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Love Bites

by Samantha Heck about a year ago in literature
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Vampires and Sexuality

Vampires, the dark blood-sucking creatures of the night, have existed since their supposed first sighting in Eastern European graveyards during the time in the 17th-century when the dead struggled to stay below ground. Whether it is due to shallow graves, poor soil conditions, or faulty coffins, the undead has left their marks of fear and intrigue that have lasted until the modern-day. Vampires have come a long way from being feared creatures of the night or supposed tales of monsters stalking the forests beyond medieval villages; they have grown from being stories told to scare children into obeying their parents. In modern literature, vampires are now either the unsung heroes and/or the love interests of the protagonists in varied Gothic/Supernatural adult and young adult novels. Vampires are now beautiful monsters that reflect male and female sexuality. They unlock hidden reaches within humans, opening them up to the world of the supernatural and the pure, undiluted desire of exploring it and all its selfish possibilities.

All over the world, there are legends of vampires or vampiric-like creatures who feed and survive off of blood. From the cobblestone streets of New Orleans’ French Quarter to the dark, imposing hallways of Bran Castle in Romania, vampires have existed in varied settings, traditions, and time periods, and have left (bite) marks on victims and admirers alike. The origin of the vampires started with a misconception of how bodies change after death. The process of decomposition was not understood as it is today, so assumptions were made to ease the questions of the common people. But instead, terror rapidly replaced curiosity. As a corpse withers away, the skin shrinks to the bone, making the appearance that the corpse’s fingernails and hair have grown post-mortem. A dark fluid leaks from openings such as the ears, nose, and mouth. This is caused by internal organs purging fluids from the body. Those unknown to the process of decomposition would often mistake the dark fluid to be blood and would assume that the corpse is alive and has been draining blood from the living in order to gain back their lost vitality. From here, vampire superstition thrived for centuries and still lives on today, especially in literature.

It can be said without much debate that vampires are more inviting and elegant than other monsters that exist within literature. They lack a grotesqueness that other monsters possess that suffocate any desperate longing and stupid curiosity that a human could have. “Among all the monsters, demons, and horrors in popular culture that have amused us for centuries, vampires stand out as a usual menace, attractive and erotic in their deadliness” (Beck 90). In literature, vampires exist in a Gothic context, utilizing dark romantic elements to embellish their already abnormal behavior and add a taboo attraction to their lifestyle and sexuality. In traditional Gothic Romantic texts, such as The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole, a sensual and pure romance is added to the somber backdrop and macabre plot in order to create a disturbing tale of juxtaposition in which the audience sympathizes with the story being told. Within Gothic Romance, there are two character types that are central to the success of the story: The Distressed Heroine and the Byronic Hero. The Distressed Heroine is typically the lead and is a woman attempting to figure out what is right for her heart and work through what society wishes her to be. This character usually has an overprotective family unit of some sort standing between her and what she truly wants, which will eventually be The Byronic Hero. The Byronic Hero (modernly known as the Antihero) is a man (or supernatural being in some cases) who has a morally grey stance on mortality and society’s harsh views of sexuality. This character is written in a way that makes it extremely hard to despise them. They commonly have a temper, a seductive nature, a sinister secret, a hidden desire, and revenge of some sort and to some extent. They have the capability to understand and feel deeply, and sympathize with the heroine. The Byronic Hero, at the core, is a tortured soul crying out indefinitely for compassion and affection. In a way, they are like Lucifer, the Fallen Angel.

