views updated May 11 2018


Russian vampir, South Russian upuir, probably from the root pi, to drain, with the prefix va, or av. A dead person who returns in spirit form from the grave for the purpose of sucking the blood of living persons, or a living sorcerer who takes a special form for destructive purpose. Webster's International Dictionarydefines a vampire as "a blood-sucking ghost or reanimated body of a dead person; a soul or re-animated body of a dead person believed to come from the grave and wander about by night sucking the blood of persons asleep, causing their death."

The belief in vampires is an ancient one. It was found in ancient India, Babylonia, Greece, and for a time accepted by early Christians. The conception of the vampire was common among Slavonic peoples, especially in the Balkan countries and in Hungary, Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia.

In these territories from 1730 to 1735, there was a claimed epidemic of vampirism, but it was by no means confined there. In Russia and the Ukraine it was believed that vampires were generally wizards or sorcerers, but in Bulgaria and Serbia it was thought that any corpse over which a cat or a dog jumped or over which a bird flew was liable to become a vampire. In Greece, a vampire was known as a broncolaia or bourkabakos, which was identified with the Slavonic name for "werewolf," vlkodlak, or vukodlak. The vampire, too, was often supposed to steal the heart of his victim and to roast it over a slow fire, thus causing interminable amorous longings.

Marks of Vampirism

Vampirism is said to be epidemic in character: where one instance is discovered it is almost invariably followed by several others. It is believed that the victim of a vampire pines away and dies and becomes in turn a vampire after death, and so duly infects others.

After the disinterment of a suspected vampire, various well-known signs are looked for by experienced persons. Thus, if several holes about the breadth of a man's finger are observed in the soil above the grave, the vampire character of its occupant may be suspected. The corpse is usually found with wide-open eyes, ruddy, life-like complexion and lips, a general appearance of freshness, and shows no signs of corruption.

It may also be found that the hair and nails have grown as in life. On the throat, two small livid marks may be observed. The coffin is also very often full of blood, the body has a swollen and gorged appearance, and the shroud is frequently half-devoured. The blood contained in the veins of the corpse is found, on examination, to be in a fluid condition as in life, and the limbs are pliant and have none of the rigidity of death.

Examples of Vampirism

Many tales of vampirism have been recorded. Charles Ferdinand de Schertz, in his work Magia Posthuma, printed at Olmutz in 1706, related several stories of apparitions of this sort.

One, among others, was of a herdsman of the village of Blow near the town of Kadam in Bohemia, who visited several persons who all died within eight days.

At last, the inhabitants of Blow dug up the herdsman's body and fixed it in the ground with a stake driven through it. The man, even in this condition, laughed at the action of the people about him and told them they were very obliging to furnish him with a stick with which to defend himself.

The same night, he extricated himself from the stake, frightened several persons by appearing to them, and caused the deaths of many more individuals. He was then delivered into the hands of the hangman, who put him into a cart in order to burn him outside the town. As they went along, the carcass shrieked in the most hideous manner and moved as if it were alive, and upon being again run through with a stake, it gave a loud cry, and a great quantity of fresh blood issued from the wound. At last, the body was burned to ashes.

Augustine Calmet, in his Dissertation on Vampires appended to his Dissertation upon the Apparitions of Angels, Demons, and Ghosts (English translation, 1759), gave several instances of vampirism:

"It is now about fifteen years since a soldier, who was quartered in the house of a Haidamack peasant, upon the frontiers of Hungary, saw, as he was at the table with his landlord, a stranger come in and sit down by them. The master of the house and the rest of the company were strangely terrified, but the soldier knew not what to make of it. The next day the peasant died, and, upon the soldier's enquiring into the meaning of it, he was told that it was his landlord's father who had been dead and buried above ten years that came and sat down at table, and gave his son notice of his death.

"The soldier soon propagated the story through his regiment, and by this means it reached the general officers, who commissioned the count de Cabreras to make an exact enquiry into the fact. The count, attended by several officers, a surgeon, and a notary, came to the house, and took the deposition of all the family, who unanimously swore that the spectre was the landlord's father, and that all the soldier had said was strictly true. The same was also attested by all the inhabitants of the village.

"In consequence of this the body of the spectre was dug up, and found to be in the same state as if it has been but just dead. The count de Cabreras ordered its head to be cut off, and the corpse to be buried again. He then proceeded to take depositions against other spectres of the same sort, and particularly against a man who had been dead above thirty years, and had made his appearance there several times in his own house at meal-time. At his first visit he had fastened upon the neck of his own brother, and sucked his blood; at his second, he had treated one of his children in the same manner; and the third time, he fastened upon a servant of the family, and all three died upon the spot.

"Upon this evidence, the count gave orders that he should be dug up, and being found, like the first, with his blood in a fluid state, as if he had been alive, a great nail was drove through his temples, and he was buried again. The count ordered a third to be burnt, who had been dead above sixteen years, and was found guilty of murdering two of his own children by sucking their blood.

"The gentleman who acquainted me with all these particulars, had them from the count de Cabreras himself, at Fribourg in Brisgau, in the year 1730."

Other cases alluded to by Calmet are as follows:

"In the part of Hungary on the other side of the Tibiscus, the people named Heydukes have a notion that there are dead persons, called by them vampires, which suck the blood of the living, so as to make them fall away visibly to skin and bones, while the carcasses themselves, like leeches, are filled with blood to such a degree that it comes out at all the apertures of their body. This notion has lately been confirmed by several facts.

