Introduction: undead reflections the sympathetic vampire and its monstrous other

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Authors: Sam George and Bill Hughes
Date: May 2013
From: Gothic Studies(Vol. 15, Issue 1)
Publisher: Manchester University Press
Document Type: Article
Length: 3,029 words

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Since their animation out of folk materials in the nineteenth century by Polidori, as Varney, and in Le Fanu and Stoker, vampires have been continually reborn in modern culture. They have stalked texts from Marx's image of the leeching capitalist, through Pater's Lady Lisa of tainted knowledge, to the multifarious incarnations in contemporary fictions in print and on screen. They have enacted a host of anxieties and desires, shifting shape as the culture they are brought to life in itself changes form. More recently, their less charismatic undead cousins, zombies, have been dug up in droves to represent various fears and crises in contemporary culture. It is surprising then, given the recent vogue for vampires and all things undead, that there has never been up until now a special issue of Gothic Studies on vampires.

When, in the late 1970s, Sir Christopher Frayling was researching his book Vampyres: Lord Byron to Count Dracula in the reading room of the British Museum, Gothic studies hadn't yet entered the academy and vampires were not considered to be an appropriate topic for academic research. If you visit the British Library nowadays, you might struggle to find anyone who is not studying the Gothic. Back then, Frayling was the first to invite vampires into the academy, having just been given access to the newly discovered Dracula notebooks (Stoker's lost research notes for the novel). The rigour, imagination, and sheer scope of his research into vampires can be seen to have initiated the critical study of vampire texts.

Another work, Ken Gelder's Reading the Vampire (1994), is seminal in its decipherment of the vampire in its cultural context from a range of theoretical perspectives (appropriately open-minded for such an elusive creature), but it appeared in 1994, necessarily excluding recent avatars of the humanised vampire in paranormal romance and Young Adult fiction. Equally seminal and much-cited is Nina Auerbach's Our Vampires, Ourselves (1995). Auerbach charts the progress of vampires through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as far as the 1980s, focussing on US culture during the Reagan years. These two monographs pave the way for this research, which continues to document the interest in vampires within academic circles; however, these new scholars are in the position to respond to more recent developments. Our approach is one which builds upon but in some ways moves away from the now conventional 'Gothic studies' approach in that the vampire, following Frayling, Gelder, and Auerbach, forms its own tradition and discipline. (1)

Today, Gothic courses are embraced, but vampire studies still require some explanation. The Open Graves, Open Minds: Vampires and the Undead in Modern Culture project has sought to take up this mantle, initiating vampire conferences and symposia in universities and developing vampire studies in literature at Master's level. The research project itself was launched in 2010; it relates the undead in literature, art, and other media to questions concerning gender, technology, consumption, and social change. Based at the University of Hertfordshire, it has provided an interdisciplinary forum for the development of innovative and creative research into vampires, examining these creatures in all their various manifestations and cultural forms.

Bringing vampires into the curriculum has proved controversial for some. Following the first Open Graves, Open Minds conference, news stories emerged that we were reacting against the Americanisation of the genre ('UK Bringing Vampires Back Home', 'University Rejects Americanization Of Vampires', 'Cool Britannia For Vampires', and 'Bloody Hell: Brits Complain Yanks Are Stealing Their Vampires'), developing a vampire degree ('Coffin Boffin Syllabus', 'Twilight Gets Scholarly Treatment', and 'Wanna Study Edward Cullen'), and eating food out of coffins (this part was true at least). (2) There have been detractors and scoffers, though these interventions have not been without humour. (3) It has been amusing, but it has also provoked some interesting debates around the canon and the study of popular literature in universities. We have often found ourselves defending the very notion of vampire studies, and so have our students. (4) The project continues to explore the vampire in all its vicissitudes. (5) This special issue of Gothic Studies is designed to communicate the significance of studying the representation of the vampire, the richness of this research, and the lively debate that ensues.

The essays included here are the living progeny of the undead project that began in 2010; they offer a vigorous commentary on the development of the genre, the construction of racial and gendered otherness, the treatment of gay sexuality, the significance of pseudo-science in sympathetic vampire narratives, the vampire's relationship to the zombie, and the emergence of young adult vampire fiction. Together, they are essential reading for anyone who wishes to explore open graves with an open mind.

