The vampires of folklore are hideous and frightening figures, walking corpses that feast on the blood of the living. But during the Victorian era, writers began to create stories about a different kind of vampire, typified by an aristocrat who represented both death and sexual desire, a possible reaction to the repressiveness of the times. An early example of such a tale is John Polidori's The Vampyre, (1819) in which the title character, Lord Ruthven, is a seductive nobleman.
Another example is Sheridan Le Fanu's Carmilla (1871), notable because it features a sexy female vampire who seduces and drinks the blood of a female victim. Yet, the most famous and influential of all 19th century vampire fiction was Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897). Stoker introduced most of the characteristics that are now considered stereotypical of the vampire: their immortality, their ability to transform into bats, wolves or mist, and their lack of reflection in a mirror. Dracula was also seductive, and did not always kill his victims for sustenance, instead he could use his bite to turn humans into undead companions.
Since Stoker, the suave, romantic vampire has been a recurring character in popular literature, as well as film. One twist on the romantic vampire that became popular with Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire (1976) is the concept of a vampire who is uncomfortable with what he is, and rejects typical vampire ways, such as drinking human blood. Rice's interpretation has inspired many modern vampire romances in which it is the vampire's rejection of his violent and predatory nature that drives him toward a relationship with a human female and the desire to fight off other vampires to protect her, even if that means breaking the 'rules' of vampiric society. In Charlaine Harris's Sookie Stackhouse mysteries, Bill sustains himself with synthetic blood; while Stefan, in L.J. Smith's The Vampire Diaries, drinks animal blood, as he romances and protects his girlfriend. Edward and his 'adoptive' family also make do with animal blood in Stephanie Meyer's Twilight series, and his choice to love a human pushes him still farther from the acceptance of vampire society.
Urban fantasy vampire novels including Laurell Hamilton's Anita Blake series (which debuted in 1993 and is credited with jump-starting the urban paranormal trend), feature vampiric characters who--while they do not reject who they are--unapologetically engage in loving or sexual relationships with humans. Kim Harrison's The Hollows series features no-apologies vampires who keep people as thralls (servants from whom they feed), but also mix freely with other humans and sometimes enter equal relationships.
As vampires have changed, the heroines have also become more independent, strong, and able to hold their own against paranormal threats. Anita Blake is a far cry from the weak, sexually repressed female victims of the 19th century vampire tales, just as her vampire lover, Jean-Claude, bears only a passing resemblance to Count Dracula. Since the early 1990's the genre has expanded to include all manner of supernatural creatures: ghosts, faeries, weres and genies, to name just a few.
But there are authors who, like Cronin, have chosen to buck the "romantic vampire" trend by depicting a villain that is repulsive, predatory, and barely human, more closely resembling the vampire of folklore. Robert M. McCammons 1981 novel, They Thirst, and more recently, Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogans The Strain are just two other examples. Sometimes, as in The Passage, the vampires have been created by a human-made virus that gets loose, infecting or killing most humans, an idea that is usually credited to Richard Matheson for his 1954 novel, I Am Legend. These depictions return the vampire to its monstrous origins.
Top image: An illustration by David Henry Friston of a scene from Carmilla, first published in Dark Blue.
This article was originally published in June 2010, and has been updated for the
May 2011 paperback release.
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