Chapter 3: “Vampires:  Children of the Night”



I.                   Vampires as Symbols/Metaphors

a.       As early as the 18th century [actually there were examples of vampire folklore even before the Enlightenment Period; however, according to vampirologist Montague Summers, allusions to vampires were “accidental and occasional, rather than detailed and direct” (qtd. in Jones 73)], vampires in literature and film have symbolized an array of institutions and ideas:

                                                              i.        Vampires have been symbols for pestilence, disease, or invasion; for colonialism or nationalism (vampires and nationalists share the same language, the rhetoric of ‘blood and soil’; for gender relations or sexuality; for sexual repression, perversion, or dissidence; for class relations as the embodiment of aristocracy or as a metaphor for the ‘bloodsucking’ process of capitalism.

b.      As early as 1732, a correspondent in the Gentlemen’s Magazine, commenting on the current vampire epidemics in Eastern Europe, understood them quite clearly as articulating a political allegory (Jones 72).

II.                 Vampires: Folklore vs. Fiction

a.      The Enlightenment Period (1700s):

                                                               i.      During this period, vampires were seen as creatures of folklore—Europe’s periodic vampire crazes all took place during times of plague, when the massive number of deaths made it impossible for proper burials to take place.  Under these conditions, the bodies have a greater propensity to return, and importantly, their return is likely to be interpreted supernaturally, as embodiments of pestilence, returning from the grave to bring death to the community—with the vampires of folklore, supernatural explanations are offered for natural processes.

                                                             ii.      The last great vampire craze in Europe celebrated the case of the Serbian vampire Arnod Paole in 1727—according to the report, which, incidentally, serves as the first recorded English usage of the word “vampire” in 1732, a solider who returned from Turkey, died and rose from the grave to terrorize his village, being blamed for the death and subsequent return as vampires of 13 villagers.  After an official investigation of doctors, jurists, and military officers, all concluded that Paole’s vampirism was to blame, and as a result, all vampires need to be disinterred, beheaded, and burnt, and their ashes scattered in the river.

                                                            iii.      This report claimed the existence of vampires to be a fact in law, and as a result, the Catholic Church also had to account for the presence of vampires.

1.      In 1746, Augustin Calmet, a Benedictine scholar, published a treatise on vampires, later translated into English as The Phantom World, which formulated a theoretical response to vampire outbreaks (Jones 75)

2.      Calmet outlined what he saw as the three possible causes of vampirism:

a.       The vampires are not really dead, but have been buried alive

b.      They are caused by God

c.        They are caused by a demon.

Of these causes, Calmet favored the first option—deeming the problem to be human error, not divine intervention. 

3.      Calmet concluded his treatise by suggesting the existence of vampires “are totally without solid proof . . . and bolder and more proficient minds [should] resolve [the issue]” (qtd. in Jones 76)

b.      The Romantic Period (early 1800s)

                                                               i.      Vampires moved from a creature of folklore to one of literature

                                                             ii.      Romantics conflated two distinct supernatural entities:

1.      A corpse returned from the grave, usually in search of blood

2.      The demon lover—the nightly visitant in the form of nightmares who simultaneously removed both their victims’ semen or chastity (depends on gender) and their souls

                                                            iii.      The Romantic Period was, in many ways a response to the Enlightenment Period.  Where the Enlightenment valued reason, order, modernity, Romanticism focused more on the irrational, imagination, chaos and the past.  The Romantic Gothic literature served as a negative image of Enlightenment ideals.

                                                           iv.      During this period,  “graveyard poetry” emerged from poets such as Coleridge and Byron, many of which featured vampires or vampiric images:

1.      Lord Byron’s “The Giaour”

                                                             v.      However, the emergence of the vampire as the decadent, sexualized aristocrat was really established with the publication of Dr. John

Polidori’s The Vampyre in 1819.  This novella was actually produced during the celebrated summer of gothic writing at the Villa Diodati in

1816 during which Mary Shelley also produced Frankenstein.  Many claimed Byron to be the true author of this text.

c.  The Victorian Period (late 1800s)

            i.  Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897)

                                    1.  From its very beginnings as a literary trope, vampirism has always been used as a vehicle for encoded articulations of sexuality and

desire, and more importantly, of articulating homosexual desire.  Dracula, certainly, is no exception.  This novel indulges the Victorian male imagination, particularly regarding the topic of female sexuality. In Victorian England, women’s sexual behavior was dictated by society’s extremely rigid expectations. A Victorian woman effectively had only two options: she was either a virgin—a model of purity and innocence—or else she was a wife and mother. If she was neither of these, she was considered a whore, and thus of no consequence to society.  By the time Dracula lands in England and begins to work his evil magic on Lucy Westenra, we understand that the impending battle between good and evil will hinge upon female sexuality. Both Lucy and Mina are less like real people than two-dimensional embodiments of virtues that have, over the ages, been coded as female. Both women are chaste, pure, innocent of the world’s evils, and devoted to their men. But Dracula threatens to turn the two women into their opposites, into women noted for their voluptuousness—a word Stoker turns to again and again—and unapologetically open sexual desire.

2.      The men in the novel are intensely invested in the women’s sexual behavior because they are afraid of associating with the socially

scorned. In fact, the men fear for nothing less than their own safety. Late in the novel, Dracula mocks Van Helsing’s crew, saying, “Your girls that you all love are mine already; and through them you and others shall yet be mine.” Here, the count voices a male fantasy that has existed since Adam and Eve were turned out of Eden: namely, that women’s ungovernable desires leave men poised for a costly fall from grace.

3.      Other Victorian Ideals/Concerns Dracula employs are:

a.       The Consequences of Modernity

b.      The Promise of Christian Salvation