Literary Analysis — The Pale Lady: The Carpathian Mountains

Romanian Carpathian Mountains covered by night fog.

The Pale Lady is a work from the collection of supernatural tales titled The Thousand and One Ghosts, written by Alexandre Dumas in collaboration with Paul Bocage and Paul Lacroix in 1849. 

The story of The Pale Lady was, probably, entirely written by Paul Bocage.

Paul Romain Touzé, known as Paul Bocage, was a French novelist, playwright, and librettist born in Paris on March 11, 1822, and died on September 25, 1887, in the same city. 


The story of The Pale Lady is notable for its many Gothic elements and because it's one of the first classic vampire stories in modern literature. 

Kostaki is a Romanian vampire written under the vision of Orthodox Christianity, characterized by being a vampire who isn't immortal as most modern vampires are. The classic Orthodox vampire can survive up to fifteen days after his human death. The victim of his love can live after being kissed by a creature of the darkness.

In the story, there's a defined struggle between the divine and dark force represented in two half-siblings descended from the Brankovan lineage: Grégoriska —associated with the sacred— and Kostaki —associated with the profane. 

The Brankovan lineage is cursed up to the third and fourth generation because a Brankovan killed a priest, consecrating the family to Satan, and sentencing his descendants to become vampires once dead as humans.

Even though the curse runs in the family, those who are victims of the Brankovan vampires have no more than fifteen days to live. To avoid that deadly fate, the victim must first prove that she has the will to live and consecrate herself to God, things Hedwige must do to survive. There's also a third step that consists of applying the vampire's blood mixed with earth in the zone the vampire bit.

Grégoriska, Hedwige's romantic interest, expresses a liberating love for her and helps her break the curse. He's an angelic-like character whose mission is to protect Hedwige and free her from evil by getting rid of Kostaki. Kostaki doesn't want to stop worshiping Satan. He wants to take her with him to the abyss as an expression of his tyrannical love.

The description of the landscapes is of particular interest, as it aims to create a representation of the abyss, the underworld, and the limbo that separates it from the realm of mortals. 

Hedwige mentions certain rivers to give the reader an idea that she's debating between life and death as she escapes Poland and ventures through the Carpathians, to the Sahastru monastery. At the same time, they refer to the division between the surface and hell. 

Hell is symbolically portrayed in the story by an abyss crossed by an unnamed river. Kostaki and his bandits capture Hedwige and her escorts in that place.

Coincidentally, Kostaki is the master of the forests surrounding the Brankovan castle and the abyss in which he finds Hedwige. Symbolically, the forests represent danger and the unknown. Kostaki is the master of them, establishing himself as a dark figure. 

As if the description of the landscapes weren't enough to create a hellish setting, the bandits who accompany Kostaki wear ram skins alluding to Satanism. The contrast grows when Grégoriska is compared to the archangel St. Michael and exterminating angel.

The Pale Lady is a work that picks up the myth of the first vampires from a Christian perspective and is one of the few paranormal works that Dumas and his collaborators wrote.

Chapter 1: The Carpathian Mountains

Summary: Hedwige is a Polish noblewoman who escapes on her way to the monastery of Sahastru, located in the Carpathians of Romania, due to political tensions between her country and Russia.

Her older and younger brothers have died in battle against the Russians, and her father returned to his castle to take refuge and await death there. Wanting to protect his daughter from slavery, he chose ten soldiers to escort her to her destination.

On their way, Hedwige and his men are ambushed and attacked in the Romanian Carpathians by bandits led by a twenty-two-year-old man named Kostaki.

To their rescue, Grégoriska, a twenty-four-year-old man, appears and negotiates Hedwige's and her escorts' freedom and protection with Kostaki. 

When Hedwige sees Grégoriska, she hears a shot and faints from the commotion. She recovers consciousness a bit later, in Grégoriska's legs. She hears how Kostaki reluctantly agrees with his brother's request and claims Hedwige will be his, as he has conquered her on his lands. However, Grégoriska refuses to abandon Hedwige and tells him he'll take her to the castle and hand her over to his mother.

From that moment on, Hedwige is attracted to her protector, Grégoriska, and feels a deep disdain for Kostaki.

Style: The concepts of friend and foe, followed by tyranny and freedom, act as contrasts between good and evil. Hedwige immediately mentions them all to explain how the two forces constantly clash and how she can recognize both.

Subsequently, at the end of the first chapter, two very different characters are introduced: Grégoriska and Kostaki, each of them becoming a representative of good and evil.

Another literary device that contrasts good and evil is the detailed geographical description of the places Hedwige travels through as she and her escorts escape from Poland to the Romanian Carpathians. The mention of rivers announces that she's between life and death. And, as she approaches a mountainous place and falls into an abyss, she implies she has fallen into a hellish place. 

It's necessary to notice that the description of the bandits accompanying Kostaki alludes to the rams, a direct reference to the inhabitants of hell, Kostaki being their leader, becoming a leader of demons. 