"About five years ago, an Heyduke, named Arnold Paul, an inhabitant of Medreiga, was killed by a cart full of hay that fell upon him. About thirty days after his death, four persons died suddenly, with all the symptoms usually attending those who are killed by vampires. It was then remembered that this Arnold Paul had frequently told a story of his having been tormented by a Turkish vampire, in the neighbourhood of Cassova, upon the borders of Turkish Servia (for the notion is that those who have been passive vampires in their life-time become active ones after death; or, in other words, that those who have had their blood sucked become suckers in their turn) but that he had been cured by eating some of the earth upon the vampire's grave, and by rubbing himself with his blood. This precaution, however, did not hinder him from being guilty himself after his death; for, upon digging up his corpse forty days after his burial, he was found to have all the marks of an arch-vampire. His body was fresh and ruddy, his hair, beard, and nails were grown, and his veins were full of fluid blood, which ran from all parts of his body upon the shroud that he was buried in. The hadnagy, or bailiff of the village, who was present at the digging up of the corpse, and was very expert in the whole business of vampirism, ordered a sharp stake to be drove quite through the body of the deceased, and to let it pass through his heart, which is attended with a hideous cry from the carcass, as if it had been alive. This ceremony being performed, they cut off the head, and burnt the body to ashes. After this, they proceeded in the same manner with the four other persons that died of vampirism, lest they also should be troublesome. But all these executions could not hinder this dreadful prodigy from appearing again last year, at the distance of five years from its first breaking out. In the space of three months, seventeen persons of different ages and sexes died of vampirism, some without any previous illness, and others after languishing two or three days. Among others, it was said, that a girl, named Stanoska, went to bed in perfect health, but awoke in the middle of the night, trembling, and crying out that the son of the Heyduke Millo, who died about nine weeks before, had almost strangled her while she was asleep. From that time she fell into a languishing state, and died at three days' end. Her evidence against Millo's son was looked upon as a proof of his being a vampire, and, upon digging up his body, he was found to be such.

"At the consultation of the principal inhabitants of the place, it was considered how it was possible that the plague of vampirism should break out afresh, after the precautions that had been taken some years before: and, at last, it was found out that the original offender, Arnold Paul, had not only destroyed the four persons mentioned above, but had killed several beasts, which the late vampires, and particularly the son of Millo, had fed upon. Upon this foundation a resolution was taken to dig up all the persons that had died within a certain time. Out of forty were found seventeen, with all the evident tokens of vampirism; and they had all stakes drove through their hearts, their heads cut off, their bodies burnt, and their ashes thrown into the river."

Methods of Extirpation

The commonest methods of extirpation of vampires are beheading the suspected corpse, taking out the heart, impaling the corpse with a white-thorn stake (in Russia an aspen), and burning it. Sometimes more than one or all of these precautions is taken.

Instances are on record where the graves of as many as thirty or forty persons have been disturbed during the course of an epidemic of suspected vampirism and their occupants impaled or beheaded.

Persons who dread the visits or attacks of a vampire sleep with a wreath made of garlic round the neck, as garlic is supposed to be especially obnoxious to the vampire.

When impaled, the vampire is usually said to emit a dreadful cry, but it has been pointed out that intestinal gas may be forced through the throat by the entry of the stake into the body, and that this may account for the sound.

The method of discovering a vampire's grave in Serbia was to place a virgin boy upon a coal-black stallion which had never served a mare and to mark the spot that the horse refused to pass. An officer quartered in Wallachia wrote to Calmet, giving him an instance of this method.

A Bulgarian belief was that a wizard or sorcerer may entrap a vampire by placing some food for which the vampire has a partiality in a bottle. When the vampire enters in the shape of fluff, the sorcerer can seal up the flask and throw it into the fire.

Scientific Views of Vampirism

The British custom of piercing a suicide's body with a stake would appear to be a remnant of the belief in vampirism. Such beliefs were also to be seen in the Polynesian tii, the Malayan hantu penyardin (a dog-headed water demon), and the kephn of the Karens, which devoured human souls.

The English anthropologist E. B. Tylor considered vampires to be "causes conceived in spiritual form to account for specific facts of wasting disease." The Russian folklorist Alexander N. Afansyev regarded them as thunder gods and spirits of the storm, who sleep during winter in cloud coffins and rise again in spring.

Calmet's difficulty in accepting vampires was that he could not understand how a spirit could leave its grave and return there with matter in the form of blood, leaving no evidence that the surface of the earth above the grave had been stirred. But this view might be combated by the theory of the precipitation of matter.

In modern times, it is easy to understand how individuals in an unrecognized condition of cataleptic trance might have been prematurely buried alive and upon regaining consciousness have struggled to escape their horrible plight. Their bodies would have exhibited many of the signs associated with vampires.

It is now also generally known that some individuals suffer from a morbid fascination with human blood, and it would have been easy in the past to associate such unnatural appetite with vampirism. The infamous Countess Elizabeth Bathory of Transylvania (d. 1614) was reputed to have murdered nearly 700 young women in the belief that their blood would keep her young.

No doubt the observed activities of the various types of vampire bats (Desmodus Rufus, Didemus Yungi, Diphylla Caudata, Des-modus Rotunda ) in sucking blood from cattle and horses have helped to spread legends of vampires. The vampire bat drinks 20 ccs of blood per day and has been known to attack human beings. It also spreads rabies, thus enhancing stories of a vampire plague.

Psychic Theories of Vampires

Some individuals seem to have the ability to draw some kind of psychic energy from others. Every stage performer or public speaker is aware of the rapport which exists between performer and audience, and many have become expert at gaining confidence and power through some instinctive techniques of centralizing and transforming psychic or nervous energy.

The common experience of out-of-the-body travel or astral projection has sometimes been associated with visits to other individuals, as well as contacts with frightening elementals on the astral plane. Some occultists appear to have mastered techniques by which they can astrally project, and visit their victims while asleep and drain their vitality from them.

