Vampire Love

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.

Franz Liszt ca. 1880?

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:

Charles Baudelaire, ca. 1863

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.

32 thoughts on “Vampire Love

  1. What a fantastic poem by Baudelaire! I’ve read parts of Flowers of Evil, and just love his work.

    I never knew that Stoker based the physical resemblance of Dracula on Liszt and Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Very cool to know.


  2. Of all the translations of that poem, that one is my favorite. I think it captures the sense of decadence and eroticism best.

    I have no idea whether anyone other than Robert Place thinks Stoker modeled Dracula on those two, but he does make a good case for it. Hollywood of course had to put their own spin on it, with Bela Lugosi as the suave, attractive count in the early movies.


  3. I’m not a huge fan of Freud, but seriously – the biting on the neck, the exchange of body fluids – the whole notion, from the word go, seems like a blatant metaphor for sex, especially if you consider the no-brainer idea that the things we fear and those that we desire are often closely related. Add the fact that a lot of women, then & now, actually fear their own desires (or have been socialized to suppress ’em,) and are thus turned on by guys who sort of instigate the encounter, and there you have it. The whole garlic thing is just vamp culture’s way of telling us that men like us to smell good, and the idea that the vamps can’t enter our homes uninvited (my own favorite bit of vampire folklore)sez to me that they are as much superhuman (good manners?! what a concept!!) as monstrous.

    (One time baack in the ’80’s I dressed as a vampire to walk in the Greenwich Village Halloween Parade, and more than a few Latino guys ASKED me to bite ’em on the neck. I declined politely, but the point is, my featyures are nothing if not Eastern European, and even w/the dime-store plastic fangs, I guess the look was workin’ for me)


    1. p.s.

      Upon re-reading Stoker’s description of the Count, it occurs to me that he could be played by an older Adrian Brody.


      1. you know who else would be good – Jonathan Price. He has that whole evil courtesy thing down to a science. I’ve also cast him as Mr. Scratch in one of my many imaginary remakes of “The Devil and Daniel Webster.” (Did you know, there actually was such a remake back in the’90’s, starring Alec Baldwin and Jennifer Love Hewitt, but the story is that it was so incredibly bad that it never saw the light of day.)


      2. I dunno. I’m not sure he’s quite sinister enough. Langella could turn on the evil, I don’t really see that in Pryce (It’s his birthday today, BTW, 63!! 😀 ). Maybe I just haven’t seen him in those roles enough. I usually see him as a semi-good guy, but yeah, he’s got the physical looks.

        Here’s one I could go for: Michael Fassbender

        He played a Nazi in “Inglorious Basterds” but even better, he played the evil, fallen angel Azazeal in a BBC series called “Hex”. He was delicious 😉


      3. Price played a smarmy pimp in “Miss Saigon” and a corporate executive with ice water in his veins in “Barbarians at the Gate” – oh yah, he good turn on the creeping dread for sure, although I must say Fassbender is better-looking.


      4. I didn’t see Pryce in either of those, and he may be getting a bit old to take on the role now anyway, unless they stuck to Stoker’s description of the count, and don’t glam him up.


      5. He was SMOKIN’!! And it had nothing to do with the flames of hell. Sadly, the series quickly went off on a weird tangent which seemed to be its undoing.


  4. That’s exactly what it is. In a time when sex couldn’t be openly written about this was a substitute way to describe it, without describing it. Porn was really underground back then.
    I did once hear that in Anne Rice’s books, vampirism was a metaphor for alcoholism, which she battled after losing her daughter.

    I’m not sure if Stoker invented the garlic-as-repellant idea, though. As far as I know, his book is the first instance of it. The Vampire Diaries has them using the herb vervain (rue) to repel vampires (by ingesting it, the humans become unpalatable to the vamps, and directly injecting the vamps with a vervain suspension incapacitates them). That apparently is little-known folklore, I’d love to know how L.J. Smith stumbled across that little tidbit.


  5. I’m sure Smith did her research, much as you are. RE: the whole porn substitute issue, it’s pretty clear to me (you’ll recall we’ve discussed this before – was it here or @ your Syrdal site?) that this is why the vamp stories are so appealing to young teens and frustrated housewives. Myself, I’ve never trusted a man who wouldn’t be seen w/me by light of day.


