Media Review


Philip Burne-Jones painting,’ The Vampire’

In April of 1897 artist Philip Burne-Jones unveiled his painting, ‘The Vampire’ at the New Gallery’s exhibition in London’s Regent Street.
Burne-Jones had been infatuated with actress Beatrice Tanner- better known as Mrs. Patrick Campbell. The actress had rejected Burne-Jones’ advances. The artist retaliated by painting her as a “vampire”, a woman both fascinating and cruel, who uses her beauty and wits to lure male prey to their doom.

The painting:


Rudyard Kipling’s poem ‘The Vampire’

Burne-Jones’ cousin, Rudyard Kipling, wrote a poem also entitled ‘The Vampire’ which was intended to gain publicity for the painting.

The poem:

A fool there was and he made his prayer
(Even as you or I!)
To a rag and a bone and a hank of hair,
(We called her the woman who did not care),
But the fool he called her his lady fair—
(Even as you or I!)

Oh, the years we waste and the tears we waste,
And the work of our head and hand
Belong to the woman who did not know
(And now we know that she never could know)
And did not understand!

A fool there was and his goods he spent,
(Even as you or I!)
Honour and faith and a sure intent
(And it wasn’t the least what the lady meant),
But a fool must follow his natural bent
(Even as you or I!)

Oh, the toil we lost and the spoil we lost
And the excellent things we planned
Belong to the woman who didn’t know why
(And now we know that she never knew why)
And did not understand!

The fool was stripped to his foolish hide,
(Even as you or I!)
Which she might have seen when she threw him aside—
(But it isn’t on record the lady tried)
So some of him lived but the most of him died—
(Even as you or I!)

And it isn’t the shame and it isn’t the blame
That stings like a white-hot brand—
It’s coming to know that she never knew why
(Seeing, at last, she could never know why)
And never could understand!

Fox Film Studio’s “A Fool There Was”

The 1915 silent film, ‘A Fool There Was’, inspired by Kipling’s poem, tells the story of a family man- an ‘everyman’- who meets a beautiful, evil, predatory woman- referred to only as ‘The Vampire Woman’- who crushes his soul, tears his family apart, and takes both his money and his dignity.
‘A Fool There Was’ was not the first film to portray a femme fatale, but the movie’s star turned the character of ‘The Vamp’ into a cultural phenomenon.

Theda Bara, ‘The Vamp’

File:Theda Bara in vampire pose, 1918.jpg

“To be good is to be forgotten. I’m going to be so bad I’ll always be remembered.”

Theda Bara

Theodosia Goodman was born on July 22, 1890 in Cincinnati to Jewish immigrants. After attending the University of Cincinnati for two years, Theodosia went into acting. She changed her name to Theda Bara.
Director Frank Powell cast 29-year-old Theda to star in his Fox Film Studio silent movie ‘A Fool There Was’.

When Fox released ‘A Fool There Was’, studio press agents hosted an event in Chicago to introduce Bara to the public.
The press agents made Theodosia look exotic by dressing her in furs, jewelry, and shimmering gowns that played to her voluptuous figure.
Theodosia accented her wide eyes with heavy kohl- a charcoal based mascara.

The studio publicity agents pointed out that ‘Theda Bara’ was an anagram for ‘Arab Death’. They also created an exotic backstory for her. Theda’s mother, they claimed, was a French actress, and her father an Italian sculptor. Theda Bara had been born “in the shadow of the Sphinx.” She was practiced in the occult and may have been reincarnated several times. Theda would give press interviews in total darkness.
The Hollywood press referred to her ‘ The Devil’s Handmaiden’, ‘The Priestess of Sin’, ‘The Queen of Vampires’, ‘The Arch-Torpedo of Domesticity’‘ and ‘The Wickedest Woman in the World’.
Theda Bara personified ‘The Vamp’.

Vamp archetype

‘A Fool There Was’ came out in 1915, several years before women won the right to vote. Some men at that time were threatened by women who fought against the constraints of Victorian society.
The early 29th century Women’s Rights movement and the character of the vamp were intertwined. For some men the message was that feminism equals evil. To them the vamp stereotype represented hostile sexism which , “entails antagonistic beliefs that women are domineering and try to control men sexually.”
The character archetype of the femme fatale vampire was a popular- and feared- character in art, literature, and cinema. Theda Bara’s vamp was the very image of sex used for evil purposes, in an era of rigid codes for moral, spiritual, and social behavior.

After World War One, a sexual revolution occurred with Victorian standards of behavior going out of fashion, replaced by independent women.
Bara’s dark eroticism of the ‘Vamp’ was overshadowed in popular culture by Jazz Age flappers like Clara Bow and Colleen Moore.

Today, the Goth subculture models its iconic female fashion style after Theda Bara’s ‘Vamp’ look.

The vamp who uses her sexual attractiveness for the seduction and manipulation also lives on for insecure men who refer to a strong woman as being a seductress, temptress, femme fatale, siren, tramp, or even the Biblical Delilah or Jezebel.

Bara’s character was an exotic threat because she treated men the way cads had always treated women. As Theda Bara said,

“The vampire that I play is the vengeance of my sex upon its exploiters…”

Theda Bar

Thanks and a tip of the hat to Wikimedia for the images.,_1918.jpg

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