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Posts Tagged ‘Vampire fiction’

Thoroughly Modern Mina: Romance, History, and the Dracula Pastiche
by Miriam Elizabeth Burstein

[End Page 1] Not content to remain in the nineteenth century, Bram Stoker’s Dracula continues to stalk his prey through endless pastiches, parodies, and revisionist sagas. Since the beginning of the twenty-first century alone, the Count has been everything from the villain lurking in the library of Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian (2005) to the paradoxical hero of Dacre Stoker and Ian Holt’s Dracula the Undead (2009) to an unlikely Hollywood mogul (via possession) in the finale of Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula trilogy, Johnny Alucard (2013). But there has been another, more unexpected, trend: Dracula the would-be romantic hero, ardently chasing Mina Harker. Although the silent film Nosferatu (1922) first imagined a variant on Dracula in love with a stand-in for Mina Harker, such plots have proliferated since the 1970s, from Fred Saberhagen’s The Dracula Tape (1975) to Karen Essex’s Dracula in Love (2010). The rationale behind this pairing is not immediately obvious: in Bram Stoker’s original, after all, Mina agonized over her violation by the vampire and enthusiastically participated in his destruction. Yet, when considered as a romance narrative, the relationship looks far more predictable. The eroticized vampire meets his match in the pure but determined Madame Mina, encumbered by a weak and ineffectual mate: the scenario has all the spicy allure of an adultery plot. Novelist Syrie James, author of one such romance, Dracula, My Love (2010), hints at the allure of such tales: “If you ask me,” she sighs, “there was a whole lot more going on in that bedchamber than Mina revealed” (James, “Dracula: The Roots”).

But, as James goes on to argue, this fantasy is bound up in the vampire’s explicitly Victorian milieu, with its atmosphere of sexual repression. Although James’ reference elsewhere to the mythic clothed piano legs—which the British understood to be an example of quintessentially American prudery, not their own feminine modesty—exaggerates the Victorian fear of the erotic, her insistence that there is something Victorian at root about this phenomenon is suggestive. In fact, the Dracula-Mina romances illuminate and critique the more familiar sexual politics of neo-Victorian romance plots, from John Fowles’ The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1969) to Sarah Waters’ Fingersmith (2002). Even though we rarely think about reworkings of Dracula as neo-Victorian, these literally bloody romances engage, like their more respectable cousins, in self-conscious (if not always sophisticated) reflections on the end of Victorian culture and the beginning of what we consider “our own” time—guardedly wondering, as Ann Heilmann and Mark Llewellyn have suggested, if “this search for endings really signifies […] the fact that we have not been able to bring the Victorian narrative to a conclusion yet?” (Heilmann and Llewellyn 27). Although as pastiches, the novels usually seek to emulate Dracula’s key themes rather than its forms—while multiple narrators abound, few try to fully echo Dracula’s patchwork narrative structure, let alone Stoker’s prose style—many of them seize on Dracula’s obsession with “modernization” as the centerpiece of their own plots (E. Butler loc. 484). Set at the end of the nineteenth century or the beginning of the twentieth, novels like Dracula the Undead, Newman’s Anno Dracula (1992), or Kate Cary’s WWI-era Bloodline (2006) use the adventures of Dracula and/or his descendants to reference the end of empire and the coming of the Great War; acknowledge new developments in psychiatry and medicine, including blood-typing; and register the impact of feminism and secularization.

In the case of Dracula romances, modernization and feminism are at the forefront. I argue that the primary figure for modernization in these texts is Mina Harker’s newly-awakened body. Vitalized by Dracula’s attentions, Mina’s body becomes shorthand for a “modernity” identified loosely with an emergent liberal feminism. Once fully awakened by [End Page 2] the vampire, Mina’s experiences emphasize erotic pleasure, romantic egalitarianism, and individual liberty in the context of her free choice of motherhood and monogamy, in sharp contradistinction to her Victorian inheritance, which insists on male control of women’s bodies—in bed and out of it. In that sense, Mina’s journeys both engage with larger trends in neo-Victorian narratives that imagine how “modern,” companionate heterosexual couplings come into being, and continue the pattern of Gothic romances in which, as Victoria Nelson dryly puts it, “soft-core pornography is essentially framed within a heterosexual relationship that is monogamous after the first encounter” (108). At the same time, they point to difficulties in imagining how the “historical” in “historical romance” might actually function. What does it mean for a single woman’s romantic entanglements to signify an entire complex of historical transformations?

While the Dracula romances join with their realist counterparts in casting such egalitarian relationships as the precondition for social stability, they rework romance plots in two ways. First, they insist that human agency alone cannot bring modernity into being, suggesting that late-Victorian humanity has hit a moral and perhaps physical dead end. Second, they refuse to recuperate Lucy Westenra, who is sexually problematic in the original Dracula—a woman who “through her excessive emotion and sexual desire […] is positioned outside Victorian normativity and thus draws the vampire to her” (Prescott and Giorgio 500), and remains so in these later reworkings. Lucy’s more playful sexuality, aimed at self-fulfillment instead of motherhood, turns out to be invested in the same Victorian paradigms that animate the men who, heroes in Stoker’s original, become monsters in their own right when reworked. To examine how these dynamics play out, I begin by situating these novels in the context of neo-Victorian romance and marriage plots, in which male heterosexuality frequently becomes a source of deep terror. I then survey how Dracula pastiches from the 1970s on invest the Dracula-Mina romance with supposedly liberatory potential, before unpacking in detail one recent novel, Karen Essex’s Dracula in Love (2010), and its celebrations of women’s choice of monogamous maternity over eternal life with the vampire.

A good undead man is hard to find: romances vampiric and neo-victorian

Dracula-Mina romance plots echo but noticeably deviate from the fad for sexy vampires that began in the 1970s. Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire (1975) sparked the appeal of paranormal or supernatural romance, a genre popular with both adult and young adult readers.[1] Stephenie Meyer’s bestselling Twilight series (2005-08), featuring sparkly vampires and a none-too-subtle emphasis on sexual abstinence, is only the most famous of these texts. Meyer’s work in particular has been critiqued for straightening out the threateningly perverse figure of the vampire“otherness itself,” as Jack Halberstam says of Dracula (88)transforming vampire sexuality’s creative possibilities into a brief for heterosexual monogamy and feminine subjection.[2] In general, the paranormal or supernatural romance plot translates the dark, brooding hero of conventional genre romance into the vampire (or werewolf, or demon) who can be transformed by the love of a (frequently virginal) young woman. Strictly speaking, this literalizes more conventional romance plots in that the innocent young woman really does succeed in the “fantasy conquest of [End Page 3] patriarchy,” redeeming the brutal “alpha male” through the ultimate power of love (Roach n.p.). Such romances may well end, as Twilight does, in the woman joining her lover in his now-rejuvenated monstrous world, finding a happy ending in which eternal happiness is not an illusion.

Perhaps appropriately enough, the marriage plot that is so central to both nineteenth-century realism and romance frequently structures neo-Victorian fiction. But in the latter, the marriage plot is also a sexual liberation plot, and representations of sex become a key method of critiquing, or at least claiming to critique, earlier narrative norms. Crucially, such plots have little to do with the actual strategies of Victorian feminists, which were deeply rooted in arguments for self-control and self-sacrifice now at odds with contemporary beliefs about sexuality and personal fulfillment (Kohlke, “The Lures” 7). By contrast, if “sex and freedom are ontologically linked” (Fletcher 104), then opening up representations of Victorian culture to stories of erotic discovery supposedly reveals both moments of resistance in the nineteenth century and the origins of liberty in our own. Neo-Victorian novels signify their “realism” by filling in the interstices of what was supposedly kept silent in nineteenth-century texts, or translating Victorian code into twentieth- or twenty-first-century plain speech. They engage in a dynamic of exposure that owes much to Steven Marcus’ now-classic The Other Victorians: A Study of Sexuality and Pornography in Mid-Nineteenth-Century England, swapping out the staid Victorian of legend for a much raunchier version. In effect, neo-Victorian fiction constantly produces a “repressed” Victorian era in order to advertise its own subversion thereof; the Victorians must be cast as not-us sexually, the better to narrate the historical transformation from sexual imprisonment to sexual liberty. Or, as Marie-Luise Kohlke argues, with some asperity, “[b]y projecting prohibited and unmentionable desires onto the past, we conveniently reassert our own supposedly enlightened stance towards sexual liberation and social progress, indulging in the self-satisfactions of our assumed superiority” (Kohlke, “The Neo-Victorian Sexsation” 58; cf. Botting 7; Fletcher 129).

It is no accident that several recent neo-Victorian novels have featured women as writers or publishers of erotica. Michel Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White (2002) ultimately denies its heroine the ability to reappropriate her body in the act of writing, but Belinda Starling’s The Journal of Dora Damage (2006), Faye Booth’s Trades of the Flesh (2010), and (arguably) Sarah Waters’ Fingersmith (2002) all suggest that women’s engagement with erotica appropriates the capitalist trade in female bodies for subversive ends, as the writing and/ or publishing woman takes control of sexual fantasies in the name of her own professional and financial independence.[3] Lydia, the heroine of Trades of the Flesh, proudly announces to her now-married lover that, thanks to her erotica, she has obtained a veritable room of her own in which to write: “this place might not be much […], but it’s mine, or as close to mine as I can get” (Booth 302). These narratives do not subvert the sex trade so much as they argue that women, too, can participate in it as agents, creating texts to consume instead of circulating their own bodies. The system remains, but women join the ranks of the suppliers rather than the products.