The setting and mood of a Gothic Romance go hand-and-hand and aid one another in advancing the plot and supporting the characters on their journey together. The setting of a Gothic novel is either an old mansion or a dilapidated castle, both in a state of almost never-ending despair. The poor state of the setting can represent one or two things: the sinister intentions of the dark and dominant male hero, or the future corruption of the young heroine’s purity and innocence of what the world can truly be. The mood of a Gothic novel is thrilling and suspenseful, full of twists and turns experienced by the young heroine and incited by the dark host. A mystery element is seen in the story, but the main focus is strongly on the romantic aspect. Along with mystery and love, intense emotions are incorporated into the narrative. Positive or negative, the varying emotions are felt and are seen either through the characters, melancholy narrative, or diction. Characters can be overcome by terror, anger, or love due to the circumstances they are experiencing in the story. Considering the unlawful state both characters are in, with them both being outcasts and neglecting their morals they’ve lived with forever and what is expected of them, the stakes are high. The romance between the characters can be extreme, even powerful with the uncertainty of whether the feeling will be reciprocated in the end. Lastly, Gothic Romance can have supernatural elements. There can be ghostly apparitions seen by the heroine, or the dark hero himself can be a supernatural being, such as a vampire. Having supernatural elements can advance the story and add more sensuality to the tension already seen in between the characters on their way to what society deems eternal damnation. The heroine leaves or escapes her pure childhood and enters the tainted world of the vampiric hero. The vampiric hero, in turn, threatens all the heroine knows and unlocks the door to her hidden, repressed desires. With the collusion of their souls, the inner, hidden truths are revealed, and a beautiful, aching romance emerges from their embrace.

In traditional vampire literature, the vampire character is portrayed as a seemingly old man who is wise beyond his years because of all the centuries he has lived and experienced first hand. The protagonist of these novels is typically a young female who usually has already experienced some sort of awakening in regards to her romantic life. In later modern-day vampire novels, “deceptions of vampires are frequently erotic” (Henry 25). The vampire character is portrayed as a young, dominant male who either has existed for centuries because of birth or was recently changed in the last century or so. The protagonist in these novels stays more or less the same, but instead of being experienced in regards to their romantic life, she is inexperienced and is written as pure and innocent. She is not wise in the ways of romance and knows next to nothing about her sexuality. But with the help of her vampiric partner, she learns more about herself when she is with him, than when she is alone or with others she has been around her whole life. In paranormal romance novels, “the conventions and practices of the vampire found in horror novels are appropriated and transformed . . . into the essence of a woman's fantasy heroes” (Balie 1). This transition of difference from the past portrayal of vampires to the present portrayal of vampires starts with Anne Rice’s 1976 novel, Interview with the Vampire, which introduced new ideas of vampires and what they could be in regards to their sexuality (and their chosen partner’s sexuality as well) and their moral ideals.

The first full work of fiction that features a vampire is John Polidori’s The Vampyre, which was a short fiction piece written and published in 1819. The Vampyre is seen as the father of the romantic vampire genre, and it’s quoted as the first story to successfully fuse vampiric elements into a literary genre that is coherent to the audience. The short story is about Aubrey, a young Englishman, who meets Lord Ruthven, a man who comes from mysterious origins and enters London’s high society suddenly. After traveling together for a time, Aubrey discovers Lord Ruthven’s true secret after he seduces the daughter of a mutual acquaintance: the Lord is a vampire. With this story, the trope of a vampire seducing a young woman with his dark charm was born and was established as a common occurrence in the literature involving vampires or vampiric-like creatures.

A lesser-known, but equally as fascinating and inspiring, vampire short is Sheridan Le Fanu’s 1872 short story, Carmilla. Following the publication of Polidori’s The Vampyre, the market was demanding more of the same story: a mysterious figure who happens to be a creature of the night and disrupts the established society around them. Carmilla hit the mark, but not quite how audiences expected, which resulted in the short story being unpopular and almost taboo in some circles, considering its material. Carmilla is about a young female who is preyed upon by a female vampire named Carmilla, who was the first example of a homosexual vampire. This new instance will not be seen again until Bram Stoker’s Dracula and after that in Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire. In the case of Carmilla, she was the first lesbian vampire who expressed romantic desires toward the protagonist who was of the same sex. Homosexuality is not directly acknowledged in the novel, neither as averse or welcoming, but it simply exists as a subtle mention of something other than what is expected. In the timeline of vampire novels, this novel is the first example of a female taking on a dominant role, which is usually reserved for the male, as a male is typically seen overtaking a female in both romantic and sexual situations. Carmilla takes the usual trope and twists it to create one of the first homoerotic stories where two people of the same sex are together in what in society assumes to be untraditional and sinful.

