The Vampire: the most enduring of all gothic monsters

By | October 29, 2012

Gothic HistoriesOur second Halloween inspired blog post of the day comes from Gothic Histories: The Taste for Terror, 1764 to the Present by Clive Bloom. Taking you on a journey of gothic awakening, Clive Bloom leads the reader through every aspect of this horror genre – from the haunted landscapes of the Romantics through to Frankenstein and Dracula, and the drug-induced monsters of the mind to the very different worlds of Hannibal Lecter, Goth culture and Twilight. Below he looks at that classic gothic figure: the vampire. From its literary depiction, through to its place in Goth culture and beyond.

'It is the vampire who has proved the
most enduring of all gothic monsters mutating and developing with each
generation of writers. The change was started by Anne Rice who in the gay
vampire Lestat not only created a back story for vampirism which proved highly
effective and extremely contagious, but also set the narrative in the New
World, and in doing so rewrote the vampire myth in terms of American modernity
and cultural hegemony.

Since 2000, there has been a virtual
deluge of vampire-inspired novels. This has been particularly noticeable in the
area of women's romance, especially in the Love Spell Book Club which promotes writers
such as Lynsay Sands, C. J. Barry, Colleen Thompson (the slyly named), Nina
Bangs, Kate MacAlister and Marjorie Liu, 'bringing a little magic' in the life
of their readers. The love bites hardly stop there and other publishers such as
Piatkus are in on the act with their own writers such as Maryjanice Davidson…

In the twenty-first century, the Gothic
has become a ubiquitous and invasive generic form, both parasitic and
reinvigorating. Take for instance the 2009 bestseller, Pride and Prejudice
and Zombies
which combines violent horror and Regency gentility in a
'mashup' or 'recombination' spoof of both genres. The books that have spanned juvenile
and adult reading, however, are those that have reinvented the figure of the
vampire, now, by far, the major Gothic character. Indeed, vampires and Gothic
settings dominate a large section of the adult and predominantly female romance
market where they are figures of both male domination and of female
empowerment. Vampires seem to have a versatility other monsters do not have and
their protean nature allows them to appear in bars and nightclubs as well as high
schools. No longer is the vampire confined to novels as a character, rather now
they act as a type of narrative trope, differing as to the fictional context
within which that trope is used.

How could we talk about vampires and
not mention THE series that has bridged the gap between juvenile and adult
reading and between the Gothic and the Romance, creating fictional scenarios
that appeal as much to young adult women as to teenage girls. The 'Twilight'
series which began with the publication of Twilight on 5 October 2005 by
author Stephenie Meyer tells the story of teenager Isabella 'Bella' Swan who
falls for the charms of Edward Cullen, a vampire. The tale mixes fantasies of
high-school adventure, gang culture, teenage eroticism and ideas of the
superhero and is, perhaps, a fitting series for post-feminist womanhood who still
crave heterosexual desire and danger, the theme of blood being a simple
metaphor for sublimated adolescent male lust and budding female sexuality. The
world of the vampire has finally caught up with that of Romeo and Juliet.
Vampires are now dash and cool.

Alongside the reinvention of European
gothicism by American authors, there is also the creation of new gothic spaces
that are indigenously American. This trend had begun with Washington Irving, Nathaniel
Hawthorne and Ambrose Bierce, but it has taken root not in the 'crumbling'
spaces of New England, but rather in the swamps or backwoods shacks of the
south or the Texas/Mexico border, a mixture of latter-day cowboy weirdness,
drug-store banality and small-town isolation. In recent years this has come to
surpass all other forms of Hollywood horror with teenagers being regularly butchered
on lonely back roads, in teen camp or on hikes in the woods and its literary importance
may be seen in the critical praise heaped upon Cormac McCarthy, whose
pioneering style and offbeat tales of degenerate life styles have caught the imagination
of cultured readers who would not normally bother with horror titles.

“Here the walls with their soft looking
convolutions, slavered over as they were with wet and blood red mud, had an
organic look to them, like the innards of some great beast. Here in the bowels
of the mountain Ballard turned his light on ledges or pallets of stone where
dead people lay like saints.” Child of God

In the twenty-first century, it is the
world of computer gaming that has most successfully revived the landscape of
the Universal films and the vampire myth. Games such as Resident Evil, Diablo,
Silent Hill, Eternal Darkness
and Doom allow players the excitement
of participating in worlds full of demons and vampires amid ruins and gothic
chaos. So vivid can these games become that some of their creators try to build
in the sort of mental confusion in their players that might be expected in real
life encounters with monsters in order to enhance the imaginative and
dream-like quality of play.

And conviviality is what the players
of Live Action Role Play (LARP) are seeking when they put on the costume and
assume the persona of their favourite character of the night. LARPing was born out
of the role playing games and Dungeons and Dragons encounters of the
1980s and consists of collective improvisational theatre played out by those
who take their narrative themes from gothic fiction or Tolkienesque fantasy. Narratives
often represent the battles about authority and legitimacy and have recently
become standardized with rules of action provided by the game Vampires: The
or White Wolf in which 'clans' of vampires 'descended'
from the biblical Cain, battle for supremacy. It is an escape into fiction and play rather than an escape from

Yet there are those who seek to go
farther into their fantasy world and live as the characters that they have
created. The craze for living as a vampire which is now popular across the
globe is one such instance of the gothic invading reality. Nevertheless, many vampire
life stylists consider themselves quite different from current goth culture.
Watching vampire movies, dressing in vampire outfits, finding like-minded
friends is what appeals to living vampires: it's all there – alluring,
powerful and seductive. That's what being a vampire is all about'

Gothic Histories: The Taste for Terror, 1764 to the Present
by Clive Bloom is available to buy (and quite irresistible I think with that eerie cover). Visit our website for more details.

Jenny Tighe

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