The Family of the Vourdalak

The Family of the Vourdalak is a gothic novella by Aleksey Konstantinovich Tolstoy,[1] written in 1839 in French and originally entitled La Famille du Vourdalak. Fragment inedit des Memoires d’un inconnu. Tolstoy wrote it on a trip to France from Frankfurt, where he was attached to the Russian Embassy.

The Family of the Vourdalak
The Family of the Vourdalak 1st russian edition.png
The Family of the Vourdalak
AuthorAleksey Konstantinovich Tolstoy
Original titleLa Famille du Vourdalak
GenreGothic fiction
Publication date
1884 (Russian), 1950 (French)
Media typePrint (Paperback & Hardback)

It was translated into Russian by Boleslav Markevich, as "Семья вурдалака" (Sem'yá vurdaláka), published for the first time in The Russian Messenger in January, 1884.[1] The original French text appeared in print in 1950, in Revue des Etudes Slavs, vol.26.[2] The Reunion After Three Hundred Years (Les Rendez-vous Dans Trois Cent Ani) which was written at about the same time and which might be regarded as a sequel (for protagonist Marquis d'Urfe and Countess Grammon appear in it) first appeared in a compilation Le Poete Alexis Tolstoi by A.Lirondelle (Paris, 1912).[2]

The word vourdalak occurs first in Pushkin's work in the early 19th century, and was taken up in Russian literary language following Pushkin. It is a distortion of words referring to vampires (originally probably to werewolves) in Slavic and Balkan folklore – cf. Slavic vǎlkolak, volkodlak, volkolak, vukodlak, wurdulak, etc.; Romanian Vârcolac; and Greek Vrykolakas (both borrowed from the Slavic term).[3]

Plot summaryEdit

Marquis d'Urfé, a young French diplomat, finds himself in a small Serbian village, in the house of an old peasant named Gorcha. The host is absent: he left the house ten days ago along with some other men to hunt for a Turk outlaw Alibek. Upon leaving he told his sons, Georges[note 1] and Pierre,[note 2] that they should wait for him for ten days sharp and, should he come a minute later, kill him by driving a stake through his heart for then he’d be not a man but a vourdalak (vampire).

The day Marquis comes to the village is the tenth day of Gorcha's absence. The family awaits the hour with growing anxiety and there he is, appearing on the road at 8 o'clock in the evening, exactly on the time he left ten days ago. His sons are uncertain as to how this strange precision should be interpreted. Georges suspects his father became a vourdalak, Pierre insists otherwise. Then Georges' son dies inexplicably. The French diplomat has to leave the house and continue his travel.

Half a year later on his way back from his mission, d'Urfé returns to the village only to find it abandoned. Coming to the familiar house he stays for the night, being allured by Sdenka,[note 3] Gorcha's daughter he fell for during his first visit, who appears to dwell in the empty house. The moment comes when the Frenchman realizes he's fallen under the charms of a vampire. He makes an attempt to leave, comes under a massive attack of vourdalaks, all of the Gorcha family among them, and makes a miraculous escape, having to thank his own good luck and the agility of his horse.[4]

In filmEdit

The novella became the basis for "I Wurdulak", one of the three parts of Mario Bava's 1963 film Black Sabbath, featuring Boris Karloff.[5] The 1972 Italian/Spanish film The Night of the Devils was also based on Tolstoy's story.[6] A glancing reference to the novella occurs in Guy Wilson's 2012 film, Werewolf: The Beast Among Us; when an undead victim of a werewolf attack arises and is shot by the grandson of the Great Hunter who exclaims, "I hate goddamn Vourdalaks."

English translationEdit

  • Vampires: Stories of the Supernatural, Hawthorn Books, 1973. ISBN 080158292X


  1. ^ The Serbian form of the name would be Đorđe. The Russian translation uses Георгий (Georgiy).
  2. ^ The Serbian form of the name would be Petar or Pera. The Russian translation uses Пётр (Pyotr).
  3. ^ The Slavic form of the name would be Zdenka (Зденка), which is used in the Russian translation.


  1. ^ a b Joshi, S. T. (2010). Encyclopedia of the Vampire: The Living Dead in Myth, Legend, and Popular Culture. Greenwood Press. p. 326. ISBN 0313378339. Retrieved May 30, 2012.
  2. ^ a b Tolstoy, Aleksey (1964). Collected Works, Vol 3. Commentary by I. G. Yampolsky (in Russian). Moscow: State Publishing House. p. 565.
  3. ^ M. Fasmer, Etymological Dictionary Russian Language.
  4. ^ Толстой, Алексей Константинович. "Семья вурдалака". Retrieved 2012-03-01.
  5. ^ Lucas, Tim (2013). Commentary by Tim Lucas (DVD (Disc 2)). Arrow Films. Event occurs at 0:26:10. FCD778.
  6. ^ "Алексей Константинович Толстой". Retrieved 2012-03-01.

External linksEdit