Blood Lines

On hold–but watch this space!

Nonfiction: Literary Criticism

Before Bel­la, before Buffy, there was Byron. When Lord Byron and the Eng­lish Roman­tic poets import­ed vam­pire lore from Ger­many and placed their own indeli­ble stamp on it, they cre­at­ed a mon­ster that still lives, two cen­turies lat­er, in art and pop­u­lar cul­ture. But what kept the undead blood drinker haunt­ing the imag­i­na­tion of writ­ers through­out that cen­tu­ry?

Blood Lines explores the ways 19th-cen­tu­ry writ­ers used the vam­pire sto­ry as a vehi­cle for mes­sages about appro­pri­ate fam­i­ly and gen­der roles. In the Vic­to­ri­an era in par­tic­u­lar, vam­pire sto­ries and poems revealed the fear that civ­i­liza­tion itself would crum­ble if its cor­ner­stone, the fam­i­ly, became weak­ened. Greedy par­ents, self­ish step­par­ents, rebel­lious daugh­ters, rak­ish sons: all posed a threat to soci­ety, a threat made flesh—cold flesh—by vam­pire tales.

Many read­ers know that Stoker’s Drac­u­la warns of the dan­gers of sex­u­al­ized women, but uncon­trolled sex­u­al­i­ty could be just as dam­ag­ing in men, as we see in H.B. Mar­riott Watson’s sto­ry “The Stone Cham­ber.” Sexy step­moth­ers could endan­ger their consort’s chil­dren, as revealed in Samuel Tay­lor Coleridge’s “Christa­bel” and J. Sheri­dan LeFanu’s famous­ly tit­il­lat­ing “Carmil­la.” And some­times the vil­lain­ous vam­pire him­self was small pota­toes com­pared to the vicious­ness of humans, as revealed in the pur­ple pages of the mas­sive ser­i­al Var­ney, The Vampyre.

There were notable dis­senters, how­ev­er. John Keats’s Lamia and Théophile Gautier’s “La Morte amoureuse” present lus­cious female vam­pires as ideals of wom­an­hood. And promi­nent women writ­ers like Mary Eliz­a­beth Brad­don, Mary Wilkins Free­man, and Vio­let Hunt sub­vert the vam­pire tale to offer a strik­ing­ly dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive from that of their male peers.

From the clas­sic to the obscure, Blood Lines casts a thrilling light on a cen­tu­ry of vam­pire lit­er­a­ture. Some­times fright­en­ing, some­times amus­ing, but always com­pelling, these works reveal under­ly­ing human anx­i­eties that endure into our own era—and nev­er quite die.

Image cred­its: Pho­to by Aspa­sia Pho­tog­ra­phy / Shari Net­tles. Art direc­tion and make-up: Tri­na Bark­er. Mod­el: Kat Kennedy.