Behind the Bite

October 18, 2012



BUFFALO, NY – More than a century after vampires made their first literary marks, the monsters and their myths continue to evolve.  Assistant Professor of English Rachel L. Greenberg, PhD, examines this evolution by comparing the literary roots of vampires with the trends of today’s popular vampire literature. 

“Today’s vampires conjure up images of dark, romantic creatures,” says Greenberg.  “They dress stylishly, live luxuriously and charm mere mortals with their mesmerizing stares.  They are often depicted as sensitive characters who struggle with desires to be good and cravings to do evil.”

These creatures have evolved since they made their first literary mark in the 19th century Gothic period, with such influential works as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, George Gordon’s Fragment of a Novel and John Polidori’s The Vampyre.  The latter marked an important step in the evolution of vampires from sub-human parasites to a more human form.  But it is Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula that began the transformation of the vampire from hideous to heartthrob.

“Dracula is an enigmatic and sensual creature; one that excites us yet makes us afraid at the same time,” explains Greenberg.  “In many respects, the vampire images of today reflect the character Stoker created.”

In addition to the evolution of the vampire image, the personification of vampires has also evolved, from evil to tragic, to misunderstood superhero.  

“Throughout history, vampires have served as metaphors for contemporary culture; they often embody the cultural fears of a particular era,” says Greenberg. 

Dracula, she explains, is a story about xenophobia, or a fear of foreigners.  Vampires in literature have also served as metaphors for nationality, race, religion and sexuality.  Gender roles are questioned in the popular Twilight series, where vampire traits that would normally be considered threatening to women are romanticized and idealized. 

One literary trait about vampires that has not changed is their eternal popularity, adds Greenberg.

“Vampires are everywhere: in our folklore, in literature, in movies.  They sell cereal to our children and teach them how to count.”

To learn more about the evolution of vampires in literature, click here.

One of 28 Jesuit universities in the nation, Canisius is the premier private university in Western New York.