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A case may be made for identifying Grendel as the first alien vampire in English literature. Described as a dweller in perpetual darkness, he drinks the blood of his victims before devouring them. Beowulf slays Grendel's mother by decapitation, one of the traditional methods of destroying a vampire. The epic constantly emphasizes Grendel's status as an outcast, a descendant of Cain yet no longer human. An apt example of the "superstitious doubting of another's humanity," the Beowulf poet frames Grendel, despite his derivation from Adam's lineage, as irredeemably cut off from the network of kinship and fealty central to the world of the poem.
In view of this vivid portrait of an inhuman, bloodthirsty monster whose plight as despised Other is sometimes pitiable as well as horrible, we might wonder why the vampire as literal alien--a natural but nonhuman sentient creature--appears seldom in novels and short stories before the twentieth century and not at all before the mid- to late nineteenth. When the vampire first appears by that name in English fiction, he is, as Nina Auerbach observes, domestic rather than foreign. Count Dracula, at the end of the nineteenth century, is "alien"--although metaphorically rather than literally--in a sense that Lord Ruthven and Sir Francis Varney are not. Both of these characters are English and, along with the homoerotic friendship between Laura and Carmilla in J. Sheridan LeFanu's story, support Auerbach's argument that affinity, not predation, dominates early to mid-nineteenth-century vampire fiction. She notes that vampiressuch as Lord Ruthven are not "snarling aliens ... but singular friends," characterized not by "their difference from their human prey, but through their intimate intercourse with mortals" (13). She sees "Dracula's disjunction from earlier, friendlier vampires" as symbolized by his lack of a reflection, "his blankness, his impersonality" (63). Count Dracula's obsession with dominance rather than intimacy is illustrated by the pivotal scene in Chapter 21 of Stoker's novel. The Count's assault on Mina, forcing her to drink his blood, has been misread (in the Bloomian sense) over and over on film and in revisionist works such as Fred Saberhagen's The Dracula Tape (1975) as an act of erotic intimacy. I certainly do not deny the validity of a sexual reading on a symbolic level. On the surface of Stoker's text, however, Dracula claims to be motivated by a hunger for power and vengeance, not sexual fulfillment; he force-feeds his blood to Mina in order to use her against the men who hunt him. Auerbach reads the novel as dominated by "hierarchies, erecting barriers hitherto foreign to vampire literature," for example, "between male and female, antiquity and newness, class and class, England and non-England" (66). Dracula and its successors exhibit "a new fear: fear of the hated unknown" (66-67).
Count Dracula behaves as a foreign invader, a potential conqueror, a role implicit in the warlike past of which he boasts to Jonathan Harker in Chapter 3. When Jonathan finds Dracula dormant in his coffin, he perceives the vampire as an invader, "the being I was helping to transfer to London, where ... he might, amongst its teeming millions ... create a new and ever-widening circle of semi-demons to batten on the helpless" (67). Ken Gelder notes, "Vampirism is colonisation--or rather, from the British perspective, reverse colonisation" (12, Gelder's emphasis). As Rhys Garnett observes, however, the vampire embodies a still more comprehensive threat than the invasion of England from the East: "Humanity at large is in danger of colonisation by the mutant sub-species of which Dracula is the source and centre" (36). Dracula, early in his acquaintance with Jonathan, lays stress upon his own non-Englishness, linking it to his drive for domination. In his own land, he says, "the common people know me, and I am master. But a stranger in a strange land, he is no one" (28). His desire to retain mastery by concealing his foreign origin motivates him to ask Jonathan's help in polishing his English. In the same conversation he warns his guest, "We are in Transylvania; and Transylvania is not England. Our ways are not your ways, and there shall be to you many strange things" (29). The motif of Otherness foregrounded in the novel's opening paragraph, when Jonathan ruminates on "leaving the West and entering the East" (1), remains a pervasive theme throughout. At one point Van Helsing speaks of Dracula as not merely a minion of Satan but as potentially "the father or furtherer of a new order of beings, whose road must lead through Death, not Life" (360)--in other words, a new species evolved from humanity through a sort of diabolical mutation, the "circle of semi-demons" feared by Jonathan.