Frayling identified the dominant archetypal vampires as they emerge in fiction: the Byronic vampire (or 'Satanic Lord'), the Fatal Woman, the Unseen Force, the Folkloric Vampire, the 'camp' vampire, and the vampire as creative force. (6) Another strand has since developed--the vampire with a conscience. We are fortunate in editing the first journal issue to comment on this new strand of sympathetic vampire as it appears in the twenty-first century, and our contributors highlight in particular the ubiquitous political symbolism that the undead can bear. For some, the new vampire has meant the adulteration of the power of the Gothic; the emphasis on paranormal romance (a new genre in itself) between human beings and sparkly, vegetarian revenants has led to a clash of genres and a 'Gothic romanced'. (7) We think instead that the new vampire, and the parallel generic hybridity, invites new approaches to Gothic studies. The range of articles below is wide, and all the ambivalences of the humanised vampire, who still bears traces of his or her monstrous otherness, are revealed; we also include a discussion on the vampire's truly monstrous undead counterpart, the zombie.

Victoria Amador notes that, despite the all-pervading presence of vampires in contemporary culture (to which this collection is, of course, a response), lesbians of colour have been neglected. Yet vampires readily lend themselves to representation of alternative sexualities and have as readily raised questions of racial identity. Amador notes that there has been an evolution in the depiction of lesbian vampires from the monstrous and threatening to more complex figures (as vampires have become more humanised in general). This new complexity has made possible explorations of race, sexuality, gender and other issues by women of colour through vampire fiction. Amador analyses The Gilda Stories of the African-American Jewelle Gomez, and the Chicana-American Terri de la Pena's story, 'Refugia'. These narratives by US feminist activists of colour employ the vampire myth to affirm female sexualities and feminine community in ways that subvert racist and patriarchal domination, with the taking and sharing of blood a crucial symbol. Amador praises the timeliness of these fictions and their foreshadowing of a new, egalitarian discourse.

Charlotte Bosseaux looks at one of the most important and influential texts in the movement towards the humanised vampire--Joss Whedon's Buffy the Vampire Slayer--but from the perspective of a different discipline, that of translation studies. One of the successes of this project, demonstrating again the strength of the vampire's allure, has been in attracting interdisciplinary attention. Vampire narratives constantly play with identities--sexual, most notably, but cultural, too--and thus how such play can cross cultural boundaries is itself an intriguing question. Bosseaux shows how the actual techniques of translation have an important role in the mediation of meaning; the two options of dubbing or subtitling can have very different effects. Taking the vampire character Spike--whose cultural identity is best defined as an adopted working-class English, significantly contrasted to the US setting--she demonstrates how translation of Buffy into French attenuates or preserves Spike's vampiric, and English, otherness, which is defined crucially by his language.

Thus vampires (and we are not the first to observe this, of course) serve to explore ideas of identity--sexual, cultural, or 'racial'. Kimberley A. Frohreich turns to the core image of the vampire myth--the transmission and circulation of blood. This, from Dracula on, has served as metaphor for racial mixing. The nineteenth-century vampire, in fact, developed alongside the consolidation of pseudoscientific racial and political discourses of miscegenation. Frohreich examines the recent vampire dramatisations of Blade (1998) and Underworld (2003) (in film), and True Blood (2008-) (as TV adaptation of Charlaine Harris's novels) to show how the vampire as racial other has both endured and yet been radically transformed to articulate contemporary positions towards race--sometimes more progressively, often complicatedly and with ambiguity. But, with miscegenation as the theme, the child-bearing female body also becomes involved, as receptacle of racial purity. Overall, these narratives expose the construction of racial and gendered otherness.

The vampire, however, has long served as a versatile political metaphor, not confined to issues of race or sex. Through the dialectics of Slavoj Zizek, David McWilliam chooses to explore a more particularised political moment than those broader concerns. The TV series Ultraviolet (1998), though destabilising the categories of otherness in ways akin to other twentieth- and twenty-first-century vampires, raises suggestions of neo-conservatism, where Manichaean characterisations of the enemy as monster presaged the 'War on Terror' instigated in response to the Twin Towers attack of 11 September 2001. McWilliams's close reading of the complex narrative of Ultraviolet reveals a warning against the dehumanisation of 'the enemy'.

