Just for Halloween: Vampires: Immortal Prisoners

JeffersVDD I recently wrote a vampire version of Pride and Prejudice. As my book was set in Regency England (1800-1820), even the legend of Dracula could not serve as a basis because Bram Stoker’s classic came out in 1897. Therefore, it took me some time to sort out how I wanted to handle the “vampirism” in the book. I was influenced by several other vampire stories over the years.

In Dracula, Stoker really is using Count Dracula as a combined symbol of old world superstitions and modern economic improvements. It was the Victorian era, and the people had many fears, among them the fear of sexuality and the British fear of being conquered by an “outsider.” Both are evident in the book.

Dracula is a member of the noble class who must mingle with those of a lower class to survive. As far as feminism is concerned, please recall that in Dracula, all vampires are female (except Count Dracula). Vampirism gives them the male trait of being the perpetrator. However, Stoker’s vampires bear little resemblance to humans. Dracula, for example, has an insatiable thirst for blood. When he kills, he does so purely to sustain his own existence. He has no guilt or moral qualms about killing. Dracula’s immortality imprisons him; he has no companions except those he captures and entraps in his home. A stake or a crucifix or clove garlic are the weapons of choice to be rid of the count, where fire does not affect him.

At one time, I read Anne Rice regularly. We all remember Lestat De Lioncourt, Rice’s main character in her Vampire Chronicles. With Lestat, the reader had a different type of vampire. Lestat possessed the human qualities of having a mind and a spirit. We found in him a vampire who did not kill just to kill. The “hunt” was part of the experience. One might find Lestat discussing philosophy or politics. In fact, he has an unusual collection of talents, and we find him to be very passionate. He makes his “lovers” people we might never associate with vampirism (a nun, for example). He seeks friendship from the mortals he turns. Lestat has an eternal soul. Unlike Dracula, Lestat cannot be killed by a stake or a crucifix. Lestat even slept in a church in one of the books. Rice has her vampires killed by fire or by being placed in sunlight, where they ignite into flames.

Vampire legends say that the vampire must be an animated corpse, who claws out of his grave to feed upon human blood. He is dirty and foul-smelling. Yet, the modern vampire is an immortal creature, who retains his youth and lives forever, something very appealing to our youth and sex obsessed culture. He is the eternal bad boy, forever able to indulge in dark desires and sexual urges. The vampire who exhibits self-control is a new phenomenon. Add a bit of compassion, and one has “Twilight.” The post 9/11 world does not look favorably on people or beings who hide in plain sight, yet, have the ability to kill us.

Therefore, our recent vampires are less likely to be portrayed as monsters. I, seriously, believe that the paranormal literature we are currently experiencing is an aftermath of our youth growing up reading the Harry Potter series. Paranormal books are a more sophisticated fantasy.

In Modern Fiction
The vampire is now a fixture in popular fiction. Such fiction began with 18th-century poetry and continued with 19th-century short stories, the first and most influential of which was John Polidori’s The Vampyre (1819), featuring the vampire Lord Ruthven. Lord Ruthven’s exploits were further explored in a series of vampire plays in which he was the anti-hero. The vampire theme continued in penny dreadful serial publications such as Varney the Vampire (1847) and culminated in the pre-eminent vampire novel of all time: Dracula by Bram Stoker, published in 1897. Over time, some attributes now regarded as integral became incorporated into the vampire’s profile: fangs and vulnerability to sunlight appeared over the course of the 19th century, with Varney the Vampire and Count Dracula both bearing protruding teeth, and Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922) fearing daylight. The cloak appeared in stage productions of the 1920s, with a high collar introduced by playwright Hamilton Deane to help Dracula ‘vanish’ on stage.

Lord Ruthven and Varney were able to be healed by moonlight, although no account of this is known in traditional folklore. Implied though not often explicitly documented in folklore, immortality is one attribute which features heavily in vampire film and literature. Much is made of the price of eternal life, namely the incessant need for blood of former equals.