According to Gelder, Dracula belongs to a complex of "horror fantasies in which self-identities are invaded by and absorbed into the Other" (12). This alienation is exemplified in the demonizing of Lucy. After her transformation into a vampire, Dr. Seward, formerly devoted to her, glories in the prospect of her destruction and calls her "the foul Thing which had taken Lucy's shape without her soul" (260). He regards her as no longer part of the human species. The vampire's alien status constitutes both threat and attraction, as implied in John Allan Stevenson's analysis of sexuality in Dracula. Contrary to earlier critics who interpret the novel in terms of symbolic incest, Stevenson suggests that Count Dracula's "sexual threat" consists of "a sin we can term excessive exogamy" (139). Dracula cannot perform the vampiric version of sexual intercourse--sucking blood--with his own kind, but must seduce yet-untransformed women. Guilty of "interracial sexual competition" (139), the vampire is dangerous because he corrupts and steals "our" women, releasing their sexuality in demonic modes, rather than within the domesticating bounds of monogamy. With his "omnivorous appetite for difference, for novelty" (139), Count Dracula gives his victims erotic experiences the male heroes of the novel cannot match. Concerning the scene in which the Count forces Mina to drink from him, Stevenson remarks, "What is going on? Fellatio? Lactation? It seems the vampire is sexually capable of everything" (146).
Rosemary Jackson also sees ambivalence toward Dracula's sexual prowess as central to the novel. In her view, Stoker objectifies forbidden desires in the vampires in order to assert society's conservative values by exterminating the vampires and, with them, subversive drives that threaten to break out. Garnett, similarly, reads the novel as a process of projecting "imperial and sexual guilt and fear" onto "primarily ... non-English, non-bourgeois and (therefore) non-human figures, 'archetypes of the Other'" (31) and thereby exorcising these negative emotions. Through the staking of Dracula's three "wives" and Lucy, according to Jackson, "Stoker reinforces social, class, racial, and sexual prejudices" (121) and simultaneously "reasserts a prohibition on exogamy" (119). Like Stevenson, she sees the vampire in Dracula as an alien whose sexuality exerts such a powerful allure that it must be suppressed at all costs. Unlike Stoker's original audience, the late twentieth-century reader, far from identifying with the drive to suppress the vampire's "exogamy" and erotic omnicompetence, is apt to view these traits in a positive light.
Count Dracula and his "brides" invite ambivalent readings because, as formerly human creatures, they transgress and render permeable the boundary between human and nonhuman. The few literally alien vampires discoverable in nineteenth-century fiction stand firmly on the nonhuman side of the border. As we move from the metaphorically alien Dracula to the natural but nonhuman creatures discussed in the remainder of this chapter, we find that vampires who have never been human are easier to treat as wholly Other, fit only to be feared or destroyed. The invisible monster in Fitz-James O'Brien's mid-century tale "What Was It?: A Mystery" (1859) has much in common, like Grendel, with the "ogres" mentioned by Lewis in "Unreal Estates." Grendel, indeed, as an outcast descendant of Cain, possesses a stronger claim to humanity than O'Brien's creature. Editor Jessica Amanda Salmonson, in her background note on "What Was It?", calls this tale "likely the most influential single story aside from those of Poe in the development of modern supernatural horror" (155) and credits it with influencing Guy de Maupassant's "The Horla" (to be discussed below). While O'Brien's monster does not display the obviously vampiric traits found in Maupassant's Horla, O'Brien's nameless entity does bite its victims, with the apparent goal of either drinking blood or devouring flesh, like the cannibalistic trolls and ogres of folk tradition.
