The Vampire: the Genesis of a Long-standing Character
Nobody actually knows where the vampire comes from. It is common knowledge that it is a typical figure of Slavic and Eastern European folklore
Nobody actually knows where the vampire comes from. It is common knowledge that it is a typical figure of Slavic and Eastern European folklore endowed with special powers but, still, its etymology is unknown and legends abound on its genesis.
It is interesting to note that initially vampires were not masculine at all, but rather they were women. To begin with, biblical sources point to Lilith, a Mesopotamian demon, who announces storms and winds (remember vampires tend to appear in very foul weather).
Therefore, the proto-vampire has female features. Thus, one may ask, why are vampires often elderly men? This is because Western society ended up being ruled by patriarchy and any residue of previous female domination was obliterated.
Up to the Nineteenth Century, we have to rely on sparse records of such creatures until John Polidori’s tale The Vampyre (1819) initiated the genre. It is a tale where the West (England) and East (Greece) meet, threatened by the shadow of Lord Ruthven, the eponymous vampire, who kills two women.
From the 1830s onwards, English Literature is dominated by realism, forgetting the strain of vampirism, but this does not apply to Ireland. Two Irish writers, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu and Bram Stoker, are credited with re-establishing the vampire in literary circles. The former is the author of the celebrated tale Carmilla (1872), from the collection In a Glass Darkly. Le Fanu, a Huguenot, knew the Bible backwards, because he could manipulate a quote from a Pauline epistle, to show how mysterious and impenetrable human nature is. A female vampire frightens the main character, Laura, and yet she seems to feel some kind of attraction to her, betraying the powerful sexual nature such creatures hide. Thus, we readers know that, in this instance, the vampire works as a psychological ploy to let people show their true feelings a rigid and suffocating world.
Dracula (1897) is another story. The famous Transylvanian nobleman embodies a past and archaic social order; he is a throwback to feudalism in a capitalist-orientated world. Therefore, when he arrives in England, the vampire feels completely out of place and his death signifies his inability to cope with new social structures. Not only does Dracula account for the fascination of the plot, but the shifting viewpoints and diverse narrative strategies (journals, letters, and so forth) make the book even more engrossing.
Patriarchy and a male-orientated society rewrote and recast the female vampire into a male one, but this character cannot live in a world dominated by economic values and must succumb.