Romance in other realms is not a new feature in the literary world
The myth of the vampire is as old as humanity; since antiquity, stories of demons and monsters that drank blood provided the basis of many ancient tales.
But modernity has defanged the bloodsucker. Nowadays, the vampire is very likely to be not just humanised, but romanticised in fiction. Often, vampires appear as alluring and seductive lovers.
The trend of the human-like vampire started in the 19th century. The Vampyre was the very first vampire novel as we would recognise it, written by John Polidori. Polidori based the evil, but fascinating Lord Ruthven on his debauched friend, Lord Byron. Ruthven was a sociopath, a parasitic presence that existed only to manipulate, but his presence cast a seductive spell on the rest of the characters. While the story did not feature any romance in the conventional sense – in fact Ruthven killed his bride on their wedding night – it did cast the vampire in an alluring light, vastly different from the depictions of the monster in traditional folklore.
Carmilla, by Sheridan Le Fanu, provided the next step. Daring for its time, the story would feature the first lesbian bloodsucker. Carmilla was not an amoral monster; she was instead depicted as passionate, intellectual and charming. While arrogant, she was also capable of affection. She declared herself in love with Laura, her human friend, who also seemed to be fascinated by her. In the end, Carmilla had to be vanquished to enable Laura to retreat back into safe heterosexuality. But the novel was an important milestone in the changing perception of vampires.
A lesser known vampire lover was Clarimonde, from the story The Dead Leman by Theophile Gautier. Much more sympathetic and less destructive than Carmilla, she fearlessly pursued a passionate relationship with her human lover, Romuald, without harming him. Indeed it was him who betrayed her, as she returned after her seeming destruction at his hands to reprimand him. Decades later, the old Romuald would admit he missed her and his betrayal was his biggest regret.
No analysis would be complete without at least a mention of the quintessential vampire. Dracula established many tropes and conventions of contemporary vampire literature, and is arguably more relevant now than it was at the time it was published. While the original book had hardly any romantic overtones – the Count was a repulsive, sociopathic and predatory figure – many of its adaptations have portrayed the character in a romantic manner. Most notably Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the 1992 Francis Ford Coppola film, invented a redemptive love story for Dracula and Mina involving past lives and reincarnation.
By Ellen Karakosta: Literature Columnist
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For a long time after the publication of Dracula, the literary depictions of vampires persisted in emphasizing their monstrous qualities. It was Interview with the Vampire, the now-iconic novel by Anne Rice, that finally cast a vampire into the role of the tragic, Byronic antihero. Lestat de Lioncourt became popular enough to secure multiple sequel novels, in which he fell prey to the love he felt for mortal women and men throughout the centuries of his unlife.
After the popularity of Interview, it was only a matter of time until the literary subgenre of “paranormal romance” boomed. Vampires became the most popular choice of lover in the subgenre, amongst werewolves, demons and other strange creatures of the night. Some examples of the subgenre include the Anita Blake series, with a paranormal investigator protagonist who gets entangled in vampire political affairs, the Southern Vampire Mysteries, starring a working class telepathic waitress in a world where vampires are out in the open, and even The Vampire Diaries, which re-imagines the vampire love story in an American high school. The latter two have been popular enough to warrant television adaptations.
However, it was the novel Twilight that catapulted the vampire as lover into the popular imagination. The book depicted a young woman, Bella, falling in love with the tortured but sensitive vegetarian vampire Edward. Throughout several books their love story evolved from a high school romance into a successful marriage and Bella’s own willing conversion into a powerful vampire. Despite its unconventional story and vampires that bore little resemblance to the traditional bloodsuckers, Twilight became an instant hit with teenage readers and a revelation for publishers, breathing new life into the paranormal romance genre and inspiring a slew of imitators.
Vampire love interests for human protagonists have become mainstream in books, film and television. In the new millennium, vampires are richer, more powerful and more seductive than any mortal could hope to be. Is it any wonder that they’ve become our competition in the dating market?