O'Brien's narrator, Harry, prides himself on his role as objective, scientific observer, yet the terms he applies to the creature vacillate between the scientific and the superstitious. He begins his narrative by remarking that the boarding house in which he lives "has enjoyed ... the reputation of being haunted" (83). He summarizes the recent history of the house, along with the death of the former owner, which proves to be a red herring, unconnected to the "haunting." The new inhabitants expect the visit of a ghost with pleasurable anticipation, as implied by the word "enjoyed." Although previous tenants have reported phenomena suggestive of what we would now call poltergeist activity, Harry and his friends are disappointed by the absence of supernatural manifestations. When the invisible creature drops onto Harry's chest as he lies in bed, its solidity contradicts the expectations raised by the conventional "haunted house" setting. Further ambiguity concerning the assailant's status arises from Harry's habit of smoking opium with his friend Dr. Hammond--a habit "regulated with scientific accuracy" (85), an ironic claim in view of Harry's dismissal of the butler's testimony about a possible preternatural event on the grounds of the butler's habitual drunkenness. When Dr. Hammond suggests that the invisible attacker is no more than an opium dream, Harry seems to recognize no parallel between his own drug habit and the butler's alcoholism. The doctor's own observations, however, along with those of the other boarders, remove any doubt as to the creature's physical reality.
On an emotional level, though, the ambivalence of the observers' reaction, wavering between a scientific and a superstitious response, remains unresolved. Attacked in darkness, Harry initially assumes his assailant to be human, although naked, uncontrollably violent, and unusually strong. After restraining the creature and discovering its invisibility, he still wavers in his assessment of its nature. It has a humanoid shape, a roughly human (though hairless) head and face, "warm breath," and "skin ... smooth, just like my own" (89). Harry rejects this implication of kinship, however, referring to the unknown being as a "creature," a "terrible Enigma," and a "something or other" (89). Dr. Hammond, after helping him bind the captive more securely, strives to comfort him by directing his thoughts into objective rather than emotional channels, assuring him that the creature's existence, though "awful," is "not unaccountable" (91). Hammond, in the role of scientist, draws an analogy with pure, completely transparent glass. In answer to the objection that the complexity of a living organism precludes the transparency of glass, Hammond cites the reported spiritualist phenomenon of "warm, fleshly," but invisible hands sometimes felt by participants in seances (92). Thus he attempts to assimilate data usually considered supernatural into the scientific world-view. But when Harry presses him for an opinion on the entity's nature, Hammond has none to offer, only resolving that, as a proper scientist, he will "thoroughly investigate it" (92).
Yet the doctor and Harry have already prejudged their captive on one point; they implicitly deny it human status. Just as Dr. Seward dehumanizes the resurrected Lucy as a "Thing," O'Brien's creature is always called "it," never "he" (in fact, its sex remains indeterminate). They spend little time questioning the propriety of keeping it tied up on Harry's bed, although they perceive "something truly terrible" in its "terrible writhings and agonized struggles for liberty," the repetition of the emotive word "terrible" underscoring the difficulty of maintaining their investigative detachment (92). The only proposed alternative to releasing the monster is killing it. Unlike the scientists they profess to be, the two investigators make no attempt to turn it over to outside researchers. Instead, the inhabitants of the house are sworn to secrecy. The only outsiders exposed to the creature are "Dr. X," who sedates it for the purpose of making a plaster cast of its form, and the artisan who sets the plaster. No one devises a scheme for attempting to communicate with it. They treat it like a subhuman animal, an assessment of its nature supported by its violent attack on Harry. The administration of chloroform, in order to prepare the cast, suggests the activity of vivisectionists.
|Introduction: Stepping Sideways||9|
|Chapter 1||Precursors: Aliens Literal and Metaphorical (Through the 1920s)||19|
|Chapter 2||Vampires Among Us: Twentieth-Century Pulp Fiction (1930-1970)||41|
|Chapter 3||Conversations with the Vampire (Post-1970)||74|
|Chapter 4||On the Edge of the Herd (Post-1980)||128|
|Conclusion: For Love of Wonder||169|