The vampire enables us to recognise that the Other is part of ourselves


In 2001, Gina Wisker wrote:

We usually associate vampires with men, the most famous being Dracula, based on Vlad the Impaler. However, vampiric tendencies are found in women too, encompassing, among others, Elizabeth Bathory, the ‘Sanguinary Countess’ who bathed in the blood of over 600 virgins to remain youthful, and Indian legends of devouring vampiric mothers. Their roots in myth and legend, these bloodthirsty historical figures are the two-dimensional great-grandparents of culturally constructed, constantly metamorphosing fictional vampires. In conventional fictions, women vampires connote unlicensed sexuality and excess, and as such, in conventional times, their invocation of both desire and terror leads to a stake in the heart – death as exorcism of all they represent. Contemporary women writers, however, have found in the figure of the vampire marvellous potential for radical reappropriation. The status of vampires as cultural indices and metaphors has been revalued by contemporary women vampire-fiction writers, aligning them with a new feminist carnivalesque. They infuse the age-old figure with new life and new potential to comment on what it means to be human.” (p.167)

“When women must appear pure and virtuous angels in the home to underwrite the power of the Victorian patriarch, liable himself to slum it among darker streets and ladies of more dubious morality, the vampire turns up and turns the angel into a voluptuous, voracious, immoral seductress. Cultural terrors have been neatly embodied in his elegant/hideous, godlike/bestial form (Rymer’s Varney the vampire [1847], Polidori’s Lord Ruthven [1819], Lord Byron as vampiric figure). Destroying vampires with Christian icons reinforces the safety of conventional belief and restores order. As in all good horror tales, boundaries, tested and strained, are reinforced. The evil is without, order reigns again.” (p.168)

The figure of the vampire, that archetypal male villain, seducer, femivore (Schlobin, 1989), has been radically reappropriated and rescripted by contemporary women writers such as Anne Rice, Poppy Z. Brite, Jeanne Kalogridis, Jewelle Gomez and Sherry Gotlieb. Engaging with the challenge that conventional horror offers, of female victims and sexually voracious monsters, they have revived and reinterpreted the vampire to their own radical ends. They revalue the Mother, infuse their work with the disruptive power of the erotic, and centre-stage the vampire in a variety of challenging forms: rock star, flâneur, gay/lesbian/queer. These figures provide social critique, highlighting and questioning the enforced fixity of roles and behaviours.
One of the fundamental challenges that the vampire enacts is to philosophical constructions underlying social relations. Whether used as the worst kind of terror to be exorcised or, in its contemporary form, as potential social/sexual transgressor to be disempowers western logical tendencies to construct divisive, hierarchical, oppositional structures. In restrictive, repressive eras the vampire’s transgression of gender boundaries, life/death, day/night behaviour, and its invasion of the sanctity of body, home and blood are elements of its abjection. But in its more radical contemporary form, it is no longer abject, rejected with disgust to ensure identity (Kristeva, 1982, clarifies the positioning of woman and Mother as abject alongside those other elements that need rejecting from the body to recognise the self). Instead it enables us to recognise that the Other is part of ourselves. The vampire dramatises endless potential for radical alternative behaviour, for celebrating our Otherness. In their work, contemporary women vampire writers embrace the radical challenge, which this androgynous figure enables, to dismantle patriarchy’s reductive binary thought and behaviour processes.” (p.168)

Ref: (emphases in blue bold, mine) Gina Wisker ‘Love Bites: Contemporary Women’s Vampire Fictions’ pp.167-179 Ed. David Punter (2001) A Companion to the Gothic. Blackwell Publishers: Oxford, UK; Malden, Massachusetts.


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