"Two Critical Approaches on Vampirism: A Book Review on Nina Auerbach’s Our Vampires Ourselves (1995) and Bram Dijkstra’s Evil Sisters. The Threat of Female Sexuality and the Cult of Manhood (1996)" by Rita Antoni
Rita Antoni is a PhD student at the Institute of English and American Studies, University of Szeged, Hungary. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our Vampires, Ourselves
Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1995
192+27+10 pages with Notes and Index
5-1/2 × 8-1/2 1995
Cloth $26.00spec 0-226-03201-9 Fall 1995
Paper $21.00sp 0-226-03202-7 Spring 1997
Evil Sisters. The Threat of Female Sexuality and the Cult of Manhood
New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1996
444+15+16 pages with Bibliography and Index
1.5 × 6.8 × 9.8 inches
ISBN 0-394-56945-8 (hardcover) $9.89
The focus of my review is directed to the comparison of two approaches to vampirism offered by two American scholars in the mid 1990s. I have chosen Our Vampires Ourselves by Nina Auerbach (Chicago and London: The Chicago University Press, 1995.) and Evil Sisters. The Threat of Female Sexuality and the Cult of Manhood by Bram Dijkstra (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1996.) because they seem to represent the two sides of the same coin: Nina Auerbach, a self-conscious feminist scholar is enthusiastic about the vampire theme in literature and film and shows a variety and cultural, political relatedness of vampirism and its possible ways of establishing female freedom; Bram Dijkstra, also takes up a feminist point of view, “disapproving of vampires,” (Auerbach, 79) represents their relatedness to the restrictions and cultural constructions of femininity as well as anxieties of unleashed female sexuality, arguing that these figures contribute to general cultural paranoias, and, in a mediated way, to the subordination of women and the repression of their interests.
A paradox as it may seem, but I agree with both authors.
Nina Auerbach is the John Welsh Centennial Professor of English. Her special area of concentration is nineteenth-century England. She has published, lectured, and reviewed widely in the fields of Victorian literature, theater, cultural history, horror fiction and film. Her books include Our Vampires, Ourselves; Private Theatricals: The Lives of the Victorians; Ellen Terry, Player in Her Time; Romantic Imprisonment: Women and Other Glorified Outcasts; Woman and the Demon: The Life of a Victorian Myth; and Communities of Women: An Idea in Fiction. Her most recent book, Daphne du Maurier, Haunted Heiress inaugurates the University of Pennsylvania Press series, Personal Takes. Her current project is Lost Lives, a study of ghosts and their purposes. The introductory part of Our Vampires Ourselves is a highly passionate and an appealingly personal one, in which the figure of the experienced, stalwart feminist fighter and the committed scholar enthusiastic about her attractive (or, for others, weird) research topic is authentically drawn. Autobiographical elements are suffused with contemporary historical ones, showing their interrelatedness and their connection with vampire literature and films; they draw on the manifold meanings of the word ‘fear.’ The author starts out of the presumption that the key to vampires’ survival is their variety, their adaptation to the actual culture and historical era they appear in. In the introductory part she shows how these relations affected her own life and points out certain stages in American history related to the concept of fear, designated by charismatic American presidents. In the first place she shows the incorruptible figure of Theodore Roosevelt, whose assertion “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” affected the author, who openly declares her political standpoint: sympathy for Democrats and hostility towards Republicans.
Auerbach presents the relationship between horror and gender by remembering a stage in her own life: in the domesticating endeavors of the 1950s she managed to escape girdles, spike heels and a nice girl’s life by reading vampire literature and reclaiming horror as a women’s genre as opposed to the exclusionary tendency of labeling it a masculine interest of adolescent boys. Her self-conscious feminism is manifest throughout the book in her interpretations, which direct the reader’s attention to the explicit or underlying female plots. The roots of her feminism are suggested to be sought in the 1960s; this was the time when she was also enchanted by Hammer films. However, she remembers the 1970s as the most successful decade of her (personal and academic) life, parallel with the women’s movement and, at the same time, with literary vampires (just like women) breaking out of preordained plots of their lives, becoming self-defining instead. The 1980s seem to her to be a backlash in all aspects, with “America turning its fears on itself.” (2) The early 1990s is determined by the Gulf War anxieties, resulting in search for rules of vampirism, but, in Auerbach’s opinion, the looser administration of the Clinton era enabled the dominance of Anne Rice’s less bound vampires.“Vampires go where the power is” (6)―this is the next milestone claim of the introduction, which explains the structure and methodology of the work as well: in the nineteenth century, the golden age of the Empire vampires were dominant in British literature, but in the twentieth century they moved both geographically (and in genre) to the American film. However, they remained in literature in the large part, with a preference to long especially, American novels. As the author says, her book is “a history of Anglo-American culture through its mutating vampires.” (1) In this personal introductory part it is very vividly described how one’s private life can be merged with history, politics and her academic interest, with the author striking the reader both as an authentic person and academic, with a perfect harmony, or even without the separation, of these two fields of her life.
The book is divided into four chapters. The first chapter of the book entitled “Giving Up the Ghost: Nineteenth-Century Vampires” discusses nineteenth century vampire literature before Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897). It is shared into five subchapters, all focused on a significant vampiric literary work of art. Auerbach does not insist on chronologic order, she rather centers her subchapters around themes, with their afterlives and alterations in the twentieth century. This can make the book sometimes difficult to follow, especially for a reader completely unfamiliar with the field –a chronological list of related films and literary works as an appendix would have made orientation easier for students who may want to use the book as a valuable source. However, it is an indisputable merit of the book that it dwells on a great variety of works, calling the attention to some less known ones, and showing the many sidedness of the field as well as the variety of genres it implies.