Twenty-five years after the publication of Carmilla, Bram Stoker’s Dracula was published in 1898 and was the first full-length vampire novel. Nowadays, Dracula is considered the father of all the vampire novels that are published today, but when the book was first published, it did not do well on the market at all, in fact, it was mostly criticized for its subversive, sexual, and superstitious content. Magazines, journals, and newspapers alike published articles and reviews expressing strong opinions about Stoker’s work and how untraditional and horrifying the content was. But, even among Bram Stoker’s readers in the late nineteenth-century who objected to Dracula and criticized it, they “were forced to admit that the novel grips the attention though its perusal is at times very [much] like hard labour” (Shane 17). Victorian men and women alike were raised to shame depictions of evil and remain on the rightful and less scandalous path, but the publication of Dracula forced them to stray. Several reports state the readers were mostly fascinated and not offended, but out of fear of being ostracized in organized Victorian society, they denied said fascination and promptly told others of their dislike of the well-written novel. It was not until after Bram Stoker’s death that Dracula gained a great readership and immense popularity. The taboo themes of homosexuality, blood-sharing, murder, and sexual relations outside of marriage were now expressed and discussed at length. One theme of the novel that intrigued most people was Dracula’s three brides and their sensual criminal nature. During Victorian times, it was unnatural for a female to take the lead and be vicious. Women were taught at a young age to be gentle-peacemakers and to cause no trouble. But with the introduction of Dracula’s brides, audiences both male and female were introduced to dangerous women, which was exceedingly rare for the time. Bram Stoker’s Victorian readers said that the female vampires “were all the more dangerous [because of their] fatal beauty” (Shane 17). From this, future vampire novel authors learned that the beauty of females was deadly, and their beauty can be used for things other than pleasing men. A female’s beauty can be used for seducing a man to their ravenous torture and/or untimely death. Such is the case with Dracula’s three brides and Jonathan Harker, who when exploring Count Dracula’s castle, encountered the three femme fatales and regretted it instantly. Upon meeting Dracula’s three brides, Jonathan attempts and fails to articulate the feelings he receives that the vampiric women arouse in him (Pikula 296). Stoker utilizes brilliant and enlightening descriptions to emphasize the fatal beauty of Dracula’s brides. According to Stoker, everything that is seductive about them is blood red. Their red, scarlet lips, their blushed pink cheeks, and their crimson-stained teeth tempt and terrify Harker all the same.

The male and female vampires in Dracula use their vampiric allure in different means to meet the same end. Count Dracula, the sole male vampire, uses his mystic talents for feeding on innocent females, such as Mina Harker and Lucy Westenra. Except in the case of Lucy, he forced her to undergo the painful yet exotic human-to-vampire transformation. This caused Lucy to be ridiculed by the society surrounding her. She got labeled as a promiscuous lady with no holy morals, but yet at the same time, Lucy grew into her sexuality and delved into the true depths of what morality could be. Lucy realized with her new vampirism that she did not have to follow and obey the rules society placed on her; she could now desire whatever she wished. With this, Lucy grew into her true self, the self that desires more than what she was originally given. Instead of one husband to control, in Lucy’s instance, she could have three and force them into her every whim with her new-founded powers of seduction and temptation. While in the case of Mina, Dracula just desired to show Jonathan that he could take and have whatever he wanted, even Jonathan’s loyal wife. During a night when Jonathan was trapped in Count Dracula’s labyrinth of a castle, Dracula visits Mina in her sleep and tricks her into offering him her blood, fresh from her neck. After the pivotal movement where Mina ignores her conscience and ceases worrying about Jonathan for a few moments, Dracula offers Mina his blood in turn. The engagement of blood in the novel is significant on its own, but in this particular scene, it marks the moment where Mina makes a decision based on her wants and desires, not what Jonathan or society wants. The corruption of a pure feminine soul by a vampiric old man is one of the most attractive and favored tropes in the vampire genre. The age difference matches the morality and sexuality differences between the human female and the vampire male, adding an alluring sensuality to the story and the characters which live on today both in literature and in the real world.