This liberal strategy for reclaiming women’s autonomy sits alongside neo-Victorian fiction’s critique of male sexuality, especially heterosexuality, as monstrous—a desire that explicitly understands its targets as objects to be consumed, not subjects for mutual pleasure, and thus destroys in the act of consummation. Kohlke has aptly pointed out that “neo-Victorian fiction panders to a seemingly insatiable desire for imagined perversity” [End Page 4] (“The Neo-Victorian Sexsation” 55). Recent neo-Victorian fiction is populated by an astonishing run of male predators, from the evil (and sadomasochistic) version of Walter Hartright in James Wilson’s Wilkie Collins pastiche, The Dark Clue (2007) to the abusive (and closeted) Somers Ingram in Linda Holeman’s The Linnet Bird (2004) to the violent (and fatally diseased) Kester in Kate Darby’s The Whore’s Asylum (2012). The aristocratic Kester, for example, turns out to be a sadist who participates in orgies and is aroused by the prospect of murdering the heroine; his upper-class male privilege enables him to abduct her by passing her off as a “notorious drunk” prostitute to would-be rescuers who wind up watching her struggles with “mild interest” (Darby 274). As in other neo-Victorian narratives, the heroine finds her very reality rewritten by the male monster, whose cultural centrality enables him to engage in acts of sexual and other violence that remain safely unspoken. The sexual male body thus becomes one of the prime sites of neo-Victorian Gothic, all the more so because this is the privileged body at the heart of nineteenth-century culture; the “façade of the normal,” as Halberstam says, “that tends to become the place of terror within postmodern Gothic” (162). That is, the true horror revealed by neo-Victorian narrative is not that the “other” plots to invade the safe haven of Victorian domesticity, but that the monstrosity of middle-class and aristocratic men goes safely unchallenged; the monsters define the monstrous.

For the brutalized heterosexual women in these novels, then, full autonomy requires the advent of a new masculinity, often represented as exotic or otherwise non-normative. While in some ways these figures resemble the so-called “New Hero” of late twentieth-century romance, a self-assured figure who winds up exploring the possibility of “emotional connection” with the female protagonist (Zidle 26, 27), the relationships, figured as equal partnerships, may or may not involve sexual activity, and often redefine the nature of mental and physical strength. Most conventionally, there is Daoud in The Linnet Bird, a stereotypically mysterious, exotic, and sexy Pashtun chief who swoops in on his white stallion. Less so, there is the partly disabled Shaker from the same novel, with whom the narrator joins as part of an alternative family at the end. Similarly, Belinda Starling concludes The Journal of Dora Damage with the loving marriage of Jack Tapster (a gay man) and Pansy (an infertile woman). More mystically, David Rocklin’s The Luminist (2011) celebrates a spiritual connection between photographer and diplomat’s wife Catherine Colebrook and her adolescent Indian assistant, Eligius. In this narrative strategy, “good” masculinity may or may not be heterosexual, but it always emerges from the margins of a culture that identifies manhood with the ability to possess and consume as many bodies as possible (whether the bodies of men, women, children, people of color, or the poor). Notably, men of color are not, in Judith Wilt’s phrase, “dis-Oriented” (113), as in the case of the revelations about the eponymous hero of The Sheik (1919); for this trope to work, the men must remain resolutely Other to the white heroine. The disadvantaged male Other is himself objectified in the Victorian frame of reference, and thus becomes an appropriate mate to the women who occupy an analogous position. Although Georges Letissier, discussing Sarah Waters’ neo-Victorian fiction, notes how representations of alternative domestic forms have explored both their liberatory quality and the space they open up for “fraud and deceit” (381), treating the “Other” man as a solution to women’s problems poses yet another set of issues. It often exoticizes people of color as updated versions of the Sheik (of which Daoud is a prime example) or turns disabled or otherwise disadvantaged men into premium accessories for demonstrating the heroine’s moral superiority. Moreover, as we shall see later, the monster-[End Page 5] ing of “bad” male heterosexuality carefully limits the critique it purports to offer: the always-awaiting revelation that normative masculinity is somehow warped, as opposed to the positive masculinity embodied by the male Other, produces a conveniently Manichean vision of the social order. Modernization in neo-Victorian fiction is not about transitioning from a repressed to a non-repressed regime, then, but about redefining what constitutes a sexual norm.

Sex and the single vampire

Certainly, sexual norms are at the forefront in Dracula novels, revisionist or otherwise. William Patrick Day has argued that the eroticized, “Byronic” vampire “give[s] structure to our own use of the vampire as a romantic transgressor and a protagonist in the struggle for freedom from repression” (12), and Dracula-Mina romance plots celebrate the link between sexual freedom and the flourishing of female (and male) subjectivity. As several critics have pointed out, although the Byronic vampire has been part of vampire lore since Polidori’s Lord Ruthven stalked the pages of The Vampyre (1819), his potential as a romantic love interest dates back only to the 1970s or so. It requires, Jules Zanger has argued, the vampire’s mutation “from an objectification of metaphysical evil into simply another image of ourselves” (23).[4] The modern vampire is us with fangs. Dracula’s passionate pursuit of Mina is part of this transformation. While Orlok’s interest in the Mina substitute in Nosferatu only goes one way, the Dracula-Mina romance plot posits that the vampire’s interest could be enthusiastically reciprocated. At the same time, the trajectories of these plots escape the vampire romance formula familiar from paranormal or supernatural romance: the characteristic vampire-lover of paranormal romance may be perfect as-is and possess an “inherent moral compass” that keeps good humans bite-free (Bailie 142, 143), but the eroticized Dracula is a far more ambiguous figure who, except in rare cases, is never the appropriate final love interest. His centrality to the plot line thus invokes one conventional romance plot, in which the heroine rejects and then returns to the man she truly loves (e.g. Ebert 41-44), but with a new twist: Mina and Jonathan can only learn to love each other by appropriating the vampire’s erotic and political insights. Mina may find that, like Harlequin romance heroes, the vampire may “recognize her as a subject, or recognize her from her own point of view” (Rabine 166)—but this affirmation of Mina’s selfhood and autonomy almost always falters and collapses. Instead, Dracula’s love for Mina usually ends up reaffirming “primarily heteronormative relationships reinforced by ‘traditional’ family values,” something that Melissa Ames associates with young adult rather than adult paranormal romance (49). As we shall see, Mina’s encounter with Dracula initiates our heroine into a world of alternative sexual experience, only to leave her to choose monogamous heterosexuality with the resolutely “normal” Jonathan at the end. It is this narrative of choice that turns out to be the crux of these novels.

At first glance, it seems strange that many Dracula novels do not recuperate Lucy Westenra, the character most explicitly associated with sexuality in the original Dracula, and whose phallic death by group staking is often interpreted as patriarchal punishment in the form of “corrective penetration” (Craft 117). Fred Saberhagen’s Lucy in The Dracula Tape (1975) comes to Dracula “as smoothly and willingly as any wench that I have ever clasped to [End Page 6] lips or loins” (78); the relationship, Dracula admits, is pure sex, and his choice of “wench” implies that her behavior transgresses class boundaries. Similarly, Syrie James’s Lucy in Dracula, My Love (2010) is a flibbertigibbet thrilled by her own sex appeal. The morning after her first encounter with Dracula, she has “a sparkle in her eye and a little, self-satisfied smile on her face,” and later she responds to the sight of a bat with a “wanton expression” (James, Dracula, My Love 51, 84). Indeed, Dracula tells Mina that far from seducing Lucy, she actively seduced him (James, Dracula, My Love 269). In Karen Essex’s Dracula in Love (2010), Lucy has been having a sultry affair with Morris Quince (that is, Quincey Morris) while engaged to Arthur. In one voyeuristic scene, Mina stumbles upon them having sex (Essex 104). In these and other examples, Lucy Westenra enters the novel already erotically liberated, freely choosing sexual pleasure and rejecting social norms. Unlike Mina, whose discovery of her sexual potential drives the Dracula-Mina romance plot, Lucy appears to model a late-twentieth or twenty-first-century model of women’s sexual autonomy. But if Lucy’s embrace of pleasure seems to be the endpoint of the narrative that Mina is just beginning, why is history bound up with Mina’s sexualization, and not Lucy’s sexual freedom? Or, to put it differently, why is the “initiation story” Mina’s plot and not Lucy’s (Day 27)?

Although the Dracula novels embrace Lucy’s sexual transgression-and-punishment plot from the original novel, it is inadequate for us to read these Lucies as the kind of promiscuous romance character who “makes explicit the threatening implications of an unleashed feminine sexuality capable of satisfying itself outside the structures of patriarchal domination that are still perpetuated most effectively through marriage” (Radway 74). It is not so much that Lucy is having the wrong kind of sex as that she is having it with the wrong kind of men. Or, to put it more paradoxically, the already-liberated Lucy’s sexual relationships, including her purely sexual encounters with Dracula, belong to a matrix of masculine perversity that the novels code as part of the past that must be abandoned. Ken Gelder has observed that in recent critical readings of Dracula, “the vampire is to be redeemed—the problem lies, instead, with the upstanding heroes” (66). By this, Gelder means that the “good” characters have frequently been understood as being in need of further psychoanalytic, political, and/or sexual unpacking. But these novels take Gelder’s point a step further: the morally pure, chivalrous heroes of Stoker’s novel are often boring at best, depraved and/or insane at worst. At the boring end, Saberhagen’s The Dracula Tape, Essex’s Dracula in Love, and Elaine Bergstrom’s Mina (1994) all cast Jonathan Harker as far more repressed than his wife ever is, although Saberhagen’s Harker is never more than a stopgap before Mina reunites with Dracula. Bergstrom’s Harker, for example, simultaneously yearns for the “passion” Mina displayed for Dracula, yet feels ashamed of himself for his desire (60). Freda Warrington goes one step further and has both Mina and Jonathan agree that sex in wedlock must be “restrained and decorous,” as a “Christian marriage” must rule out all “lasciviousness” (102); in other words, they have consigned themselves to eternal sexual ennui.

