blood and vampires

Satantra's Cathedral

Vampires in Literature by Sarah Abrahams
Vampire: Historical Origins

The image of the vampire has a long and complicated history. Many different cultures have a notion of a vampire-like character within their respective mythologies. In order to understand a modern critique of the vampire as a figure representing an array of subverted meanings, it might first be appropriate to provide a summary of vampire figures in a variety of cultural perspectives, noting both their differences and similarities. The vampire image, in a more basic sense, represents our human preoccupation with death, blood and darkness. With the advent of modern science, many of the mystical beliefs surrounding blood were abandoned. "Blood was the sight of death" (Leatherdale 16). "The concept of the vampire is founded upon two precepts: the belief in life after death, and the magical power of blood" (Leatherdale 15). The connection between the mysticism of blood and death is one founded upon observation. "Blood was the sight of death" (Leatherdale 16).
Blood

Blood has throughout history served many purposes. It was believed that both "human strength and health resided within blood" (Leatherdale 16). Blood had the power to sustain life as well as "[consuming] [it] could restore, rejuvenate, bring back life" (Leatherdale 17). The connection between blood and life is a complicated one. Blood is present in female menstruation, a symbol of the transition into adulthood, as well as in the breaking of the hymen. Blood is also present in the birth of a child. Clearly this has significance within the vampire legend.
The Living Dead

Along with notions of the magical properties of blood lied a fear in the 'living dead.' As humans have known that death is inevitable, the land of the dead seemed to be a place apart, governed by its own customs and laws of nature, which the living could not penetrate but to which they were inexorably drawn in the course of time. In certain periods of history, especially periods of disease (the plague, and more recently AIDS) humans became even more aware of the presence of death within their own communities. Because in some respects, death is the inexplicable other, humans seem to have to formed a sort of dualism where the living and the world in which they operate appears on one side and the dead the world in which they operate appears on the other.
The near universally-held belief in these two supposed laws of nature-the rejuvenating power of blood and the presumption of life after death-meant that the product of their combination (the vampire) was equally universal. The presence of the vampire can be located within a wide array of cultures.
The Transcultural Presence of the Vampire

* ┬ĚChinese tales spoke of blood-sucking creatures that were green, covered with mold, and which had a propensity to glow in the dark.
* The Melanesian talamaur-known as the soul of the dead which preyed on the ebbing vitality of the dying.
* In India, Kali is revered as a blood-sucking mother goddess of disease, war, and death. Siva is identified with ghoulish (flesh-eating) propensities.
* In Africa, the Ashanti's asambosam, likes to suck blood through the thumbs of the sleeping. Rather than feet, asabosam stands on a pair of books.
* West Indies lore contains the loogaroo (from the French expression for werewolf- loup garou) who, disguised as an old woman, in a pact with the devil, sheds her skin and reforms as a blob of light in order to draw blood .
* A jaracara, in Brazil, resembles a snake and seeks either blood or breast milk.
* In Europe, the vampire concept seems to have developed from idea of the succubus-a female entity who would seduce young men in their sleep and "withdraw their vital fluids at the moment of peak distraction during climax." The incubus, the male counterpart associated with the devil, "would impregnate suitable female victims, such as witches" (Leatherdale 20). It is interesting to note here that only the female vampire acts out the withdrawal of essential liquid. The male vampire only serves to assist in the creation of new demonic creatures.

Though I will focus on the European history and literature of the vampire, there seems to be vampiric figures (in some form) in the folklore or religion of almost every culture.
The Vampire in Victorian Literature

In the Victorian period, the image of the vampire became a popular one. Bram Stoker's Dracula, published in 1897, most centrally explored the idea of vampirism as an interesting and complex image within literature. From Stoker's work came the figure of Dracula, who's continued portrayal in literature and film is proof of transcendence from mere literary figure to cultural icon. The Bronte's Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights both make direct allusion to the vampire. In Jane Eyre particularly, the character of Bertha Mason is described with reference to vampirism.
Vlad Tepes- Vlad The Impaler