During the nineteenth century, the French Spiritualist Z. J. Piérart attempted to reconcile the theory of premature burial with astral projection by those who died after being buried alive. He wrote:

"Poor dead cataleptics, buried as if really dead in cold and dry spots where morbid causes are incapable of effecting the destruction of their bodies, the astral spirit enveloping itself with a fluidic ethereal body, is prompted to quit the precincts of its tomb and to exercise on living bodies acts peculiar to physical life, especially that of nutrition, the result of which, by a mysterious link between soul and body which spiritualistic science will some day explain, is forwarded to the material body lying still within the tomb, and the latter is thus helped to perpetuate its vital existence."

Adolphe d'Assier, in his book Posthumous Humanity (1887), admitted that the body of the vampire may be dead but the spirit earthbound and obsessed with the idea that the physical body must be saved from dissolution. Consequently the dense astral body feeds on human victims and, by some mysterious process, conveys the blood into the tomb.

Both speculations furnish explanations of the attestation of numerous ancient chronicles that fresh blood was found in the exhumed and uncorrupted body of dead people suspected of vampirism.

Following the occult boom of the 1950s, Bram Stoker 's powerful but much neglected masterpiece Dracula was taken up again, examined by critics and found to be as full of vitality as during Stoker's own lifetime. Almost by contagion, it has generated a plethora of horror movies, plays, and other vampire thrillers.

In Britain, the Dracula Society, with its general interest in Gothic themes, pioneered tourist expeditions to Transylvania, and in Stoker's Ireland, a Bram Stoker Society was founded to honor a much neglected Irishman. Through the 1980s and 1990s, the most active organization was the Count Dracula Fan Club, headquartered in New York City. However, in 1999, the club announced its closing.

Much of the interest in vampires has also been carried by fan clubs that have grown out of television series. "Dark Shadows" fandom, from the 1960s, had retained its vitality for over 30 years and still attracts 400-600 members to its annual meeting. Another set of fan clubs sprung up from "Forever Knight," the series featuring a vampire policeman from Toronto. As the century ended, vampire fandom received an unexpected boost from the successful series, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer."

In the 1990s, interest in vampires shifted largely to the Internet where thousands of sites cover all aspects of the vampire world. Over 2000 sites alone were devoted just to the "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" show in 1999. Vampire Junction, formerly a fan magazine, was one of the first to make the transition to the Internet and emerged as one of the most complete guides to vampires.

(See also Dracula ; Magia Posthuma ; Monsters )


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views updated May 14 2018


In encountering the vampire, we experience the fullest range of feeling expressed in any literary text or cultural production that deals with sexuality and gender. Desire, fear, denial, and criminality all are evoked. The vampire of folklore was a corpse that crawled from the grave to feed on the living, an expression of our fear of death and the dead; it could be male or female and was devoid of sexual charge.


It was only when an obscure doctor named John Polidori met the famous bisexual poet Lord Byron and the two entered into a horror-story competition with Mary Shelley (the author of Frankenstein) in 1816 in the context of a literary tradition—the Gothic—that was saturated in sexual dread, the vampire as it is understood in the modern era came into being. Polidori's "The Vampire" (1819) initiated a nineteenth-century literary tradition that included both the subpornographic penny dreadful Varney the Vampire (1847) and Sheridan Le Fanu's haunting "Carmilla" (1872), a lesbian vampire love story, before reaching its peak in Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897).


Dracula opens with the journey of the lawyer's clerk Jonathan Harker to Transylvania to handle Count Dracula's purchase of an estate near London. Trapped and terrified, Harker realizes the count's (homosexual) interest in sucking his blood and then his own "wicked desire" that Dracula's three monstrous "brides" will "kiss" him with their "red lips" (Stoker 1977, p. 42). After escaping he immediately marries his fiancée, a competent, typewriting trainee teacher named Mina, as if to wipe himself clean of sexually incriminating experience.

Shortly before these developments Mina's friend Lucy Westenra—spoiled, rich, and flirtatious—reports her own betrothal to the aristocrat Arthur Holmwood. He proposed, Lucy reveals, on the same day as two other suitors: the asylum director Dr. Seward and the Texan adventurer Quincey Morris. Mina accompanies Lucy to the seaside, where—shortly after Dracula, in the form of a wolf, leaps ashore from a derelict foreign ship—Lucy falls into an unaccountable pattern of nightly sleepwalking.

After returning home, Lucy wastes away, voluptuously. Dr. Seward sends for his old mentor, Professor Van Helsing, who orders immediate blood transfusions from Arthur, then Seward, then Morris, and finally Van Helsing himself until "the blood of four strong men" is in her veins (Stoker 1997, p. 138). Yet every night it is drained away by Dracula, who comes to her window in the form of a bat.

Lucy dies—apparently. However, shortly afterward a beautiful lady is reported abducting and biting children. It is Lucy: She is undead, a vampire. The four men track her to her tomb, where they drive "a round wooden stake, some two and a half or three inches thick and about three feet long" (Stoker 1997, p. 190) into her body and decapitate her, thus "set[ting] her free" (Stoker 1997, p. 191).

The hunt is on to save London—and civilization—from Dracula. Combining forces with Harker and Mina, the four men force the vampire to flee, but not before he enacts an obscene ritual of union with Mina that is strongly reminiscent of breast-feeding, opening a vein in his chest and forcing her to drink. They track the vampire across Europe and decapitate him just before he returns to the safety of Castle Dracula. That act of symbolic castration restores the "unclean" Mina to purity.


Although Stoker disclaimed all interest in "sex impulses" (Farson 1976), his novel has rightly been described as "a vast polymorphic perverse bisexual oral-anal genital sado-masochistic timeless orgy" (Maurice Richardson, quoted in Farson 1976, p. 211). Its suggestive fecundity has spawned a proliferating family of literary, theatrical, and filmic productions that range from F. W. Murnau's German expressionist silent film Nosferatu (1922), the ancestor of all horror movies, to Anne Rice's best-selling forays into ersatz New Orleans decadence. Together these texts constitute a modern mythology of perverse, queer, and sadistic sexuality.

