Faculty of Arts Department of English
and American Studies English Language and Literature
From Graveyards to High Schools: The Evolution of the Literary Vampire Bachelor’s Diploma Thesis
Supervisor: Mgr. Filip Krajník, Ph.D.
I declare that I have worked on this thesis independently,
using only the primary and secondary sources listed in the bibliography.
I would like to thank my wonderful classmate, Šárka Nováková, for the moral support through the most stressful times. Her heavenly patience with my constant whimpering is deeply appreciated. Also I would like to thank my fiancée for his gentle and not-so-gentle “kicks to the backside” to keep me on track.
Table of Contents
1. The Lawful Evil: Vampires in the Folk Tales 3
1.2 Vampires in the Bible 6
2. The Literary Ancestors: John Polidori 8
2.1 The Literary Ancestors: Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu 9
2.2 The Penny Dreadful 14
3. Vampires of the Classical Era: Bram Stoker 17
3.1 Vampires of the Modern Era: Anne Rice 27
4. Present-day Vampires 35
There is a plethora of supernatural creatures roaming the pages of novels and storybooks, but perhaps none are more infamous than the shadow-dwelling, blood-drinking children of the night – the vampires.
Even those readers that are not much fond of fantasy literature are familiar with the concept of these dark characters thanks to such legendary characters as Bram Stoker’s count Dracula. There are, however, plenty of misconceptions fixed in the minds of the general public. These include such ideas as that all vampires necessarily combust in the sunlight; that they are only hunger-driven bloodthirsty merciless murderers; or that Bram Stoker was the first to introduce them to literature; or even that he invented the literary vampire completely.
The aim of the thesis is to shed some light into the confusion by defining where the literary archetype of the vampire had first appeared, what were the inspiration behind it and most importantly to define the colorful development of the archetype through the ages.
In the first chapter of the thesis, the origin of the vampiric creature itself and determine its key characteristics, based upon the ancient beliefs reflected in folk stories. These stories were mostly shared by oral tradition, but as the time progresses, the vampire had started to appear in letter also. Mainly they appeared in various manuals for exorcists of Middle Age, but a case of vampirism had also appeared in the Bible. This outline is especially important to create a clear, comprehensible background upon which the next evolution stages will be illustrated. While the thesis deals with the European idea of a vampire for the most part, several other instances from different cultures will be introduced as well.
The second chapter of the thesis will discuss the elevation of vampires from folk tales into the realm of serious literature. This shift is illustrated on two notable examples of the era, John Polidori’s The Vampyre (1819) and Joseph Sheridan LeFanu’s Carmilla (1872). Both of these works of Gothic fiction draw inspiration from the folk tales, but skillfully transform it into a complex image that is diametrically different from the vampiric source creature. The grave-dwelling demons were changed into intelligent, elusively beautiful royal individuals, which set a precedent for many years to come.
In the third chapter of the thesis, the aristocratic archetype is deepened and taken even further, as is proven on the protagonists of the novels discussed – Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) and Anne Rice’s twelve-piece series The Vampire Chronicles (1976 – 2014). While Stoker’s vampires are still mostly defined by their blood-thirstiness only, Rice introduces a new generation of creatures apt to emotions and critical, philosophical thinking.
Fourth and final chapter looks into the vampires of the 21st century, when they seeped from adult literature to the books for young adults. In this evolution stage, the authors revolutionized the vampire genre by spreading the “dark gift” among children and teenagers and the vampiric creatures once more shifted places – from ballrooms and chateaus to adventurous quests, as seen in Darren Shan’s The Saga of Darren Shan (2000 – 2004), or to high schools, as seen in the vastly popular teenage romance literature such as Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight (2005 – 2008) or Ellen Schreiber’s Vampire Kisses (2003 – 2012)
1. The Lawful Evil: Vampires in the Folk Tales
Before elaborating on the evolution of the literary archetype of the vampire, it is necessary to determine and explain the vampire’s origins. Before it ever became a literary character, even before books as we know them nowadays existed or were meant for leisure reading, the vampire was an entity firmly embedded in the minds of people. It was as well a means of explaining natural occurrences that the humans could not yet fully understand.
The notion of the vampire, as we understand it nowadays, stems from Slavic legends, according to which such a creature was simply a “revenant,” a reanimated dead body, which, according to Konstantinos, raised from the grave at night to cause mischief, but also to visit its loved ones (Konstantinos 5). This notion of an entity was widely spread across Europe, appearing heaviest in its eastern parts. Various cultures gave it various names, for example the Greek vrykolakas, or Romanian strigoi (Konstantinos 29,30). Nevertheless, this concept is not older than a few centuries.