At the depraved and/or insane end, Saberhagen’s Arthur and Quincey plot to pick up women while en route to killing the Count (237). Far from being Stoker’s quintessentially chivalrous guardians of female virtue, Saberhagen’s men are would-be sexual predators in their own right. They are, as Nina Auerbach says, “more dangerous than the vampire” on the grounds of sheer “smug stupidity” (loc. 2381). More seriously, Dacre Stoker and Ian Holt’s Harker in Dracula the Un-dead (2009) is a drunk, their Seward a drug addict, their Van Helsing a vampire (!), whereas Dracula turns out to be an exemplar of Christian virtue, a “knight of God” (378). Similarly, Essex’s Von Helsinger, Arthur, and Seward are gold-diggers, [End Page 7] murderers, and would-be rapists, feeding off and consuming the female protagonists. Von Helsinger’s figurative vampirism through blood transfusion, in fact, is intended to produce a “race of supermen” from women “relieved of [their] biological and moral weaknesses” (Essex 227), a materialist obsession with blood and bodies that evokes both the eugenicist theories advocated during the nineteenth century by theorists like Francis Galton and, to a twenty-first century reader, the Nazis. This variety of vampirism proves far more dangerous to Mina and Lucy than Dracula does, rooted as it is in a terror of femininity that Dracula, at first, disclaims. Even the more heroic Morris Quince falls prey to the general corruption; as Mina thinks to herself, if Arthur was underhanded, then so was Morris, “seducing a friend’s fiancée” behind his back (Essex 93).

As these examples suggest, plots turning on Dracula’s romance with Mina posit two competing sites of monstrosity: the middle- and upper-class Victorian man, whose monstrosity turns out to be the cultural norm, and the vampire, whose monstrosity is partly inflected by his more subversive eroticism. Rather than being the sort of vampire who “obeys human laws, respects Western society’s norms, and shares its values” (Tenga and Zimmerman 77), Dracula, at least initially, offers a radical alternative to an utterly degraded culture. In this context, Lucy Westenra’s sexual liberation depends on and partakes of the same corruption that affects her male counterparts. Although she may well represent “modernity,” it is a modernity that itself must be swept away by the vampire’s providential arrival on English soil.[5] If we think about these figures of male inadequacy and degeneracy facing off against Dracula, the international threat and potent male, we can see a counter-history coming into play. Bram Stoker’s Dracula unites men from multiple nations and professions to successfully ward off the threat of reverse colonization by a would-be warrior from the East; his Dracula is a hangover from an age of brute force that stands in implicit contrast to the manly and civilizing powers of British imperialism. In Mary Hallab’s turn of phrase, the “antique patriarchal Dracula” seems not to understand that both he and everything for which he stands are “dead” (39). Here, though, the putative forces of empire, far from being manly, are in thrall to their own basest desires; their resistance to Dracula is no nationalist or imperialist self-defense. Rather, it implies a mass cultural suicide. What sort of men will they reproduce?

By contrast, Mina’s erotic awakening is energized by a force independent of the late-Victorian corruption around her, and often requires the mass immolation (sometimes literally) of those whose sexual morals are not up to the novel’s par. Andrew Smith has argued of the neo-Victorian Gothic that “the past […] appears to re-energise the present and transforms political views and private lives” (71). Similarly, Dracula’s temporal otherness—as remnant of a historical past and potential inhabitant of an as-yet unknown future—turns him into a suitable vehicle for historical critique. Vampire eroticism, which allows both male and female to penetrate and be penetrated, suggests that women may express desire actively as well as succumb to it passively (although the Dracula romances noticeably downplay the violence and exploitation also suggested by feeding on another). Moreover, the close connection between sexuality and feeding suggests that monogamy may not be a requirement for romance—the vampire, after all, needs many sources of food. In that sense, the Dracula-Mina romance plot also puts the adultery plot onto a collision course with the far less familiar polygamy plot. And even though it is Dracula who redirects Mina’s sexual energies, he inadvertently redirects them towards her husband: unlike the wayward Lucy, Mina’s sexuality will reach its full flowering only in her choice of monogamy. [End Page 8]

Mina makes her choice: Dracula in Love

Here, let me slow down and offer a closer analysis of a single novel, Essex’s Dracula in Love, to see how this narrative strategy plays out in practice. Essex’s Mina is associated with the Celtic supernatural: her adult self exists in a disenchanted world, in which spirits do not communicate with humans and animals have no intelligible speech, but her encounter with Dracula restores her awareness of the organic connection between natural and supernatural, body and spirit. In effect, Mina experiences the world through the point of view of what Charles Taylor calls the “buffered self,” grounded in reason, and believing in the possibility “of disengaging from whatever is beyond the boundary, and of giving its own autonomous order to its life”; the novel’s plot, by contrast, promises the utopian return of a “porous self,” in which the “extra-human” shapes human experience “emotionally and spiritually” (38-39, 40).[6] The novel actually begins with an attempted rape (real or imagined), from which Mina is rescued by a mysterious gentleman whom she compares to “the image of the Christ welcoming his flock” (Essex 9). This sacralized Dracula is the savior, the comforter; moreover, Mina’s instinctive response anticipates Dracula’s eventual revelation that his vampirism developed from a “sect of warrior monks,” who argued, in a revisionist reading of the Eucharist, that “drinking blood was the secret to life everlasting” (Essex 273-274). Mina has grasped something of significance: from the get-go the novel associates human male sexuality, especially sexual penetration, with violence, cruelty, and a will to power over women, whereas Dracula’s violence is pure, redemptive (albeit within the context of what turns out to be a very Dan Brown-type vision of Christianity, rooted in esotericism and conspiracy theory). What Mina sees around her confirms her anxieties about sex: after all, a former friend, betrayed by her lover, is now forced to walk the streets, an example of how male sexuality turns women into consumable objects (Essex 23).

Mina’s not-yet-blooming eroticism is at a standstill between two poles, the voyeuristic and the physical—a position echoed by Jonathan’s own inability to reconcile his moral and desiring selves. The journalist Kate Reed (a character initially conceived by Stoker for Dracula, then deleted) points out that Mina had enjoyed a performance by two drag kings and that, in general, she is very much “the daring sort” (Essex 24; emphasis in original). Mina’s adventurousness, in other words, is confined to the gaze, and stops short at the actual sexual act; moreover, her self-imposed limitations are echoed by her fiancé Jonathan, who considers himself, in Mina’s words, a “thoroughly modern man” (Essex 33), and yet plans to have a stereotypical marriage in which Mina will be his “princess” (Essex 34). This fantasy, which casts the bride as the protected virgin to Jonathan’s manly, knightly protector, fails to survive Jonathan’s adventure in Dracula’s castle and afterwards. Jonathan confesses that he “succumbed to what were the most overt advances,” but that later, under the power of multiple women who “shared me among them,” he “felt as if I had no choice in the matter, that my will was entirely suppressed” (Essex 149, 151). Despite the phrasing, neither Mina nor the novel distinguishes between the self-justification of the first instance (Essex 149-50) and what appears to be rape in the second; instead, Mina, Jonathan, and, indeed, Dracula cast these incidents as equivalent sexual and emotional betrayals. Jonathan’s lack of masculine “will” signals his incapacity as a good husband and foreshadows more frightening betrayals. But simultaneously, Jonathan’s and Mina’s joint possessiveness also marks the boundary line between Victorian past and modern “us”: the two characters must journey beyond this phase [End Page 9] of their emotional existence to enter into a modernized, more egalitarian relationship. First, though, they require Dracula.

The conflict between Dracula and Jonathan plays up the tension between Mina’s desire for liberty and Jonathan’s interest in being a Disney prince. The battleground is Mina’s autoerotic self-discovery: in caressing her own body, she simultaneously becomes aware of literal hidden depths and of the perils of her exploration. “It felt like nothing I had ever felt before,” she muses of her own interior, “soft and smooth, and empty and full at the same time, a moist cushion of a cave” (Essex 46). She becomes aware that she is somehow split, that culture has decreed that her own body must remain a mystery. The Dracula romance plot promises to heal that split, in much the same way that it promises to reenchant Mina’s sense of the world. But first, she must overcome her own fear of independence, which sends her to “Lucy’s exuberant company, where we might share excitement about our destiny as brides” (Essex 47). Marriage, Mina thinks later, is supposed to provide “order” (Essex 157). The marriage plot promises to transform the unruly, disruptive energies of desire into something organized, socially legitimated, and carefully controlled. “Destiny,” too, implies that marriage is a given, a pre-determined rather than a freely chosen state. The irony, however, is that Lucy is feeling no such excitement, as she prefers her secret affair with the artistic Morris over her conventional future with Arthur. In that sense, the novel initially appears to shatter the romance plot altogether. Surely the future lies with Lucy’s unwillingness to adhere to social norms about female sexuality, rather than Mina’s investment in a comic romance plot that banishes chaos?

But that is not the case: Mina’s choice is between two husbands, not a lifetime of sexual libertinism. Nina Auerbach argues that Dracula is, in part, about forcing “the restraints of marriage” (loc. 1354) onto an unwilling young woman, but Essex and her fellow novelists recast the Dracula marriage question in terms of choice and inclination. “The choice is yours,” Dracula says, when Mina warns him that she might refuse to accompany him to Ireland (Essex 263); and again, Jonathan “chose to remain at the castle, just as you chose to stay with me” (Essex 281). Everyone, in other words, is a free agent.[7] Yet “choice” turns out to be in conflict with the romance plot—as well as with Jonathan’s own problematic sexual experiences with the vampire women. Granted, Dracula does bed Mina (or, at least, bite her) on her wedding night, but he does so under the guise of being her “true husband” (Essex 152). This encounter casts vampire sex as “communion” (Essex 154), with all the religious overtones that entails, and posits a perfect union between lover and beloved; it sharply contrasts with both Mina’s aborted wedding night and a later sexual encounter with Jonathan that leaves her “angry and humiliated” (Essex 234). Once again, Dracula the vampire usurps the position of Christ the bridegroom, while he also becomes the idealized eternal beloved. Yet an anxious Mina worries that she, too, has given in to chaotic desires, thinking that “Lucy had seemed possessed by the same passions that had consumed Jonathan and left him howling in the fields of Styria” (Essex 156). Communion, possession, consumption: does erotic desire lead the self to awareness, or is it a form of madness, or even a form of dangerous erasure? If the vampire offers an alternative to the corrupted sexuality of late-Victorian culture, does he merely point the way to another form of self-loss?

