Hi friends! 👋🏻 Vampires have been officially declared to be ‘back’ (as if they ever went away) and with that comes a lot of discussions and conversations about what vampires and horror as a genre ‘inherently’ is.
I am not a fan of things being labelled as ‘inherently’ something or another, especially when it’s something as far-reaching, flexible, and historical as the horror genre and monsters. These things have been around for a very long time and have been interpreted in so many different ways that it’s difficult to count all of them.
If you didn’t know (but you likely do), I have both a BA and an MA in English Literature and my biggest focus was on Gothic fiction and vampire literature. I have done a lot of research in my studies and I write my own vampire stories so I feel like I’m qualified enough to talk about this.
I say as I unofficially and undemocratically declare myself the Vampire Queen of book bloggers…
If you’re curious to do some digging yourself, here are some resources that helped me a lot in my dissertations many moons ago:
- Our Vampires, Ourselves by Nina Auerbach (1995)
- Children of the Night: Vampirism as Homosexuality, Homosexuality as Vampirism by Richard Dyer (1988)
- Blood Read: The Vampire as Metaphor in Contemporary Culture by Veronica Hollinger (1997)
- Reading the Vampire by Ken Gelder (1994)
- Skin Shows: Gothic Horror and the Technology of Monster by Jack Halberstam (1995)
vampires are very, very old monsters
Vampires are creatures from folklore and vampire stories from hundreds of years ago are very different to how we characterise them now. The idea of the vampire being a suave and sophisticated creature is relatively new compared to the original folkloric vampires who were bloated, dirty corpses that wore shrouds. They were likely invented as a way of scaring people into being good in this life, or else they would come back at a vampire in the next.
Before we started to use vampires as metaphors for things, they were stock monsters from folklore that would be used to scare children into behaving, just like fairies or banshees, and every culture has its own variation of the vampire outside of the classic Dracula-esque nobleman (and even he has been portrayed in different ways!).
vampires are colonisers
I fully believe that vampires have political overtones, and the vampire as a coloniser is one of my favourite interpretations. If you do a reading of Dracula through a postcolonial lens, you could come to the conclusion that the Count is a criticism of British imperialism: a mysterious, odd-looking stranger who claims to be of noble birth comes to England from a faraway land to buy a house and ends up leaving a trail of bodies in his wake. Sounds a little familiar, doesn’t it?
A more recent example of this is the movie The Inheritence and while I can’t talk too much about that movie without giving away the entire plot, it very heavily uses vampires as a metaphor for the elite classes and aristocracy: feeding off of the working classes and using them as sacrifices while trying to keep their own bloodline as “pure” as possible in order to maintain the status quo.
To add to the political overtones but of a different sort, Karl Marx once described capital as “dead labour which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks.” (Das Kapital, 1867)
vampires are diseased
‘Diseased’ is a pretty crass way for me to describe it, but there are arguments that vampire myths came about because of rabies. Hypersensitivity to light and susceptibility to garlic are symptoms of rabies and wolves and bats (animals that are closely linked to vampires) are known carriers of the disease which is spread through biting, just like vampirism.
Vampirism could also be seen as a metaphor for blood-borne viruses like HIV/AIDS, as they often leave the body deteriorated and fatigued before death, just like someone turning into a vampire could. Lucy from Dracula was given multiple blood transfusions (a possible way of contracting HIV) after being bitten which led to her eventual death and turning.
vampires are kinky
As we moved away from the historically monstrous vampire, vampires have become more erotic and alluring. The image of a vampire biting someone’s neck is something universal and that’s because the throat is an erogenous zone. It doesn’t really matter that the carotid artery carries waste blood away from the heart, there are a lot of sensitive nerves there and it’s a way of being sexual without getting too explicit.
Even when movie studios enforced that couples could only kiss for three seconds, vampires were shown going for necks. Blood is something that a lot of people don’t like to think about or even see because a lot of people think that bodily fluids of any kind are gross, which makes sharing blood and drinking blood a taboo thing. Blood fetishism often gets called ‘vampirism’ for this very reason.
Dangerous sexuality is something that is very common in vampire fiction, whether that’s in queer relationships or heterosexual relationships. When Lucy Westenra is turned into a vampire in Dracula, she becomes a lot more sexual towards her suitors and it obviously causes them to freak out because it’s the 1890s and women just do not behave like that. Even today female sexuality is something that is frowned upon and a woman being dominant in the bedroom is seen as something out of place because women are expected to be submissive.
vampires are queer
This is the one that people get the most passionate about and the reason why I decided to write this post. A lot of people have somehow agreed that vampires are ‘inherently’ queer and, obviously, I disagree with that. Vampirism can be a metaphor for queerness, but as I have explained, vampirism can be a metaphor for anything. Monsters in general are metaphors used for many different things, whether that be scaring kids into being good, giving our fears faces, or discussing alienation.
Vampires as a metaphor for queerness is one that’s becoming increasingly popular since being queer is more acceptable than it was when Le Fanu wrote Carmilla and vampires can be seen as a symbol of sexual freedom. The right to be intimate with anybody in any way that they want to is something that many people desire, and a lot of queer people have seen themselves as being sexual outsiders in society, just like how vampires are warned against in fiction, people have been warning against queer people.
Homoerotic motifs have been present in vampire fiction for hundreds of years now, in works such as Polidori’s The Vampyre, Le Fanu’s Carmilla, Stoker’s Dracula, and Anne Rice’s The Vampire Chronicles, most famously.
talk to me!
What do you think vampires are a metaphor for?