Auerbach is in favor of wide generalizations, and this can be seen even in the first subchapter focusing on Byronic vampires and Polidori’s The Vampyre, known as the first prosaic vampire work. Their main characteristics can be summarized the following way: vampires originated in Byron’s early fragments and in Polidori’s short story are traveling companions, without a home of their own, they are attached to human males and feeding on females, refusing to love their food, what is more, they are half-ghosts, indefinable creatures, thus cannot be killed by certain prescribed procedures as the later ones. They are, in general, shackled by body to a less extent, and they do not feed on blood, or not always (definitely not at a daily or weekly regularity as for example Rice’s or Strieber’s more corporeal vampires will do). The author emphasizes the significance of emotional bond between the vampire and his human companion, which, according to her, pushes the significance of other forcing means (mesmerism) into the background. The next subchapter focuses on theatrical representations of the vampire theme in the first half of the nineteenth century, focusing on two melodramas: J. R. Planché’s The Vampire or the Bride of the Isles, and Boucicault’s The Phantom. The most significant shared elements are, on the one hand, the revivifying power of the moon, (which is, at this stage, even more important than blood), which was, in its cinematic afterlife, given over to the werewolf; and, on the other hand, the forms of suicide (such as jumping into the Vesuvius, which was reinterpreted in the form of flying vampires later). In the following subchapter Auerbach turns to a work affected by the proliferation of vampires in contemporary theatre: James Malcolm Rymer’s (the authorship is, I would remark, highly debated) Varney the Vampire, a Victorian penny dreadful, which is often mentioned but, due to its immense length and sprawling style, hardly analyzed by scholars. However, Auerbach takes on the task of reading it in details, pointing out some crucial elements with friendship in the first place, which is established between Varney and the Bannerworth family, and, metaphorically, the whole decadent, material society–due to his greater interest in wealth than blood Varney reflects the hunger of the contemporary predatory society. The relationship between the vampire and humans is, as Auerbach calls the attention, mutually predatory, thus this work raises the blurring of the binary between evil vampires and virtuous human beings, with an implication of criticizing the latter ones. Further important motives are to be sought in Varney’s appearance, establishing some vampire clichés like the fangs, which will appear in several films beginning with F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922).
The last two subchapters he first chapter deal with female vampires, who appeared as femmes fatales in poetical works by English Romantics and later in Sheridan LeFanu’s prose narrative Carmilla. Contrasting them with their male predecessors, Auerbach points out that, on the one hand, they fulfill the interpenetrative friendship male vampires only promised, and they, unlike those vampires (and Victorian men) do not distinguish the fulfillments of biological needs of hunger and emotional ones of intimacy. They are not governed by a (male) vampire master, a megalomaniacal creator (40. A further character trait of female vampires like Carmilla or Geraldine (in Coleridge’s Christabel) is that, instead of being traveling companions, they invade their victim’s home, depriving the father of his patriarchal power and dominance, and thus, along with the lack of a ‘master,’ create a powerful female plot–in Auerbach’s opinion, one that substitutes a dead mother figure. This analogy I would question, as the mothers in both narratives try to warn their daughters from beyond the grave about the dangers of the vampires, who might lure their victims by providing a different kind of intimacy they offer as a substitute for the one they have lost. Intimacy is important to the extent that the victim may be desperately seeking for an object of desire and love, but I do not share the view that they would be the resurrected/reincarnated mother figures. The last, relating chapter surveys Carmilla’s afterlife in some filmic representations: Carl Dreyer’s Vampyr (1932), Roger Vadim’s Blood and Roses, Roy Ward Baker’s The Vampire Lovers (1970), Harry Kümel’s Daughters of Darkness (1971) and Tony Scott’s The Hunger (1983); which are all rarely dealt with in academic reviews. Auerbach claims, in accordance with Andrea Weiss’ study Vampires and Violets: Lesbians in Film (Middlesex: Penguin, 1993) that they all draw upon the implied lesbianism of LeFanu’s narrative, where they transform their existence into the object of male voyeurism. Auerbach’s interpretation does not lack the irony towards the ones looking down on the research topic of vampires: about Dreyer’s loose adaptation she claims that its “fastidious distance from his source guarantees his artistry for many critics” (53) She criticizes some films, too not only because they are centered around a male voyeur but also because they advance the heterosexual romance plot at the dispense of female intimacy and friendship.
The second chapter focuses on “Dracula: a Vampire of Our Own” and is shared into six subchapters, each focusing on a single aspect of Bram Stoker’s original novel, elaborated on in later literary and cinematic representations. According to Auerbach, Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) is the destruction of nineteenth century vampire literature. She opposes other critics’ approach, for example, Richard Davenport-Hines’, according to whom it is the culmination of the genre and it “transcends every other vampire tale” (Davenport-Hines, 258). However Dracula focuses on the fear of the unknown and destruction, the latter referring to its own age (the approaching twentieth century) as well as the tradition of vampire tales. In the first subchapter “Dracula’s New Order” Auerbach provides a comparative analysis of John Keats’ Lamia and Stoker’s Dracula, pointing out shared elements such as transformation and its characters. A human character, who is aware that the vampire is not human; the vampire figures, due to their nonhuman character, both having a retreat distinct from an ordinary residence; and to know them means to destroy them. Then, still in the same subchapter she reflects on the debated question why the short story Dracula’s Guest might have been omitted from the final version of the novel. The most common and the simplest view is that otherwise the novel would have been too long. Salli J. Kline explains that it would have been too Gothic. Stoker wanted to establish a realistic environment first in which he could insert the vampire plot (Kline 1992). In Auerbach’s opinion the problem was the dominant female vampire character that could have rivaled Dracula, which would have caused an inconsistency in the plot dominated by the figure of the Count. Auerbach closes the subchapter with some biographical details of Bram Stoker, emphasizing the author’s appreciation of social hierarchy, accepting himself not being on the top; she contrasts his and Polidori’s ambition to become Byron’s equal. The next short subchapter goes on with the biographical interpretation, raising the possibility that the figure Dracula might have been modeled after Henry Irving: establishing no intimacy with their employees (but claiming them arguing that they belong to him) and needing an audience, with Stoker, biographer to Irving, set in Harker’s scribbling position.