The belief in vampirism is, however, much older than that; the tales about them are as old as time itself and virtually every culture of the world has its own take on it. As Brian Righi mentions in his Vampires Through the Ages: Lore & Legends of the World’s Most Notorious Blood Drinkers, the first solid proof of the belief that vampires existed, was excavated in the form of pottery shards dating back to 18th century bce in Babylonia. These shards depicts creatures drinking human blood. According to the Babylonian image of the creature that we would nowadays call a vampire was an evil spirit of a human called ekimmu, who either died an unnatural or premature death; had unfinished tasks to finish; was not buried properly after their death; or, most importantly, had nobody to leave offerings at their grave. “If no offerings were left to the spirits,” Righi notes, “they would became hungry and leave the underworld to seek nourishment from the living” (Righi 63).
The present thesis will be, however, dealing with the originally Slavic idea of a “physical” vampire revenant only, and mostly with the romanticized image that came to existence in the19th century.
1.1 Face to Face with a Vampire
The concept of the revenant vampire in the folk tales could not be further from the romantic 19th century vision of the same creature. He was not pale, but rather, his skin had a crimson hue and neither was he thin: he was usually described as plump or bloated. Both of these characteristics (the crimson complexion and plump figure) were ascribed to their bodies being over-satiated with consumed blood. Also, the folkloric vampire was not dressed in a high fashion attire, but since it is a creature which had just arisen from the grave, it would be dressed in the clothes in which they were buried, or the in the burial shroud. Apart from that, it would have long hair and long, sharp nails (Jøn; Konstantinos 4).
Some of these original characteristics were, however, adopted by the literary authors and remained the same. Among these are some of the key aspects of a vampire – the infamous sharp teeth or fangs, and eyes glowing unnatural colors, such as red or yellow.
According to the legends, there are several means for a human to became a vampire, the first and most profoundly known being bitten by another vampiric creature. By biting, the assailant will “infect” their victim, who then “turns” either in a matter of days, or immediately. In Anne Rice’s The Vampire Chronicles (1976-2014) for instance, a vampire first drains the blood from the victim “to the very threshold of death,” (Interview with the Vampire 14), and feed the person with his own blood afterwards. Vampire’s blood will initiate the process of gradual death of the victim’s body and grants the vampire fledgling supernatural abilities, which will be discussed later. (See chapter 4)
These images of becoming a vampire too, are a product of the romanticizing of the vampires, for the pre-19th century myths describe some less poetic and much more gory means of turning into a vampire. Certain classes of people, such as executed criminals, those whose deadly sins were not punished, or those who that committed suicide, were cursed or hexed; similarly those that were not buried properly according to the Christian rites were most likely to turn into vampires after their death.
According to the vast majority of books with vampiric theme, vampires are nocturnal beings that rely on sustenance by consuming human blood. After they are turned, their organs lose their practical function. One of their most important features is their severe allergy to sunlight, which is the reason they have to dwell in enclosed caskets, such as coffins, during the day. As we shall see in the following paragraphs, this is not always entirely the case.
Folkloric vampires, however, as opposed to their literary counterparts, were not necessarily susceptible to sunlight. The fact that they operate at night only stems mainly from the belief that the powers of evil are stronger after sunset. There are, however, interesting exceptions from this rule. The Russian upyr, for instance, used to operate in the hours between noon and midnight. That means that his activities were taking place partially in the daytime. The means of destroying a vampire by exposure to sunlight remained, nevertheless, true to the tradition of the majority of folk tales and was later enriched with modern methods, such as UV-light infused bullets, as seen in the Underworld movie series (2003-2017). Apart from exposure to sunlight, the next most widely recognized way of killing a vampire was driving a stake of aspen wood (sometimes with a fire-scorched point) through the heart of the monster (Konstantinos 109).
To ensure that the vampiric fiend remain dead it was, however, necessary to employ several precautionary measures. These included the decapitation of the body, which was later cremated and dispersed into running water (Konstantinos 110).
In other cases, which have been observed and proven by archaeologists, the precautions were much more complex. The mouth of the corpse would be filled with pebbles and the body then buried face down or with the head between its knees. If the body was buried face down, there would be a large boulder put on its back to prevent any next or even hypothetical arising from the grave (Konstantinos 115).