factors that trigger the repeated “ascent” and “descent.” The idea that something within the human self could cause it to change,

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