Later on in her book, Auerbach turns into the different ways the figure of Jonathan is represented on the film screen in Murnau’s Nosferatu and Tod Browning’s Dracula (1931). She claims that the overall shared trait of Dracula adaptations is that these “acolytes want to turn this account of appropriation into a love story”–as if love saved the culture from its implied anxieties. Early adaptations return to the homoerotic bond between male vampire and his prey of the same gender. Murnau’s Nosferatu, in Auerbach’s view, seems to return to early theatrical representations, Nosferatu being a ghastly, stagy figure intensified by the special effect of looking-glass photography. Set in ‘the sick city,’ the movie represents a very confident Jonathan, with Renfield shifted to the position of his employer. Concerning the characters in Browning’s Dracula, in Auerbach’s view Renfield, “the Hollywood version of the decadent English gentleman” (76) and played by Dwight Frye is even more bizarre than Béla Lugosi’s dress-conscious, static and stagy Dracula. In this film version the Renfield figure is shifted in Jonathan’s position, and he is the one portrayed to visit Dracula. That is why Auerbach deals with him at the dispense of the Jonathan figure here, who is silly and parodic. Auerbach praises the Hungarian actor Béla Lugosi for the “impeccably mannered” (75) Dracula figure, and concludes her analysis by pointing out that both films share Stoker’s conclusion which emphasizes power while giving up intimacy. Auerbach’s thorough analysis completes the experience for the ones who have already seen the films, by suggesting new points of view for consideration. The next subchapter “Vampire Propriety” focuses on female vampires, and at this point Auerbach reflects on Bram Dijkstra’s former book, Idols of Perversity: Fantasies of Feminine Evil in Fin-de-Siécle Culture (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986.), where he identifies vampires with the “personification of everything negative that linked sex, ownership and money” (qtd. in Auerbach 79). However, Auerbach disagrees, pointing out that it was vampirism itself that had turned Lucy from a flirt into a monogamous wife. However, her figure had inspired polygamous vampire figures, e. g. in Hume Nesbit’s The Vampire Maid and F. G. Loring’s The Tomb of Sarah, who are closer to will-less killing machines who dominate 20th century vampire literature. Auerbach emphasizes Dracula’s solitariness on a literal and on a kind of meta-level denoting contemporary literature as a whole, as turning women into mindless creatures does not mitigate his solitariness. His falling love with Mina is only a cinematic innovation, and Dracula does not even have a voice in the greater part of the novel. He is executed at the end and thus Auerbach draws an interesting parallel between the limitations of sexuality and vampirism, referring to Oscar Wilde’s trials. However, discussing Dracula’s transformations Auerbach claims that the only bond Stoker does not taboo is Dracula’s proximity to animals, on which cinema heavily relies with several variations. In the concluding subchapter entitled “The Blood Is the Life” Auerbach compares Dracula with earlier vampires in terms of their relation to humanity. His animalistic bonds make him a worse neighbor than Varney. She concludes the chapter with two remarks: on the one hand, Dracula does not remind “of the dreadfulness of death, but of the innate horror of vitality” (95), and twentieth century will make it impossible to believe in “wiser fiends or better friends” (ibid.) creating mostly less plausible vampires.
The second half of the book, that is, Chapters 3 and 4, focus on twentieth-century vampires in the USA, and here the list of referred primary sources is even more diverse than it was in the first part. In Chapter 3 Auerbach starts out from a comparison of British and American culture and its representations in vampire literature: “Just as Victorian patriarchal precepts officially forbade citizens to long for friendship, so American democracy forbade us to long for monarchs” (101), she claims. In Auerbach’s view, vampires will fulfill this role in the twentieth century, that is why she gave the following title to Chapter 3: “Our Vampire, Our Leader: Twentieth Century Undeaths” (99). In the first subchapter “Vampires and Vampires” she shows the variety of this figure, diverting from the blood sucking stereotypes, towards psychic vampires. Before getting to the main focus of the chapter on American vampires she dwells on Edwardian ones, first calling the attention that the idea of psychic vampirism emerged as early as 1914 in Alice and Claude Askew’s less known short story of vampirism and witchcraft, “Alymer Vance and the Vampire.” These vampires, with their main character trait, familiarity, are so real that “we can scarcely extract them from our lives” (101). A further characteristic of psychic vampires is perversity (in relation to dominant views on sexuality), for example a Wilde-like figure is portrayed victorious in George Sylvester Viereck’s American novel The House of the Vampire (1907), which represents vampires as “the engines of human advance” (103) and even suggests an analogy between vampires and the figure of Jesus Christ (104). Auerbach contrasts this work, where the vampire figure embodies high culture with Fritz Leiber’s “The Girl with the Hungry Eyes” (1949), where the girl personifies popular culture as such. In the latter work the cult of the genius is substituted by the cult of the star, with the adored Girl existing as femininity itself, threatening to deplete the implied male reader, and adding, just like her Victorian ancestor, Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Parasite” and Mary E. Wilkins-Freeman’s “Luella Miller” a lethal dimension to the stereotypes of controllable women. Following a quite detailed discussion of these works Auerbach shows the afterlife of this idea and turns to another less known novel, Dan Simmons’ vampiric novel on racial hatred, Carrion Comfort (1989). The next subchapter of the book, “Draculas and Draculas,” compares four filmic adaptations of Stoker’s novel produced between 1931 and 