Writing

Vampires in fiction: A Brief History

by Jessica Howard

Vampire fiction has changed a great deal in the past 200 years; from the classics to the modern day phenomenon Twilight, the vampire has been transformed since the rise of Dracula. But how has it changed, and why?

It was Bram Stoker’s Dracula that really marked the beginning of popular vampire fiction and gave rise to the ‘modern’ vampire in 1897. In this classic novel, the vampire Dracula is depicted as a soulless and dark creature, an aristocrat who lives in an ancient castle, sleeps in a coffin, and can seduce a victim by merely looking into their eyes.

One commonly accepted supposition is that Dracula is a metaphor for cholera or tuberculosis. The symptoms and the way that the illness took hold of its victims until death are very similar to the effects of having your blood drained by Dracula; the patient, or victim, would grow weaker and weaker in both body and mind, until they were taken over completely by the disease and all that was left was a slow, lingering death. If Dracula wanted to change a mortal into a vampire, he would feed them a little of his blood, ‘infecting’ the victim with the ‘vampire’ disease.

This is the first notable instance of the vampire having a direct correlation with the society it inhabits. Throughout the past couple of hundred years, society has progressed, and the vampire itself has changed to reflect this.

 

The next prominent contribution to the genre came roughly 80 years later with Anne Rice’sVampire Chronicles, the first book in the series being Interview With The Vampire in 1976. Lestat de Lioncourt, is a French Nobleman with a very aristocratic manner similar to Dracula, and has more in common with Stoker’s vampire than the vampires of today. This was a period in history where society began to change rapidly; promiscuity and the free love movement began a rebellion against the Church and the commonly accepted Christian morals that governed society.  Contraceptives became more readily available, taking illegal drugs became a popular pastime and people were pushing the boundaries of what was socially acceptable. They say that change is good, but is it moral? The Vampire Lestat represented the selfish, indulgent side of human nature and the questions of morality surrounding this new way of life. Now vampires seemed to harbour human-like emotions and exhibited biological and psychological motivations for their actions.

Reflecting this new openness in society, Interview With The Vampire is more erotic than previous vampire novels, a trend which was to continue as the genre progressed.

The twenty first century has seen the Twilight phenomena explode onto the scene, and whilst its popularity cannot be denied, it also attracted much criticism. Whilst there are vampires in the series that do adhere to the traditional archetype – they seduce their victims and drink their blood-it was the main characters that caused controversy. These vampires redefined how the modern vampire was perceived. These vampires no longer retained the refined, aristocratic nature of vampires before them; instead they wore denim, put gel in their hair and went to the local state school like your average human. Unlike the traditional vampires, these could walk around in the sunlight; they just chose not to, because instead of bursting into fire and dying painfully, their skin simply sparkles like glitter. Possibly the biggest difference between these vampires and the vampires of previous stories is that these vampires have chosen not to drink human blood, only the blood of animals. Everything that previously made vampires threatening, and symbolized their soulless nature had been compromised. Whilst the vampires of previous novels seduced their victims for their blood, the Twilight vampires seduce purely out of love even though love between a human and a vampire is depicted as frowned upon by the rest of the vampire community.

It would appear that nothing is out of reach within our current society, not even the vampire. Twilight is as much, maybe more so, about a mortal seducing a vampire rather than the other way round. The vampire is no longer an aristocratic and mysterious stranger; he is the boy next door.

We now control the vampire, bending even his ‘natural’ and blood-thirsty impulses to our own desires, fitting it nicely around our own wants and needs.

So what does the future hold for the vampire? That all depends on the direction we as a society choose to take, but one thing is for sure; vampires have changed a great deal over the past two hundred years, and will continue to change in ways that are impossible to predict.

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