In fact, Lucy’s libertinism boomerangs into literal imprisonment in Seward’s asylum; the sexually free woman finds herself entrapped in a loveless marriage that reduces her to a bank account and a body at man’s beck and call. Stripped of direct control over her own finances, unwillingly sedated, Lucy finds that the marriage plot—which had included a [End Page 10] dream of Arthur as a forgiving, self-sacrificial angel—has become more Bluebeard than Cinderella. Part of her “treatment” under Von Helsinger is to be subjected to both Arthur’s and Seward’s sexual caresses, which inspires only “self-disgust” instead of her earlier exhilaration (Essex 179). Lucy’s initial sexual autonomy does not survive marriage. Instead, her plot morphs into a near parody of the neo-Victorian Gothic marriage, defined by male domination, sexual objectification, and commodification. As Mina soon discovers, Seward is aroused by constraining women in straitjackets—an obvious figure for male sexuality’s effects on women’s liberty. But he also proposes an adulterous relationship based on “empty[ing] our minds to each other” (Essex 215)—the mirror image of the perfect communion Mina experiences with the Count, which again raises the question of the latter’s desirability. It becomes difficult to separate communion from self-destruction.

To make matters worse, Seward, Von Helsinger, and even Jonathan turn against Mina by charging her with “sexual hysteria” (Essex 242), pathologizing female sexuality altogether. This nineteenth-century precursor to Freudianism again stands as Victorian “other” to our “now,” insofar as it subjects women’s sexual agency to male rule—literally imposing another one of Seward’s straitjackets on a wayward woman. The rejected Seward diagnoses Mina’s signs of sexuality as “erotomania” (Essex 243), a side effect of female biology that leaves women prey to their own passions. The sexual woman is a woman in thrall to her own body, rather than an autonomous, desiring subject. When Mina insists that she has not brought Dracula’s visitations upon herself, Von Helsinger sneers that “the female always feigns innocence when seducing the male” (241). This marks the end of the fantasy of Lucy’s sexual liberation: Von Helsinger’s contempt signals that men read female “virtue” as an act intended to cover for their libidinous excesses. For the men, the real monster here is the sexually active woman herself, who must be purged and brutalized (the water cure, for example) until she is rendered submissive. Even Jonathan demands that Mina “accommodate my wishes” (Essex 243), identifying proper masculinity with absolute control over women’s agency.

Luckily, before Mina can be raped, Dracula magically appears and whisks her away—a repetition of the Dracula-as-Christ analogy with which the novel began, but also an assertion of the vampire’s more-than-human masculine potency. As Dracula explains, Mina has “entered a magical kingdom” (Essex 266), finally rediscovering her true self in a world that unites the material and the spiritual. “Within you is the ability to fully integrate the body with eternal consciousness, to fuse flesh with spirit” (Essex 283), Dracula promises, in stark contrast to the novel’s more punitive uses of Christianity for sexual and social discipline. (Jonathan, after all, argues that the diagnosis of Mina’s sexual hysteria is divine providence in action [Essex 244].) As in Francis Ford Coppola’s film Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Mina is “eternally united” (Essex 267) to the Count, her soulmate—who, of course, also turns out to be an incredible lover. Where the narrative shunted Lucy from freewheeling sexuality to imprisonment and death, it whirls Mina in the opposite direction; where Lucy’s eroticism was material, Mina’s turns out to be literally on a higher plane of existence. It is not clear if this is supposed to be ancient wisdom or backdated New Age thinking, as Dracula sources part of his enlightenment to a stereotypical variant of Kali worship, complete with heavily sexualized (and, it is hinted, homoerotic) rites (Essex 293).

Vampiric eroticism turns out to be a syncretic version of all purportedly blood-obsessed religions, joined together with the immortality conferred by the blood of the Sidhe (Essex 304); in that sense, it is a global construct incorporating East and West, monotheism [End Page 11] and polytheism, paganism and Christianity, mortal and faerie. A by-product of the Crusades, post-medieval vampirism turns out to be a variant on the imperialism practiced by the late-Victorian British. But this is supposedly a kind of counter-imperialism that rejects territorial conquest. Dracula’s sexual and spiritual enlightenment derives from an anti-materialist worldview ruled out by Mina’s late-Victorian cultural context: the vampire hunters, entranced by biology and hard cash, fixate on the physical (the blood, the body) rather than on the ineffable (the exchange of energies between vampire and prey). As Dracula explains, Von Helsinger is wrong to believe that “the blood draining” is what affects victims; instead, it is “the exposure to our power” that kills them, sometimes accidentally (Essex 282). Von Helsinger’s attempt to breed up a new race thus finds its transcendent match in the vampire’s immortal perfections, which ultimately break down the boundaries between bodies and souls.

While Dracula conjures up visions of a new broad path to salvation, the novel instead leaves us with a rejuvenated understanding of heterosexuality, now appropriately updated to include both love and non-pathologized eroticism. As Gary Waller has pointed out, vampire narratives default to heterosexual marriage in the end, and these novels are no different (loc. 3095; cf. Botting 160).[8] In that sense, the novel is perhaps more Victorian than the author recognizes: Mina’s and Jonathan’s mutual embrace of a new domesticity, founded on egalitarian principles, is precisely the kind of “love which is based on a deep respect” that Victorian feminists like Josephine Butler thought would rejuvenate the institution of marriage (xxxiii). The problem is Mina’s baby, as it also is in Saberhagen’s The Dracula Tape and James’ Dracula, My Love. Mina immediately terminates her romantic relationship with Dracula in order to prioritize her child’s needs, opting for the relatively uninteresting Jonathan (the good provider) over the flamboyant vampire (the good lover). Far from being the “generally perfect” lover whose “ability to love and be loved is just another aspect of that perfection” (Mukherjea 13), Dracula turns out to be not just useless as a romantic companion, but also incapable of understanding compromise, self-sacrifice, or even the possibility of development. For Essex, the novel’s key narrative tension plays out explicitly as a matter of a woman’s power to choose, and the vampire reveals his inadequacy as a potential lifemate once Mina chooses something other than sexual freedom. Dracula knows Mina will choose Jonathan and the baby because “you have destroyed our love time and again with your foolish choices” (Essex 333). Their fantastic union of souls across time thus collapses into bathetic failure, as the vampire pursues the beloved he knows he will lose, and whose mind he is eternally doomed not to understand. Fred Botting suggests that Anne Rice’s vampires seek romance as the last available route to “meaning, faith and credibility” (84), but are always doomed to find it inadequate; however, Essex’s Dracula disqualifies himself not because his dreams of romance are too cosmic in their implications, but for the far more mundane reason that they are solely about his own wants. The novel castigates any self-gratifying female sexuality as a potential loss of liberty, yet equally warns that sex without male emotional reciprocity is just as dangerous. Far from celebrating the substitution of “romantic passion” for a lost religious faith (Hallab 121; cf. Williamson 44), the novel constrains such passions in maternal concerns. Dracula may believe that his erotic encounters with Mina are “a way to create a family or create a substitute for a family” (Nakagawa), but his fantasy of an eternal pair-bond cannot accommodate biological reproduction, let alone the demands of child-rearing. Mina’s choice to raise her child with [End Page 12] Jonathan can only strike Dracula as selfish, and the vampire’s inability to comprehend self-sacrifice and self-control indicates the limitations of his allure.

By contrast, when Mina unwillingly reunites with Jonathan, he insists that he will make himself “worthy” to be the child’s father (Essex 354). Mina vanquishes the vampire not by staking him, but by choosing a man who is more other-directed, more aware of himself as a man in need of moral improvement. Jolted into self-consciousness through his encounter with the vampire, Jonathan at least hints at the possibility that male monstrosity can be tamed or sublimated. But Mina’s choice also suggests that the freer world of vampire sexuality is a childlike world—a place “for children who have not yet come to terms with life’s realities” (Crawford 94)—that must be abandoned for a life in which, for both sexes, fulfillment encompasses attending to the needs of others. Dracula’s childishness manifests itself less in his criminality and more in his sexuality, which cannot brook the possibility of restraint on the satisfaction of any and all immediate desires. Jonathan can seek moral redemption; Dracula, forever engaged in the same unsatisfactory quest for his one beloved woman, is not even capable of thinking himself out of his self-imposed romantic imprisonment, a failing that ultimately aligns him with the corrupt human men he professes to despise. Unlike the type of romantic vampire hero whose desire for gore conceals his “true character” (Franiuk and Scherr 19), Dracula is exactly what he appears to be on the surface, and proves himself unable to be anything else.

Conclusion: vampires and the Victorian sexual other

The vampire’s narrative function, then, is less to provide an acceptable life choice than, as an “idealised mirror of human states” (Botting 82), to render Victorian constructions of female sexuality painfully apparent, and in this novel, as in many others, he enables Mina to understand how her needs have been confined within the narrow parameters of nineteenth-century sexual conventions.[9] “I told him [Jonathan] that I loved him,” Elaine Bergstrom’s Mina notes in her journal, “then asked him to decide if he can love me with the passion I need” (Bergstrom 325). Dracula, the “other,” instead others the Victorians, whose sexual repressions become monstrosities that can only be overcome through an energized marriage bed. In Dracula in Love, Mina and Jonathan, having passed through the fires of infidelity, now enjoy a “world of infinite sensuousness” (Essex 367), but they do so safely in the comfort of their own home. Having explored alternatives to monogamy, in other words, the characters choose monogamous married life, while reserving their more outrageous experiments for the privacy of the bedroom. Instead of asking the female protagonist to make a “sacrifice of sexual love” (Weisser 78; cf. Sturgeon-Dodsworth 175-76), for the greater good, Dracula in Love and the other Dracula romances insist that the heroine’s monstrous erotic past is the necessary prologue for her marital future—even if, as in Saberhagen’s The Dracula Tape, true erotic satisfaction only happens when Mina enters her undead future with the Count. Here, then, is a modern egalitarian marriage, founded solidly on the bedrock of romantic ideals of perfect companionate relationships between men and women—indeed, the novel’s conclusion could come straight out of Jane Eyre, if one ignored the blood. At the same time, despite endorsing women’s sexual pleasure, the novel pathologizes anything that does not look like “normal” human sex—Seward’s sadomasochistic tendencies, for example. [End Page 13] The “new” modern woman ultimately confines herself to celebrating the mutual recognition of complementary male and female desires within otherwise traditional marriage.[10]

Many neo-Victorian novels have no happy ending for their heroines, entrapped in Gothic narratives in which male sexuality is irredeemably monstrous. The Dracula pastiches try to solve the problem by introducing a literally otherworldly mode of male sexual identity. Mina becomes thoroughly modern by defeating Dracula, not by killing him (usually) but, rather, by asserting autonomy through rational choice: she endorses his vision of desire and then transforms it into a new form of marriage that rests on a fully privatized form of sexual egalitarianism. Lucy Westenra, the woman who prioritizes desire over marriage, must be evacuated from the narrative. So, too, must men whose lusts manifest themselves primarily through a desire for absolute control over female bodies. Yet Mina’s choice of monogamy with the “right” man—who usually turns out to not be Dracula—does nothing to challenge the conditions under which late-Victorian men have become monstrous, conditions that seem as magical as the vampire himself. That it takes an interview with the vampire in order to get from “them” to “us” hints at a conceptual blockage about sex, and particularly male sexuality, in neo-Victorian fiction.[11]

[1] Gelder notes that these novels, along with others like those by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, strongly resemble “women’s romance—notably, the tracing out of the vampire’s search for fulfilment, for a ‘complete’ love relationship” (109).