1979, and starring Béla Lugosi, Christopher Lee, Jack Palance and Frank Langella. The author emphasizes Draculas’ static character in comparison to the fluidity and adaptation of psychic vampires. I highly appreciate that she does not dwell on, for example, Francis Ford Coppola’s popular version, which is frequently discussed, but takes on the task of discussing, beside the Béla Lugosi classic one, three adaptations which are less known in today’s popular culture. Concerning Béla Lugosi, Auerbach draws an interesting parallel between his portrayal of Dracula and Erik in Gaston Leroux’ The Phantom of The Opera. The points of comparison touch dangling erotic visions of death with no appeal to vitality. The next aspect of comparison is that of between Stoker’s novel and Lugosi’s representation: Lugosi limits his threat to a single household, but, on a metaphorical level, he is “herald and epitome of the American Depression,” being identified with a national crisis. Auerbach, contributing to the wide perspective of the book, dwells on two relating Frankenstein adaptations as well, which were released around the same historical time. Then she examines the Hammer films between 1958 and 1970, with a special attention to the first ones, Horror of Dracula and Dracula, Prince of Darkness, starring Christopher Lee. After discussing elements of décor and ‘biological’ properties, Auerbach turns to a more significant aspect of reading these films, namely how they symbolically represent an attack on the patriarchal family and the sexual liberation of women (which I would question, because for me these women seem to be shifted from the authority of their fathers to that of Dracula) or the execution of female vampires, which, in Auerbach’s view is not redemption but torture. Before she turns to the next adaptation, she dwells on the reception of the Dracula theme in general in the 1960s and ‘70s, with the figure of the vampire being ‘fixed’ in the ‘60s and varied in the 70s, decomposing the archetype defined by Northrop Frye in the Anatomy of Criticism (1957). The ‘70s seemed to be a new beginning, in which “vampires, like women were assuming an authority unprecedented in history” (132). In connection with this claim to freedom from ideologically defined ‘truths’ she mentions Fred Saberhagen’s novel The Dracula Tape (1975) in which the narrator is the Count himself, together with Raymond McNally’s and Radu Florescu’s book In Search of Dracula (1972), which traced the historical character of the vampire count. The third adaptation Auerbach discusses is Bram Stoker’s Dracula, (1973, dir. Dan Curtis) starring Jack Palance. Here Dracula turns into a romantic and monogamous weeping lover, tormented by nostalgia, and surrounded by a cruel world. To underline further the proliferation of the Dracula theme in the ‘70s Auerbach writes about a popular soap opera Dark Shadows (1966-71) and Richard Mateson’s novel on a postnuclear world I Am A Legend (1954). Finally, she discusses John Badham’s Dracula (1979), starring Frank Langella, where, in Auerbach’s reading, vampirism is suggested to be for women a sole escape from the rigid rules of patriarchy. The film elaborates on the cooperation of psychiatry and patriarchy for the disadvantage of women. Auerbach identifies the Lucy figure here as a feminist vampire, and Langella’s Dracula a kind of ‘new man,’ who appreciates Lucy’s initiative unfemininity with delight (144). Concluding this most diverse and powerful subchapter, Auerbach returns to the main idea of her book, arguing that the fact that vampires as love objects become outdated means that “every age embraces the vampire it needs” (145). According to Auerbach’s conclusion, in the ‘70s “Dracula progresses from death-bringing foreigner to angelic harbinger of better times” (146-7). The closing subchapter “Feminist Oligarchies and Kingly Democracy” turns to feminist novels by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro and Suzy McKee Charnas, and then to popular vampire fiction by Anne Rice and Stephen King. The protagonist of Yarbro’s so-called historical horror series Count Saint Germain is described as a liberating figure, good-intentioned and eternally sad, yearning for intimacy, saving women from patriarchy, not by forcing them into another subordinated, hypnotized position, but turning them into “wise, tender, erotically knowing vampire companions” (148), giving them pleasure in nonphallic ways by, as Auerbach claims, sharing secrets withheld by male ‘experts.’ The vampires of this age, Auerbach concludes, are superior to the decadent age they appear in. However, Auerbach points out, popular vampires by Rice and Strieber are not “paralyzed by social awareness” (152). Lestat is concerned with his own origin and the meaning of his own life, not with the salvation of humanity. Auerbach finds Rice’s vampires enchanting because of their self-reference. They compose “a mystic landscape of their own” (153). In contrast with mid-century vampires who are “hygienically heterosexual” (ibid.), the author appreciates the intimacy between Rice’s vampires as well as the dominant spectacle and aestheticism, which saves these vampires from being “too nice” in comparison to real threats enacted by society. However, King’s vampires are read by Auerbach as the unsympathetic, “retrograde” opposite, a state open to everyone, with a dominant elaboration on the generation gap. Both Rice and King are interested in issues of childhood and adolescence, tropes that will be closely associated with horror in the 1980s. Another preoccupation in King’s novel is the undefined chain of command, “this vacuum of vampire leadership is the diffused authority of American democracy” (160). I let the closing remarks of this chapter speak for themselves. Auerbach writes that: “vampires in the twentieth century inhabit a lush but senseless world. In the 1970s, humans and vampires seem to cry together for a leader, a master-vampire who will guide them beyond the corrupt morass of muttering voices that supposedly constitutes authority. When, in 1980, Ronald Reagan assumed that role, the vampires who had longed for him were systematically stripped of their powers” (161-2).