On the other hand, Grégoriska is both a savior and protector who negotiates Hedwige's and her companion's lives, becoming something close to a guardian angel.

Another observation is that Hedwige describes Kostaki as a young man whose nature is demoniac. His black hair and black eyes point out a soulless figure. But when she talks about Grégoriska, he becomes a different figure. He's a blond, blue-eyed man whose nature is divine; nothing like Kostaki.

Point of View: First person. Hedwige is the one who narrates the story.

Tone: Fearless

Transversal literary devices:

  • Transversal Themes:
    • Friendship and Enmity
    • Freedom and Tyranny
  • Transversal Symbols:
    • Abyss
    • Forests
    • Castle
    • Monastery
    • Black color
    • Golden color

Mutable literary devices:

  • Symbols
    • Rivers
    • Ram skins
    • Bellflowers
Chapter theme:
  • Danger and Safety

Conflict: Danger vs. Safety

Thematic Elements:

  • Danger vs. Safety: 
    • Hedwige escapes the danger that surrounds her and runs away to the Sandomierz monastery in Romania, where she can be safe. 
    • Ambushed by Kostaki and his bandits, Hedwige is rescued by Grégoriska, moving from danger to safety.
    • Hedwige is led from the forests to the castle, passing from Kostaki's hellish forests to her destination, where Grégoriska —linked to a divine figure— offers her protection.
  • Friendship and Enmity:
    • Given the historical context, Poland and Russia are enemies.
    • The half-siblings Grégoriska and Kostaki are enemies. However, they offer Hedwige a helping hand.
  • Freedom and Tyranny:
    • For Hedwige, falling into the hands of the Russians means living as a disgraced slave, so her father orders her to run away and remain free.
    • Kostaki claims Hedwige against her wishes, while Grégoriska offers her freedom within the castle, respecting her will and saving her from Kostaki's whims.


  • Abyss: Symbolizes hell. Hedwige and her escorts are ambushed while crossing the bottom of an abyss through which a river flows. That river symbolizes the thin line between life and death.
  • Forests: Symbolize the wild, the unknown, the mysterious, and danger. Kostaki is the master of the forest. He's wild and represents a great danger, as he's a leader of bandits who wear ram skins. Kostaki is a leader of demons whose lands are the forests surrounding an abyss. In other words, the forests represent unknown corners and dangers of hell.
  • Castle: Unlike the danger that forests represent, the castle symbolizes safety. Castles are constructions built primarily to protect against enemies. As Grégoriska is the master of the castle and offers Hedwige refuge in it, he keeps her safe from the dangers of hell and its demons. 
  • Monastery: Represents the house of God, the sacred, and the divine. Just as the castle is a physical protection from the dangers of the forest, the monastery is a divine protection from the power of darkness, which figuratively represents the abyss and the forests surrounding the castle.
  • Black color: Represents death, darkness, and death. Bluish black, a shade mentioned in the Morlach song, is later used to describe Kostaki's hair color.
  • Golden color: It represents the divine and protection. This is the color used to define Grégoriska. His hair is blonde, and he wears royal rings on his hands. 
  • Rings: Symbolize royalty and authority.
  • Rivers: The river symbolizes limbo, the line between life and death. Hedwige travels long distances and mentions the rivers Vistula and Bistriţa. In addition, she mentions smaller rivers that break off or join them and describes an unnamed one that passes through the bottom of the abyss in which she's ambushed along with her escorts. The presence of rivers and the great focus on geographical descriptions convey to the reader that Hedwige is at risk of death throughout her journey. She continues to run it even when rescued by Grégoriska, for the castle is the only refuge amidst hell and the dangers of death surrounding it.
  • Ram skins: They represent the cult of the Devil and his followers. Kostaki's bandits wear these skins and follow him, implying that Kostaki is symbolically a demon.
  • Bellflowers: Being white, they symbolize two things relevant to the story: death and lasting love. These flowers can also be a foreshadowing element. Although they represent death, they also foreshadow the love that will be born between Grégoriska and Hedwige, and how Kostaki's feelings will remain even after his death.


  • Carpathian Mountains: 1,700 kilometers long and 150 kilometers wide, it surrounds Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, and northern Hungary, being the second largest mountain range in Europe after the Scandinavian Alps.
  • Vistula River: It's the most important river in Poland. It flows into the Baltic Sea.
  • Bistriţa River: Located in eastern Romania, it flows through the former region of Moldavia, making its way through the Carpathian Mountains.
  • Sandomierz: City located in eastern Poland. 


