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Define The Vampire as The Ultimate Transgression

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 2243 words Published: 20th Aug 2021

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Gothic literature is characteristically concerned with transgression. Donna Heiland writes: 'Gothic fiction at its core is about transgressions of all sorts: across national boundaries, social boundaries, sexual boundaries, the boundaries of one's own identity.'Given the nature of the vampire myth, which is derived from folklore and spans across cultures, the vampire figure easily lends itself to Gothic literature as the symbolic representation of these transgressions at a time when culture was preoccupied with death and the supernatural, but at the same time threatened by the alien or the 'other.' This essay will determine the ways in which three texts offer strong symbols of transgression in form of the vampire. These texts include Frederick Cowles' The Vampire of Klandenstein , J Sheridan Le Fanu's Carmilla and probably the most renowned vampire text- Bram Stoker's Dracula.

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Frederick Cowles' vampiric figure in The Vampire of Kaldenstein certainly embodies this transgression of the universal laws of nature, as even the narrator suggests that Lord Kaldenstein, 'by all natural laws should have been dead long ago' (423). This crossing of boundaries is further established as a transgression with the statement that he has 'by evil arts conquered death' (422), making the transgression not only one of life and death, but in doing so has also crossed the line between good and evil.

Not only does the vampire as a figure cross this boundary of life and death, but it also blurs the line between the two. According to Summers, the vampire is 'neither alive nor dead but living in death,'perhaps suggesting that these borders may be easily transgressed, in turn diminishing our ability to draw neat boundaries between what is natural and unnatural, what is the self and what is 'other'.

It could be argued that this transgression is a metaphor for the fear of foreign invasion and the perceived threat of a reversal of British colonisation. The count in Dracula

Stephen Arata discusses how 'Stoker transforms the materials of the vampire myth, making them bear the weight of the culture's fears over its declining status. The appearance of vampires becomes the sign of profound trouble' and 'vampirism [marks] the intersection of racial strife, political, upheaval, and the fall of empire'. This is certainly evident in Dracula, as the Count infects the English bloodline both literally and metaphorically when he threatens the very existence of Victorian England. Bram Stoker constructs the vampire as an embodiment of threat by bringing the Gothic home to Victorian England, crossing the boundary between what is foreign and what is national, East and West. Malchow discusses this particular fear in relation to the context of the fear of racial hybridity, saying that the vampire has the 'powerful suggestion of an explicitly racial obsession- that of the half breed. The vampire and the half breed are creatures who transgress boundaries and are caught between two worlds. Both are hidden threats- disguised presences bringing pollution of the blood. Both may be able to 'pass' among the unsuspecting.'

Similarly, J Sheridan Le Fanu's novella Carmilla, written in 1872, depicts Carmilla' s uprising from the dead. Coupled with her 'indeterminately foreign' lineage, this could be seen to mirror English fear of a native revival or the uprising of the native. Laura's father is led to 'permit her to remain as our guest'(19) in the family home, therefore extending an invitation to Carmilla. This reflects Judith Halberstam's view of the vampire as a monster which threatens the domestic home, suggesting that the vampire:

'will find you in the intimacy of your own home; indeed, it will make your home its home (or you its home) and alter forever the comfort of domestic privacy. The monster peeps through the window, enters through the back door, and sits beside you in the parlor; the monster is always invited in but never asked to stay.'

Le Fanu's representation of boundary crossing is particularly strong, as the gothic is brought in to the home, disrupting the supernatural ideal surrounding the vampire. By crossing this boundary into the home this threatens English domesticity. The vampire preys upon the unstable identity formation of English bourgeois dependants and corrupts the strict gender and sexual codes governing their homes. By crossing boundaries, the vampire challenges the stability of the traditional family and, as a consequence, puts at risk England's future.

The vampire is also strongly linked with sexuality. Punter and Glennis Byron suggest that the vampire, which is 'well adapted to deviant sexuality', functions to 'police the boundaries between 'normal' and 'deviant' sexuality. 'J Sheridan Le Fanu' s representation of the female vampire in Carmilla was the first of its kind, and represented the female same sex relationship. Both the tyrant and victim within his novella are of the female sex, which subverts the common female victim; male tyrant stereotype. This therefore represented growing concerns over the growing independence of women within the development of the women's movement.

The vampire figure within Carmilla also embodies characteristics of homosexual desire. Botting claims 'Carmilla's unnatural desires are signalled by her choice of females as her victims', however this homosexual desire is further emphasised when Laura narrates how, in her company, Carmilla is 'gazing in my face with languid and burning eyes, and breathing so hard that her dress rose and fell with the tumultuous respiration. It was like the ardour of a lover...her hot lips travelled along my cheek in kisses' (34). This open show of deviant sexuality transcends the boundary of socially acceptable norms.

Stoker's women also invert the conventional woman, his vampiric women exercising active female sexuality, the very appearance of the three vampire sisters is coded to depict strong sexuality. They are voluptuous and vigorous in their sexual approach. Jonathon Harker says he felt 'some longing and at the same time some deadly fear. I felt in my heart a wicked burning desire that they would kiss me with those red lips'(37). This representation of the female vampire follows the same conventions which Brian Frost describes as 'like her male counter-part, a stock type. Possessing an un-earthly beauty and oozing sex-appeal she is the quintessence of glamour. However [this] is a deception, masking the wickedness of her true nature.' Le Fanu's vampire is also regarded with a dangerous beauty, which is extenuated by the fact that Laura felt "drawn towards her" but there was also something of repulsion. (28) Carmilla is an ethereal creature, but she is also a sexual predator and a killer. This subverts conventional Victorian gender codes, which constrained the mobility of sexual desire by according to the active male the right of vigorous sexual appetite. Within both Dracula and Carmilla the women are granted, through the vampire, the reversal of these roles.