These sentences project the focus of the last chapter entitled “Grave and Gay: Reagan’s Years:” the promising vampires of the 1970s are followed by depressed ones of the ‘80s, who are “closer to death than undeath” (165). Due to the political disappointment of this age Auerbach refers to the general hostility towards people with non-normative sexualities. The first subchapter “Turning Back” begins with a reading of two films: Love at First Bite (1979, dir. Stan Dragoti) and The Lost Boys (1987, dir. Joel Schumacher). In the former film Auerbach interprets Dracula as a restorer of lost powers and a deliverer into new spaces, but, as she argues, in the latter even vampirism loses its original taste, becoming an unattractive way of self-imprisonment. Nina Auerbach draws a parallel between the Republican’s war against drugs and the dull-eyed, pale lost boys, concluding that “the metaphors of 1980s vampires are a cautionary warning, not an expansion of possibilities” (167). The vampires’ lore is, in her view, a microcosm of the human city with its pleasure spots, with its isolation refracting the threat of the real political situation. Auerbach calls the attention to the implied hostility towards single mothers, and mortality of vampirism as a paradigm shift personified by the half-vampire, who can make a choice. Then the author of the book turns to novels of alternative history, in the first place to Brian Stableford’s The Empire of Fear (1988), which suggests that a race of vampire aristocrats have always ruled humankind, but no scientific endeavor can save them from stupor and dullness, providing a cultural symbolism for the oppressions of the Reagan era. The next novel to be closely examined is Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula (1992). This portrays Dracula and other well-known literary vampires as conformist members of Victorian society. Both Lost Boys and Anno Dracula reflect the political climate of the 1980s, dominated by conservative leaders who claimed to have restored patriarchy. Vampires have “lost their immortality, but they embodied unalterable oppression” (171). Tim Powers’ The Stress of her Regard (1989) sets the beginnings of vampirism with Romantic poets, in a similarly pessimistic tone. A hopeless determinism is present, according to Auerbach, in Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, which represent “myth making with no historical pretensions” (172). It is a genuinely original idea to compare the static characters of Akasha and Enkil with conservative leaders, whose authority is a burden, but dangerous to defy. When Akasha starts to move in her plan to destroy most men, she resembles the “dreadful vampiric women, who rose, reeking of feminism, in the British 1890s” (174). The concluding sentences again must speak for themselves: “Rice’s vampires are diminished in the 1980s by the monumental power of their origins. the past for whose embrace they years extinguishes the energy that made them dazzling companions. In the 1980s, vampires, like the nations that imagined them, turn wearily back to a crushing past, not only because the future holds no promise, but because so many of them are ill” (175). The second subchapter is entitled “Getting Sick” which refers to the AIDS epidemic, turning the empowering blood to blight. The author give the example of Brian Aldiss’ Dracula Unbound (1991) that reflects this anxiety, with the vision of Bram Stoker tormented by syphilis at the centre of the vampire plot. The next novel Auerbach discusses in details is Barbara Hambly’s Those Who Hunt the Night (1988) where vampirism is associated with the cyborgs. The declining age of the 1980s is underlined by several other factors in vampire fiction such as the sun becoming the agent of mass destruction, or vampirism being portrayed as sickening even without the sun. However, as Auerbach calls the attention, even the possibility of healing is raised, as for example in Patrick Whalen’s Night Thirst or healing as ending of the aging process, as depicted in Whitley Strieber’s The Hunger (1981). Auerbach provides an interesting perspective to the interpretation of the latter, claiming that in Miriam’s figure “the restorative and the infectious vampire–the angel and the germ-fight each-other” (178). She finds the same conflict in Dan Simmons’ Children of the Night, set in post-Ceausescu era Romania, and representing a baby with blood containing the healing mechanism as a means of salvation. The third subchapter, “Queer Shadows,” discusses the relations of vampires and Queer Studies, along the performance artist’s Sandy Stone’s conference paper, with the help of Christopher Craft’s essay “Kiss me with Those Red Lips: Gender and Inversion in Bram Stoker’s Dracula,” with Sue Ellen Case’s essay “Tracking the Vampire” and a feminist novel by Jewel Gomez The Gilda Stories, which was being printed at the time of writing Our Vampires Ourselves. Sandy Stone emphasizes vampires’ freedom, slithering “through solid constructions of gender and subjectivity” just like early vampires did through solid walls (182), exemplifying the autonomous homosexual culture that was formed as the antagonist of restrictions in 1980s. As Theresa de Lauretis shows, the very notion Queer Theory is about “breaking down barriers and merging categories” (182). Concerning Craft, Auerbach emphasizes that in his Dracula reading, the Count’s role is to blur the boundaries between life and death, and, in a sense, between men and women. Case draws a parallel between the queer and the vampire, both pushed underground, compelled to hide up to that point. Jewel Gomez presents a black lesbian vampire who is good intentioned, lacks aggression, considering herself a guardian–though, as a response to sexism, segregated-angel. This chapter holds a proliferation of references, calling the reader’s attention to some really rare works; however I still miss mentioning Poppy Z. Brite’s novel Lost Souls (1992; London: Penguin Books, 1994) which would fit well either into the discussion of vampires reflecting the declining American society, or to issues of AIDS anxieties, or even, due to its liberated treatment of eroticism, to Queer Theory. The closing subchapter “Near Dark: Vampires Die” praises Kathryn Bigelow’s film as an outstanding one in the Reaganesque years, because it does not refuse aggression in a squeamish way, on the contrary, it portrays it to the extent of parody of masculinity, and it represents a boyish female vampire who is immunized against patriarchy.