    1. Ahahaha! Yeah, I’d call that a real red flag when dating someone 😉

      Again, I think we have Stoker to thank for the ‘only comes out at night’ aspect. Prior to Dracula the vampires in various stories and poems didn’t seem to have any issue with daylight. I don’t mean that as any kind of criticism of Stoker, he added a great deal to the canon of vampire myths and that’s great. As they spring from folklore, there are no ‘hard and fast’ rules about vampires beyond the fact that they are dead and prey on the living. From there we are free to embellish and bestow whatever characteristics suit us. I do think it’s interesting that the original vampire literature was written by men, and now it’s women who embrace it.


  6. “Ok, so she didn’t look so good in the morning. Who does?” – love it! 😀

    Very interesting info on Stoker’s (possible) source material for the Count. Have you read any of S.P Somtow’s vampire books? His vampires are Thai and decidedly more, um, meaty and gross than the suave, Victorian version. I find it fascinating that most (all?) cultures have their own type of vampire; it speaks to a deeper common archetype.


    1. Indeed, there are some very strange variations on vamps around the world and most are decidedly more horrific than the European variety. The main commonality seems to be their diet of blood, which has been seen in virtually every culture as possessing lifeforce. I haven’t heard of Somtow, I’ll have to look him up, thanks!


    1. It is. And from culture to culture. Malaysia seems to have a couple of particularly gruesome versions of vampiric creatures, the Penanggalan and the Polong. Ick. No redeeming qualities there. Also interesting to note that they are typically perceived as female, and feed on babies, both born and still in the womb. Both Africa and India have versions that appear to have bat-like wings.

      How are you getting on with Lestat, by the way? 🙂


  7. I’m with you on Lestat, Chazz – “Interview” was very well-written but it bugged me the way he turned into such a whiner at the end. The character I found most compelling was the little girl, doomed to live eternally without physically developing past the age of 4 or 5. The very young Kristen Dunst did a great job in the film version.


    1. Apparently she was really grossed out about having to kiss Tom Cruise at that age. Probably scarred the poor kid for life.

      That would be tragic, stuck in a tiny child’s body forever while the mind continues to mature. That’s one of my gripes (which I’ve mentioned before) about the whole Twilight thing: If they’re 100-year-old vampires, why are they still hanging around high school? I couldn’t get out of that whole arena fast enough when we were there. I don’t think anything could convince me to go back to that atmosphere again and if I was some superhuman creature I’m sure I could find better things to do.


      1. “she was really grossed out about having to kiss Tom Cruise at that age. Probably scarred the poor kid for life. ”

        I’ve heard she drinks; that’s probably why.

        “If they’re 100-year-old vampires, why are they still hanging around high school? ”

        Kinda reminds me of Luke Perry in “Bev Hills 90210”


      2. What’s even _worse_ is that they ACT like high schoolers! If you’re 109 and still act like a 17-year-old, I have a stake with your name on it. That series is an abomination! ABOMINATION, I tell you!!! Sorry, I feel quite passionate about this particular topic 🙂


    2. Claudia was a really great character though i got the impression she was more like 8-10 years old not 4 or 5.

      I’m a little worried about reading the rest of The Vampire Chronicles, the next book “The Vampire Lestat” will be ok (it took 9 years to write after the first book) but then they start coming out ever few years. I’m just not sure if that would of been enough time to polish the books so they become beautifully written like “Interview with the Vampire”


      1. That’s what I had heard. I believe Kirsten Dunst was just about 10 when the movie was filmed. Even still, when I was 10, I wouldn’t have wanted to kiss him either. I still don’t want to kiss him. Luckily, that will never be an issue in my life 😉

        Let us know if you take the plunge and read the next one. I think after that one came out, Rice had such a rabid following it wouldn’t have mattered much what the quality of the book was.


      2. I do have a problem of reading a few books at the time, normally about 4 books on the go at one time, I don’t know why, I think I just want to start reading books and have to limit myself to 4.


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