The Vampire…A Continuing Trope?

While there are a number of variations on the theme, the basic vampire plot is that an old and ageless vampire preys on young and beautiful woman or women, whose blood keeps him forever young. From that point on, the vampire can be indifferent, vicious, fall in love, etc. At the moment, vampire novels are, it’s fair to say, the very big thing in the publishing world, and some readers are under the impression that the theme is relatively new. More sophisticated readers know that’s not true, and that the first vampire book in English dates to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, first published in 1897, while legends of vampires date back at least some six hundred years to Vlad the Impaler, if not before that.

Interestingly enough the first “modern” vampire novel was not Dracula, but Carmilla, published in 1871, about a lesbian vampire who preys on young women, but Carmilla has generally been forgotten, largely, I suspect, because it does not play on the basic trope underlying the Dracula-style vampire myth, even though there are historical antecedents to a female vampire, as well with the reputed blood-bathing of the Countess Elizabeth Bathory of Hungary. Throughout western history runs a consistent theme, particularly prominent in patriarchal societies, that various forms of contact by an old man with young women improve health and re-create his youth. The vampire myth, thus, is merely a variation on that theme.

Even the Bible notes in the first book of Kings that the aging King David slept with a virgin, without intimate relations, in order for him to keep warm and hold to his health. Today in Africa, the superstition that a sex with a young virgin can cure a man of AIDS is not only a variation on this theme, but one deadly to millions of young women, just as a vampire might be.

Polygamy can be understood as another variation on this theme, particularly when one notes the age differential between the “husbands” and most multiple wives in the recent cases involving Utah, Arizona, and Texas polygamists. Another manifestation of this trope might well be the current trophy wives of older men of wealth and position, women who bolster the men’s self-esteem and create an illusion that such men are younger than they are. But, in a real way, aren’t such men in fact a form of vampire?

Also interesting is the fact that the underlying trope appears not only in strong patriarchal cultures but also at times when there is a struggle over gender roles and power, as was the case at the transition from the 19th to the 20th century. The most recent example of this might well be the “Twilight” books, written as they are by a woman educated in one of the last bastions of male supremacy in higher education and a member of a faith that has institutionalized and rationalized a “traditional” and subservient gender role for women.

And so the vampire trope lives on.