  • November Uprising and Decembrist Revolt of 1825: Hedwige escapes from Poland, as her family rebelled against the new czar of Russia, Nicholas I. Analyzing the events between the two countries, apparently, there's a mistake in the dates in the story, since Tsar Nicholas I came to power on December 1, 1825, and not in July as Hedwige relates when fleeing. 
  • Vampire Myth: The vampire is an undead being, but not immortal. According to Orthodox tradition, the vampire survives only for fifteen days (*), as announced in the Morlach song that Hedwige's escorts sing shortly before being ambushed by Kostaki and his bandits.
    (*): Read the reference at the bottom.
  • Abyss: Reference to hell.
  • Rams: Reference to the demons that inhabit hell.
  • Archangel Michael: Chief of the heavenly militia. He offers protection against the perversity and wiles of the Devil. Hedwige associates Grégoriska with this archangel, becoming a character with a divine connection, unlike his brother Kostaki, who's related to the infernal.


  • Morlach song: Hedwige's escorts sing this song upon arriving in the Romanian Carpathians. It tells of a curse that falls upon a bandit who has renounced God, and that comes back to life three days after death. The song mentions the vampire's blue eyes, which are so dark blue that they are almost black. In chapter 2, they can be related to Kostaki's physical description, as he has blue-black eyes and hair. 
    • In the marshes of Stavila,
      Many warriors shed their blood.
      You see that body near the wood?
      That’s no son of proud Illyria,
      That’s a brigand filled with ire
      Who lied to Mary: hateful liar!
      And massacred with sword and fire.

      A bullet through the brigand’s heart
      Did sweep like a great hurricane,
      His throat was slit by a yataghan
      But for three days, O mystery!
      Beneath the sad and lonely pine tree,
      His warm blood drenched the black and thirsty
      Soil, and darkened Ovigan.

      His blue eyes now no more will gleam.
      Let’s all take flight; and woe on him
      Who walks the marshes near to him.
      He is a vampire! The wild wolf
      The ferocious wolf moves away from the impure corpse,
      and the funereal vulture flees to the mountain of bald frontis.


  • Hedwige: The protagonist of the story. A Polish noblewoman born in Sandomierz. Due to the tensions between Poland and Russia in 1825, and because Hedwige's family had rebelled against Tsar Nicholas I, her elder and younger brothers died in battle against the Russians. Her father, hoping she would live an honorable life as a free woman, sends her to refuge in the monastery of Sahastru in the Romanian Carpathians.

    Hedwige sets off with ten escorts chosen by her father and goes deep into the Carpathian Mountains. On their way, they see rivers and travel through forests until they reach an abyss in which bandits ambush them. Hedwige is undeterred and leads by example, holding a pistol. However, when some of her escorts are wounded, she faints, unable to bear the tension.

    When she regains consciousness, she wakes up lying on Grégoriska's lap, the bandit leader's brother. He negotiates Hedwige's freedom, and Kostaki reluctantly agrees to his request. But although Hedwige won't go to the cavern, Kostaki claims her as his woman. However, Grégoriska remarks she'll be taken to the castle and that their mother will take care of her.

    Kostaki takes Hedwige on his horse, but Hedwige cannot take her eyes off Grégoriska, with whom she has fallen in love at first sight.
  • Grégoriska: The deuteragonist of the story. He's Kostaki's elder brother, and the one that prevents Kostaki and his bandits from killing Hedwige's escorts and her being sent to the cavern. Grégoriska convinces his brother to take Hedwige to the castle —of which he's the master— and leave her under their mother's care.
    Hedwige describes him as a 24-year-old man with long blond hair, white skin, and light blue eyes. She also compares him to the archangel St. Michael.
    As his protector, Hedwige is immediately drawn to him.
  • Kostaki: The antagonist of the story. He's Grégoriska's younger brother and her complete opposite. Kostaki is a bandit leader and master of the forest. Upon seeing Hedwige and her men enter his lands, he ambushes them to defend them. Kostaki intends to take Hedwige to the cave and make her his woman, but Grégoriska thwarts his plans and decides to take her to the castle. Not satisfied with the turn of events, Kostaki returns to the castle with his brother while carrying Hedwige. On his way, Kostaki notices Hedwige stares at Grégoriska and, feeling jealous, forces her to look at him instead.

    Hedwige describes Kostaki as a 22-year-old pale man with wavy blue-black hair and dark eyes. He has a lightning gaze, capable of penetrating the viscera and the heart.
  • Hedwige's father: A high-ranking nobleman who rebelled against the new Russian Tsar. Having lost his sons in battle, he doesn't want his daughter Hedwige to suffer the same fate. Or even worse: slavery. To save her life, he chooses ten of his soldiers to help her reach the Sahastru monastery in the Romanian Carpathians. 
  • Hedwige's brothers: Hedwige is the middle child of three brothers. Her older and younger brothers die fighting against the Russians.
  • Hedwige's escorts: Ten men accompany her through the Carpathians. One of them is mortally wounded by Kostaki's bandits, and another is wounded in the arm. They all go free after Grégoriska convinces Kostaki to let them go.
  • Kostaki's bandits: They're about thirty men who wear sheepskins. Although Kostaki is their leader, they respect Grégoriska because he is the eldest and master of the castle.

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