Throughout the centuries, vampires have been a consistent source of fascination and sexual attraction to those weaker than themselves--in literature, these weaker beings are most commonly mortal women. In modern cinema and literature, the presence of vampires follows the tradition of destructive characters dating back to novels such as Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Even in the original Gothic vampire stories, which intended to horrify rather than dazzle, vampires were a topic of obsessive enchantment. Their presence in literature is overpowering and inherently evil, designed to corrupt those weaker than them. Bram Stoker uses vampirism as a deterrent from sexuality, presenting Dracula and his vampiric family as a form of societal deviance. However, his choice to use vampires goes beyond the obvious implication of evil; vampires are inherently “sexy”, even when presented as their most monstrous. They are dangerous, and they are deadly, and still humans--women, in particular--continue to be inexplicably drawn to them and their world of darkness.
When Bram Stoker’s Dracula was originally published in 1897, it was seen as an unusually successful and cheesy thriller by critics and readers alike. The legacy of Dracula’s personage as an aristocratic vampire has persevered for over a century, becoming a modern myth associated with more than just shock and horror. Dracula’s success can be credited to its reflection of specific anxieties towards physical intimacy within Victorian culture; the nature of repression and unconscious desire were not yet current, but were extremely prevalent during this time. In this context, the vampire has been shown to represent deviant, dangerous sexuality. The morality of the tale of Dracula followed the precedence of Gothic novels that came before it, while still consciously adhering to the anxieties of Victorian development.
Patricia Meyer Spacks, in her article “Gothic Fiction,” argued that “the gothic novel- a form, unlike the novel of manners, with little ostensible connection to ordinary life- originated in a dream” (202). In dreams, anything is possible. The Gothic story was a way of speaking the unspeakable; concepts that were taboo and uncomfortable, such as sex, were written into the story and presented as powerful topics of influence. Sex and lust are prevalent in the Gothic because it’s forbidden by European cultures and throughout the sexual hierarchy of society.
supernatural adds an extra danger to female sexuality in the Gothic.
Within the Gothic genre, the victims are almost always female. In the few cases that the victim is male, it is a male who is more feminine than socially acceptable. It is those who are intrinsically feminine who cannot resist temptation; “women, who seem the only hope for society, can do nothing” (Spacks 231). This plays into the idea of psychologically believable horror, suppression, and contemporaneous sexuality as very real anxieties--especially for women--and the presence of these themes in the gothic is incredibly shocking. These fears allowed Gothic novelists like Bram Stoker to manipulate their stories into moral tales of disgraced women and unimaginable horrors, such as vampires. Throughout Gothic stories, “romance may be frustrated, the innocent may die, but the social hierarchy remains” (Spacks 207). This concept of social justice in Victorian England remains present in Dracula. Lucy Westenra, who succumbs to the heinousness of vampirism and freedom, dies with finality. After Dracula’s death, though, Mina is freed from his influence and becomes the acceptable good wife for Jonathan Harker. The good prevails, the evil is extinguished, and everyone takes their proper place in society.
The years 1895 through 1897 were a significant period in the scientific and aesthetic analysis of the human body. There was a significant interest in the temporality of the body; beauty and youth are not everlasting, and therefore there is a significant fascination with the body being limited. This sort of impermanence is altogether evaded by vampirism, subsequently making vampires more appealing. Their beauty lasts longer, which is undoubtedly appealing to the mortal realm. Daniel Martin, in his article “Some Trick of the Moonlight: Seduction and Moving Image in Bram Stoker’s Dracula,” analyzed the impact of the physical body of the vampire as the propelling force of attraction. He stated that vampires are a contrast to “real life and real movements, the remains of the supernatural were entangled with a fundamental experience of lifelessness that assaulted spectators with an excessive reality” (Martin 525). The vampire’s physical image antagonizes the human senses through seductive encounters.
In this way, the vampire image is never fully present. In Dracula, the Count is never fully experienced until the moment of his death. He is only presented through second-hand accounts, rather than seen in the moment, making him all the more elusive and entrancing. Dracula “appears and disappears through a combination of pleasing and terrifying spectacles of light and dust, and his movements are a spectacular display of seduction” (Martin 532). A vampire’s bodily movements, then, are essential to their seduction of humanity. Vampires like Dracula offer an illusory experience of the dead. They not only present an option for eternal beauty and sexuality, but they demonstrate it through their seduction of appearance-- rather than understanding. Essentially, then, vampires are attractive because they are physically inexplicable.