There has been much speculation over the creation of the vampire Dracula. Historicists have discovered the life of Vlad Tepes (Vlad the Impaler) as a potential inspiration for Bram Stoker's work and other European vampire lore. Bram Stoker occupies a large portion of Dracula to a detailed description of Romania and the conflicts surrounding the Turks. The story presented by Stoker is Vlad Tepes', other similarities can be located elsewhere in Tepes' military flair for violence and the absolutely gory nature of his destruction of his country's enemies. One scene depicted by artists, show Vlad the Impaler seated and dining among the skewered corpses of his enemies. Tepes' connections to the character of Dracula, though, are otherwise difficult to discern, though his political exile, like Dracula's societal exile, may be another area of potential similarity.
Representations of Vampirism and the Critics

There has been a long history of critical exploration in attempts to undercover the symbolic significance of the vampire. In terms of the girlhood narrative and issues of women in literature, three main themes appear most prominent and most often, all of which are based in a form of psychoanalytic theory.

Vampirism has long had associations with female sexuality. In Bram Stoker's Dracula, for example, Dracula's vampiric women epitomize the threat/fear of unleashed female sexuality. In the Victorian period, specifically with the appearance of what was called the "New Woman" (Victorian women who were more financially and emotionally independent from their families and men), the dangers of female sexuality became an issue of urgency. Traditionalists of the period worried that with women's newfound independence, these women would be more likely to explore their sexuality in ways that were considered inappropriate for women.

When one examines the specifics of dangerous female sexuality, one notices a fear of excess. The possibility of women having the potential to experience an eroticized way of life and a sexuality not limited to genital contact becomes extremely dangerous to patriarchal power. The ability for women to enact a polymorphous type of sexuality enables them, and empowers them. In order for patriarchal systems to remain in control, they insist on labeling and attempting to teach society that this form of sexuality is unhealthy and abnormal. Indeed, much of the image of the vampire deals with issues of taboo nature.

The second theme most often discussed in recent literature criticism of works containing vampire (or vampire-like) figures is the notion of gender inversion and homoeroticism. Much has been speculated with reference to Bram Stoker's Dracula, as to the autobiographical nature of the work considering the connection of the Oscar Wilde trial (with which Bram Stoker was quite close) and Dracula's creation. Considering the nearly simultaneous occurrence of the two, it seems logical to examine the vampire as a possible figure of homosexuality. Following Freud's theories, some have argued for the vampire as a sort of infant, stuck permanently in the oral phase and forced to attempt adult sexuality through it.

Images of incest are another theme of criticism of vampires in literature. In Ken Gelder's Reading the Vampire, he explains this psychosexual reading as an "ambivalent impulse of the child towards its mother" (Gelder 68). If one accepts the idea that Bram Stoker's Dracula can be interpreted through a reading of the psychosexual, the interpretations made by critics such as Twitchell, Astle, and Jackson all support the "re-enactment of that killing of the primal father who has kept all the women to himself" (Gelder 68). In Phyllis A Roth's piece "Suddenly Sexual Women in Bram Stoker's Dracula," this intepretation is extended to include what Roth explains as "the hatred of the mother"-"the Oedipal rivalry among sons and between the son and the father for the affections of the mother" (Roth 60).

All three themes reiterate one central theme-the vampire as highly sexual. In terms of Jane Eyre, one can see how Bertha's description as vampire-like makes sense considering her punishment for "uncivilized" and unladylike sexuality. In Wuthering Heights also, as a symbol of the undead, the vampire image appears in reference to Catherine, the ghost who haunts Heathcliff for his passionate cruelty.
Vampires in Modern Fiction

