There has been much discussion (and derision) in various quarters lately about the transition of vampires from hideous monsters to objects of desire and romance. Well, it’s not really a new concept.
For the most part I think it’s safe to say most people in the English-speaking world have their ideas of vampires rooted in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. So where did Stoker come up with his particular vision of vampires? Stoker drew heavily on Easter European folklore about vampires, and the historical figure of Vlad II Dracul of Wallachia (where he got the name) and of course his notorious son, Vlad Tepes. A good deal of the physical traits of the count came from the people in his own life, according to Robert M. Place in the companion book to his The Vampire Tarot. Place tells us that Stoker’s acquaintances included Franz Liszt, who sported long white hair, and possessed the long, prominent nose common among Eastern Europeans; similarly he says Stoker was fascinated with the long canine teeth of Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Here is Stoker’s description of Count Dracula:
His face was a strong — a very strong — aquiline, with high bridge of the thin nose and peculiarly arched nostrils; with lofty domed forehead, and hair growing scantily round the temples but profusely elsewhere. His eyebrows were very massive, almost meeting over the nose, and with bushy hair that seemed to curl in its own profusion. The mouth, so far as I could see it under the heavy moustache, was fixed and rather cruel-looking, with peculiarly sharp white teeth; these protruded over the lips whose remarkable ruddiness showed astonishing vitality in a man of his years.
He also mentions the pointed ears, which seem to have been his own invention, melding Dracula’s ability to become a bat with his human form. Dracula was also able to become a wolf, and Jonathan Harker remarks on the hair growing in the count’s palms. Clearly he bears no resemblance to the movie versions most of us are familiar with.
However, prior to Stoker giving us the image of the hideous, animalistic vampire, in 1872 J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla had already introduced the seductress lesbian vampire. Earlier than that, in 1819 John Polidori’s The Vampyre painted Lord Ruthven as a heartbreaker, with women unaccountably drawn to his “dead grey eye.”
Charles Baudelaire portrayed the female vampire as a wanton who could bring about the ruin of the angels in heaven in his poem, Les Métamorphoses du vampire:
Meanwhile from her red mouth the woman, in husky tones,
Twisting her body like a serpent upon hot stones
And straining her white breasts from their imprisonment,
Let fall these words, as potent as a heavy scent:
“My lips are moist and yielding, and I know the way
To keep the antique demon of remorse at bay.
All sorrows die upon my bosom. I can make
Old men laugh happily as children for my sake.
For him who sees me naked in my tresses, I
Replace the sun, the moon, and all the stars of the sky!
Believe me, learnèd sir, I am so deeply skilled
That when I wind a lover in my soft arms, and yield
My breasts like two ripe fruits for his devouring — both
Shy and voluptuous, insatiable and loath —
Upon this bed that groans and sighs luxuriously
Even the impotent angels would be damned for me!”
When she had drained me of my very marrow, and cold
And weak, I turned to give her one more kiss — behold,
There at my side was nothing but a hideous
Putrescent thing, all faceless and exuding pus.
I closed my eyes and mercifully swooned till day:
And when I looked at morning for that beast of prey
Who seemed to have replenished her arteries from my own,
The wan, disjointed fragments of a skeleton
Wagged up and down in a lewd posture where she had lain,
Rattling with each convulsion like a weathervane
Or an old sign that creaks upon its bracket, right
Mournfully in the wind upon a winter’s night.
— George Dillon, Flowers of Evil (NY: Harper and Brothers, 1936)
Ok, so she didn’t look so good in the morning. Who does?
At any rate, I’m not sure why everyone is complaining that vampires need to “get back” to being mindless murderous demons a la Blade or The Lost Boys, or even Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It seems to me that that depiction of vampires is a far more recent addition to the canon of vampire lore than the anti-hero, romantic figures in The Vampire Diaries or the Twilight series. I guess any excuse for heavy weaponry and exploding body parts makes for better action movies. Seems like human blood-lust rivals that of any vampire. I’m sticking with the vampires.