Anne Rice’s best-selling 1976 novel Interview with the Vampire marks the beginning of the transition between past vampires in classical Gothic literature to the modern-day vampire seen in both Adult and Young Adult supernatural novels. Anne Rice introduces and discusses at length various taboo topics in her novel which have not been seen since the publication of Carmilla and now the greatly popularized novel Dracula. Beginning with Carmilla, homosexuality was not a common theme in literature, in fact, it was not a theme at all in the literature that was released to various public forums. Even in Victorian times, people of all kinds had hidden secrets that could ruin them if they got out. Thankfully, we live in a modern and progressive society in which homosexuality is not looked down upon as it was before. But in the times of Gothic literature, homosexuality was seen as sinful, barbaric, and even evil in certain circles. Which is what made it the perfect element to add to certain stories. In Interview with the Vampire, the characters Louis de Pointe du Lac and Prince Lestat de Lioncourt develop a relationship that contains homosexual tendencies explained explicitly in the text. This is unlike Carmilla, which incorporated homosexuality smoothly and inconsuspiously. It was not the focal point of the story, but in Interview with the Vampire, it is one of the central themes. In the novel, the vampiric desire is seen as symbolic of a desire for male homosexual relations. Rice herself has identified personally with male-male desire and her writing is noteworthy for the passionate relationships between male vampires (Wasson 203). Interview with a Vampire explores how “Rice draws her vampire characterization from the cultural milieu of flamboyant gay lifestyles” (Wasson 203). The novel takes place during the 1700s in New Orleans, various European countries, and eventually, motherland France, where the vampire court resides. The novel is French-inspired, almost everything is dramatized and fashionable to the greatest extent. : the characters, the plot, and the setting. This advances the story greatly and makes the novel what it is today: inspiring.

Before the publication of Interview with the Vampire, the Gothic experienced a resurgence in the realm of music. With bands like The Sisters of Mercy and Bauhaus, vampiric elements were reintroduced to the public through auditory means, thus inspiring a newly rebirthed love for death and things associated with it, especially vampires. Anne Rice answered this call and did so spectacularly. Anne Rice is best known for what most call “the bite.” “Rice’s vampire bite is intensely sexual always described in erotic terms” (Wasson 203). Rice’s vampires “lend themselves to unstable desire: part of the exciting potential of any vampire text is the way in which it overturns notions of what sexual act is being represented in the bite” (Wasson 203).

Much like how a vampire’s chosen partner may undergo the eternal transition from human to vampire, vampires have undergone quite a makeover as well. From classic horror monsters and crafted by the stuff of nightmares to sexy, supernatural love interests. Any perusal of the fantasy will prove to you that the vampire figure is enjoying quite the resurgence of interest among readers across genres (Bailie 141). “According to statistics brought out by Romance Writers of America, in 2009, the paranormal subgenre made up 17.16% of the popular romance genre, which is itself comprised 54% of all books sold by the publishing industry” (Bailie 141). In both Adult and Young Adult paranormal romances, the conventions and practices of the vampire commonly found in traditional Gothic Horror novels are appropriated and transformed into the essence of women’s fantasy heroes. In these various novels, the perception of the vampire as a dangerous predator and the taking/exchange of blood between the female protagonist become the elements that enhance and secure the hybrid, forbidden relationship. In classic Gothic literature, the taking of blood was seen and portrayed as a dangerous and painful experience, but in more modern novels, a vampire’s bite is seen as more pleasurable and almost necessary for the relationship to remain alive and fierce. The relationship between the vampire and human becomes a give-and-take, and hence a partnership based on equality is formed (Bailie 142). In previous novels, the female human is overtaken by the vampire male unequally. The vampire overpowers their partner and dominates them with the goal of showing strength and power and commanding obedience from them for the sole being of them being more powerful and wholly demonic. “In these last years, the vampire has been able to stand more complex discourses of masculinity that abandon traditional imagery” (Pérez 335). The new vampires introduced in modern vampire literature are portrayed as young immortal beings: fresh and smooth skin and a physique that is greatly admired by the opposite sex. Instead of being old wise vampires where their age shows, the eternal creatures who rule the night have turned into teenagers and young adults with a dominant side and a repressed need for a proper and healthy romantic relationship.