Vampirism itself, therefore, is a form of seduction. It is a form of complete fulfillment. Through the fantasy of the “other” and immense vulnerability, the victim is able to detach from reality and yield to vampiric seduction. Daniel Martin stated that there is an impressive presence of the “vampire as a romantic figure, albeit one with a dangerous appeal for the disaffected, the lonely, and the Gothic” (527). The concept of the Vampire as “the other” is founded upon the release of repressed desires. It allows the freedom to speak of and acknowledge the erotic, which in the context of Dracula is particularly illegitimate or transgressive. The uncanny “other” in Dracula is vampirism itself. Vampires represent the “other” because of the continuous suspicion and creeping unknown of whether someone else is a vampire or monster. Dejan Kuzmanovic, in their article “Vampiric Seduction and Vicissitudes of Masculine Identity in Bram Stoker's ‘Dracula’”, wrote:
“Through the fantasy of a coherent monstrous self (the other without) and through the drama of being temporarily vulnerable to its monstrous seductiveness, the victim's ego distracts itself, as it were, from the encounter with the unconscious (the other within), and thus the victim is ultimately able to detach his sense of self from the monstrous desire to yield to the vampire's seduction. In this sense, the seduction makes the victim's ego possible by jeopardizing it” (414).
Vampires are an intriguing form of the “other” because they are simultaneously close to and distant from being mortal and human--innocent. They appear to be so, and even have a few human-like routines, but they are not human at all. In Dracula, the relationship between Dracula and Mina Harker is uncanny. It is an imitation of the relationship between husband and wife, but it is more so equated to predator and prey. The combination of these characteristics and pairings in a single relationship creates a divide of consciousness and subsequent sexual morality.
John Allen Stevenson, in his article “A Vampire in the Mirror: The Sexuality of Dracula,” offers the additional perspective that attraction to Dracula’s character is almost natural and expected. Stevenson writes of “human sexuality in which the psychological or metaphorical becomes physical or literal” (142). Dracula is a metaphorical horror, it is not common knowledge that his kind exists and it should not be treated as such. Stevenson then presents the idea that sex and seduction is a part of a “vampire’s survival instinct” and that eating and sexual intercourse are very similar acts for them, both of them pleasurable and desirable (142). Therefore, when his presence is revealed to the women and he becomes less theoretical and more literal, this intensifies the presence of sex and seduction in the novel. The idea that sexual intercourse is an exaggeration of gluttony and is subsequently a sin presents these vices as equivalent to the evil of Dracula.
In relation to this, Dracula’s own pursuit of Lucy and Mina is about novelty. Stevenson presents the idea of vampiric seduction in relation to the term “exogamy”, which is defined as the custom of marrying outside a community, clan, or tribe. He writes that Dracula “defines the vampire… as a foreigner, as someone who threatens and terrifies precisely because he is an outsider” (Stevenson 139). Dracula himself represents the other; he is appealing because he is different and foreign, as well as powerful. As this sort of figure, he is “exclusively interested in the women who belong to someone” (Stevenson 139). Pursuing women like Lucy and Mina is about marrying outside of his own sort of culture. He already has three vampire women that seem to belong to him, but it is the novelty of human women that really excites him.
Dracula acts out the repressed desires and fantasies of others. While he is morally and physically described as disgusting, he is consistently associated with real, tangible beauty which therefore becomes a part of him. What really makes him remarkable is the exoticism of his appearance; “Dracula is, above all, strange to those he encounters-- strange in his appearance, strange in his physiology” (Stevenson 140). Perhaps the strangest part about him and vampirism is the equation of feeding to reproduction, as well as the lack of distinction between offspring and lovers. Vampires defy the boundaries of societal acceptance and are therefore seen as evil and horrific. Sexual relations with vampires, then, cross the boundaries of social expectations and instead become a threat.
Perhaps the predatory sexuality of the vampire is more empowering than ever before. It offers equality between the fallen or New Woman and evil incarnate. Charles Prescott, in his article “Vampiric Affinities: Mina Harker and the Paradox of Femininity in Bram Stoker's ‘Dracula’”, discusses the character of Mina Harker in relation to the implications of the New Woman and how this relation made Mina more susceptible to Dracula’s reign over her person. Prescott writes that “although Mina would like to understand herself as the ideal Victorian woman… her affinity with the vampire becomes legible through her ambivalence about the New Woman” (487). Mina has an overall ambivalent sense of self, which causes her to fall into the predatory sexuality of Dracula. She has some sort of belief that the New Woman are erotomaniacs, obsessed with sexual freedom. In her diary, she acknowledges the presence of the New Woman in society, wondering eventually if “she will do the proposing herself” (Stoker 89). In her words, there is a small amount of criticism, along with a tinge of jealousy. Mina’s femininity in Dracula is passive at best, making her the perfect victim to the predatory sexuality of vampirism.
