Vampire Fiction

Dale Townshend

in British and Irish Literature

ISBN: 9780199846719
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:
Vampire Fiction

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Although historical anthropologists have traced back mythological tales of vampires and vampire-like creatures to ancient Greco-Roman civilization, it was not until the Romantic period in Britain that the vampire became a distinct and significant fictional trope. As most literary historians agree, the origins of vampire fiction in English may be traced back to the publication of John Polidori’s “The Vampyre; A Tale” in 1819: brief and inconclusive though it is, this literary fragment set in place some of the enduring features of the form, traces of which are still perceivable in vampire fictions of the 21st century. The gothic mode, that set of broader generic conventions of which vampire fiction is one important strand, is a product of the late 18th century, but it was not until the Victorian period that vampire fiction came into its own with the serialized publication of texts such as James Malcolm Rymer’s Varney the Vampire: Or, the Feast of Blood (1847); Sheridan Le Fanu’s novella “Carmilla” (1872); and, most famously, Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897). Ever since, vampire fiction has become a distinct subgenre within the broader category of gothic writing itself. With the technological advancements of the early 20th century, the vampire made its filmic debut, initially in such iconic classics as F. W. Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922) and Universal Studios’ Dracula (1931) starring Béla Lugosi, but despite its rich cinematic presence in modern and contemporary culture, the vampire has always remained true to its fictional origins. Indeed, perhaps the figure of the vampire has been no more “undead” than in the countless novels, short stories, fragments, and chronicles in which it has featured in Western culture since the 1950s, with writers such as Stephen King, Anne Rice, Whitley Strieber, Suzy McKee Charnas, Poppy Z. Brite, John Ajvide Lindqvist, Stephenie Meyer, and numerous others reinterpreting, modifying, and elaborating upon the myths and conventions set in place earlier by writers such as Polidori, Le Fanu, and Stoker. Appearing and reappearing in fiction at specific historical junctures, the fictional vampire is inflected with a particular set of cultural, political, and economic meanings. It is some of these meanings that academic criticism has sought to determine, resulting in so many critical readings that are, in their sheer volume, almost as monstrous as the beings they aim to analyze.

Article.  8889 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (British and Irish)

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