Antonia Douro

Overbearing Woman Who Asked for It

Countess Dracula: The Life and Times of Elisabeth Bathory, The Blood Countess

By Tony Thorne

Bloomsbury 288pp £16.99 order from our bookshop

Elisabeth Bathory, a seventeenth-century Hungarian magnate, was accused of torture, serial killing and witchcraft: accused that is, but never tried. Her story was hushed up in such a way as to make it one of the crucial sources for the archetypal mythology of the vampire. This book, Tony Thorne promises, is for ‘the vampire enthusiast, the armchair time-traveller, amateur detective and the simply curious’. He should have added, ‘and skip chapter two if you are of the faint-hearted’. In the interests of authenticity (one hopes) we are treated to a seemingly unexpurgated chapter of confessions, testimonies and accusations, mostly extorted under torture (which sort and whose common practice are painfully explained). This part is not the ‘Sublime of Terror’ (central to gothic fiction) but a courtroom transcript of evidence given in a trial of alleged inhuman crimes. That these accusations are brilliantly deconstructed and eventually debunked does nothing for the dismay with which this reader read them.

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