Dracula's inexhaustibility has also depended on repression, both Stoker's and his culture: It talks about sex without talking about it, depending heavily on what Freud, who was formulating his theories of sexuality as Stoker was writing, called displacement: biting teeth for penetrating penis, neck for breast, mouth for vagina, vampire contagion for incest and masturbation (the count, Harker notices, has hairy palms like the textbook Victorian self-abuser), and so on. Supernaturalism has a further sanitizing effect, but death is the greatest alibi of the story, allowing entry into the bedroom and emphasis on the body. The novel also participates in the ancient association of sexual climax and death (in French, an orgasm is termed le petit mort, "the little death").

Vampiric eternal life—undead persistence—depends not only on a fatal act of (sexual) penetration but on blood, in a blasphemous parody of the Christian Eucharist. However, the vampire's blood dependence is also animal, producing, like the count's ability to take animal shape, a strong suggestion of bestiality. As Judith Halberstam (1995) notes, Dracula embodies a monstrous, threatening sexuality. And the blood the vampire craves is alternately figured as female and male.

In Dracula as in Victorian pornography generally, female sexual experience is imagined as a bitterly painful "ordeal" (Stoker 1997, p. 191): a rape and a defloration. A defloration demands blood, both as proof of the woman's virginity (and thus of exclusive male possession) and as the visible mark of sadistic pleasure. Most disturbingly, in this novel, revealing the depth of its misogyny and sexual sad-ism, female blood flows most freely not when Dracula bites but when Lucy's fiancé, Arthur, drives his three-foot stake, the monstrous penis of male fantasy, through her body, which "shook and quivered and twisted in wild contortions,… whilst the blood … spurted up around it" (Stoker 1997, p. 192) to the accompaniment of her screams.

Stoker may or may not have been inspired by lurid historical accounts of Elizabeth Bathory, a fifteenth-century countess who bathed in the blood of her female servants, though he was aware of her distant relation, the sadistic Vlad Tepes, the "Impaler," a model for Dracula. Stoker certainly knew about a recent scandalous exposé of the London sex trade that revealed not only that a man could buy a virgin for the purposes of bloody defloration but also that he could rent a soundproofed room in which to enjoy her screams safely. Sadism is the prevailing mood and rape is the paradigmatic action of the vampire myth; both are inherited from Victorian culture. Both are also critical to the "slasher" and horror genres generally, showing how large and dark a shadow Dracula has thrown over the modern sexual imagination. The twentieth-century tabloid press certainly recognized this heritage in dubbing the 1920s German serial killer Fritz Haarmann, who sometimes ate his victims, the "Hanover Vampire" and John Haigh, who admitted to drinking his victims' blood in the 1940s, the "London Vampire."

Blood, however, is coded male as well as female. The scene of Mina at Dracula's breast not only stages infantile sexuality but resembles oral sex. As Freud's disciple Ernest Jones wrote: "In the unconscious mind blood is commonly an equivalent for semen" (Barreca 1990, p. 55); Mina is being forced to swallow the vampire's ejaculate. The transfusion of blood into Lucy's exhausted body thus also is revealed as a sex act: "no man knows till he experiences it," as Dr Seward says, "what it is to feel his own life-blood drawn away into the veins of the woman he loves" (Stoker 1997, p. 119).

The Lucy who is raped, the text posits, is not the real Lucy but an undead "Thing" (Stoker 1997, p. 192). Or one might say that there are two Lucys in Dracula: the pure virgin "Angel in the house" of Victorian gender ideology and her opposite, the whore. The novel lies about this, of course Lucy feels desire long before she encounters Dracula, and her pity for her disappointed suitors expresses itself as nymphomania: "Why can't they let a girl marry three men?" (Stoker 1997, p. 60). The novel also is deceptive about the desirability of the dependent domestic "Angel": Hostile images of woman as vampire, sapping man's vitality (economic as well as sexual), abounded at the end of the nineteenth century. A bitter poem by Kipling, for example, inspired the Hollywood "vamp" of the 1910s.

In Lucy's vampire/whore state her white gown is stained with blood, not only symbolically the blood of sexual experience but also the blood of the children on whom she has preyed. Thus, in Dracula murderous rape becomes necessary to social health, because, Victorians believed, sexual women are necessarily monstrous mothers. Moreover, in focusing on the feminine Lucy and the more masculine Mina, who strongly resembles the "New Woman" of the end of that century to the detriment of the supposed central character, Dracula both participates in the backlash that followed women's emergence into the public sphere and admits a more primal fear of female sexuality and the female body: The vampire mouth is a vagina dentata, a female orifice with teeth.


The mythology Stoker and his predecessors precipitated has allowed some space for female fantasy. Some of that fantasy is lesbian and/or bisexual and intermittently liberatory: Le Fanu's Carmilla is a desired lover as well as a feared monster. She is also, it turns out, the heroine, Laura's, maternal ancestor; for Le Fanu vampire contagion has an exclusively matrilineal descent. In Hammer Production's unabashedly sapphic Vampire Lovers (1970) lingering shots of the nude Carmilla (alluringly embodied by Ingrid Pitt) enable her seduction not of her nubile innocent victim but of the viewer. The horror specialist Hammer had moved from a merely luridly colorful to an overtly soft-core aesthetic with The Countess Dracula (also 1970, with Pitt as a vampiric version of Countess Bathory). Regardless of orientation, the Hammer vampire is a welcoming threat.