In the overall conclusion Auerbach claims that vampires, with the irreversibility of their state, are sentenced to death–at least to a temporary one. With this overall conclusion I disagree; it would not be necessary to claim that vampires have died in order to round off the book’s argumentation, which, due to its flamboyantly many-sided topic rejects such authoritative judgments by its very definition. In all other aspects the content is consequent and the argumentation is plausibly faithful to the ramifying nature of vampirism, trying to find its main traits from a multiple cultural and historical point of view. The book is definitely indispensable for any student or scholar wanting to deal with the symbolic representations of the vampire figure either in literature or in film, but it may be used for the benefit of anyone having either the Gothic or even gender issues in the focus of interest and it may as well be of interest to non-academic fanatics of the vampire theme. It contributes to the scope of American Studies by presenting a unique way how cultural, political reality can merge with the fantastic as a subtle form of symbolic representation.
The other, similarly useful book which puts gender issues in a different light, presenting the marginal, negative side of vampirism, Bram Dijkstra’s Evil Sisters. The Threat of Female Sexuality and the Cult of Manhood (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1996). Bram Dijkstra is a a professor of comparative literature at the University of California, San Diego, and, among several other works, is the author of another highly recommendable book, Idols of Perversity: Fantasies of Feminine Evil in Fin-de-Siécle Culture (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986). The book’s thesis, as suggested in the Introduction, is the association of women with vampires in the fin-de-siécle and during the first half of the twentieth century, due to widely accepted ‘scientific’ theories which claimed that there was a basic instinct of destruction in every woman, which also saw the civilized, ‘feminine’ woman as only a precarious achievement of civilization and self-negation. These views on devaluation of women went hand in hand with racism and later with the Nazis. These assumptions were confirmed by the pseudo-psychoanalytical equations of love and death, of sex and violence; the destructive attributes of women were paradoxically established due to their reproductive capacities. The thesis claims that these views, although their scientific accuracy is, of course, long discredited, still determine general attitudes to women in culture. These ideas were shifted into popular culture in an uncontrolled way, and, in the form of ‘historical ghosts,’ found a way into political practices as well.
The book is divided into ten chapters, the titles of which may sound weird and unusual, and, at the same time very promising about discovering new relations, and understanding a new segment of the complex reason for the subordination of women, thus taking the first step to eliminate it. The author’s engagement to women’s interests and his sympathy for feminism is justified by his argumentation. He mentions several works which have highly and mostly negatively influenced public thinking and popular culture. Bram Dijkstra reveals the truth, which is sometimes loathsome and nauseating; however, ignorance definitely will not change current ideas. The rich and graphic visual illustrations also contribute to the high quality of the work. The title of the first chapter is “Lords of Creation Battle The Vampires of Time.” It interprets the film entitled A Fool There Was, which was adapted from Porter Emerson Browne’s novel as a moral warning against the threats of the sexual woman, embodied by Theda Bara, who became later as the prototype of femme fatale actress designated as the ‘vamp.’ First, the argumentation discovers the theoretical background of this work, pointing out that sexual voluptuousness was connected with racial and economical inferiority. In the system of social Darwinism (with the leading figures of Edmund Spencer, John Fiske, William Graham Sumner) the unequality of the sexes, races and classes was ‘explained’ as a natural law resulted by evolution. In the following, the author discusses Fiske’s The Destiny of Man (1885). The book establishes a binarism, and either-or relationship between the cultivation of the intellect and enjoying bodily pleasures, which are considered, in a simplistic, merely animalistic way. Due to the evolutional determinism compassion and the help of the poor are not necessary, because they are evolutionary inferior elements, they are to be blamed for their situation and are unable to change (Fiske’s further implication was that natural selection should be given over to rational men). Sumner is regarded as the father of American sociology and his books were widely taught at American universities until the ‘70s. His main claim was that science, and not morality is the key to better future. He dismissed not only art and morality, but history and tradition as well. What he appreciated was economic egotism, and established a theory of evolutionary elite, which is threatened by the vampirism of economic dissipation. He shares Fiske’s view on disregarding the poor, and explains this view with nature’s self-cleansing mechanism. This is the first point where we can see how self-contradictorily and arbitrarily the mystified notion of ‘nature’ is used: once to point out its unsatisfactory character (selection), other times its logical character (self-cleansing mechanism). The screw is turned here again: nature, which was logical before, now is dangerous in the form of the woman, who is in her natural state an enemy. In his system, men are lords of creation, whilst women are volatile, emotional, reproductive tools of nature. Sumner regarded the subordination of women and the shifts from woman-descent to patriarchy as steps taken by civilization; and in his view, women were equal or dominant only in primitive communities. Anxieties of non-subordinate women were brought to extremes: reestablishment of equality would threaten men with the reinstitution of Iroquois harem, where genders are subverted. The correct choice would be the man-ruled nuclear family, and if a man fails to dominate, he risks sliding down the evolutionary ladder. Civilization (denoted by men) is men’s struggle against nature (women). Sumner distinguishes two types of women, the obedient, subordinated and the nonconformist one, however, it is concluded that in fact all women are vampires, driven by nature to depredate the male.