In Gothic fiction, innocent women are pursued, unbeknownst to them, by predatory men. Gothic fiction fantasized the damsel in distress, using her destruction and loss of innocence as a form of terror. This terror and destruction are only enhanced with the addition of supernatural forces, such as vampires, to the Gothic novels. Spacks mentions that “supernatural appearances provide correlatives for emotional distress, underlining uncertainty and suggesting cosmic disturbance behind it” (204). The inhuman and evil that surround the
The only sexual acts within Bram Stoker’s novel are vampiric, which is directly related to the only time characters are explicitly sexualized is when they become vampires or are being seduced by Dracula himself. Vampiric movements are explicitly sexualized and their interactions with others are described in vivid detail. The most obvious and intense description of this is Mina’s dreadful experience with Dracula himself. Their actions are as follows:
“With his left hand he held both of Mrs Harker’s hands, keeping them away with her arms at full tension; his right hand gripped her by the back of the neck, forcing her face down on his bosom. Her white nightdress was smeared with blood, and a thin stream trickled down the man’s bare breast which was shown by his torn-open dress. The attitude of the two had a terrible resemblance to a child forcing a kitten’s nose into a saucer of milk to compel it to drink” (Stoker 300).
The sublime, in general, is defined through its relation to meaning. David Morris, in his article “Gothic Sublimity”, wrote that the sublime is “born in the moment when the normal relations between signifier and signified suddenly break down” (299). In other words, the moment when things become inexplicable is the space in which the sublime exists. In Gothic novels, sublimity is innovative-- it can be delineated as almost anything as long as it explores the complex nature of pain and fear. In the context of Dracula, it is important to note that Gothic novels present love and terror as complex and inexplicable. Therefore, “sexuality in the gothic novel, by contrast, cannot be regulated by prudence” (Morris 305). The mixture of attraction and repulsion is a consistent ideal of Gothic emotion and is eminently present in the existence of vampirism.
There is no doubt that, in this scene, Dracula and Mina are mimicking the motions of the act of fellatio. Dracula holds Mina by the back of her neck, forcing her face down onto something forbidden--both sexual and vampiric. The brief description of kittens suggests an air of innocence throughout this scene, relating to the freedom of sexuality within vampirism. The scene is intensified, also, and the connection made more clear when Mina describes the moment “when the blood began to spurt out, he took my hands in one of his, holding them tight, and with the other seized my neck and pressed my mouth to the wound, so that I must either suffocate or swallow some of the--” (Stoker 306). Mina’s continued description of this is followed by hysterics, demonstrating the socially proper way to react to any sort of sexual act. This entire scene is gruesome, yet somehow appealing. Mina does not fight or resist Dracula during the physical act they share, but in her recount of it, she is utterly horrified and feels debased by her experience. This horror and repulsion Mina is feeling emphasize the Victorian societal constructed belief that women should not enjoy sex or any imitations of it. She does, though, and her experience is a direct result of the sexual influence of vampirism.
Blood sharing, in vampirism, is undoubtedly a form of exaggerated orality in the most empowering way. In her article “Women and Vampires: Nightmares or Utopia?”, Judith Johnson writes that “if blood represents orality, then orality is no longer exploitative; the sexual relationship implied by the vampire’s kiss is more an exchange of passion than an enslavement” (78). Because vampires do not directly adhere to societal expectations, they offer an excess of empowerment to those who experience sexual relations with them. It is an acceptance and an abuse of power, offering “connections among erotic desire, lust for power, control of the beloved, and the division of resources” (Johnson 73). Women do not have to continue to be inferior to the man in the context of vampirism, and they do not have to be seen as uncanny “others”. Instead, they become their genuine narrative selves. The empowerment of vampirism threatens to subvert proper gender and behavioral expectations, and it must be disguised in order to prevent sexual anarchy.
