Vampire lore owes its popularity to Bram Stoker and the release of Dracula in 1897 at the height of the Victorian Era. At that time there were strict rules for how men and women should act in public, such as women never appearing in public or found alone with someone who wasn’t their father, brother or husband. Women’s clothing was generally quite restrictive with high necklines, bustles (to accentuate the behind) and corsets (to cinch the waistline). Necks and ankles were considered “sexy”, only because they were, for the most part, hidden from view.
In the novel, Dracula creeps into both Lucy and Mina’s rooms whilst they sleep to bite each of them on the neck. This challenged a number of social values including men and women being alone without chaperones and men seeing women in anything other than full dress. Women were expected to restrain their desires, yet the female characters in Dracula welcome his penetration (pun intended). The titillation factor was high as a result, which might account for the popularity of the novel in the long term.
Symbolically, blood and the drawing of it have sensual connotations. Blood signifies a woman’s coming of reproductive age. It is associated with the loss of her virginity and subsequent sexual awakening. It is also spilled with childbirth (Kella), all topics that were not discussed in polite company, yet implicitly referenced in vampire lore.
The main thing that’s changed since Dracula’s heyday on the literary stage is the degree of vampiric humanity. Most vampires are young and attractive. They are driven by their appetite for blood, their lust, and their emotions. Many male vampires (think Aidan from Being Human and Damon from Vampire Diaries) epitomize the leather-clad bad-boy popularized by James Dean in the fifties and which a number of ladies still find appealing.
Modern vampires are tragic figures who, lives cut short and often sired against their will, evoke pathos in their struggle against what they’ve become and what they’ve had to do to survive the ages. They are portrayed as broken brooders in search of the one person on earth who is able to fix them. Though they sometimes mate with their peers, they often desire human companionship. Even then they are forever doomed to play Romeo to a still human Juliet, taking star-crossed lover after star-crossed lover only to watch them grow old, perish and die unless he turns her.
In spite of the myriad books, movies and television shows, vampires are still hot, the object of fear and fantasy for so many of us.
Which vampire or vampire story is your favourite? What was it that attracted you to it? Share your thoughts in the comments below.