The vampire continues to be a popular image in fiction. The popularity of Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles have spawned a group of modern day vampire groupies who gather near Rice's home in New Orleans. In relation to gender, Rice interprets the vampire as a definite figure of homosexuality. Within a personal and bibliographical context, it has been said that Rice's Vampire Chronicles were the result of the loss of a child. In dealing with her grief, she became obsessed with ideas of the undead and of the possibilities of eternal life. In Salem Lot, Stephen King continues the vampires in literature tradition. In King's work, though, he acknowledges the current popularity of the horror genre by telling the tale of a group of boys in modern America. As a small American town, King uses Salem's Lot as a site of particular vulnerability to the threat of vampires. Its isolation from larger society makes it an easy target.
Conclusion

As one uncovers the web-like variety in vampire related criticism, it becomes more and more clear that the reason the vampire image has remained so powerful is in it's ability to transcend a single meaning. In this way, the vampire's fluidity and multifaceted nature allows malleability in interpretations that fit all different sorts of critical thought. Most recently, in the wake of the AIDS epidemic and the gay rights movement, vampires have symbolized (for some) homosexual desire at its most potentially dangerous. Yet, when analyzed within the larger framework of vampire criticism, this seems to be only a part of a developmental and historical process of naming the vampire as symbolic of a variety of societal issues. It continues to be unknown what shape vampire criticism will manifest itself next-and it is this difficulty (or ability) of the vampire figure which continues to keep interest alive (or in vampiric terms, to remain undead).
Bibliography

* Auerbach, Nina. Our Vampires, Ourselves. Chicago: U of Chicago P. 1995.
* Botting, Fred. Gothic. from The New Critical Idiom Series. John Drakakis, ed. London: Routledge, 1996.
* Carter, Margaret L.. ed. The Vampire in Literature: A Critical Bibliography. Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1989.
* "Stoker's Vampire of the Mind." in Specter or Delusion? The Supernatural in Gothic Fiction. Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1987.
* Clemens, Valdine. "The Reptilian Brain at the Fin de Siecle: Dracula" The Return of the Repressed: Gothic Horror from The Castle of Otranto to Alien. NY: State University of NY Press, 1999.
* Craft, Christopher. "Kiss Me With Those Red Lips: Gender Inversion in Bram Stoker's Dracula." in Dracula: Contemporary Critical Essays. Glennis Byron, ed. NY: St. Martin's P, 1999.
* Frayling, Christopher. "Haemosexuality" in Vampyres: Lord Byron to Count Dracula. London: Faber and Faber, 1992.
* Gelder, Ken. Reading The Vampire. London: Routledge, 1994.
* Glover, David. "Sexual Aeternitatis" in Vampires, Mummies and Liberals: Bram Stoker and the Politics of Popular Fiction. Durham: Duke U P, 1996.
* Hendershot, Cyndy. "Vampire and Replicant: The One Sex Body in a Two-Sexed World." Science Fiction Studies 22 (1995) 373-98
* Leatherdale, Clive. Dracula: The Novel and the Legend. A Study of Bram Stoker's Gothic Masterpiece. Northamptonshire: Aquarian Press, 1993.
* Putner, David. "Dracula and Taboo" in Dracula: Contemporary Critical Essays. Glennis Byron, ed. NY: St. Martin's P, 1999.
* Roth, Phyllis. "Suddenly Sexual Women in Bram Stoker's Dracula" in Dracula: Contemporary Critical Essays. Glennis Byron, ed. NY: St. Martin's P, 1999.
* Schaffer, Talia. "A Wilde Desire Took Me: The Homoerotic History of Dracula" ELH 61 (1994) 381-425.
* Senf, Carol. "Dracula: Stoker's Response to the New Woman" in Victorian Studies 26:1 Autumn 1982.
* The Vampire in Nineteenth-Century English Literature. Bowling Green: Bowling Green State U Popular Press, 1988.
* Showalterm Elaine. Sexual Anarchy: Gender and Culture at the Fin de Siecle. New York: Viking- 1990
* Spear, Jeffrey L. "Gender and Sexual Dis-Ease in Dracula" in Virginal Sexuality and Textuality in Victorian Literature. Lloyd Davis, ed.. NY: State Univ of NY Press, 1993.
* Wolf, Leonard. Dracula: The Connoisseur's Guide. NY: Broadway Books, 1997.

Go back