[2] For critiques of Twilight’s sexual politics, see, e.g., Jennings and Wilson; Kane; Platt.

[3] Kohlke argues that Fingersmith’s conclusion is far more ambivalent than it first appears (“Neo-Victorian Female Gothic” 224).

[4] Similar attempts to date this trend have ranged from the mid-twentieth century to the early twenty-first: see, e.g., Clements; Crawford 46-59; Hessels 62; Nakagawa; Poole 211-14. By contrast, Williamson dates the “sympathetic vampire” to the mid-nineteenth century (30-36).

[5] Abbott argues that “[t]he vampire is in a constant state of disintegration and renewal, and it is through this process that it is intrinsically linked to the modern world, which is also perpetually in the throes of massive change” (loc. 140).

[6] Nelson suggestively argues that the allure of vampires is, in part, due to “desiring to experience a reality beyond the material world, even if the need itself is not consciously acknowledged and even if the only vehicles available are the uniformly dark imaginary supernatural characters that pop culture presents outside organized religion” (133).

[7] It is worth noting that Essex’s interest in “choice” does not really follow Karen Sturgeon-Dodsworth’s critique of neo-Victorian fiction, in which such “choice” rests on the assumption that “emancipation has already irrefutably occurred” (174). Both Essex’s novel and the other Dracula pastiches are quite emphatic that without the vampire’s intervention, emancipation is impossible within the constraints of contemporary Victorian culture.

[8] Insofar as the novels reject Dracula as a romantic option, however, they deviate from current trends in vampire romance fiction, in which vampires “really are just like us, and all they really want is to live quietly in a monogamous marriage with the person they love” (Crawford 87).

[9] This narrative outcome complicates Łuksza’s argument that modern vampire romances turn the “damsel in distress” plot into a story about resistance, self-sufficiency, and [End Page 14] personal development (435). In Essex’s novel, Mina tends to remain in distress until Dracula comes to the rescue, and her self-discovery cannot be separated from Jonathan’s.

[10] This trend is even more obvious in both Warrington’s Dracula the Undead and Stoker’s Dracula the Un-Dead: the former has an evil lesbian vampire and two evil gay vampires, the latter an evil lesbian vampire. Cf. Crawford on other vampire romances (78-81; 115).

[11] This article is based on a presentation originally delivered at the Neo-Victorian Cultures conference at Liverpool John Moores University in 2013. I am grateful to Nadine Muller for her comments on earlier drafts of this paper.

[End Page 15]

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“Safe Sex with Defanged Vampires: New Vampire Heroes in Twilight and the Southern Vampire Mysteries” by Chiho Nakagawa

Although we are witnessing a surge of vampire novels and movies today, this popularity is not merely a contemporary phenomenon. Many vampire-themed stories have been written since the publication of the first popular vampire novel, Dracula (1897), and many TV shows and films have been produced, notably including Nosferatu (1922), Blood and Roses (1960), TV series Dark Shadows (1966-1971) and Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003), its spin-off Angel (1999-2004), and Underworld (2003). Of contemporary vampire media, two examples are of particular interest to popular romance scholars, both because of their extraordinary popularity and because of their distinctive deployments of romance plots: the Twilight saga, which started as a series of novels and has been made into a series of films, and Charlaine Harris’s Southern Vampire Mysteries (SVM), sometimes also known as the Sookie Stackhouse Novels, after its female protagonist, which has been adapted into the HBO TV drama series True Blood. Borrowing many conventions from romance novels and Gothic fiction, both of these series portray a romance between a human female and a male vampire; however, in a startling departure from the dominant traditions in vampire fiction, in which vampires signify transgression—excess of sex or deviation from some sexual norm—the vampires do not show any deviation from decency. Edward Cullen in Twilight and Bill Compton in the SVM usually do not kill humans, and (with one notable exception, for Bill) they do not attack humans sexually, either. Quite the contrary: they display almost perfect control over their “natural” urges. No longer dark or horrifying, these vampire heroes are almost defanged.

In reading these vampire novels, I will take the same position as Linda Barlow in reading romance novels: that is, I will treat them as “psychological maps which provide intriguing insights into the emotional landscape of women” (46). By analyzing the heroes (or hero-villains) of these new vampire romance novels in the context of Gothic novels and romance novels, I hope to explore the emotional landscape of women today. More specifically, I will argue that these two vampire stories reflect contemporary women’s lowered sense of danger concerning sexuality as such, yet heightened sense of danger in terms of the boundaries of self. Targeted at young adult audiences, Twilight thus ends as a fairytale in which the man makes every effort to talk the woman into sex and marriage by convincing her that the horror stories girls hear about men are not always true. Targeted at a more mature audience, the Sookie Stackhouse Novels offer a warier lesson, as Sookie realizes that her vampire hero is indeed not to be trusted, and worthy of being feared. Unlike Twilight’s Bella, that is to say, Sookie finds that her safe hero is not really defanged, but that his fangs are merely retracted. This realization is crucial to her acquiring a more mature perception of both sexuality and self, one appropriate to an adult woman negotiating the risks of contemporary romance.

Vampires of the Past and Vampires Today

Vampire stories in the nineteenth century offer us glimpses into illicit desires, allowing the writers to talk about sexuality in a way that otherwise cannot be done. Even in the absence of explicit descriptions of sexual acts, nineteenth-century vampire stories offered their authors the opportunity to hint at, or even revel in, a variety of sexual transgressions. Those celebrations of illicit desires can be seen in some of the earliest examples of vampire story: John William Polidori’s “The Vampyre” (1819), for example, in which male-to-male desire comes to the forefront, and then, about fifty years later, Sheridan Le Fanu’s story of female-to-female desire in another vampire story, “Carmilla” (1872). In these older stories, the fatal penetrations of a vampire’s bite displace/replace the unspeakable sexual penetrations they signify, a technique still employed in contemporary popular novels, where actual sexual acts might presumably be named or portrayed, perhaps in order to give an air of ominous significance and meaning to them that goes beyond the merely physical. Anne Rice’s The Vampire Chronicles, for example, plays with vampires’ transgressive sexuality, invoking both male to male desire and child sexuality. The Southern Vampire Mysteries can also be placed in this tradition, since many of its vampire characters show a variety of sexualities.

The characterization of today’s vampires has deep roots as well. The most enduringly influential presentation of the vampire remains Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Building on Polidori’s model, this fin-de-siècle Gothic novel molded what used to be a folkloric monster into a dark hero; in the process, it softened, or at least modulated, the figure’s transgressive sexual overtones. As Christopher Craft argues, vampire attacks confuse the “gender-based categories of the penetrating and the receptive” (261), but in Stoker’s text, the potentially homosexual desires that link Count Dracula and Jonathan Harker are lessened through the novel’s deployment of female vampires. What remains, however—giving a model for writers to come—is a novel that plays in memorable ways with the thrills, fears, and pleasures of sex more generally, as though even heteronormative sex were, in the vampire context, shadowed by a deliciously and exotically transgressive quality. Count Dracula’s national and class exoticism, as an aristocrat who hails from the backwoods of Europe, serves to emphasize his Otherness: a Byronic, “dangerous lover” figure, in Deborah Lutz’s terms, whose erotic allure “represents the paradoxical fascination and repulsion of sex that is desirable because it is dangerous, because it might lead to pain, expulsion, and/or death” (85).

We need not read the fin-de-siècle vampire text in exclusively sexual terms, however. Vampires in these novels might also be said to represent the British Empire’s latent fears of the colonized, with the mysterious deaths that vampires cause suggesting the Empire’s fears and guilt coming back to haunt it (in this case, quite literally). These cultural and sociopolitical overtones endure in contemporary American popular fiction, although they naturally play out somewhat differently in a nation of immigrants. As Count Dracula represents antiquity and exoticism to the English readers, for example, vampires in the United States are also often associated with something old and exotic—and, in the process, they allow authors to emphasize the antiquity and exoticism, or the sunny modernity, of specific American locations. Anne Rice, for example, sets New Orleans as the capital of American vampires because of its exotic atmosphere, especially in antebellum periods with its aristocracy and slavery, while Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which featured a mix of immigrant and homemade, all-American vampires, played the contrast between these figures and his setting, fictional “Sunnydale,” California, for both horror and humor. Buffy even has an episode in which Buffy encounters the one and only Count Dracula, and while he manages to exert his hypnotic influence on Buffy, he seems comically out of place in a bright, West Coast suburb.