Some of the fantasy is masochistic or driven by cultural repression: vamping as a rape fantasy. There were traces of the vampire as a desired male seducer in Polidori's Lord Ruthven (based on Byron), but he was essentially the creation of Hamilton Deane, whose 1924 Dracula: The Vampire Play transformed Stoker's story into a drawing-room mystery melodrama and thus created the count of Halloween tradition, swathed in his impeccable evening cape (the cape was originally a stage prop; behind its folds and upright collar the count could "disappear"). The Hungarian immigrant Bela Lugosi's exotic good looks and stilted phonetic delivery gave the role a frisson of foreign eroticism; he repeated it in Tod Browning's 1931 Universal film production, the overheated publicity for which flamboyantly fetishized Lugosi/Dracula's sexually hypnotic gaze. The film unleashed a torrent of fan mail. That is one reason why, though Lugosi resented his eventual entrapment in camp self-parody, he was buried in 1956 in cape and full Dracula makeup. Frank Langella's Dracula as seducer (stage 1977, film 1979)—sophisticated, fangless, and never seen with blood on his face—was the antithesis of Max Schreck's Count in Murnau's terrifying Nosferatu (1922): stick-thin and rat-like, an alien phallus with teeth.


The product of a gay director and a "decadent" culture, the German Weimar Republic, for fifty years Nosferatu stood alone in confronting the male homosexual implications of the original text. Although Stoker was a classic Victorian prude, he was also a man of the equally "decadent" 1890s who was well acquainted with Oscar Wilde, whose trial for "gross indecency," it has been argued, gives Dracula its conflicted atmosphere of mingled homophobia and homoeroticism. Moreover, long before the Wilde scandal broke, in his working notes for the novel Stoker had written over and over the key line the count speaks to the brides who want to "kiss" Harker: "THIS MAN BELONGS TO ME" (Frayling 1991, p. 297). Dracula is a triangulated and displaced homosexual seduction story: By penetrating Lucy, Dracula actually drains the blood (i.e., semen) of "four strong men." Only homosexual panic can explain the peculiar intensity of Harker's vision of Dracula crawling headfirst down the castle wall. The period term for a homosexual was an invert, that is, a man upside down.

Nosferatu also engages the disease imagery of Stoker's novel. However, the disease Stoker had in mind as he created vampire sexuality was not plague (as in Nosferatu) but syphilis. That disease was epidemic in Britain at that time and was blamed on women, who were the exclusive targets of the Contagious Diseases Acts, subjected to forced examination and incarceration in "lock" hospitals. The same fury against "corrupting" women is said to have motivated Jack the Ripper's murders of London prostitutes in that period.

This hostility against women may have had a biographical motive. According to Stoker's granddaughter, his wife, Florence, a celebrated beauty whom he won from Wilde, refused to have sex with him after the birth of their only child in 1879. Frustration drove him to London's streetwalkers, whom Lucy, the sleepwalker, startlingly resembles. Stoker died of syphilis in 1912, and it is possible that as he wrote Dracula, he knew he had contracted the disease. Dracula the novel and the modern vampire myth it generated, then, are not only about sexuality but about sexual disease, or sexuality as a disease. In the age of AIDS that is another reason for the persistence of the vampire in the popular imagination.


Auerbach, Nina. 1995. Our Vampires, Ourselves. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Barreca, Regina, ed. 1990. Sex and Death in Victorian Fiction. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Farson, Daniel. 1976. The Man Who Wrote Dracula: A Biography of Bram Stoker. New York: St. Martin's.

Frayling, Christopher. 1991. Vampyres: Lord Byron to Count Dracula. London and Boston: Faber and Faber.

Halberstam, Judith. 1995. "Technologies of Monstrosity: Bram Stoker's Dracula." In Cultural Politics at the Fin de Siècle, ed. Sally Ledger and Scott McCracken. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge University Press.

Showalter, Elaine. 1990. Sexual Anarchy: Gender and Culture at the Fin de Siècle. New York: Viking.

Stoker, Bram. 1997. Dracula, ed. Nina Auerbach and David J. Skal. New York: Norton. (Orig. pub. 1897.)

                                              Joss Marsh

                                              L. Delgado


views updated May 18 2018


Historians document that vampires have most often been reported as inhabitants of shallow graves in the Eastern European countryside. Bram Stoker portrayed Dracula (1897), most renown of all revenants, as master of a gloomy and forbidding castle. For contemporary novelist Anne Rice, the French Quarter of New Orleans has long been a favorite milieu for the undead.

Perhaps the best place to find vampires is in the darker recesses of the human imagination. There is something about the image of the vampire that has attracted and fascinated as well as frightened and repelled. Understanding the vampire, then, may be a way of understanding some of the mysteries of the human psyche. Nevertheless, the vampire has not been constructed entirely of moonbeams and fantasies. There is a practical, down-to-earth side of the vampire that deserves careful attention.

Definition and History of Vampires

The vampire seems to defy the firm, mutually exclusive categories of being dead or alive. A vampire's biography begins with death. Furthermore, much of the vampire's time is spent as a corpse or corpse-impersonator. But at night, when the living lie themselves down, up rises the apparent corpse with its dangerous cravings. In the twenty-first century new definitional issues related to brain death, life support systems, persistent vegetative states, and the freezing of both embryos and cadavers (cryonic suspension) have blurred the boundaries between life and death. It is also recognized that some structures, such as the mosaic tobacco virus, can exhibit the properties of either a living or nonliving structure depending upon their situation. For much of history, though, it was the vampire who most daringly crossed and recrossed the borders between the living and the dead.

Vampires are sometimes referred to as "the undead" and sometimes as revenants, reanimated corpses that drink the blood of the living to preserve their own existence. Scholars currently believe that the word vampire derives from the Slavic language spoken in Serbia. The consensus is that vampire derives from the Slavic verb "to drink." The term was known in England in the late seventeenth century and entered other European languages early in the eighteenth century. Perhaps surprisingly, this term did not make its way to the supposed homeland of vampiresHungary and Transylvaniauntil some time afterward.

The vampire (by whatever name) may have been with humankind since earliest times. In his The Great Mother: An Analysis of the Archetype (1963), the analytical psychologist Erich Neumann suggests that early civilizations had an intensely conflicted attitude toward both the earth and femininity.