'my strange and beautiful companion would take my hand and hold it with a fond pressure, renewed again and again; blushing softly, gazing in my face with languid and burning eyes, ; and she would whisper, almost in sobs, "you are mine, you shall be mine, you and I are one forever."' 

The highly sexual vampire figure, unrestricted by natural laws, becomes the embodiment of sexual transgression, for issues repressed and feared by Victorian society. Vampires are inherently Freudian; they embody the return of the repressed on many levels. The vampire has also been particularly rich in exploring unconventional sexual desire. This sexual transgression is evident in predatory sexuality within Carmilla. the same sex relationship between Carmilla and Laura…Stoker's Dracula sexual power was so compelling that vampire fiction has enjoyed an especially lively twentieth-century popularity.

This therefore leads to the crossing of borders between the identity of the self and the 'other.' Carmilla's repeated articulation of her desire for Laura in terms of personal integration by saying 'I live in you', and that Laura will 'die into' Carmilla herself collapses the boundaries of these two distinct categories. Carmilla and her victim 'are one', destroying the distinction between the self and the other. This could be explained in terms of Freud's id conflict- the vampire itself represents the id, the unconscious human mind. The id is said to 'dominate the unconscious part of the personality, with a primitive disregard for social rules in pursuit of self gratification… driven by the pleasure principle.' The id dominates the ego and the super ego, which act to 'suppress and regulate the demands of the id in terms of social demands' this can be seen in the vampire's regression to an animal like state. We can certainly see this in terms of predatory sexuality. Carmilla pacing up and down as cat caged.

This collapse of boundaries between self and other

'But to die as lovers may - to die together, so that they may live together.'

'I experienced a strange tumultuous excitement that was pleasurable, ever and anon, mingled with a vague sense of fear and disgust.'

Not only do the vampires within these texts embody transgression , but they also Function as a catalyst for the transgression of others, encouraging the release of represses desires

Laura's susceptibility to Carmilla's charms is finally interrupted by the reassertion of male order and meaning and sexual differentiation.

Then looking towards the staking of Lucy, this passage connotates a deep sexual meaning. This scene occurs near the end of the book, suggesting that killing Lucy, thus punishing her for being sexually forward, will restore Victorian order

Significantly making use of forbidden themes and elements that are frowned upon or kept repressed by mainstream culture.

Carmilla- female vampire male fears of the sexual woman. Reflects the respectable Victorian gentleman's anxieties about aggressive, unbridled female sexuality.

Vampire myth represents unconscious sexual desires within humans as a resultof personality ego conflict. - cara flanagan

The transgressive and alternative of geaneology of body fluids in gothic literature suggestd an alternative to patriarchal family formations.

This thesis examines domestic control, conflict, and resolution in Le Fanu's "Carmilla"

(1872) and Stoker's Dracula (1897). In these texts, the vampire is a "strange" parent who threatens English domesticity.

Female Romantic Friendships

Female authors were no less interested in the implications of same-sex love, and if they are not always as devoted to the violence of sexual frenzy--though in some cases they are, they often create female "romantic" friendships that are so convincing that their erotic implications are largely ignored.

The emotional strength of these bonds has an erotics all their own, and when in vampire tales, such as Sheridan Le Fanu's Carmilla (1872) they are realized as the erotic complement to the male-male erotic rivalry that animates so much Gothic fiction.

They are both Oedipal and incestuous. They are narcissistically individualistic. They literally feed off others, always taking with no responsibility to give.

Unrestrained by the need to reproduce in order to perpetuate themselves/their family, they have different reproductive motivations - generally these are sexual, and they reveal an interesting dynamic of sexual power relationships: the sexual partner is created - given 'birth' - by the one who desires her/him. The sexual partner/child is created to fulfil specific sexual and/or narcissistic desires.

In Eastern European folklore, vampires are no more than animate corpses, insatiably hungry for the life they no longer have. They are frightening but also pathetic, homicidal but stupid. As the idea made its way west, though, the figure of the vampire began to change, to shift to meet different cultural needs. It went through the algorithm of Byronism, and what emerged from the other side was Count Dracula. The vampire becomes seductive, a symbol for all sorts of things repressed and feared by Victorian society: social upheaval, racial tension. Vampires are inherently Freudian; they embody the return of the repressed on as many levels as one cares to count. The most powerful in Dracula itself is women's sexuality--thus the weight of horror behind the transformation of Lucy Westenra from ingenue to literal femme fatale.

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It is certainly fair to conclude that the vampire does indeed act as the 'ultimate symbol of transgression', by its very nature embodying an array of transgressions from universal laws, sexual transgressions, crossing boorders and also both vampire texts portray these elements of transgressions. These vampiric figures representing transgression therefore mark the dangers of crossing symbolic boundaries and call for their restoration. Dracula, for instance closes with the birth of a son to the Harkers. Normal family, patriarchal order, antithtesis to vampiric transgression.


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