Literature
The vampire or revenant first appeared in poems such as The Vampire (1748) by Heinrich August Ossenfelder, Lenore (1773) by Gottfried August Bürger, Die Braut von Corinth (The Bride of Corinth (1797) by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Robert Southey’s Thalaba the Destroyer (1801), John Stagg’s “The Vampyre” (1810), Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “The Spectral Horseman” (1810) (“Nor a yelling vampire reeking with gore”) and “Ballad” in St. Irvyne (1811) about a reanimated corpse, Sister Rosa, Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s unfinished Christabel and Lord Byron’s The Giaour. Byron was also credited with the first prose fiction piece concerned with vampires: The Vampyre (1819). However this was in reality authored by Byron’s personal physician, John Polidori, who adapted an enigmatic fragmentary tale of his illustrious patient, “Fragment of a Novel” (1819), also known as “The Burial: A Fragment.” Byron’s own dominating personality, mediated by his lover Lady Caroline Lamb in her unflattering roman-a-clef, Glenarvon (a Gothic fantasia based on Byron’s wild life), was used as a model for Polidori’s undead protagonist Lord Ruthven. The Vampyre was highly successful and the most influential vampire work of the early 19th century.

Varney the Vampire was a landmark popular mid-Victorian era gothic horror story by James Malcolm Rymer (alternatively attributed to Thomas Preskett Prest), which first appeared from 1845 to 1847 in a series of pamphlets generally referred to as penny dreadfuls because of their inexpensive price and typically gruesome contents.

The story was published in book form in 1847 and runs to 868 double-columned pages. It has a distinctly suspenseful style, using vivid imagery to describe the horrifying exploits of Varney. Another important addition to the genre was Sheridan Le Fanu’s lesbian vampire story Carmilla (1871). Like Varney before her, the vampire Carmilla is portrayed in a somewhat sympathetic light as the compulsion of her condition is highlighted.

No effort to depict vampires in popular fiction was as influential or as definitive as Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897). Its portrayal of vampirism as a disease of contagious demonic possession, with its undertones of sex, blood and death, struck a chord in Victorian Europe where tuberculosis and syphilis were common. The vampiric traits described in Stoker’s work merged with and dominated folkloric tradition, eventually evolving into the modern fictional vampire. Drawing on past works such as The Vampyre and “Carmilla,” Stoker began to research his new book in the late 19th century, reading works such as The Land Beyond the Forest (1888) by Emily Gerard and other books about Transylvania and vampires.

In London, a colleague mentioned to him the story of Vlad Ţepeş, the “real-life Dracula,” and Stoker immediately incorporated this story into his book. The first chapter of the book was omitted when it was published in 1897, but it was released in 1914 as Dracula’s Guest.

The latter part of the 20th century saw the rise of multi-volume vampire epics. The first of these was Gothic romance writer Marilyn Ross’ Barnabas Collins series (1966–71), loosely based on the contemporary American TV series Dark Shadows. It also set the trend for seeing vampires as poetic tragic heroes rather than as the more traditional embodiment of evil. This formula was followed in novelist Anne Rice’s highly popular and influential Vampire Chronicles (1976–2003).

The 21st century brought more examples of vampire fiction, such as J.R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood series, and other highly popular vampire books which appeal to teenagers and young adults. Such vampiric paranormal romance novels and allied vampiric chick-lit and vampiric occult detective stories are a remarkably popular and ever-expanding contemporary publishing phenomenon. L.A. Banks’ The Vampire Huntress Legend Series, Laurell K. Hamilton’s erotic Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter series, and Kim Harrison’s The Hollows series, portray the vampire in a variety of new perspectives, some of them unrelated to the original legends.

Vampires in the Twilight series (2005–2008) by Stephenie Meyer ignore the effects of garlic and crosses, and are not harmed by sunlight (although it does reveal their supernatural nature). Richelle Mead further deviates from traditional vampires in her Vampire Academy series (2007–present), basing the novels on Romanian lore with two races of vampires, one good and one evil, as well as half-vampires.

Film and Television
Considered one of the preeminent figures of the classic horror film, the vampire has proven to be a rich subject for the film and gaming industries. Dracula is a major character in more films than any other but Sherlock Holmes, and many early films were either based on the novel of Dracula or closely derived from it. These included the landmark 1922 German silent film Nosferatu, directed by F. W. Murnau and featuring the first film portrayal of Dracula—although names and characters were intended to mimic Dracula’s, Murnau could not obtain permission to do so from Stoker’s widow, and had to alter many aspects of the film. In addition to this film was Universal’s Dracula (1931), starring Béla Lugosi as the Count in what was the first talking film to portray Dracula. The decade saw several more vampire films, most notably Dracula’s Daughter in 1936.

