Halloween is the one time of year where you can dress as whatever your heart desires. You can be as creative as you choose, dressing as an obscure reference only you and your closest friends would get. Or you can hop on whatever the trend of the year is, capitalizing on the social relevance, like dressing as a certain pink, plastic doll. If you’re more of a last minute gal, there’s no shame in turning to some Halloween costume classics, like a witch, a ghost, or a black cat. While these all have some sort of cultural history, there’s one classic costume that holds a dark, sensual past; a vampire.
While doing research on this particular pillar of spooky season, I noticed some repeating language when talking about vampires. There seemed to be an air of something far more suggestive than the regular bloodsucking and haunting. This left me with one question:
Hit with this realization, the first thing that came to mind was Twilight, naturally. Edward Cullen was a turning point in many young girls’ lives, making “vampire” a checkbox on their list of future boyfriend qualities. While Robert Pattinson is beautiful, he is also mysterious, romantic, and over-protective. As with many historical creatures, there is always a predecessor, he is not the only vampire in history to have these qualities. To me, this came as a surprise.
The sexualization of vampires in the media has been going on since the 1800s. During that time, sex was looked at as extremely sinful and taboo. Novels about vampires were the 1800s equivalent of Wattpad fanfiction.
One example of this was the 1872 novel Carmilla by the Irish author Sheridan Le Fanu. Carmilla is a female vampire who torments the female narrator, with some very heavy undercurrents of sexual descriptions, an article from NBC describes.
“Sometimes there came a sensation as if a hand was drawn softly along my cheek and neck. Sometimes it was as if warm lips kissed me, and longer and longer and more lovingly as they reached my throat, but there the caress fixed itself. My heart beat faster, my breathing rose and fell rapidly and full drawn; a sobbing, that rose into a sense of strangulation, supervened, and turned into a dreadful convulsion, in which my senses left me and I became unconscious,” Le Fanu wrote.
While there seems to be a level of intimacy here, the narrator is not going to be blamed because she was a victim of the vampire. Le Fanu found a way to covertly write about sex between two women in the late 1800s by hiding it behind a monster with fangs.
Another example of this blatant display of female sexual desire in the form of vampires is Bram Stoker’s “Dracula,” published in 1897. Stoker depicts this through three overtly sexual female vampires. All at once they are described as being thrilling, voluptuous, repulsive, and fiends. The male characters in the novel are both terrified and entranced by these vampire’s display of sexuality.
Arguably, this is empowering to know that female characters were written in this way all the way back in the 1800s. For lack of a better term, it’s kind of badass. I would even go as far as to say that vampires were the original “cool girls”– mysterious, dark, and unattainable.
In the same, sighing breath, why did female sexuality have to be linked to an evil like vampires? Women were only so open about their desires and the things they wanted because they were evil creatures that needed to be stopped.
Although I believe both of my above statements are true, I’m choosing to look at it through the first lens. If your last-minute costume this year is a vampire, don’t be ashamed! Conjure the energy from all of the powerful fictional seductresses of the past.
You know, without the bloodsucking.
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