The Vampires’ Journey II: The romantic friend of the 19th century

SPOILER ALERT: A mild spoiler of Twilight series books and films (New Moon and Eclipse)

Vampire fiction has been on quite a journey over the last two centuries. Early traditional folklore of vampires tell stories of monsters who rise from the dead as rotting corpses to devour their living families. They were more like our current notions of zombies in horror than the forever young and pretty vampires that currently hold sway.[1]

Zombie romance anyone?

The early 19th century saw the creation of a new kind of vampire: a charming travel companion or a friend or comrade that develops a special bond with a human; being close to them outside of the prescriptive norms of love within the family and marriage in Victorian society. They threatened “the sanctioned distance of class relationships and the hallowed authority of husbands and fathers”.[2] The zombie-like vampire had to be left behind for a romantic attachment with humans to be possible. Vampires became human and usually youthful in appearance, and could become a metaphor for sexual awakening and possible transgression.

Auerbach traces the fascinating development of such literary creatures and shows how this form of the vampire flourished with creations such as Byron’s Augustus Darvell, friend to his male traveling companion, and Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla who loves her friend Laura.[3]

It was not long however, before such homoerotic friends were brought back into line. A theatrical production by J.R. Plance set in Scotland features the vampire Lord Ruthven who can only survive by drinking the blood of a woman, who he is “first compelled to marry”.[4] When I read about this I nearly laughed out loud at the startling similarity between Ruthven’s rules and the conditions that Edward places on Bella in the Twilight series. It tortures Edward to consider turning her into a vampire, as she desperately wants him to. If she must become a vampire he would rather have his father figure Carlisle do the deed. But ever the Victorian, he eventually agrees to do it for her on the condition that she agrees to marry him first. (This is also his condition for having sex. The act of biting and drinking her blood that would turn Bella is also a sexual metaphor. In Edward’s world-view it would only be proper to bite Bella if she was his wife).[5]

While there were many contradictions, 19th century vampires on the whole remained courtly and sought some kind of affinity with humans, though they often kept their need for love separate from their hunger for blood. For example, Carmilla feeds off peasant women but falls in love with Laura, a lady of her own class. But Auerbach makes the case of Carmilla’s uniqueness as a female vampire. She retains her own agency and is independent. “Her hunger is her own, not the projection of some megalomaniacal creator”,[6] as so many female vampires of vampire fiction tend to be. Examples include the sister-brides of Dracula, the pretty and inconsequential half-vampire girl Star in The Lost Boys (whose role is only to entice Michael into the gang of bad boy vampires) and Bree in the Eclipse Novella The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner. Her role is only to be a tool of Riley’s newborn vampire army and she remains unaware of the reasons for her vampire conversion.[7]

Illustration by David Henry Friston for Carmilla

Carmilla is also “one of the few self-accepting homosexuals in Victorian or any literature”.[8] This sets her apart from the many male vampires through the ages who rarely fully and openly recognise the desire within their friendships with male humans and fellow vampires, though this bubbles not far below the surface for us all to see. This becomes clearer in relationships between male vampires in more contemporary examples such as in Interview with the Vampire and between Angel and Spike of the Buffyverse. But touchy-feely romantic encounters in mainstream vampire fiction of the late 20th and early 21st centuries are mostly the preserve of male vampires with female humans and rarely focus on relationships between same sex vampire and humans. (A lot) more to say on that later…

Please note this is part two of the The Vampires’ Journey. Please see earlier posts if you feel you are missing something.

To be continued…

In the next post I will be moving on to the legacy of Bram Stoker’s Dracula

Text ©Angela Stapleford
Header and background images ©Angela Stapleford

[1] Nina Auerbach, Our Vampires, Ourselves, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London, 1995, p143.

[2] Auerbach, p6.

[3] Auerbach, pp13-60.

[4] Auerbach, pp21-22.

[5] This is one of the overwhelming moral messages of the Twilight saga, aimed at a pre-teen and teen audience. Don’t get bitten (read have sex) until you have a wedding ring on your finger. Of course other opinions are expressed by Bella for a while, but many readers will put themselves in her shoes and come to the conclusion that Edward’s romantic offer is too good to pass on.

[6] Auerbach, p40.

[7] It is also interesting that the release of the Bree Tanner novella shortly before the making of the movie Eclipse significantly influenced the emphasis of the movie. By expanding on the development of a minor character from the Eclipse novel the film also made the character of Riley the main threat, relegating the importance of the key female vampire threat of the novel, Victoria. This move may have been motivated by the need to create more of an action film than the previous movies and generate a young male audience having the young female audience safely secured. See for Maggie Parke’s analysis of this and the marketing of the Eclipse movie.

[8] Auerbach, p41.

One thought on “The Vampires’ Journey II: The romantic friend of the 19th century

  1. Pingback: Buffy re-watch: “Angel”, how did you react to Buffy and Angel’s first kiss? | Vampires These Days

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s