Vampires of modern literature differ from their Gothic literature counterparts. Instead of inciting fear, they became the love interest of young female protagonists who are full of passionate rushes of curiosity and desire. In 2005, two books were written that established the vampire genre as what it is today in both the Adult genre and the Young Adult genre. Dark Lover by J.R. Ward is an adult paranormal romance novel that was published in September of 2005 and became an instant #1 New York Times Bestseller. The story follows two characters: Wrath, the last purebred vampire left on Earth and the leader of the Black Dagger Brotherhood, and Beth who is seemingly human and unaware of her true heritage and fate. Their paths cross when Beth’s father--and Wrath’s most trusted warrior--is killed. Wrath is forced to set aside his quest for vengeance and usher Beth into his world of blood and violence to protect her from those who wish her to suffer the same fate as her father. During their new relationship, both Wrath and Beth experience reckless feelings inside themselves they have never felt before. The trope of the dominant male vampire and the soft-hearted female human is applied to them and it creates an aura of sensuality throughout the novel by showing them repressing their true feeling for each other until the moment when they both decide to ignore what their new world says and follow their desires.

A month later, in October, Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight was published, and it established the dominance of vampires in the Young Adult genre. It is a well-known fact that “Twilight is nothing sort of a cultural phenomenon” (Diamond 41). The story follows Bella Swan, a seventeen-year-old human girl on the cusp of adulthood, and Edward Cullen, a vampire who is eternally seventeen and rages with his inner monster every day. Both their lives change one day in Biology class when Edward smells Bella’s blood and becomes obsessed with her, specifically, obsessed with killing her in a way that would not place him and his vampire family in a position where they have to leave the small town of Forks, Washington. Over time, Edward learns to truly care for Bella and starts wishing to protect her, against his better judgment, which is telling him to stay away. Once Bella learns the truth of what he is, both their lives change forever due to their love. Bella’s love for Edward allows him to overcome his overwhelming lust for her blood as she insists that he is not the monster he imagines himself to be (Chaplin 11). Unlike most vampire romance novels, which have now been around for years, Twilight twists the usual narrative. In Twilight, Edward does not fit the model for the new vampire, in fact, he better fits the classic Gothic model. While he is younger-looking and lusts after Bella’s blood, he treats her as the breakable human she is and does not force her into a situation where she could be harmed. Bella is different from the usual narrative because she shows a certain masochistic desire toward Edward. She wants to be bitten by him and be with him in any way possible; she becomes obsessed with that regard. Edward is not a sexual-dominant male and Bella is not an innocent human female. The typical trope is switched and is used in a way that tells the same essential story but with different elements that arise to make the story better than what it could have been.

Beyond history and various genres of literature, vampires by far reign the monster throne of being the most popular creature portrayed by the media. Vampires started as creatures of the night that stalked villages and killed recklessly. Nowadays, vampires are revered and, in some circles, such as the vampire clans found in New Orleans and Los Angeles, worshipped. People join these clans for various reasons, such as religious trauma, discovering their sexuality, or simple interest. Some relate to the vampire on a deep, psychological level and find themselves through vampiric acts, such as dressing up dramatically, wearing fangs, and consuming blood in small amounts and in a safe manner. Thanks to writers, vampires have changed and inspired many, and are now seen as sex icons than the horror icons they started as. Vampires reflect more than us than they do about themselves. They reveal that everyone has the innate desire to explore the world of the supernatural and discover the hidden reaches within themselves that they’ve been repressing.


About the author

Samantha Heck

Hello, I'm Samantha! I'm a current college student who has dreams to be a published author. Your support means everything! Tips are welcomed but not expected. Hopefully you enjoy my stories.

Thank you!

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