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Literature / The Dead Leman

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"The Dead Leman" ("La Morte Amoureuse"), also known in English as "Clarimonde", was written by Théophile Gautier and published in 1836 in La Chronique de Paris. It is a Short Story sitting comfortably on the border of Gothic Horror and Dark Fantasy. It is one of the earliest pieces of Vampire Fiction, which makes the titular vampire different from what would become the definition of a vampire half a century later.

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"The Dead Leman" has been adapted twice, once as an episode of The Hunger in 1998, in which Clarimonde is reimagined as a succubus-witch hybrid, and once as an opera. Aside from what the "The Dead Leman" gave to the vampire genre, the story is also generally assumed to be one of two major sources of inspiration to "The Spider", which features a vampiric spider also named Clarimonde.


Tropes found in this story include:

  • Ambiguous Situation:
  • Antagonist Title: "Clarimonde" is obvious, but "La Morte Amoureuse" and "The Dead Leman" also refer to her. "La Morte Amoureuse" translates as "The Dead (Female) Lover" or "The Dead (Woman) In Love". English doesn't have a good way to translate the title with the gender-specificity intact, but it's still Clarimonde the title refers to.
  • A Party, Also Known as an Orgy: Clarimonde wouldn't have it any other way.
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  • Asleep for Days: Romuald is asleep for three days after his first visit to Clarimonde. Barbara, his housekeeper, took care of him in the meantime.
  • Butterfly of Death and Rebirth: Symbolically. In Clarimonde's chamber at the Concini Palace, there's a white rose that at her time of death only has one leaf left. When she fully passes on, the last leaf falls. Romuald compares it to a butterfly's wing and imagines that it takes along Clarimonde's soul when it floats out of the window. What with how many deaths there are between the vampire Clarimonde and her original human self, of course she'd be back.
  • Celibate Hero: Overlaps with Chaste Hero before Romuald meets Clarimonde. From his youngest memories, all he ever wanted to do was serve God and therefore he'd gone off to the cloister early. As such, the only woman he'd ever had interaction with was his mother, who visited him twice a year. As he puts it himself: "I knew in a vague sort of a way that there was something called Woman, but I never permitted my thoughts to dwell on such a subject, and I lived in a state of perfect innocence." Then, of course, Clarimonde shows up and Romuald stops being either kind of no-time-for-sex-hero. It takes Sérapion banishing her with holy water for Romuald to return to the state of a Celibate Hero, if one who will never know peace again.
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  • City with No Name: The French place names are only given by their first letter, so it's impossible to know where in France the story is supposed to take place. Venice is named in full, because it's only a place visited.
  • Dark Is Evil: The racist version. Clarimonde is the exception, although her eyebrows might be understood as a hint to her demonic nature, but everyone in her service whose skin color is given is dark-skinned. This is part of a pattern where other things are dark or specifically black too, such as Clarimonde's black horses or her majordomo being dressed in black, and all hinted to be demonical.
  • Death Is a Slap on the Wrist: Clarimonde has died several times already, but that's not going to stop her.
  • Dream Weaver: Clarimonde is an especially powerful one.
  • Femme Fatale: Or The Vamp; there's arguments for either. The whole of the story is clear about her being evil, yet when she gets her say, she makes a good point for having done no harm to anyone.
  • First Love: Long story short, Romuald had not seen a woman other than his mother until the age of twenty-four, he accidentally lays eyes upon the supernaturally beautiful and regal Clarimonde, and so delayed puberty hits him like a vengeful train for the next few hours. Even at the age of sixty-six, decades after he left her for the good of his soul, he still can't forget how she made him feel.
  • Grand Romantic Gesture: The Concini Palace was a gift from Prince Concini to the courtesan Clarimonde.
  • Hellish Horse:
  • Heroes Love Dogs: Romuald replaces a priest that had recently died of old age. Upon arriving at the presbytery, he's greeted by his predecessor's aged dog. Romuald pets it and it accepts him as his new master on the spot.
  • Holy Burns Evil:
  • Kill It with Water:
  • Kissed Keepsake: For a short, hidden moment, Clarimonde catches Romuald's hand after he is ordained. When Romuald is back in his room, he kisses the spot that she touched. This is followed by a Madness Mantra of repeating "Clarimonde" for several hours.
  • Mark of the Supernatural: Clarimonde's appearance is framed as being so. She is described as having bluish-white skin, soft blonde hair yet near-black eyebrows, and "sea-green eyes of unsustainable vivacity and brilliancy.
  • Mentor Archetype: Abbé Sérapion.
  • Mighty Whitey: Clarimonde is described as extremely white, yet all her servants (slaves, according to Abbé Sérapion) are played up as being "swarthy", "bronzed", and in one case the word "negro" is dropped.
  • Mummies at the Dinner Table:
  • The Ophelia: Romuald's description of the dead/dying Clarimonde ticks all the boxes. Death is just a quirk to her beauty. Her stillness lends "her an unspeakably seductive aspect of melancholy, chastity, and mental suffering." And in her Regal Ringlets spread out like a pillow are little blue flowers intertwined.
  • Old Retainer: Romuald's predecessor had an elderly housekeeper, Barbara, he bequeathed all his possessions to. She'd been taking care of the presbytery until Romuald's arrival and he decides to keep her as his housekeeper so she doesn't have to move out.
  • Our Vampires Are Different:
    • What with "The Dead Leman" preceding so many establishing works of Vampire Fiction, of course she's not going to math what a vampire has become imagined to be. Her most curious trait is that her immortality is Resurrective Immortality rather than being The Ageless. She says that every so often, she is made to leave for a world where nothing is, but that she — and she alone — can will her soul back to her body.
    • On the other hand, Clarimonde's physical form is destroyed by holy water (for now). "The Dead Leman" may very well be the first instance of holy water being used against a vampire.
  • Runaway Bride: Invoked and played with. Romuald meets Clarimonde during his ordination and in that moment a ceremony he'd been looking forward to for years becomes a trap of which the end result will be that he can never be with her. As he continues with his vows still, he compares his situation to an unwilling bride (as well as an unwilling female novice), who despite not wanting her ceremony either goes through with it because of the insurmountable social pressure. He'd prefer to run too, but even with Clarimonde's encouragement he can't pull himself out of the happenings.
  • Telepathy:
  • Vampires Are Sex Gods: The first time Clarimonde dies during Romuald's lifetime, it is supposedly at the end of an orgy that lasted for eight days and eight nights

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