In the myths and tales of all people, ages, and countriesand even in the nightmares of our own nightswitches and vampires, ghouls and specters, assail us, all terrifyingly alike. . . . This Terrible Mother is the hungry earth, which devours its own children. (Neumann 1963, pp.148149)

Neumann offers many examples of rituals and artifacts to support his belief that the vampire is an ancient and universal symbol of the Great Mother swallowing up her own creations in order to recycle them in new form. However, this dramatic idea remains in need of more evidence for the supposed prevalence of vampirism in the ancient world and does not explain why males have been in the clear majority among vampire ranks (until the twentieth century). Scholars also reject the assumption that vampires are part of all world cultures. Native-American traditions, for example, have their own creatures of the night, such as the skinwalkers (restless spirits of the dead who sometimes make themselves visible), but these do not fit the precise profile of the vampire. A plausible case could be made for a widespread fear of the dead in many cultures, but not necessarily for belief in blood-sucking revenants.

It is clear that vampirism had a secure place in Slavic superstitions for many years before it became a household word with the publication of Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897). The author transformed these folk stories into a dark gothic romance. His leading character was inspired by a character he did not have to invent: Vlad Tepes, a fifteenth-century tyrant who slaughtered and sometimes tortured thousands of people. "Vlad the Impaler" was no vampire, though; he did his terrible deeds while alive and had a hearty appetite that did not include sucking blood. Stoker, using literary license, combined the historical Vlad with vampire legends and added a veneer of Victorian culture. Separating fact from fantasy became increasingly difficult as popular literary and theatrical vampires distanced themselves from their roots in anxiety-ridden folklore. Inquiring minds have therefore been following the trail of the vampire, classifying and explaining as best they can.

Folk and Literary Vampires

Classification and description are the first steps to shedding light on these dwellers in darkness. Of most interest to serious students of vampirism is the folk vampire. This is the creature who preceded the literary and commercial vampire. In general, the folk vampire is simpler, cruder, and less appealing than his citified cousin; therefore, folk vampires are seldom cunning or sexy. Many are just thirsty, and not always particular about their sources of nutrition. Rural vampires have been accused of rising from their graves to filch the blood of cows or other available livestock. Unlike the elegant Count Dracula, these revenants are foul-smelling and gross, as might be expected from those who, partially decomposed, spend much of their time in a grave.

Another common feature of folk vampires is that they are rarely, if ever, seen at work. The classic case for the existence of a local vampire is built upon (a) something bad that happened in the night and (b) discovering a corpse in its grave that did not appear sufficiently dead. The corpse might have flecks of blood on its face, especially the lips, and might seem to have changed position.

An important distinction can be made among folk vampires. Some are simple, brutish, and unfortunate creatures. Others, though, are corpses that have either been "vampirized" by evil forces or who have willed themselves to return and wreak vengeance on those they believe have wronged them. Not surprisingly, it is this more dangerous and evil form that has attracted the most attention. Vampire-finders, accompanied by the bravest of the brave and a representative of the church, sought and opened suspect graves and took measures to ensure that the inhabitants would henceforth remain in place. Decapitation and, of course, driving a stake through the heart, were among the specific remedies.

Literary and commercial vampires are generally more sophisticated and take better care of their appearances among the living. The sexual allure and prowess of vampires is almost entirely a literary embellishment, again owed chiefly to the Victorian imagination of Bram Stoker. There is little doubt that the popular success of vampires has been enhanced by their dangerous sexuality. These dark lovers were nearly perfect for a society that discouraged open expression of sexuality, especially for women. Vampires embodied both forbidden sexuality and escape from death but their wretched form of existence was punishment for their transgression.

Scientific and Philosophical Vampires

Another type of vampire has been created by those attempting to explain the creature on scientific grounds. The cultural historian Paul Barber has made a strong case for the vampire as a creature of ignorance and circumstance. He notes that most people have little knowledge about the normal course of postmortem changes. Natural events may therefore be given supernatural explanations. Furthermore, bodies may emerge from the grave for a variety of simple if disquieting reasons. Because the most influential collection of vampire reports comes from rural areas of Eastern Europe, Barber offers the following alternative explanations to the folk belief in the reality of the undead.

  • Animals dig up bodies from shallow graves.
  • Flooding uncovers bodies from shallow graves.
  • Grave robbers dig up corpses as they seek items or body parts for sale.
  • People dig up corpses to move them to other places.
  • Gases form in the corpse, sometimes causing postmortem movement.
  • Some corpses decompose slowly for various reasons (e.g., cold temperature or death by poison).

It may be added that fears of being buried alive were widespread in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Some of these fears were justified, for example, by an epileptic seizure or other loss of consciousness mistaken for death. Porphyria has been nominated repeatedly as a medical condition that produces pallor, giving the individual a somewhat bloodless appearance. The victims are highly sensitive to sunlight and therefore are likely to adopt lifestyles resembling the nocturnal vampire.

The philosophical (or inner) vampire has been created by those seeking to understand the meaning of vampirism in their own minds. Although the speculations have some grounding in fact, some are more appropriately offered as questions rather than answers. For example, is the vampire a sort of "middle man" who provides an image and focus point for all the organic recycling that occurs in nature through season after season and life after life? Is the vampire a concealed warning to humankind? Meaning, people should perhaps be content with one life and not grasp for more. Or, is it possible that within each person lurks an ancient and relentless archetype that seeks satisfaction in the most primitive ways despite one's learning, civilization, and moral development? However when one answers these questions, it is likely that the vampire will not be leaving its haunts in the human mind anytime soon.

See also: Aids; Brain Death; Buried Alive; Cryonic Suspension; Death Instinct; Definitions of Death; Ghosts; Gods and Goddesses of Life and Death; Horror Movies; Life Support System; Persistent Vegetative State; Personifications of Death; Sex and Death, Connection of; Thanatomimesis; Zombies


Barber, Paul. Vampires, Burial, and Death: Folklore and Reality. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1990.