The second chapter is about “Vital Essence and Blighting Mildew: Dimorphic Gender Evolution and the Natural Philosophy of Lust,” in which Dijkstra claims by referring to a great number of sources, that in the early twentieth century anthropomorphizing descriptions of mating rituals in the insect world were presenting, with an unquestioned analogy, human sexual activity seem as an inevitable battle. Male anxieties were fed by descriptions of low-order animals where the female one is bigger and the male is only a sperm-holder and ‘mincemeat.’ This resulted in the theory of the vital essence, with the ideal of the seminal continence. The semen was, namely, considered as the extract of blood, which is necessary to build tissues, brain cells, muscles, etc., thus men were discouraged from wasting it. Due to the blood–semen–wealth analogy loss of semen was meant to have moral as well as economic consequences. As far as women are concerned within this theoretical framework, their evolutionary difference and inferiority was based by the assumption that woman is weaker, because she cannot hold her vital essence, which is originally less, what is more, she loses a significant amount every month. The womb was assumed to be an animal, having the desire to conceive. The identification of woman with the vampire was based on the love-death equation, the view of which also had entomological origins. This entomological vampire was supposed to regard the male to be the container of vital fluids the female, being a defective male, desires to rob. The relationship of subordinating women and evolutionary ‘advancement’ recurs by some theorists labeling feminists as primitives, and asserting that masculinity and its dominance is a triumph of intellect over nature. Finally, a few literary representations are mentioned that illustrate the ideal of the continent man through supermen who are not willing to breed similar offsprings (in works by Hemingway and Fitzgerald).
The third chapter borrows the ‘slogan of vampirism’ (Nina Auerbach’s term) from Bram Stoker: “For the Blood is the Life: Hysteria, Freud’s Jewel Box, Transcendent Manhood, and the Mark of the Beast,” and argues that due to the much-stressed equation of semen, capital and blood the emergence of the vampire theme in literature and visual art was inevitable especially at the end of the nineteenth century. A vampire (in this context) is, of course, a overtly sexual woman aimed to deplete man, to divert him from the ideal seminal, economic continence. Her deadly effect is shown of Philip Burne-Jones’ painting entitled “The Vampire.” Dijkstra argues that although the artist was Stoker’s friend, they were both rather influenced by the socioeconomic environment and ‘modern’ scientific texts of their age on vital essence theory than by each-other. Dijkstra, like many other researchers, is also convinced that the authors of vampire fiction were not unaware of the sexual content of their work as psychoanalytical readings often try to claim. On the contrary: these tales are cautionary directives against sexual incontinence. The readers, who were used to read between the lines, were also aware of this meaning. Dijkstra makes implications on present culture as well: the vampire theme, he says, now seems to be the part of the collective unconscious, but we fail to see that sado-masochistic concepts of gender, class and race precipitated into our subconscious through the uncritical mediation of the media. After the theoretical overview Dijkstra brings examples of the manifestations of these views in literary texts. For example, Rudyard Kipling’s “The Mark of the Beast” blends racist and antifeminine scenarios, suggesting that the way the leper is tortured; women must be treated in the same way Europe treated the ‘degenerate’ non-Western people. Women, according to this theory, have to be colonized and subdued by violence, if they did not accept their secondary evolutionary status. Then Dijkstra calls the attention to the frequent merging of racism and antifeminism in contemporary adventure fiction, with the eternal, primitive, strong woman in the centre, whom the hero rejects or domesticates. These tales, in Dijkstra’s reading, warned (male) readers that nature’s reversive tendencies were hiding under the skin of all acculturated white women. He also notes that degeneration does not affect female bodies in such fiction, because a female body, as it was formely discussed, was originally considered primitive, due to its inferior capacity to hold vital essence, and supposedly having a thinner blood. Here he refers to Lucy’s blood transfusions in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, where only the blood of strong men was considered appropriate. Thus in the new world of predatory antihumanist values, Dijkstra concludes, the imagery of the vampire embodied a microcosm of existential fears. Following this argumentation he turns to Freud and the infamous Dora case, raising the possibility in his ironic way that in fact it was Freud who should have been analyzed, not Dora. In the final part of this chapter he discusses the so-called therapeutic rape as an aspect of the ‘white man’s burden’ with the function of awakening women to their reproductive duties, making them fear the phallus and not like it. Beside Dracula, F. Marion Crawford’s short story “For the Blood Is the Life” is the literary example how the sexual woman must be killed in the process of a sadistic female castration. Namely, executing a female vampire can be read as the stake being the symbolic representation of the phallus committing the therapeutic rape, and the ritual decapitation standing for clitoredectomy. The argumentation is supported by the fact that Dracula himself is killed in a less theatrical way in the novel.