Both of the series I am considering here offer elaborate negotiations with Otherness, trying by turns to emphasize the alluring exoticism of the vampire characters and to Americanize them. In Twilight, for example, the heroine’s move from sunny and scorching Phoenix, Arizona, to gloomy and overcast Forks, Washington, a setting that has its own traditions of exotic horror (it recalls the 1990-91 TV series Twin Peaks) and which seems a believable home for sun-avoiding vampires, who find the environment quite favorable. The Cullen children, Edward Cullen’s vampire siblings, keep to themselves and stand out as a distinct group in a school cafeteria, rather like an ethnic or racial group in any American high school. However, the Cullens are not exactly foreign; the patriarch of the family, Carlisle came from seventeenth century England but the Cullen children were born, raised, and turned to vampires in the United States. They are, at heart, Americanized vampires, a fact that is emphasized when Dracula-like Romanian vampires, Stefan and Vladimir, visit near the end of the series, only to find themselves at odds with both the physical environment and with the other vampires in the New World. In the Sookie Stackhouse Novels, as a nod to the influence of Anne Rice’s work, New Orleans is the vampire capital of the United States. But although New Orleans retains some of its exoticized, Old World flair, Harris seems more interested in its place within a broader Southern context. Sookie’s first love interest, Bill Compton, used to be a Civil War soldier when alive, making him a hundred-percent Southern homeboy, and the first personal favor she asks of him is to talk about his Civil War experience to a history group to which Sookie’s grandmother belongs. Harris’s vampire heroes are still “Others,” yet if they are immigrants, they are primarily immigrants from the past (which is, at least proverbially, a foreign country).

Upon finding habitats in the U.S., then, vampires have lost some Otherness, a natural progression for outsiders in the land of immigrants. Indeed, if the vampires of both series evoke the image of cultural and racial minority inside the United States, they do so not in a mode of guilt or anxiety (as in the fin-de- siècle texts) but in an almost upbeat fashion: these “immigrants” have succeeded in assimilating to American society and values, their acculturation made evident by their success in the stock market or other investments. [1] (Each of the Cullen families, for example, has accumulated considerable wealth, impressing people with their expensive foreign cars.) New vampires maintain an old charm by remaining slightly foreign, slightly aristocratic, but they are also comfortably Americanized.

Heroes and Hero-Villains

The reduced foreignness and Otherness of vampire heroes in those stories points to broader changes in the “darkness” (in a non-racial sense) of their previously dark heroes. The hero-villain in the Gothic holds mysteries, which normally means unspeakable secrets; for example, aside from being an egomaniac, he could be a wife-beater, a murderer, a demon, and of course, a vampire. It was Mario Praz in The Romantic Agony (1933) who coined the phrase, the “Fatal Man,” to describe one prototype of main characters of the Gothic. Praz’ s example is Schedoni in Ann Radcliffe’s The Italian, and he sees the Fatal Man to be a descendent of John Milton’s Satan. He describes the Fatal Man to be of “mysterious (but conjectured to be exalted) origin,” marked by “traces of burned-out passions, suspicion of a ghastly guilt, melancholy habits, pale face, unforgettable eyes” (61).

In Praz’s account, the Fatal Man normally takes the position of the main character in Male Gothic, in which he pursues his insatiable desires—whether for power, for sex, for money, or for knowledge—using all the means available to him. This figure was memorably transformed into an actual hero (as opposed to simply a main character) in Jane Eyre’s hero-villain, Rochester. As Robert Heilman insists, Rochester is not simply a hero or a villain; he is a hero-villain—a hero with some villainous aspect, which must be resolved (or dissolved away) before the conclusion of the novel. This duality seems linked to Rochester’s masculinity: that is, Rochester is the Male as Other, a figure who has never entirely left the genre of popular romance. In their classic studies, both Janice Radway and Tania Modleski argue that sociopolitical conditions under patriarchy produce a psychological distance between men and women, and that romance novels represent this distance by having the heroes’ “masculine behavior” (Modleski 60) and their rejection of expressing emotions, as much as their access to power, make them seem “Other” to women. Ontologically alien to the heroine, the hero is difficult or impossible for her to read—until, that is, she finds a way to see through this cold and hard surface and discover that the hero is, in fact, sensitive and affectionate, and not “fatal” after all.

As many critics have argued, in romance fiction since the 1980s this distant hero figure has been supplemented by a new, more emotionally available presentation of man: a transformation in the genre that takes place in part by the addition of the hero’s point of view to the romance novel, and in part by an actual change in his behavior. In a study of the “hero’s presentation” from the 1970s to the 90s, Dawn Heinecken asserts that the romance hero has become “less silent, more emotional, and more overtly tender and caring” (158). The new vampire hero belongs to this new generation of men. Edward Cullen and Bill Compton express their feelings often enough to avoid major misunderstandings; as Bonnie Mann bluntly puts, “Edward gets it,” a sharp contrast both to earlier romance heroes and to real life teenage boys who are clueless about girls’ feelings (140). Indeed, both Edward and Bill always try their hardest to understand their girlfriends’ emotional lives, often putting concern for them ahead of their masculine code of behavior. Each may go away for a period of time, leaving their girlfriends to interpret physical distances as emotional distances, but on their return, each soon explains himself and clarifies the situation, easing the heroine’s anxieties: hardly the behavior of an ontological Other.

Safe Vampire Heroes

Whether they feature the dark alpha heroes of the past or the softer, caring heroes of today, romance novels have to end happily. In the former case, as Jayne Ann Krentz insists, the heroine must conquer or tame the hero to achieve their happy ending; in the case of a softer, caring hero, Heinecken explains, the heroine has to heal him. Theoretically speaking, a vampire love story might fit into either category: after all, vampire heroes are traditionally aristocratic and powerful, and the need to feed on blood gives the vampire hero plenty of reason to be a brooding hero, if he has any conscience at all, or to be sheer, terrifying evil if he continues to indulge his appetite.  (Angel, in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, torments himself for what he has done as a vampire before he regains his soul by a gypsy’s curse; over the course of the series he is arguably both conquered and healed by the heroine.) In the Twilight and Sookie Stackhouse Novels, however, what has to be solved before the conclusion of the story and the consummation of love is neither the heroes’ cold and distant attitudes nor his emotional wounding, because their boyfriends are, on the whole, conscientious, peace-loving creatures.

Edward Cullen in the Twilight saga, for example, belongs to a family that feeds only on animals, and he himself exhibits incredible self-control, subduing his desires—for blood and for sex—to the point that Bella does not have to worry about her safety at all, at least from him. Throughout the Twilight saga, Edward keeps trying to make Bella admit that he is a dangerous hero, but he only makes her feel safe, and his repetitious warnings serve mostly to remind us, by contrast, of how unthreatening he really is. As Carrie Anne Platt points out, Bella’s physical vulnerability reflects “social anxieties surrounding adolescent [female] sexuality” (80), but Edward behaves like an ideal boyfriend that a girl’s parents dream of. Because he sees Bella as easily “breakable” (Eclipse 466), he treats her like fine china until her transformation, preaching and practicing “mind over matter” (Twilight 300). Bella may find herself in occasional dangers because of her vampire boyfriend, but if Bella is a “magnet for trouble” (Twilight 174), this is so that Edward may repeatedly rescue her. The love affair itself is not a flirtation with death. As Bella aptly comments, Edward in fact belongs to a “fairy tale, rather than the world of horror stories” (BD 479). The safe vampire is less a dark hero than he is a knight in shining armor.[2]

In the Southern Vampire Mysteries, we see a parallel to the Cullen family’s decision not to drink human blood. Here, vampires have “come out from the coffin” (Dark 1) and live among humans upon the invention of artificial blood called “TrueBlood.”[3] Indeed, the vampires themselves are sometimes at risk from evil humans; on the day of their first meeting, Sookie saves Bill, the vampire hero of the series, from the Drainers, people who rob vampires of their blood to sell. Bill is so damaged and battered that Sookie coos, “poor baby” (Dark 10). This power inversion, however, is shortly corrected: Bill saves subsequently Sookie from those Drainers, who come back to attack her, and kills them. Since he is “mainstreaming,” i.e., attempting to live among humans, he does not kill to eat, but he can kill to protect her and himself. This killing does not disturb Sookie, and the peaceful feeling he can give to her is “priceless” “no matter what this creature beside [her has] done” (Dark 50). While witnessing the proof of his ability for violence, Sookie does not believe he would hurt her, “even if [he] were really mad at [her]” (Dark 166): a selective and controlled practice of violence, that is to say, establishes Bill to Sookie as a savior and protector. In this series, however—unlike the Twilight saga—the heroine’s faith that her vampire hero is harmless turns out to be incorrect, a turn that I will discuss shortly in the context of the third of the Southern Vampire Mystery novels, Club Dead.

Animalistic Sex and the Significance of Virginity

In both the Twilight series and the Southern Vampire Mysteries, vampires thus suppress and control their animalistic aspects in order to assimilate into modern American society. These animal aspects include both the thirst for human blood and sexual desire; in fact, the two are linked. Edward refrains himself from kissing Bella because he is worried that his sexual drive triggers his desire for blood, while in the Southern Vampire Mysteries, bloodsucking functions as foreplay. Bloodsucking is thus no longer a metaphor for sexual intercourse but a sexual act itself, and, in turn, this suggests that sexual desire, like the desire to feed, is irresistible. Edward’s abstinence and the “vegetarianism” in both series paradoxically crystallize the libidinal and hedonistic nature of bloodsucking and sex, and as a result, these novels reinforce the old and traditional view that sex is instinctual, uncontrollable, and potentially fatal. The attraction between the hero and the heroine is described as comparable terms. Both heroines feel an instant attraction for their “own vampire[s]” (Dark 1), while in return, Bella attracts Edward with her smell, and Sookie also possesses special fragrance irresistible to Bill. None of the complex negotiations, ambiguities, or misunderstandings of non-paranormal human relationships are on display in these novels; indeed, we do not even see the preliminary dislike that was once so common between the heroes and heroines of popular romance.[4] Attraction, compatibility, and true love are all somehow one.