Dresser, Norine. American Vampires. New York: W. W. Norton, 1989.

Dundes, Alan, ed. The Vampire: A Casebook. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1998.

Gladwell, Adele O., and James Havoc, eds. Blood and Roses: The Vampire in Nineteenth-Century Literature. London: Creation Press, 1992.

Heldreteth, Leonard G., and Mary Pharr, eds. The Blood Is the Life: Vampires in Literature. Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green University Press, 1999.

McNally, Raymond T., and Radu Florescu. In Search of Dracula. Greenwich, CT: New York Graphic Society, 1972.

Neumann, Erich. The Great Mother: An Analysis of the Archetype. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1963.

Perkowski, Jan L., ed. Vampires of the Slavs. Cambridge, MA: Slavica Publishers, 1976.

Rice, Anne. The Vampire Lestat. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1985.

Summers, Montague. The Vampire and His Kith and Kin. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1928.

Wolf, Leonard. The Annotated Dracula. New York: Clarkson N. Potter, 1975.



views updated Jun 08 2018

vampire The predatory aristocrat whose blood-lust leads him to drain the blood of peasants, usually young women, is the stock figure of the vampire as represented by the cinematic Nosferatu, John Polidori's Lord Ruthven, and Bram Stoker's Count Dracula. For the ‘undead’, this exsanguination is a reproductive act, that conflates both food and sex. The most effective means of reproduction for the vampire, however, has been textual. Novels such as Sheridan Le Fanu's Carmilla (1872), Stoker's Dracula (1897), and Prest's Varney the Vampire (1847) have perpetuated an image that continues to replicate itself throughout our culture rather like a virus. Vampirism is encoded within popular culture through a complex nexus of literature, folklore, and fantasy.

Traditionally the revenant, or undead, is a mouldering corpse dragging itself out of graves to feed off the life-blood of the living. Premature burial arising from times of plague is one explanation for the prevalence of the vampire phenomenon at certain periods in history. The mecca for vampires is Eastern Europe. The word itself is believed to be of Magyar origin, possibly derived from the Turkish uber, meaning witch. The term was first used in English in 1734, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, where vampires are described as ‘The bodies of deceased persons, animated by evil spirits, which come out of the graves in the night-time, suck the blood of many of the living, and thereby destroy them’.

In contrast, Stoker's eroticized and glamorous cloaked Count is a hybrid of the Wandering Jew and his hypnotic gaze, the libertine Lord Ruthven, who is based on Byron, and at least two notorious historical figures, whose careers were drenched in the blood of Eastern European peoples. These were Vlad Tepes, impaler and Romanian Prince, and Elizabeth Báthory, a Hungarian aristocrat, who was known as the Blood Countess of Cachtice. A sixteenth-century mass murderer whose sadomasochistic practices included biting off the flesh of her victims, Báthory's cruelties towards her servants escalated into capturing women and young girls who were then tortured and killed. Estimates of the numbers range from from thirty to over seven hundred. Their blood was drained for the Countess's rejuvenating bloodbaths, by such torturous contraptions as the cruelly spiked Iron Maiden. The horrors of Báthory's necro-sadism were written out of criminal history into fairy-tale, where she is represented as the wicked queen in Snow White, who contemplates her beauty at her looking-glass for hours on end. As this pathological behaviour suggests, vampirism can be a clinical phenomenon within which folklore, fantasy, and deviant behaviour converge.

The ingestion of blood can complement necrophilia, which consists largely of sexual satisfaction derived from physical contact with a dead body. Auto-vampirism can include self-induced bleeding, or auto-haemofetishism, which is a condition whereby sexual pleasure is derived from the sight of blood.

The most well-known association of pathological conditions with vampires and werewolves was with the rare group of diseases called porphyrias. Caused by the body's over-production of porphyrins — a normal component of haemoglobin (due in fact to an inborn error of metabolism), one type of this condition caused George III to produce blue urine and to collapse, foaming at the mouth. More obviously vampiric forms of the illness present themselves as an intolerance to light, wherein the skin cracks and bleeds, the gums and upper lip recede, and there is redness of the eyes, teeth, and skin. Seclusion from daylight and, ironically, drinking blood were prescribed remedies.

anaemia has also been attributed to the vampire. During the nineteenth century, sufferers on this side of the grave were treated with animal blood, which they were expected to imbibe. In Joseph-Ferdinand Gueldry's painting, The Blood Drinkers, of 1898, a line of pale and languid women queue up in an abattoir for a glass of warm ox's blood. It is likely that their anaemia had been caused by menstrual losses.

A link between menstruation and vampirism is made by Freud in his essay ‘The Taboo of Virginity’ (1918). Again, among the myriad ways in which Dracula may be read is as an anti-menstrual subtext, which pathologizes femininity and constructs female blood as polluted and male blood as pure. From the writings on menstrual taboo of Stoker's contemporary, James Frazer, in The Golden Bough, we can infer similarities between vampires and menstruating women. Both are condemned as unclean, agents of pollution, and instigators of corruption. Sharing an avoidance of mirrors and crucifixes, they have been barred from many churches, temples, and synagogues. Some pre-industrial societies believed that a man could die from having contact, particularly intercourse, with a menstruating woman — and to make love with a vampire was potentially lethal. In such cultures, after menarche, a young girl would be kept out of the sun lest she, vampire-like, shrivel up into a withered skeleton. Frazer explains that for their own protection these adolescent girls were kept in tenebrous seclusion, where they were suspended between life and death, heaven and earth, until marriage. Likewise, the vampire exists in a bodily state that is between life and death and in a spiritual limbo betwixt heaven and earth. The coffins to which vampires retreat in the day serve, like menstrual huts, as places of seclusion and safety. For both vampires, their victims, and menstruating women, it is normal for blood to flow outside the body. Mythologized as transgressing the natural order, menstruating women in some cultures have a kinship with vampires.

