The Fluid Nature of Vampires in Literature and Film

Studenteropgave: Kandidatspeciale og HD afgangsprojekt

  • Bjørn Nørgaard Hansen
4. semester, Engelsk, Kandidat (Kandidatuddannelse)
Vampires have been a constant presence in literature and movies for more than one hundred years. But what is it that has granted this fictional monster such remarkable resilience and staying power? It is the constantly changing nature of the vampire that allows it to keep up with the times and maintain its position as one of the favored monsters of gothic horror and literature in general. Writers who use vampires in their work often make use of cultural fears in order to make the vampire more compelling. The advantage of using specific cultural fears tailored to a specific audience is that it is far more likely that the audience will react to the type of vampire that the writer has designed. By knowing ones audience it allows the writer to select which societal issues to touch on, thereby making the vampire a much more effective and frightening villain. Or as has become prevalent in recent years, a tragic hero with a dark past. Previously vampires were evil forces of corruption, and while this type of vampire certainly still exists in texts, it has become quite common to encounter vampires who work hard to make the world a better place, or at least vampires who are simply trying to survive rather than actively seeking to turn human beings into vampires. In this thesis I have focused most of my attention on Bram Stoker's Dracula from 1897. Comparing Victorian interpretations of the events that transpire within the novel to more modern interpretations tells us how the original vampire horror novel has managed to keep itself relevant in spite of it being published more than a century ago. The main focus points of this comparative analysis were the evolution of the ideas of sexuality, the perceptions of homoeroticism in Dracula, and finally how the threat of reverse colonization translates quite well into how Count Dracula encroaches on traditional English values. These three themes were analyzed on the basis of the historical context within which they were originally written. By examining these various dangers that Dracula poses in connection with the time where the novel was written it becomes easier to decipher what Stoker's motives were when he decided to include certain aspects in his narrative.
All of this leads to an answer to the question of how vampires continue to be very popular in both literature and film: writers of vampire stories have updated the vampires to fit the times constantly since Stoker's original narrative was published. While there are many other monsters from gothic horror that are also quite well known today, the vampire is one of the few creatures which has managed to keep up with the times and constantly reinvent itself in order to stay relevant. This has lead to several periods in time where vampires suddenly skyrocketed in popularity amongst the general population. These jumps in popularity are most likely indicators of when vampire writers managed to sync the idea of the vampire up with whatever happened to be going on in the world at the time. When the audience can recognize elements from their own lives then the characters in vampire novels become much more believable and realistic.
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