This conjunction of attraction and true love is central to another motif in these series: the heroines lose their virginity to their vampire heroes. Like the construction of sex more generally in the novels, their use of the romantic convention of virginal heroines is curiously old-fashioned. What can we make of it? Romance writers such as Doreen Owens Malek and Brittany Young have defended this motif in the genre, arguing that virginity loss creates more drama and power to a story (Malek 118) and that this motif encodes an ideal of female autonomy and self-possession: as Young explains, the heroine “makes the choice to give [the hero] the gift of virginity” (122, my emphasis). From a more skeptical standpoint, however, one might observe that the traditional emphasis on female virginity in popular romance “enlists sexuality under the banner of love” (Cohn, 29), suggesting as it does that sex outside the context of “true love” remains somehow sinful, or at least unfortunate. It is thus notable that although many contemporary popular romance novels, according to Abbi Zidle, acknowledge the difference between love and lust in women, and even the existence of multiple true-love interests (30), in these series, a more traditional view of sex and virginity still seems to hold. In the words of romance author and critic Jayne Ann Krentz, who defends the virginity motif, there are “high stakes involved” (Krentz 112). And if popular romance generally embraces an “idea of selfhood as sexual” (Cohn, 35) those stakes include the selfhood of Bella and Sookie, a psychological issue we can distinguish from the more obvious moral and political issues bound up in female virginity.

Psychological Barriers

If the attraction between hero and heroine is instantaneous and instinctual and if the romance hero does not pose any threats, theoretically speaking, there lies no obstacle in consummating love. Where are the problems to be solved, the misunderstandings to be clarified, the mysterious pasts to be overcome? In their place, these new vampire romance novels offer heroines’ psychological barriers as obstacles. The concept of “boundaries of self,” familiar from critical accounts of Gothic, helps clarify what is at stake. Eugenia Delamotte argues that Female Gothic is concerned with the boundaries of self, signified in negotiations at the thresholds. According to her, Gothic episodes in which a heroine has to fend off an intruder threatening to come in, or struggle to escape from an underground cellar, all symbolize women’s anxieties about the boundaries of self: “terrors of separateness and the terrors of unity,” the “fear of being shut in, cut off, alone,” and the “fear of being intruded upon” (19). These new vampire novels also express the concerns with the boundaries of self of these heroines, who reject men or people in general, raising emotional barriers against them.

When we first meet Bella, her emotional barriers seem realistic enough. A social outcast in Phoenix, where the sun shines all year around and is inhabited with tanned blond girls, Bella does not “fit in,” either physically or socially. She does not “relate well to people [her] age,” the novel tells us, or to people in general (Twilight 10); even when she finds herself surrounded with admirers and friends in perpetually overcast Forks, Washington, she keeps to herself without finding a friend whom she can truly trust. Because the Twilight series is paranormal fiction, however, Bella’s emotional barriers can also be represented supernaturally. Edward, who can read the minds of others, cannot read hers, and other vampires cannot use their supernatural powers to harm her even while she is human, a power that becomes even greater when she turns into a vampire herself.

Sookie’s barrier is likewise literalized in supernatural terms. A telepath, Sookie cannot build any connection with others because their thoughts and feelings are oppressively transparent and overwhelming to her. What she calls “disability” makes her particularly stay away from men, rejecting any sexual advances from them. As a result, she has kept her virginity until the age of twenty-five, and has already given up on having a relationship, thinking that she will just “grow old and die” (Dark 56). In order to cope with her ability as a telepath, Sookie has to consciously reject hearing and understanding people’s minds; this training in shutting others off develops into a barrier against vampires’ supernatural intrusion. Thus, like Bella who intrigues Edward because of her blocking ability, Sookie surprises Bill Compton with her immunity to his hypnosis. In effect, these series return to the notion of an unreadable, gendered Other—but this time, it is the heroine who stands aloof and resistant. These heroines’ emotional barriers are the symbols of their isolation and alienation, but also of their obstinate defense of the boundaries of self against romantic approaches. To balance out softened heroes, we have hardened heroines.

In a more literal sense, barriers and thresholds hold a particular significance in vampire lore. On the one hand, DeLamotte argues that vampirism “represents the threat of physical violation—a transgression against the body, the last barrier protecting the self from the other” (21). On the other hand, vampires cannot enter a house unless invited, or so the convention runs. Between these two extremes we find vampires’ legendary propensity for psychological violation. Because they cannot enter houses uninvited, vampires have to have the mental ability to manipulate and intrude upon human minds so that the physical intrusion becomes possible; in other words, a psychological penetration precedes a physical penetration. Although the convention of “no entry unless invited” is not employed in Twilight, Edward does have the ability for mental intrusion, i.e., to read people’s minds, and what intrigues him most about Bella is that he cannot read her. In the Southern Vampire Mysteries, vampires do have to be invited into a house, and they do hypnotize humans in order to do so—but sometimes in these novels, blood consumption also serves as an invitation into the psychological domain, reversing the trope. When injured, for example, Sookie has to drink Bill’s blood to heal, resulting in the first penetration that prepares their eventual sexual encounter.[5] Sookie lowers her guard, and then she realizes how she “reveals herself” to Bill (Dark 33). Not every blood-drinking incident in this series is as symbolically fraught as this one, but clearly this (inverted) human/vampire bodily penetration promotes the emotional and psychological dissolutions of boundaries, which ultimately leads to a sexual union that combines physical and psychological aspects.

Sex as Psychological Mediator

In these vampire novels, sex becomes a means to “share” feelings, rather than simply to exchange bodily fluids. In the world in which dangerous vampires are not so dangerous, the heroines’ special abilities concerning “penetrability” complement the relative lack, or unwillingness of vampires to “penetrate” in creating a necessary obstacle to be overcome. Before the intrusion and invasion can occur, the heroines have to learn the mistake of their ways by spending time with the patient and conscientious vampires so that the heroines’ boundaries of self stop being a problem. Here, again, we see a role inversion from traditional romance; the one who has to be understood and healed is now the heroine. Bella learns to trust others and to make friends, mostly with the Cullens; Sookie Stackhouse has to be healed by opening up about her painful past, in which she was sexually molested by her uncle. Bill Compton is a perfect healer and avenger who helps Sookie prepare herself to love a man.[6] Pamela Regis suggests that in the romance novel, “intimacy” is a means to conquer the barrier of gender, both physical and emotional (180). In the Southern Vampire Mysteries, this intimacy is achieved in a profoundly literal way, as the “blood bond” established through drinking and being drunk (a mutual “penetration”) establishes a psychic bond. After sex, as well as blood-sharing, the heroines literally can feel the vampires’ feelings. To borrow a metaphor from more traditional vampire narratives, these heroines have opened a door, psychologically and physically, and invited their vampire heroes into their inner place.

Bella’s impenetrability might also be understood in a religious context. The author of the Twilight series, Stephanie Meyers, is a Mormon, and the saga can be read as an allegory of indoctrination to Mormonism, in which a non-Mormon “gentile” girl from a dysfunctional family finds faith with the guidance of a Mormon man, who advocates abstinence until marriage, and finally becomes assimilated into a close-knit “beautiful family,” united “forever and forever and forever.”[7] On the physical level, Bella seems willing to step up her relationship with Edward further, and she even suggests that their roles are reversed; “you make me feel like a villain in a melodrama—twirling my mustache while I try to steal some poor girl’s virtue” (Eclipse 453), but unlike Sookie, Bella remains unreadable to Edward even after losing her virginity and being transformed into a vampire. As Penelope Williamson argues about romance and the heroine’s virginity, the “heroine does not lose her innocence along with her virginity” (130), and Bella’s continuing psychological “impenetrability” is a vivid instance of that ongoing innocence and the inalienable power of her separate selfhood. Indeed, when Bella becomes a vampire herself, a transformation required for her to safely give birth to her half-vampire child, her power is amplified. Bella’s impenetrability is no longer limited to herself but expanded to protect her “family” from outside threats. Williamson argues that in late 20th-century romances, “through the hero’s lovemaking” the heroine “discovers the power and potential of her woman’s sexuality” (130). In keeping with the generally conservative ethos of Twilight, Bella does not become a sexually powerful or exploratory wife. [8] But she does acquire a new, particularly womanly power through her sexual experience—or, to be specific, through maternity. Once Bella becomes a mother, she can protect her family.

In both of these vampire series, then—and in sharp contrast to earlier, more transgressive vampire narratives—sexual intercourse and blood-sharing lead to the building of the familial bond. Bella gets pregnant immediately after her first sexual encounter, followed by her transformation, and Sookie has her first sex soon after her Grandmother, her only close family member, dies.[9] Sex is a way to create a family or create a substitute for a family. In other words, these new vampire romance novels uphold the traditional fantasy of emotional bonding and merging of self through sexual intercourse. What were once transgressive acts of sex with (or penetration by) vampires are now safe and morally and socially legitimate. In keeping with the other ways that the vampire narrative has been Americanized, these series present sex with vampires as an expression of what conservative discourse in the United States commonly refers to as “family values.”

Rich Vampires and Poor Heroines

In her 1999 study of “Changing Ideologies in Romance Fiction,” Heinecken links the changing construction of the romance hero, with his newfound emotional accessibility, to a new construction of sexuality. In late 20th-century romance novels, she posits, sex is “no longer a mere physical act” but rather an “expressive form of communication” (168). The heroes and sexual encounters in these new vampire romances—especially in the Southern Vampire Mysteries—might both seem to follow this new model, but as we have seen, the ideologies of the series remain remarkably conservative, especially in their construction of the romance heroine’s career prospects or financial situation. In Twilight, Bella does not have any future plan other than marrying Edward. She has a chance to get a college education, but she does not seem to take that path at the end of the series. Repeatedly Bella insists that she does not want to be one of the girls who get married and have children right out of high school, but she does exactly that. Naomi Zack insists that the popularity of Twilight indicates “what young women aspire to in ‘having it all’” (122), yet Bella has only Edward (and later, Renesmme). He is the “only raison d’être” for her (158), as Abigail E. Myers says, and we can understand this from an economic standpoint, as well as a psychological one. Bella is, after all, a lower-middle class girl marrying into a rich family, without any financial independence. In the Southern Vampire Mysteries, Sookie has a job (she is a cocktail waitress), but she too goes out with a rich man, and at one point memorably envies the financial help Bill gives to his descendents while she is struggling financially. The class difference between the heroes and the heroines in these new vampire romance novels looks back to the much older model of romance narratives described by Jan Cohn in Romance and the Erotics of Property (1988); it does not correspond to the more feminist worldview Heinecken saw emerging at the end of the twentieth century. Those men in these new vampire novels may have nearly equaled women in their emotional capacity, but women have not correspondingly increased their social or economic power.

