bram stoker, carmilla, dracula, edward cullen, fashion, gender, gender issues, joseph sheridan le fanu, lumikko thinks, stephenie meyer, tanya dziahileva, through the looking glass, twilight, vampire, vampire fashion, vampire fiction, vampire movies, vampires, vlada roslyakova
There was a time when vampires weren’t this cool. When I wrote my Bachelor thesis on vampire literature vampire fiction wasn’t definitely a suitable topic according to most of my Professors. While vampires never ceased to be a hot commodity in fantastic literature and cinema, they were not popular with the masses. I am not here to state the obvious, but Twilight obviously changed that. I have no intention of beating the dead horse, Twilight sucks, we all know it. Still, it definitely changed the perception of such a long-lived archetype. What I find the most interesting is that it did, somehow, revolutioned what vampires stood for.
Vampires were sexy long before Edward Cullen (not that I find him sexy, mind you, but lots of people disagree with me). However, they embodied a type of sexuality that was considered deviant. Carmilla by Le Fanu, one of my favourite books, is a delicate love story between two girls, Carmilla and Laura, and a perfect example of the Victorian fascination with death and beauty. Women in vampire fiction have never looked more beautiful than when are close to death, so pale, so frail, so dainty. Carmilla, even with her pointy teeth, is beautiful, so easily fatigued, languid like a cat and desperately in love with poor Laura, who will spend the rest of her life longing for her lost friend.
You will think me cruel, very selfish, but love is always selfish; the more ardent the more selfish. How jealous I am you cannot know. You must come with me, loving me, to death; or else hate me, and still come with me, and hating me through death and after. There is no such word as indifference in my apathetic nature.”
― Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, Carmilla
Dracula is another great example of deviant sexuality in the contest of vampire fiction (I am obviously talking of deviance in the sense of “not conforming to social norms of the time”). Homosexuality, necrophilia, hypersexuality, sex with multiple partners, infidelity, non-procreative sex, blood play are all represented or hinted to in the book. Johnathan Harker is subjugated by both his strong-willed host and his vampire wives; Lucy, whose beauty and spirit had to be punished with death, becomes a temptress and needs to be metaphorically castrated, Mina is attacked by Dracula in her marital chamber, her sick husband unable to move, and almost forced to drink blood from the vampire’s chest.
Virgins are always unable to resist their vampire suitors, whose mesmeric power defeats social conventions and human will. Their weakness is almost pleasurable, and their descriptions of being bitten by a vampire are often eroticized, in a St. Teresa fashion.
Modern vampires do not need to seduce their partners: most people promise they would jump at the chance of immortality and marble like lovers. Besides, vampires in movies do not look that menacing anymore, they are sexy creatures and more than run away you should chase them and beg to be bitten.
I have a few ideas on modern vampires and how they would look like.
- Alexander McQueen
- Julien MacDonald
- Alexander McQueen
- Donna Karan
- Gareth Pugh
- Elie Saab
- Alexander McQueen
- Julien MacDonald
- Christian Dior
- Jean Paul Gaultier
- Sharon Wauchob
And two models I really like and would make perfect vampires, Vlada Roslyakova and Tanya Dziahileva.
So, what about Twilight? For the first time in history vampires are not the epitome of sexual deviance. They are beautiful, but chaste. Their sexuality is as conventional as possible. Now, they are dangerous because they promise wedding at 18, eternal fidelity and romance in unhealthy doses. Gone are the days of dread and terror, the conflict between God and the dark realm of these cursed creatures, the risk of death for one orgasmic dream. For girls who have been told they could be anything (even though the world hasn’t made it easier for them to fulfill those promises) Bella and Edward’s romance is a safe heaven without responsibilities (the future husband is rich, apparently believes his girlfriend is due to break at any point and should be carefully protected) and without having to face fears related to their first sexual experiences. Edward is adamant: no sex until marriage. But when sex finally happens it’s a disaster. The message being told is that men are going to harm you (=Bella waking up covered with bruises in a destroyed bed). Wasn’t Lucy’s dreams preferrable? Weren’t Carmilla’s kisses sweeter? Let’s not talk about Bella’s pregnancy. That’s a horror comparable to the shivers Victorian readers may have experienced while reading Varney’s adventures.
Bella becomes a vampire in the end, something that usually doesn’t happen to women who are pursued by vampires, but she is a victim nevertheless, unable to be saved by her heteronormativity and “good-girliness”. Edward Cullen is a far more dangerous example that any other vampire, since he is presented as a dream come true and never questioned about his controlling behavior. While readers of vampire fiction from the past were constantly told that enjoying those tales was morally disputable (but still oh so exciting) and reassured by the ending, where the vampire usually dies, girls reading Twilight are encouraged to think that Bella’s fate is enjoyable and desirable.
This is why Stephenie Meyer ruined vampires: not only because she made them sparkly and with teenage angst, but mostly because she took a subversive archetype of fantasy literature, which subtly introduced forbidden themes in our cultural memory, and she made it a repressive tool of conservatism and sexism.