Does Romanticism of Vampires Condone Sexual Exploitation of Young Adults in Romantic Relationships?
Since the beginning of civilization, humans have used their imagination to explain the unknown. Stories and folklore evolved over time with monsters being a central theme for those things that were unknown. As the stories evolved, one specific type of monster was developed that embodied the ultimate horror and frightening unknown of the dead: the vampire. Vampire stories have evolved in line with the social and popular cultural beliefs that were present at the time the stories were written or handed down. The earliest vampires were animalistic in form and were bloodthirsty creatures. The vampire character was feared by religion as purely evil beings. These were the stories of evil creatures handed down through the generation of folklore. By the mid-1700’s tales of panic-stricken Serbian countryside, commoners relayed stories of recently deceased relatives and neighbors coming back to life to suck the life from the living and ultimately kill them.
The vampire had now taken on human forms. Although of the human form, the stories were still simplistic, but horror filled of the common people climbing out of their graves in zombie-like fashion to suck blood and kill. In 1748, Heinrich August Ossenfelder wrote the poem “The Vampire” to document the horror of these visits from the undead. This first mention of vampires spread from the European folklore into English literature. During a summertime visit to Lord Byron’s Geneva estate, Mary Shelly and John Polidoro were asked to write a ghost story by their host. Mary Shelly wrote the classic horror story Frankenstein and John Polidor, Byrons personal physician, wrote The Vampyre, for which Lord Byron was the model for the vampire character, Lord Ruthven. The vampire had evolved into a more sophisticated creature with humanlike characteristics, now of a seducer. This marked the period where sexual attributes were bestowed upon the monster vampire and the period of Dark Romanticism began. Bram Stoker’s Dracula was written in 1897 and was a huge success because the lead character, Count Dracula was a charming, mysterious foreign aristocrat with an allure to the human females of the day.
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At this time, Britain was undergoing rapidly changing social demographics and Victorian society was struggling with new cultures introduced into their lives. While trying to hold on to traditions, the Victorian society looked upon foreign influences with a sense of trepidation. This made for Stoker’s main foreign vampire character to be all the more threatening. By the twentieth century, the vampire stories became substantially more human with the 1976 writings by Anne Rice, Interview with the Vampire. However, along with human qualities, the stories take on a much more sexually perverse scene. The vampires partake with humans in erotic behavior that leads to the death of the humans. The vampires are beautiful, powerful, but still dangerous. Sexual situations are written about with full raw animal nature of sex including rape scenes. Although this twentieth-century writing romanticized the vampire, we still were shown a dangerous powerful monster. The worldwide sensation of the Twilight saga in 2005 changed how the reader was to view the monster. Twilight was written by Stefanie Meyers and drastically changed the vampire from a dangerous being to a moral romantic vampire. The traditional monster vampire is no more, replaced by a romantic hero with morals and family values completely suitable as a romantic partner for the human female character. The huge popularity of the Twilight saga has captured the young women and men readers like no other. The traditional role of the vampire had been challenged and a new more human vampire who can control their sexual and blood urges and can and choose to live peacefully among humans. The lead male vampires are portrayed as protectors and perfect lovers and able to overcome their destructive urges. Although Twilight showed a kinder more peaceful vampire, does this really serve as a good role model for young people? The vampires of Rice and Harris were sexual, and the reader knew what the vampire characters were capable of doing to the vulnerable human. The vampires of Meyers lure young women into a fairytale false sense of protector and perfect lover.
My essay will evaluate the most popular vampire stories; the iconic 19th century Bran Stoker’s Dracula, the 1976 classic by Anne Rice, Interview With a Vampire and the 2005 Stefanie Meyer’s sensation, Twilight. I will evaluate the changes over the years of the gender and gender violence in this vampire genre and the romanticized and eroticized violence in contemporary vampire fiction. Given the popularity of the Twilight novels with the adolescent reading and watching audience, it is important to examine their portrayal of gender roles and gender violence. My essay will also focus on the romanticizing and humanizing of these new vampires and the stereotypical portrayal of women. Is this new genre sending a negative message to the young audience that exploitation is condoned in sexual young romantic relationships? Does the romanticism of the new vampires condone old gender roles and, in some cases, does it sanction sexual violence?
I begin my analysis of these issues with Bram Stoker’s, Dracula. The year being 1897, Dracula was written at a time when the British Empire was going through a decline and the society was fearful of foreign influences. Bram Stoker’s genius took advantage of the public fear and social concerns and created the perfect monster, the foreign Count Dracula. Stoker’s frightening depiction of the foreign Transylvanian Count Dracula was fascinating to his readers.
Stoker’s portrayal of the two human female characters, Mina and Lucy and three vampire females showed a subtle revolution in the changing role of women in a society that was becoming less Victorian. In his essay, “Unspeakability and Radical Otherness: The Ethics of Trauma in Bram Stoker’s Dracula published by College Literature Spring 2012) Jamil Khader integrates the desire between the vampire and his victims by representing the “gray zone” of vampire seduction/violation as a site of an intricate web of intimacy, reciprocity, interconnection, complicity, contagion, and collaboration.” The female human, Mina, is pursued by Count Dracula both telepathically and finally through the violent act when the count holds her by the back of her neck and forcing her to drink from a wound on his bare breasts. This act of violence is represented as a seduction scene but is representative of a rape. The three female vampires refer to Mina as a sister but Mina’s reaction to them indicates some level of resistance. Mina ultimately joins the “Crew of Light” to hunt down and destroy Dracula with many of the same reactions that actual rape survivors experience. In her essay, Making Sense of Mina: Stoker’s Vampirization of the Victorian Woman in Dracula, published by Digital Commons @ Trinity, Kathryn Boyd states “Mina is a strong and capable yet empathetic, taking pity on Dracula even as the “misery” he brings kills her closest friend and threatens her with death. She is a mix of intellectual and emotional understanding the “brain and heart” the most complex character in the novel.” Stoker’s was brilliant in his portrayal of a strong main female character which was a radical approach by having the female character strong and was years ahead of any other portrayal of female empowerment.
Stoker made it evident that the count was not a beautiful creature. On the contrary, he was described as a smelly, ugly creature with hair growing all over his body. Stoker’s Dracula did not fit in the modern romanticized pattern of a sensual vampire. Over the years, the vampire genre did not evolve much, and the original Bran Stoker’s version was never matched in its horror and brilliance. That changed in 1976 when Anne Rice introduced a new genre of the vampire with her classic, Interview with a Vampire.
Rice’s spin on vampires as sexual, romantic and sympathetic being had led to a new rise in the popularity of the vampire genre. The NeoGothic genre of Rice differs from the Stoker Victorian gothic in that it focuses more on the psychological aspects than outer events. It wants to understand and analyze the monster rather than sympathize with the victim.”