Similarly, the reduced Otherness of vampire heroes do not indicate that the codes of behavior for men and for women have become less different, or that men and women no longer live in separate worlds. Quite the contrary: although these safe heroes share more feelings with the heroines—an ideologically progressive development—they do still live in different worlds, a gendered difference that is underscored by the difference between vampires and humans. Only marriage can bring these disparate worlds together. This union is accomplished in the Twilight series, but the Southern Vampire Mysteries present a more challenging, adult narrative, lacking this comfortable closure. The poor heroine who does not “want anyone owning” her (Gone 98) has to keep fighting to find a more equal relationship with a powerful man—and in the process, she rediscovers the danger that he—as both man and vampire—actually poses to her.

No Longer Safe

As the Southern Vampire Mysteries progress from novel to novel, Sookie learns that the safe vampire, Bill, is not as safe as the reader has come to believe. Normalized for us through his profession (he is a computer programmer and vampire census worker), Bill remains both male and a vampire, and the dangers posed by both of these natures become painfully clear when, in a momentary loss of self-control under physical stress, Bill forcefully sucks blood from Sookie and rapes her. The novel handles this assault in an interesting way. As a rule, Sookie turns a blind eye to Bill’s violent tendency; from quite early in the series she has known his nature, which makes him lose his personality with the scent of blood. She is, in fact, less wounded emotionally by this assault, based on presumably uncontrollable urges, than she is by learning that Bill originally approached her with an ulterior motive, under orders from a vampire boss who wants to exploit her telepathic ability, a fully conscious decision. In effect, she regards his emotional encroachment of her boundaries—her blind trust and emotional attachment—more seriously than his physical encroachment. It is the emotional betrayal that makes her feel a pain that is “tied up with a rage so profound” (Definitely 185) that she has never felt before because the “structure” that her emotion is built upon since she has met him is “torn down” (Definitely 187). Rather than flee from this risk into a safer, more secure relationship, Sookie moves on to romances where the risk is more clearly visible, right from the start: first a brief affair with the weretiger, Quinn, and then another vampire lover, Eric Northman, a man who looks “kind of like the guys on the cover of romance books” (Dark 105). “Blond and blue-eyed, tall and broad shouldered,” (Dark 105), Eric is a thousand-year-old Viking with an accent occasionally peeking through. Arrogant, narcissistic, power-hungry, emotionally inaccessible, Eric is thus more exotic than Bill, and a more traditional romance hero.

With this invocation of “romance books,” the Sookie Stackhouse Novels step into the realm of metafiction—in fact, there are many references to popular romance fiction in the series. Sookie and her grandmother read romance novels in their spare time, and there is another character, in addition to Eric Northman, who not only looks like a romance hero but also competes for “Mr. Romance” (well-known a cover model competition) at a romance readers’ convention.[10] Like a romance reader gazing at attractive cover models, Sookie turns a fetishizing gaze on naked weretigers and shapeshifters; she mentions that she wants to “remember the sight” of a man’s naked body because she wants to “recall it at [her] leisure later” (World 251), and her distant cousin Claude is such a “treat for the eyes” (Doornail 20) that every time he appears, Sookie and all the other women stare appreciatively at him, despite his conspicuous lack of interest in women. More importantly, however, the series’ turn from Bill, who seems like a “new model” romance hero, but is not really safe, to Eric, the “old school” arrogant romance hero, suggests that the gender negotiations in romance novels, especially of the older, more traditional variety, remain a useful model to keep in mind when confronting the dangers of adult sexual relationships. Sookie’s growth as a woman entails learning that a safe man does not exist, that to be a woman is to learn how to manage a difficult man, and that it is a dangerous illusion to believe that one’s own emotional barriers are a woman’s only obstacle to full sexual happiness.

As the series progresses, Sookie’s love life becomes more and more complicated. Bill’s vampire obligation comes before his romantic interest; Quinn, a weretiger, is bound by his family obligation; and Eric’s priorities lie in the political power game he pursues in the vampire world. Sookie treads more carefully with Eric, since “trust [has] gotten [her] burned in the past” (Family 17), a clear reference to her experience with Bill. She may have opened up her barriers to accept Bill, but now she has to lift up her guard again to protect herself; indeed, in one novel, Dead Reckoning (2011), she goes so far as to cut off her “blood bond” with Eric, an attempt at restructuring and reestablishing her boundaries of self. Eric softens to Sookie to the point that his subordinate worries that he is not practical when it comes to her, but he never unequivocally puts her before his political ambitions. Even when the two marry, in Dead and Gone (2009), the marriage fails to stabilize their union, in part because Eric tricks Sookie into marrying him, and in part because their vampire-style marriage, as with all the other marriages in the vampire world, is of a matter of ownership, not of idealized emotional union.[11] Occasional appearances of Bill tangle up her love life still further, for he always has a “special place in [her] heart” (Family 33). It is Bill, not Eric, who comes to rescue Sookie when her life is critically in danger, and she confidently states that he still loves her even after her marriage to Eric (Gone 224). Refusing simplicity, the series refuses to present Sookie’s original psychological obstacle as the only barrier between her and a happy and safe relationship. No man she is involved with is ever free from other obligations that complicate their relationships, whether their vampire customs or political considerations, and the vampire world remains dangerous, in multiple ways. In short, in this series, romances are never simple or straightforward, and for a woman who believes that marriage is not, in fact, supposed to be “like a settling back in a La-Z-Boy” (Gone 98), exciting but never-comforting romance adventures may continue to unfold.


The Twilight and Southern Vampire Mystery series both show a new breed of vampire heroes, and they both locate the obstacles to true understanding and the consummation of love, at least initially, not in those new heroes, but in the heroines. Things develop quite differently as each series goes on, in part because of their contrasting audiences. Aimed at a Young Adult readership, Bella’s story is a traditional story of a woman who transforms from a daughter to a mother and a wife—a regression, politically speaking, from the feminist outlook of Buffy the Vampire Slayer a decade before, and one that depends on readers’ willingness to commit to the series’ fairytale ending, in which the heroine and the hero end up eternally free from adult obligations (in addition to freedom from mortality). Sookie Stackhouse, by contrast, does not get a fairytale ending. After suffering disappointment and betrayal with her first love, she finds herself married to a vampire who is explicitly compared to a “romance hero,” a man who is, and remains, both attractive and terrifying, with a world of his own outside of their relationship. (Where Bill had to confront Sookie’s “Otherness,” Sookie must negotiate Eric’s.) Awakened from the dream of a safe, “defanged” vampire lover, this romance-reading heroine has to face the numerous, ongoing, unromantic problems involved in adult love, including the crucial issue of keeping her own integrity and owning her own life while in a relationship. Safe vampire heroes, that is to say, are young women’s fantasies, but safe vampires may not be able to stand the test of more mature readers, especially when they are readers of popular romance.

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[1] Natalie Wilson argues on the implications of race and ethnicity in her article, “Civilized Vampires Versus Savage Werewolves: Race and Ethnicity in the Twilight Series,” pointing out the use of stereotypical “savage” image of Native American in representation of the Quileutes. I agree with this reading, and I have to point out that the Cullens as new immigrants do not necessarily contradict her reading, for they do seem to acquire their “ultra-white, ultra-privileged” lifestyle through their assimilation efforts they have made in the United States. In the SVM, too, these two contrasting images are clear, too. As opposed to “aristocratic” vampires, weres and shapeshifters, especially a clan of werepanthers, who are mostly construction workers and mechanics, evoke the image of working class people who live under deprived conditions.

[2] Some critics offer various analyses of Edward both in positive and negative lights. For example, Edward can be read as a self-sacrificing savior and Christ figure, according to Sandra Gravett. Yet more important is the argument that Edward is not a caring tender boyfriend, but a controlling and overbearing stalker. Rebecca Housel goes as far to say, “In any world other than the fantastical one created by Meyer, Edward would be jailed” (188). For more detailed analyses of the power issue between Edward and Bella, see, for example, Platt’s “Gender and Sexual Politics in the Twilight Series,” Melissa Ames’ “Twilight Follows Tradition,” and Abigail E. Myers’s “Edward Cullen and Bella Swan: Byronic and Feminist Heroes…or Not.”

[3] As one can tell by the phrase “come out,” the vampires and shapeshifters (who come out in the ninth book, Dead and Gone) are evocative of minorities, especially sexual minorities. Harris consciously uses this analogy to take up the issue of the civil rights of vampires and shapeshifters occasionally. Characters sometime react with “I am Christian” statements in denying the accusation of being vampires or shapeshifters, suggesting these supernatural characters represent people with unChristian lifestyles. However, the main character Sookie is unhesitatingly straight, and her love interests respond to her as traditional heterosexual heroes.

[4] In Twilight, the view that a marriage is based on an animalistic and instinctual bond is further confirmed with the werewolves’ habit of “imprinting,” whereby they instinctively find their future mates.

[5] This process is repeated in her second union with Eric. After sharing each other’s blood, they form a “blood bond,” which enables them to understand each other’s feelings and thinking, and that bond eventually leads to their vampire marriage.

[6] However, Bill Compton’s solution to Sookie’s pain—to have her uncle killed—gives her the first moment of hesitation regarding the safety of Bill. And she does regret her decision later. Sookie wonders if she “should have cut and run” when she found out he was capable of violence (Family 33).

[7] Some critics offer analyses of Twilight in the contexts of Mormon teachings. Marc E. Shaw and Margaret M. Toscano both point out the ending with the happy vampire family is a supernatural version of the Mormon teaching of an eternal marriage, “forever and forever and forever.”

[8] Sandra Gravette points out that Bella “shows herself as the model of a timid virgin” (41) once she becomes a wife, contrary to her former sexually-curious self.

[9] In a later development, Sookie discovers and unites with her lost (non-human) family members while she goes through various troubles and disappointments in love.

[10] To a lesser degree, especially in the movie adaptations, Twilight also offers the objects of female gaze with always half-naked Jacob and other werewolves, suggesting the way in which the movies are consumed.

[11] Their marriage becomes more strained in Dead Reckoning, when she learns that Eric may have to fulfill an arranged marriage with another vampire, set up by his superior.