Blood and otherness return in Xavier Aldana Reyes's closer look at True Blood, this time emphasising the series' much-discussed treatment of gay sexuality. Blood. as medium of infection (particularly AIDS), and as metaphor and means of pleasure, is central to Reyes's analysis, and makes this chapter differ from the usual focus on the struggle for rights which has been observed in True Blood. For Reyes, vampires in the series are something more complex than direct metaphors of the homosexual, and blood in the show--particularly vampire blood--becomes addictive drug and commodity as well as vector of disease. In addition, the synthetic TruBlood substitute complicates the metaphor further, leading Reyes to conclude that capitalism has colonised more 'natural' haematophilic relationships.

Antonio Sanna takes up the sympathetic vampire once more to probe an aspect of 'sympathy' which originates in the science, or pseudoscience, of Bram Stoker's contemporaries. Telepathy was widely accepted as fact in the late nineteenth century and explicitly connected with community and with love. The idea was seen as threatening in some quarters, as subverting order and permitting the invasion of the outsider. Such fears, of course, area dramatised in Stoker's Dracula. And the telepathic bond between Mina Harker and Dracula is one of slavery rather than the mutual love envisaged by telepathy's advocates. Sanna follows the mutations of the trope of vampiric telepathy through cinema's treatment of Dracula. In Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992), in keeping with his humanised vampire (Coppola's film is one of the significant moments in this shift), telepathy is now a bond of love once more. In Stephenie Meyer's Twilight Saga (2005-8), however, there is an unexpected reversal. The telepathic Edward Cullen cannot read the thoughts of his beloved, Bella Swan, yet, far from this being a barrier, it actually stimulates the erotic tie. The Cullens prize romantic love and community with humans above carnivorous vampirism. Sanna sees this deliberate avoidance of telepathy between lovers as part of the postmodern parody through which Meyer transforms previous vampire narratives, which also reworks the original Victorian concept of telepathy, enabling a narrative that asserts female agency and familial and romantic love over servitude.

As will be apparent from this collection and other studies, and from one's own immersion in contemporary culture, the sympathetic vampire rules. Little remains of Stoker's monstrous Count or the bestial bloodsuckers of East European folklore. Yet there are still monsters rising from graves; they hunger, though, for brains and flesh rather than being dominated by blood lust. In the wake of the sympathetic, even civilised, vampire Angela Tenga and Elizabeth Zimmerman turn to contemporary zombies, who now serve as the figures of true monstrosity. They show how the recent transformations of the vampire genre have paralleled innovations in zombie narratives. Inciting desire rather than fear, vampires fail to satisfy the audience's need for horror. Zombies, however, in such recent incarnations as 28 Days Later and The Walking Dead are increasingly abject and menacing, figuring bodily and cultural decay as opposed to the social integration upheld by the new vampire. Contemporary Western anxieties about the body are mediated by zombie fictions in ways that the glamorous and pristine vampire cannot. In addition, the zombie horde, as undifferentiated and mindless collective contrasts with the highly individuated vampire who, Tenga and Zimmerman argue, epitomises capitalist values; zombies, in turn, represent those producers and consumers whose identity is lost under globalisation. However, even the zombie is showing signs of being humanised; Tenga and Zimmerman regret this, but predict a surge of monstrosity elsewhere.

Rebecca Williams returns to the sympathetic vampire, but with a different emphasis and from a perspective more informed by cultural studies rather than textual criticism, in keeping with the interdisciplinary fascination with vampires we have noted. The Young Adult TV series Vampire Diaries (2009-) raises important questions about value (which are inevitably asked when academics devote time to the study of what may seem trivial or ephemeral texts). We have discussed this question in the Open Graves, Open Minds book; to reiterate briefly, the analysis of a wide-spread cultural trend need not involve succumbing to relativism, and among these texts, which are often considerably sophisticated, may be ones of genuine importance. (8) However, just as the vampire itself crosses boundaries, accounting for its ability to mediate the multiple kinds of identity discussed above, so Vampire Diaries, argues Williams, is generically unstable. The show is positioned, both in terms of quality and degree of transgressiveness, between Twilight and True Blood, and is both teen drama and horror narrative. This hybridity, together with its appeal to a young and female audience, problematises how the show has been evaluated as 'quality TV'.

In this special issue, we hope to have whetted a perhaps unnatural appetite for the study of the undead in contemporary literature, TV, and film by showing the variety of incarnations of the vampire and its siblings and the ease with which it attracts critical attention from a number of disciplines. Our aim is that these essays will enrich and invigorate the field of Gothic studies and inspire further scholarship.

