By Cristina Santos
Paper given at Monsters and the Monstrous: 6th Global Conference (2008)
Introduction: The legend of the Countess Erzsébeth Bathory presents a unique case in which the fictional elements of vampire and witch folklore combine with true historical facts to create the quasi-mythical figure of the Bloody Countess. Alejandra Pizarnik wrote the short story “La condesa sangrienta” (1968, “The Bloody Countess”) based on the historical figure of the Countess Erzsébet Bathory as compiled in the socio-historical text The Bloody Countess: Atrocities of Erzsébet Bathory by Valentine Penrose. In addition, Andrei Codrescu, using Hungarian archival documents, writes the novel The Blood Countess in 1995. Even though Pizarnik is transparent about the fictionality of her text, Codrescu’s truth claim of basing his “novel” on historical documents does not make his text any more historically reliable than Pizarnik’s. Therefore, today’s presentation will focus primarily on a discussion of the historical text as well as the two fictional texts and the film Eternal (Canada, 2004) and how the “monstrous” character of the Bloody Countess is a product not only of her murdering over 650 virgins but also of her various sexual perversions and psychopathic madness. The weaving and inter-weaving of history, fiction and popular culture will be key to examining how the “monstrous” characterization of Bathory is unfairly and predominantly linked to her sexual deviance: her suspected lesbianism, her marital infidelities and an overall deviation from the proscribed role for women in her society and culture.
The Penrose text provides the reader with the historical context and events in the life of Elizabeth Bathory and the very text that the Argentinean Pizarnik reveals as the foundation for her fictional short story “The Bloody Countess”. By examining and comparing these two texts one will note an interesting relationship between history and fiction in the appropriation of the figure of Elizabeth as the Bloody Countess into popular culture. Basing ourselves on Penrose’s presuppositions provided in his historical document on Elizabeth, one can attribute the origin of Elizabeth’s vicious homicidal behaviour to the environment in to which she was born. Specifically: she was a child of aristocratic inbreeding during a time of warfare where torture and violence were an everyday occurrence that was able to indulge in a life of privilege as well as sexual and intellectual freedom that her social ranking allowed her.