"a deliberate voluptuousness which was both thrilling and repulsive"
The Vampire, by Philip Burne-Jones, 1897
Public DomainThe Vampire, by Philip Burne-Jones, 1897 - Credit: wikimedia commons

Dracula’s female vampires are described in a manner that is both frightening and extremely sexual. This reflects Victorian attitudes at the time; sexual desire was something to be repressed, controlled through marriage and not discussed in respectable society, something secretly exciting and intriguing but potentially dangerous, causing a deep anxiety and obsession with sex that is often expressed in art and literature of the time. In the year that Dracula was published (1897), Philip Burne-Jones exhibited his painting The Vampire, showing a dominant female vampire gloating over a helpless male lying sprawled over the bed. The picture captures the same feeling of terror and desire that is conjured in Jonathan Harker’s description of the female vampires in Dracula’s castle.

 

Geraldine, the seductress of the poem Christabel (Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 1801) and Le Fanu’s Carmilla (1872) are likely influences for Stoker’s sexual vampire women. Discussing the former, Richard Holmes describes the sinister Geraldine as an “embodiment of pure sexual energy.” Both Christabel and Carmilla feature predatory women of a supernatural nature, who cannot cross the threshold of a house and are stronger at night. Both befriend and take advantage of the kindness of a young motherless woman. Carmilla, the prototype for lesbian vampire fiction, makes sexual advances towards her female friend. The figures of Geraldine and Carmilla, as dominant, sexual and dangerous women, were both frightening and exciting to a Victorian audience.

 

Bram Stoker himself wrote about the danger of sex and the immorality of sexual desire, calling it “a force of evil” and concluding that: “a close analysis will show that the only emotions which in the long run harm are those arising from sex impulses” (‘The Censorship of Fiction’, 1908 – this article can be read in Appendix III in the back of the Penguin Classics version of Dracula).

Carmilla, David Henry Friston, 1872
Public DomainCarmilla, David Henry Friston, 1872 - Credit: wikimedia commons

 

If heterosexual desire was something to be feared and controlled, homosexuality was repulsive and could not be tolerated; in 1895, two years before Dracula was published, the author Oscar Wilde was famously convicted of this ‘crime.’ This scene in Dracula, in which Jonathan is saved from the female vampires only to have the Count claim that “this man belongs to me”, seems to betray such fears.

 

This scene was actually the first part of Dracula to be visualised, and the initial inspiration for the novel. It began on the night of March 7th 1890, when Bram Stoker had a bad dream. The next morning he scribbled on a piece of notepaper:

Young man goes out, sees girls one tries to kiss him not on lips but throat. Old Count interferes – rage & fury diabolical – this man belongs to me I want him.

This dream had such an effect on Stoker that it inspired him to create Dracula.

 

The female vampires in Dracula, along with the figures of Geraldine and Carmilla, have had a tremendous influence on vampire fiction and on the portrayal of female vampires. Dracula’s ‘brides’ are a familiar sight in any Dracula movie, and have been borrowed for many other stories. The idea of the vampire as a sexual creature that seduces its prey is particularly popular in current vampire fiction.

More about Victorian attitudes to sex