Lucy Westenra’s descent into vampirism is parallel to the acceptance of female sexuality. Lucy’s character in herself demonstrates the most clear-cut contrast between vampiric sexuality and Stoker’s admission of Victorian ideals of repression and chastity. Even as a human girl, Lucy is obviously attractive and often dressed in white--this was a trait added by Stoker to emphasize her innocence and purity in life. The closer to being a vampire Lucy becomes, the more physically desirable she is. Her body and voice change and she becomes very open with her desire for Arthur, her fiance. As a full vampire, she is more beautiful and sensual than ever; she’s described as tantalizing and voluptuous. Her character’s parallel to sexuality culminates in her death scene as she is killed by Van Helsing and Arthur:
“The Thing in the coffin writhed; and a hideous, blood-curdling screech came from the opened red lips. The body shook and quivered and twisted in wild contortions; the sharp white teeth champed together till the lips were cut, and the mouth was smeared with a crimson foam. But Arthur never faltered. He looked like a figure of Thor as his untrembling arm rose and fell, driving deeper and deeper the mercy-bearing stake, whilst the blood from the pierced heart welled and spurted up around it…And then the writhing and quivering of the body became less, and the teeth ceased to champ, and the face to quiver. Finally it lay still. The terrible task was over” (Stoker 231).
The argument continues as Arthur and undead Lucy, in this scene, enact a parody of a sex act, which ends with death being equated to an orgasm. Subsequent to this scene, Lucy’s beauty returns to its innocent and naive descriptions. She is no longer a vampire in any extent and her sexual attraction has faded to simplistic beauty.
Gothic novels such as Dracula tend to place an emphasis on a concept known as the sublime. The sublime is used to describe something inexplicable or extraordinary, giving it a feeling unique unto itself. Patricia Meyer Spacks writes that the sublime “was associated with the vast the powerful, the terrible, and the obscure… because the sublime aroused powerful emotion, some imaginative writers hastened to avoid it” (208). The presence of the sublime in the Gothic novel arouses emotion in the readers. The gothic seemed to be more intense and engaged with horror/terror when the sublime was present. Spacks mentions that “Gothic novelists often attempted to create sublime effects through character as well as through the supernatural” (Spacks 206). Supernatural characters such as Dracula lend themselves to terror and awe, which are also both common reactions to the sublime.
The sublime is intended to shock readers out of reality with the possibility of things beyond reason and explanation. Dracula, as a character, defies all expectations and social norms. His sublimity is inherent in the power he holds over the other characters in the story, especially Lucy and Mina. In this case, the sublimity of the Gothic is operating within the realm of humans. While Dracula is not human, he has the body of one. It is his lack of humanity that makes him sublime and therefore "sexy." His transcendence of understanding associate him directly with different sorts of passion; rage and lust. Rage is elicited from characters such as Van Helsing and Jonathan Harker because of Dracula’s ability to take possession over women that don’t belong to him. Lust from Lucy and Mina, as well as the three female vampires, is directed only towards Dracula. Sexuality in the novel is not discussed except when in the context of Dracula himself.
In Dracula, the cause of the existence of the sublime is exasperated by death. Vampires are undead, therefore falling into the category of the subliminal dead. Death, in the Gothic, is invested with antithetical emotions of loathing and desire. It is not, however, absorbed in the beauty of sentimentality. The sublime does not have to be beautiful, but it is absolutely "sexy". David Morris wrote in “Gothic Sublimity” that “death is now so thoroughly interlocked with sexuality that it becomes difficult to know them apart” (309). The characters in Dracula only gain knowledge of vampirism through intimate relation and secondhand accounts. This makes vampires sublime because they remain a terrifying mystery. They are not simply perplexing, but they are representative of the very human desires that should be repressed, such as deviant sexuality and the empowerment of women through sexual relations. Vampires like Dracula are entangled in love and terror and represent a sort of sublime without the transcendance. To experience this, one does not have to come out of themselves and see the bigger picture. Rather, they have to become a deeper, more psychological version of themselves.
The sexuality of vampirism has progressed throughout the eras, becoming more and more explicit and less repulsing. Society’s fascination with vampires relates to fantasies of sexual and artificial paradises as well as a genuine belief in something more powerful than oneself. Bram Stoker’s Dracula explored the origins of vampiric sexuality, which was then equated between consumption and orality as well as lust and loathing. While the physical appearance of Dracula was ghastly, it was his otherworldly sense of self that truly made him appealing to the repressed sexuality of characters like Lucy and Mina. Vampirism allows for an outlet to be one’s authentic narrative self without having to completely transcend from reality, and this is what makes the prospect so "sexy" and appealing to so many generations of storytellers and readers.
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