Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Thing About Vampires: The Sexual Predator

The first modern vampire was born at the same time as another great horror cliché: Frankenstein. While in Geneva, Switzerland, Lord Byron, Percy and Mary Shelley, and Byron’s doctor Polidori decided to write some ghost stories—yeah, they were doing it on a whim, while on vacation—and Mary Shelley indubitably won by writing the first science fiction novel ever. Polidori wrote The Vampyre—and he based it on Lord Byron himself.

Lord Byron was probably one of the world’s first literary bestsellers. He was famous for plenty of things: popularizing the bad boy persona, shaping modern tourism, but especially his sexual proclivities. So when the original vampire story was being written, the vampire took on Byron’s boisterous aristocratic mien—but also a lot of the “my love is fatal to my lover” mythology of Byron’s sexuality.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Thing About Vampires: The Aristocrat

So I just finished reading Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and so I’ve been thinking about vampires. I thought I’d spend some time discussing the early vampires in fiction—and finish every post with how that strain translates (or does not translate) into contemporary trends like the Twilight series.

In Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the vampire is a Romanian count—one who has a varied history of fighting against Turks and terrorizing Transylvanian villagers—who now wishes to reside in the slightly more populated area of (say) London. He lives in a castle, he has piles of gold (won over centuries of conflict) in his library, and he is polite, well-mannered, and probably speaks the most impeccable English in the entire novel.

He’s an aristocrat, a caricature of an aristocrat, a caricature of a class that was always considered well on its way out by the time Stoker was writing. The idea of a bloodsucking monster being also a member of the aristocracy is fitting: individuals who don’t produce their own blood, but simply suck it out of others; individuals who live so long that they are rich simply by virtue of their riches being old…

So who ends up killing him? A ragtag team of rising middle-class heroes: a doctor who works at an asylum, a lawyer who is struggling with his first days on the job, a newlywed wife who can type and write in shorthand, and more. The Victorian period in England consolidated the rise of middle-class values, of the nuclear family, of Protestant work ethic—and so in one sense, it’s about middle-class people outsmarting this rich usurper who thinks he can live off the lifeforce of other people.