Gods and monsters slip through the pages of history as civilization devises new ways to annihilate itself. In the political clime of 1611, when Hapsburgs, Turks and Hungarians jockey for power, the daughter of an important family is betrothed to Count Ferenc Bathony. Showing little interest in his wife until he catches her viciously punishing a female servant in public, Ferenc is finally curious about the woman he has married. Perhaps the battle-scarred husband recognizes something dark in the countess. Brutality is endemic to survival, the necessity of keeping the servants in line the responsibility of wives while their husbands are away fighting. But whatever seed blooms in the cold heart of Erzsebet Bathony, it is nurtured in the dead of night in uncontrollable rages with whip in hand.
An uneventful childhood, the accoutrements of privilege, an education: all recommend the countess for her position as mate to a powerful man. More troubling is her instinct for choosing quiet, obedient servants, women who not only follow instructions but understand the nuances of those orders. Her deeds finally brought to the attention of the king’s officers, Countess Blood’s atrocities are revealed and she is walled inside her own castle, unrepentant, to finish out her days: “I cursed God that ever I had been born a woman.” After her death, a manuscript is found clutched to her chest, this novel her account to her son of the true story of her infamy. Over thirty-five servants died as a result of the countess’s excessive punishments.
One of Bram Stoker’s inspirations for his time-warping Dracula, the Blood Countess is an historical anomaly, a female serial killer bred in the wilds of Transylvania in a barbaric era where wealth buys the silence of witnesses until the number of bodies becomes too outrageous to ignore. Ironically, throughout the novel, Bathony sees herself as the injured party: “Since I was a young girl, I never had a moment’s peace with my servants.” It is the servants who are disrespectful, thieving and given to low morals. Bathony is literally without conscience, a qualifier for the label of sociopathic murderer.
History is littered with women forced to do whatever necessary to survive in a man’s world, but there is no such excuse for a titled countess who has undergone few trials in her life and only the occasional inconvenience. While the actual story is shocking, the Erzsebet Bathony’s beatings to the point of death are banal in the telling, of little import save the dilemma of disposing of bodies. This Blood Countess inspires no pity, her story strangely flat, ultimately as soulless as her existence. Stoker was inspired to rise above the sheer bloodiness of multiple deaths, imbuing his monster with a dark attractiveness that is utterly lacking in this pale conceit.