Schalken the Painter is a short story by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu included in the collection titled The Watcher, and other weird stories published in 1894. The story, however, is far older than that and was published for the first time in 1839 in the Dublin University Magazine.
Certainly better-known for authoring Carmilla, Le Fanu, as we’ll be seeing in the future, has published many other horror stories and contributed to building the character of the vampire that has been growing and expanding throughout the centuries. That is why, both here and thanks to the authors of Draculea, we could have never even thought of excluding him from a journey such as ours. Our pick is probably a lesser-known work, but even then, it deserves the same respect and possesses the same qualities as its more famous “cousin”.
Of course, before we proceed, we want to remind all our readers that this segment is a collaboration with the Bloody Reader blog and, if you speak Italian, we highly recommend you all read their article too.
Schalken the Painter – Plot
It’s the story of Godfried Schalken‘s first love and how he, following a series of unfortunate events, ended up losing her forever. A portrait is all the evidence left of the appearance of Rose Velderkaust and the sad destiny she encountered.
Schalken the Painter shows us a kind of vampire that, if not a little more contemporary, is definitely closer to the ones we are used to picturing. Very different from the other two we’ve seen in the previous stories, Vanderhausen comes across as much more devious than the dame with the white shoulders from Ken’s Mystery and less wild than the woman from The Singular Death of Morton. Moreover, it is the first male vampire we encounter in the collection. In addition, even though Le Fanu is Carmilla‘s creator, this vampire is much closer in resemblance to Lord Ruthven from Polidori‘s The Vampyre.
We gotta admit, he’s not particularly handsome on the outside but he does possess a certain charisma, together with an aura of uneasiness, that characterises these hellish creatures.
Just like Ruthven, this vampire is subtle in the way he carries out his plan, to the point of keeping his face hidden until the moment he manages to be promised Rose as a spouse, the woman Schalken is in love with. However, aside from the few moments in which he discusses the agreements and makes sure they are honoured, he doesn’t show up all that often in the story. He stays in the margins like a spectre whose presence you can sense, but never really see. Elusive but present at the same time.
Considering that this story is a lot earlier than Carmilla (1872), we can assume that the author is still delineating this character and in some ways making it his. Physically speaking, he’s much closer to the dead than it is to the living.
Godfried Schalcken and the role of art in horror stories
Godfried Schalcken, the protagonist of this story, was an actually existing painter. Le Fanu based the character on him and on his use of light in art to describe the work that functions as a background to the events. The painting becomes a starting point, an item that the author uses to tell his story. We’ve already seen something similar in Marghanita Laski‘s The Tower and a little bit even in Capuana‘s story, La Redenzione dei Capilavori.
Art is a medium that has always fascinated and struck a chord in humanity’s soul. The connection between different arts isn’t then something that we can take for granted. It becomes deep and capable of influencing in one direction or other, sometimes taking and sometimes giving. It’s not rare for painted art to result in works that are so magnificent as to seem alive or to capture the attention of other artists and authors. That’s definitely the case for Le Fanu, at least when it comes to this specific story.
And clearly, after mentioning painted art and literature, we cannot forget cinema. In fact, in 1979, a movie titled Shalcken the Painter was made by Leslie Megahey which was an accurate – extremely accurate indeed – adaptation of the story, but that’s a subject for another time.