The legend of the vampire was cemented in the film industry when Dracula was reincarnated for a new generation with the celebrated Hammer Horror series of films, starring Christopher Lee as the Count. The successful 1958 Dracula starring Lee was followed by seven sequels. Lee returned as Dracula in all but two of these and became well known in the role. By the 1970s, vampires in films had diversified with works such as Count Yorga, Vampire (1970), an African Count in 1972’s Blacula, the BBC’s Count Dracula featuring French actor Louis Jourdan as Dracula and Frank Finlay as Abraham Van Helsing, and a Nosferatu-like vampire in 1979’s Salem’s Lot, and a remake of Nosferatu itself, titled Nosferatu the Vampyre with Klaus Kinski the same year. Several films featured female, often lesbian, vampire antagonists such as Hammer Horror’s The Vampire Lovers (1970) based on Carmilla, though the plotlines still revolved around a central evil vampire character.

The pilot for the Dan Curtis 1972 television series Kolchak: The Night Stalker revolved around reporter Carl Kolchak hunting a vampire on the Las Vegas strip. Later films showed more diversity in plotline, with some focusing on the vampire-hunter, such as Blade in the Marvel Comics’ Blade films and the film Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Buffy, released in 1992, foreshadowed a vampiric presence on television, with adaptation to a long-running hit TV series of the same name and its spin-off Angel. Still others showed the vampire as protagonist, such as 1983’s The Hunger, 1994’s Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles and its indirect sequel of sorts Queen of the Damned, and the 2007 series Moonlight.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula was a noteworthy 1992 film which became the then-highest grossing vampire film ever. This increase of interest in vampiric plotlines led to the vampire being depicted in films such as Underworld and Van Helsing, and the Russian Night Watch and a TV miniseries remake of ‘Salem’s Lot, both from 2004. The series Blood Ties premiered on Lifetime Television in 2007, featuring a character portrayed as Henry Fitzroy, illegitimate son of Henry VIII of England turned vampire, in modern-day Toronto, with a female former Toronto detective in the starring role.

A 2008 series from HBO, entitled True Blood, gives a Southern take to the vampire theme. Another popular vampire-related show is CW’s The Vampire Diaries. The continuing popularity of the vampire theme has been ascribed to a combination of two factors: the representation of sexuality and the perennial dread of mortality. Another “vampiric” series that has recently come out is the Twilight Saga, a series of films based on the book series of the same name.

Games
The role-playing game Vampire: the Masquerade has been influential upon modern vampire fiction and elements of its terminology, such as embrace and sire, have become widely used. Popular video games about vampires include Castlevania, which is an extension of the original Bram Stoker Dracula novel, and Legacy of Kain.

Vampires are also sporadically portrayed in other games, including The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, when a character can become afflicted with porphyric haemophilia. A different take on vampires is presented in Bethesda’s other game Fallout 3 with “The Family.” Members of the Family are afflicted with a manic desire to consume human flesh, but restrict themselves to drinking blood to avoid becoming complete monsters.

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About reginajeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and contemporary novels.
This entry was posted in film, legends and myths, Victorian era and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Just for Halloween: Vampires: Immortal Prisoners

  1. carolcork says:

    Reading your article brings back memories of seeing The Hammer production of Dracula with Christopher Lee when I was a teenager. I’m a big Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel fan.

    • I liked “Angel” better than “Buffy.” BTW, will you get to see the new Jonathan Rhys Meyers TV show “Dracula”? It is fairly bloody and a bit sexier than most American TV on the non-cable channels, but I liked it. It addresses the issues of the book Dracula, with the idea of Dracula being the “aristocracy” (or England) and fighting off the “invasion” of the Industrial Revolution. In the TV show, it’s the use of petroleum. In the TV commercial Meyers is surrounded by hundreds of female vampires all dressed in red. One woman pulls away, and the viewer sees him (flexing his fangs – LOL!). I thought this was cool because in the novel, the vampires were females. It is only of recent years we think of them as “bad boy” males sparkling in the daylight.

  2. RO says:

    Wow I would love to read this book!

  3. Pingback: Halloween… | The Girl Who Dreamed...

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