Vampires are generally considered to be storybook or folkloric creatures who feed on the essence of living creatures. History has often had trouble coming to a reasonable conclusion about the nature of the vampire, however, the typical assessment is that a vampire is one whom has fangs and drinks blood. Literature among a countless number of mediums has often captured the vampire from a variety of different angles. Writers have drawn on both similarities and differences between what has been seen as the true historical vampire and that of the literary vampire.
Perhaps one of the more significant issues pertaining to vampires is how they are viewed by the general public. In the majority of early literature on these beings, one gleans that they are "to be wary of [them]. The vampire is voraciously [fearful] through a variety of images [ranging from] a sexual woman, and a hyper-sexual African, a hypnotic Jewish invader, an effeminate or homosexual man. The vampires of the West exist to frighten us into acquiescence, to reassert patriarchy, racial superiority such as seen in the conflict between Othello and Iago, family values and chaste heterosexuality" (Williamson). It has often difficult to accept this presentation of the vampire given popular culture's affinity with them. Novels and stories such as Frances Garfield’s “The House at Evening,” and Richard Christian Matheson’s “Vampire,” television shows such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Vampire Diaries; and movies such as Nosferatu, and Twilight have become the prime mediums for educating the public on these beings.
Garfield's "The House at Evening" finds the reader being led down one path, but in the end, there is a revelatory experience as to who the vampires are. The story involves two women, Claudia and Garland who are preparing for the arrival of two men, who are going to be their lovers. Garfield is incredibly descriptive in the descriptions of Claudia with "her stormy black locks curtained her face as she brushed and brushed them" (Garfield) and Garland whom Garfield notes "applied makeup generously and brushed her pale eyebrows with brown and painted her lips a rosy red" (Garfield). Much of the descriptions provided for Claudia and Garland lead the reader to believe that these women are indeed vampires as it is revealed at the end of the story. Garfield's etching of their flair as individual women keep the reader interested and enticed. To contrast, in Richard Christian Matheson's "Vampire" the vampire is not seen by the reader but Matheson's finds a clever way to weave the creature into the story. It can be assumed that his story is one of a man driving who is in effect, a vampire searching for his next meal. The reader can ascertain this from the illustrations "man. late. rain....aching...searching. starved. sick" (Matheson). The starved illustration is perhaps the most revealing of the entire short story as to who the man is. Here, the vampire is a mere man with no real illustration and yet, while not "seen" by the reader as a glorious figure as Garfield portrayed the being as, he is unveiled.
From the perspective of Matheson, the vampire is brutal as he searches for what keeps him comfortable, a never-ending appetite for blood, while Garfield portrays the vampire as alluring and sensual, and only once the reader has found interest in the vamp is their craving revealed. Both writers portray the vampire as "an identity that the world at large sees as other" (Williamson). While Garfield and Matheson reveal the vampire to be otherworldly, television and movies has often depicted the living thing as humanistic highlighting him as a regular living and breathing mortal.
Both The Vampire Diaries and Buffy the Vampire Slayer provide the viewing public an opportunity to peer into the world of the vampire. In both of these television shows, the vamp is made to be likable and lovable – the former being about two vampire brothers living in the human world exploring all kinds of adventure and emotion; and the latter focusing on a slayer intent on keeping the world safe from the creatures that are evil and grim. In both television shows, viewers are shown the "troubling ontology of the vampire and [his] many experiences of the self in Western modernity" (Williamson). The same can be said for Nosferatu and Twilight.
Nosferatu is a horror film about the vampire Count Orlok, who is mirrored after Bram Stoker's Count Dracula. The film has been regarded as a masterpiece in cinematic circles because of its approach to exhibiting the grim aspects of the character. The film is dark in exhibition keeping with the viewers' "urge to exorcise the vampire from [their] imaginations, or at least get carried away with it;" (Williamson). Nosferatu aligns with Stoker’s presentation of Dracula and the presentations of Garfield and Metheson as a morbid beast who is a conflicting being similar to the human with regard to pain and emotion and the continuous barbarism of blood sipping survival. Twilight tells the story of a woman named Bella who falls in love with a vampire named Edward. For Edward, he shows "us all - the desire to signify, to have meaning, to matter in the light of day and not just in the shadows" (Williamson). Edward is the opposite and contrast of how vampires have traditionally been depicted on film especially when compared with Count Orlok in Nosferatu.
It would seem that the literary character is indeed an inspiration from the historical figure of Dracula. The literary world however has taken it a step further and made the vampire a fixture of popular fiction. Not only is he portrayed as an immortal of the occult that is full of blood and death, he is also featured as a remarkably complex phenomenon with unrelenting feeling whom readers and viewers can connect with on a humane level.
Garfield, Frances. "The House at Evening." 100 Hair-Raising Little Horror Stories. Ed. Al Sarrantonio. Sterling, 2003. 161-166.
Matheson, Richard C. Scars and Other Distinguishing Marks. Tor Books, 1988.
Williamson, Milly. The Lure of the Vampire: Gender, Fiction, and Fandom from Bram Stoker to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Wallflower Press, 2005.