A Brief Note on Vampires

Really this is more a discussion of Bram Stoker’s effect upon vampires and the vampire legend. While the idea of the charismatic and sophisticated vampire of current fiction was arguably born with John Polidori’s 1819 work, The Vampyre, it is Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel, Dracula that is remembered as the quintessential vampire novel, and the cornerstone of modern vampire legend. It is thanks to Stoker that the vampire became a dominant figure in the horror genre, with its own distinctive niche-genre.

Prior to Polidori and Stoker, the vampire was described as a bloated figure with a dark or ruddy countenance — the effect of intaking the blood of its victim(s) — and was usually clothed in some kind of shroud. Actually, the term vampire was not even popular until around the early 18th century, thanks to a large influx of superstitions from Eastern Europe and the Balkans. It actually led to a mass hysteria due to the increased level of vampire superstition that resulted in cases of corpses actually being staked and people being accused of vampirism. I guess you could say it was a whole new wave of witch trials.

But at the end of the day, no depiction of vampires in popular fiction was as influential nor as definitive as Dracula. Stoker’s vampirism was a disease of contagious demonic possession with more than a few undertones of sex, blood, and death — everything the Victorian Age was loudly proclaiming against. Stoker, like his fellow Englishman Oscar Wilde and his Dorian Gray, presented his audience with a lead male equal parts intriguing and despicable: a way to indulge in horrid vices, yet see the righteous prevail. It’s kind of like how you love reading the villains, but like it even more when the hero wins.

What Stoker brought was the suave, the debonair and the original sex to the vampire without sacrificing any of the danger. Dracula was certainly dangerous, but he also had an allure than was undeniable.


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