What would you think if you read a novel where a human man protagonist described a vampire attack like this?
I lay quiet, looking out from under my eyelashes in an agony of delightful anticipation. The fair girl advanced and bent over me till I could feel the movement of her breath upon me. Sweet it was in one sense, honey-sweet, and sent the same tingling through the nerves as her voice, but with a bitter underlying the sweet, a bitter offensiveness, as one smells in blood.
I was afraid to raise my eyelids, but looked out and saw perfectly under the lashes. The girl went on her knees, and bent over me, simply gloating. There was a deliberate voluptuousness which was both thrilling and repulsive, and as she arched her neck she actually licked her lips like an animal, till I could see in the moonlight the moisture shining on the scarlet lips and on the red tongue as it lapped the white sharp teeth. Lower and lower went her head as the lips went below the range of my mouth and chin and seemed to fasten on my throat. Then she paused, and I could hear the churning sound of her tongue as it licked her teeth and lips, and I could feel the hot breath on my neck. Then the skin of my throat began to tingle as one’s flesh does when the hand that is to tickle it approaches nearer, nearer. I could feel the soft, shivering touch of the lips on the super-sensitive skin of my throat, and the hard dents of two sharp teeth, just touching and pausing there. I closed my eyes in languorous ecstasy and waited, waited with beating heart.
If you don’t recognize the text, perhaps you are rolling your eyes. Not another paranormal romance! Vampires aren’t supposed to be beautiful! Voluptuous vixens with scarlet lips shining in the moonlight? Say it ain’t so!
I often find it humorous when I hear authors/readers criticizing story lines with romance between humans and vampires. The above quotes are excerpts from Bram Stoker’s Dracula. While it wasn’t the advent of vampires, it certainly popularized them and was the definitive novel of the trope to emerge from the nineteenth century.
If you had to describe Dracula in one word, there is only one possible answer — sex. The bloodlust of Dracula is reciprocated by a leading lady named Lucy, who invites the shape-shifting vampire into her bedroom to exchange fluids. Her friend Mina, while still maintaining some level of Victorian ideals, also is
smitten bitten by the Count. Later, while still human, she is seen on her knees, sucking at his bosom.
I had never read Dracula growing up and was unaware that the sexual connotations were carried out to such a great extent. Lucy (particularly) and Mina represent progressive women of the time and both share their bed, so to speak, with Dracula. But the men — oh, even the noblest of men — are utterly hopeless. The above quote shows Jonathan Harker’s near demise, but the wise counselor, Dr. Van Helsing, had this to say about one of the Vampirettes:
She was so fair to look on, so radiantly beautiful, so exquisitely voluptuous, that the very instinct of man in me, which calls some of my sex to love and to protect one of hers, made my head whirl with new emotion.
Bram Stoker’s writing is somewhat clumsy at times, but I am absolutely fascinated with the deep symbolism in Dracula. It is a satire on Victorian society and a rich allegory on the Christian tradition. The epistolary novel weaves multiple viewpoints in a sometimes non-chronological order in which the reader must properly place the pieces back into sequence. Its very roots lie in what many modern readers and story tellers are quick to criticize — forbidden romance and beauty. The vampires shine. They’re radiant. And it takes the suppression of every last instinct to avoid falling prey to their seduction.
Now, I’m not saying I like my vampires to sparkle in the sun and you won’t find me browsing in the paranormal teen romance section of the bookstore, but I think it is important to recognize the symbolism behind a classic novel such as Dracula. Even still — if I have my druthers, I’ll still pick up Salem’s Lot, I am Legend, They Thirst, or The Traveling Vampire Show before I’ll reach for Twilight or Sookie Stackhouse. They’re just cooler that way.