Sam George

University of Hertfordshire

Bill Hughes

University of Sheffield


(1) General books on the Gothic which cover vampires include: A Companion to the Gothic, ed. David Punter (Oxford: Blackwell, 2001); The Routledge Companion to Gothic, eds Catherine Spooner and Emma McEvoy (Abingdon: Routledge, 2007). The former has chapters by William Hughes on nineteenth- and twentieth-century fictional vampires. There is now also The Encyclopedia of the Gothic, eds William Hughes, David Punter, and Andrew Smith (Oxford: Blackwell, 2012).

(2) Paul Casciato, 'Bringing vampires back home--to Britain', Reuters, 6 April 2010,; 'University Rejects "Americanisation" of Vampires', NPR, 7 April 2010,; Karon Liu, 'Bloody Hell: Brits Complain Yanks are Stealing Their Vampires', Toronto Life, 7 May 2010 (online), bloody-hell-brits-complain-yanks-are-stealing-their-vampires/; 'Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart on Coffin Boffin Syllabus', STV Entertainment News, 7 April 2010,; Mark Byrne, 'Vampire Lit Gets its Scholarly Due', Galleycat,; Chanel Lee, 'Wanna Study Edward Cullen', Howstuffworks, 9 April 2010, blogs.howstuffworks. com/2010/04/09/wanna-study-edward-cullen-and-eric-northman-head-to-england/.

(3) 'Listen up, Lestat lovers: The University of Hertfordshire in England will be offering a master's degree in vampire lit, apparently the only one of its kind in the world. We imagine that the program, which begins this September, will cover all the bloodsucking basics, from Nosferatu to Twilight and of course Anne Rice. Extra credit for anyone who scores an interview with a vampire', Globe and Mail, 6 April 2010, spellingvampire-uobama-jeans-wear/article1529173/.

(4) See Simon Midgley, 'Counting on Dracula', The Times, 16 March 2011, p. 7, for example.

(5) We now have a website to track that research and provide OGOM news:

(6) Christopher Frayling, ed., Vampyres: Lord Byron to Count Dracula (London: Faber and Faber, 1991), p. 62.

(7) In Fred Botting's phrase; see Gothic Romanced: Consumption, Gender and Technology in Contemporary Fictions (London and New York: Routledge, 2008).

(8) See Sam George and Bill Hughes, Introduction, 'Open Graves, Open Minds': Representations of Vampires and the Undead from the Enlightenment to the Present Day, eds Sam George and Bill Hughes (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2013).

Notes on contributors

Sam George is Senior Lecturer in Literature at the University of Hertfordshire. She is the convenor of the Open Graves, Open Minds research project (including the 'Reading the Vampire' MA course). Sam is the co-editor of and contributor to the forthcoming collection Open Graves, Open Minds: Representations of Vampires and the Undead from the Enlightenment to the Present Day (Manchester University Press, 2013). She is a frequent commentator on the contemporary vampire; her interviews have appeared in newspapers including The Guardian, The Times, and The Wall Street Journal. She is contributing to a volume on teaching vampire fiction in universities. Elsewhere, she has published widely on literature and science. Her first monograph, Botany, Sexuality and Women's Writing 1760-1820: From Modest Shoot to Forward Plant, was published by Manchester University Press in 2007; a second, on the literature of entomology, is currently in preparation. Bill Hughes was awarded a doctorate from the University of Sheffield in 2011. His thesis explored the interrelation of the formal, printed dialogue and English novels of the long eighteenth century. He is conducting further research on conversation in the novel and on eighteenth-century dialogues. He has publications out or forthcoming on Jane Austen, Frances Burney, Bernard Mandeville, and Maria Edgeworth. Bill has also published on Richard Hoggart. In addition, he is researching intertextuality and the Semantic Web, and contemporary vampire literature, co-editing with Sam George and contributing to the forthcoming collection, Open Graves, Open Minds: Vampires and the Undead from the Enlightenment to the Present (Manchester University Press, 2013). This broad ranging research has at its core concerns the Enlightenment as viewed through the theory of Habermas and the Marxist tradition.

Address for correspondence

Sam George, School of Humanities, University of Hertfordshire, De Havilland Campus, Hatfield, Herts., AL10 9AB. Email: and Bill Hughes:

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A367421103