Psychic vampirism is an affliction that, according to the Victorian physician Jules Michelet, affects young girls: ‘A hysterical girl is … a vampire who sucks the blood of the healthy people around her.’ The female vampire is a species of the femme fatale, whose deadly vampiric embrace can be seen as a metaphor for the transmission of syphilis — a potentially lethal, sexually transmitted disease. Not just young female patients but also the male doctors, too, who are known as leeches or blood-suckers and who practise blood-letting, partake of the nature of vampires.

In his vampire-hunter's manual, called Traité sur les Apparitions des Ésprits et sur les Vampires (Paris 1746), Dom Augustine Calmet provides case histories of how he set out to ‘cure’ the supposed plague of vampires that was infecting eighteenth-century Europe. His first resort was decapitation, staking out the heart, and then incineration. The overkill of this zealous Benedictine monk was presumably due to the ambivalent attitude towards death which characterized the average vampire. More apotropaic methods (techniques for turning evil away) included stuffing objects into the orifices of corpses or confronting the ambulatory blood-sucker with a crucifix. The latest breed of fictional vampires, such as Ann Rice's androgynous vampires in her Vampire Chronicles, which began publication in 1976, have proved to be a strain resistant to such apotropaics, while Poppy Z. Brite's vampires are immune to the deleterious effects of religious symbolism. For them vampirism is drained of signification. In Lost Souls (1992), which is an appropriate title for the vampire entering post-modernism, the sexual significance of vampirism is no longer a means of reproduction but a sadomasochistic diversion.

The vampire is a sublimation of our fears of death and disease, articulating our resistance to an acceptance of the process of decomposition. Human decay involves discolouration, bloating, and leaking of blood-stained fluid from the mouth and nostrils — which have been misinterpreted as the superfluities of a blood-satiated cadaver. The taboos surrounding putrefaction and funereal rights, which can involve the second burial of the exhumed undead, suggest that it is not until a corpse no longer resembles the living, and only when it resides in its skeletal state as a momento mori, that the living can truly rest in peace.

Marie Mulvey-Roberts

See also sadomasochism; torture.


views updated May 23 2018


In European folklore, a vampire is a corpse that rises from the grave and sucks blood from the living. According to some accounts, the dead become vampires because demons or evil spirits enter their bodies. Vampires are also said to be dead werewolves, witches, criminals, suicides, and heretics. In some legends, the victims of vampire attacks turn into vampires themselves.

Much vampire folklore originated in Hungary and the Slavic areas of eastern Europe and western Russia. The most famous of all vampires, Dracula, is associated with the Transylvania region of Romania.

heretic person whose beliefs are contrary to church doctrine

The principal characteristic of the vampire is that when buried it does not decay like a normal corpse. Instead, it leaves the grave at night to search for victims. According to tradition, a vampire remains active as long as it can obtain blood. It avoids the sunsome sources say that direct sunlight will kill a vampireand often sleeps in its coffin by day. Methods of killing a vampire include driving a wooden stake through its heart, cutting off its head, and burning it. Garlic and Christian crosses are thought to offer some protection from a vampire's attack.

See also Dracula? Monsters; Werewolves; Witches and Wizards.

*See Names and Places at the end of this volume for further information.

Vampire Studies

views updated Jun 11 2018

Vampire Studies

Founded in Chicago in 1977 as the Vampire Studies Society by Martin V. Riccardo, the organization was the first vampire fan club to use the word "vampire" in its name (there had previously been several organizations built around Dracula). For several years the society published a Journal of Vampirism. The word "society" was dropped in 1990 and Vampire Studies now exists as a correspondence network and information clearing-house for people interested in all aspects of vampire lore. Those interested may contact Riccardo at P.O. Box 151, Berwyn, IL 60402-0151.


"The Lure of Martin V. Riccardo." Special issue of The Vampire Information Exchange Newsletter 53 (April 1991).

Melton, J. Gordon. The Vampire Book: An Encyclopedia of the Undead. 2nd edition. Detroit: Gale Research, 1999.

Riccardo, Martin V. Liquid Dreams of Vampires. St. Paul: Llewellyn Publications, 1997.

. The Lure of the Vampire. Chicago: Adams Press, 1983. . Vampires Unearthed. New York: Garland, 1983.


views updated May 17 2018

vam·pire / ˈvamˌpīr/ • n. 1. a corpse supposed, in European folklore, to leave its grave at night to drink the blood of the living by biting their necks with long pointed canine teeth. ∎ fig. a person who preys ruthlessly on others. 2. (also vampire bat) a small bat that feeds on the blood of mammals or birds using its two sharp incisor teeth and anticoagulant saliva, found mainly in tropical America. It belongs to the family Desmodontidae (or Phyllostomidae) and includes three species, esp. the common vampire (Desmodus rotundus). DERIVATIVES: vam·pir·ic / vamˈpirik/ adj.


views updated Jun 11 2018

vampire in European folklore, a corpse supposed to leave its grave at night to drink the blood of the living by biting their necks with long pointed canine teeth. The word comes (in the mid 18th century) via French from Hungarian vampir, perhaps from Turkish uber ‘witch’.

The 20th-century vamp for a woman who uses sexual attraction to exploit men is an abbreviation of this word.


views updated May 18 2018

vam·pir·ism / ˈvampīˌrizəm/ • n. the action or practices of a vampire.


views updated May 21 2018

vampire preternatural malignant being, supposed to suck blood; person who preys upon others; kind of bat supposed to suck blood. XVIII. — F. vampire or G. vampir — identical form in Sl. langs., in which there are vars. such as Russ. upȳr′, Pol. upiór.