The fourth chapter deals with “A Congo Song in the Heart of Darkness: The Vampire-Woman’s African Genesis,” starting out of the association of women with brute nature. As he will show by numerous literary examples, “early twentieth century culture attempted to neutralize the dangerous erotic appeal of intelligent women who were self-reliant and sexually assertive (…) who had made a conscious effort to break out of the prison of passive domesticity envisioned for them by theorists such as Spencer and Sumner.” (129) The most interesting fact about this chapter is that among the ones who were championing the theory of dimorphic evolution there were women as well, who deeply internalized patriarchal norms and thus who were denigrating their own kind. Gina Lombroso Ferrero, in compensation for her ‘unfeminine’ medical profession, claims that to women belongs a different kind of intelligence, not a theoretical, but a practical, altruistic one. Arabella Kenealy’s views, which were published in her book with the speaking name Feminism and Sex Extinction (1920), were even more influential. She labeled any masculinism in women as decadence. Dijkstra says in his disturbing conclusion that these views are hunting our present as well: “Ideas promulgated by the figures such as Weininger and Kenealy, no matter how obscure their names may seem to us today, are still the bedrock of our own sense of sexual identity.” (134) Dijkstra, furthermore, emphasizes the effect of these views on cultural products and teaching materials. Then he turns to the discussion of the views again, claiming surprisingly that Kenealy projects Jung’s animus-anima theory, which he does not understand how could have seemed original for so long. Kenealy concludes that the man in women must be dominated, and presents a clear division of gender roles: the white women’s task is to breed, and the white men’s is to conquer the universe. Thus, she says, a truly evolved girl’s transition to womanhood should be one of adaptation to the functions of wifehood and child-bearing. What is more, it is even better if she produces male offsprings. The link with vampirism lies in the following theory: if a woman uses her energies for her own, ‘egoistic’ purposes, she will draw it from her male offsprings, thus she becomes the vampire of the empire. This is the way a ‘masculinized’ woman turns to an ‘evil sister.’ Then Dijkstra, after the short reading of minor adventure works Jack Williamson’s The Wand of Doom and Philip José Farmer’s The Lovers, shows how the theories formely shown are present in Joseph Condrad’s At the Heart of Darkness. As he calls the attention, it often happens that the gender subtext of a literary work is ideologically repressed for the sake of ‘existential’ readings, and the same took place concerning Condrad’s work. He says that is it not only racist, but antifeminine, the African woman being the primitive, ‘still masculine’ feminine. There was a rewriting of Condrad’s work in 1943, Stuart Colete’s Congo Song, which, in Dijkstra’s argumentation shows that the views on genders had hardly changed during the decades. He uses the symbolism of the ritual execution of female vampires in another meaning: “The primitive masculine in woman, the African womb, the vampire must be destroyed by the stake of monogamy.” Dijkstra concludes the chapter with Elinor Glyn’s novel Three Weeks (1907), which is tolerant towards the sensuous vampiric figure embodied by a Russian queen, but has the same implications on gender and race: “For once a less evolved woman has understood that she must allow her body to be colonized and harvested by evolutionary necessity, that she must be plowed and seeded by the British Empire” (171). The least sentence of the chapter is the following: “Worst of all, the physicians had discovered that even domestic relations made a man bleed” (173).
The fifth, most disturbing chapter discusses “The Physiology of Vampirism: The Root of All Evil and the Womb of Production; Seminal Economics and Spermatophagy.” The reader may occasionally feel sick of the theories presented, but Dijkstra has clear motives why to deal with them since these views also contributed to the subordination of women, therefore they must be known in order to do away with them. The chapter starts out with a debate on sexual activity and birth control around 1920. For example, H. L. Mencken wrote In Defense of Women about the virgin-vampire dichotomy. According to Mencken this is an inaccurate approach, since in fact all women are sexual vampires, and sexual enjoyment is a kind of regression. Practically, letting herself raped is the correct sexual behavior for the woman: the female resigned, passive toleration of “masculine admiration, however violently expressed,” (…) was indicative of her successful acculturation to the requirements of dimorphic gender evolution (176). Why is this legitimization of rape still a defense of women?, the shocked reader might ask. The explanation is the following: “women could not be blamed for being nature’s tool on the battle of the sexes” (177). There was a collection of essays, The Control of Parenthood, which was also published in 1920 and was widely read in the English-speaking world. Self-control and exercise were said to have been the main concerns in order to avoid sexual immorality. Beside anxieties of sexual immorality those of miscegenation were also expressed in this text. A literary representation of these anxieties is Thomas Dixon’s novel The Birth of Nation (1915), in which the vampire is embodied by a yellow woman, who is then to be executed by the “first phalanx of fearless vampire killers” (184). A cinematic representation of this repulsive figure is the Mata Hari character impersonated by Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich. The equation of love and death, as Dijkstra argues, was not Freud’s invention, he was only “a man of his time” (188). Another aspect of these false gender assumptions assures the double standard of morality concerning the infidelity of women vs. men: Dijkstra shows it by referring to several contemporary ‘scientific’ texts. Thus the so-called seminal-absorption theory grounded that the main interest of the empire was the monogamous marriage between racial equals. The ‘sexual vampire’ was equated with the ‘economic vampire’ according to this logic again, resulting in a demonization and criminalization of non-subordinated women, hand in hand with racism.
The title of the sixth chapter is “And Fools They Were: the Biology of Racism and the Iron Law of the Jungle; Love Rituals and the Socialist Vampire.” The argumentation starts out with the fact that in early twentieth century all disciplines agreed upon the superiority of the Aryan man, and this ‘legitimized’ plunder and mass murder as “a justified form of euthanasia” (220). Orthogenesis and atavism were juxtaposed, wealth and virtue were equated and nonproductive pleasure was dismissed. Non-Aryans and sexual women were chosen as scapegoats for decline, and they were associated with anxieties of egalitarianism and socialism, which did not recognize the value of acquired wealth and intellectual superiority. Concerning war, there was a binary thinking: although it was considered primitive and atavistic, equated with a woman with a skull instead of her face, it was also a recognized means to achieve the superiority of the “highest type of man” (223). Dijkstra discusses here Paul Kammerer’s life and work, then the highly influential work of Max Nordeau, entitled Degeneration. Dijkstra argues that the scapegoats for degeneration are represented in the symbolism of Bram Stoker’s Dracula (A broader discussion of Nordeau’s and Lombroso’s effect on Bram Stoker’s Dracula can be found in Salli J. Kline’s formerly cited work). Besides the theorists mentioned above, there was a theorist with more moderate views on gender inequality, Gobineau, who identified the intellectual element of culture as feminine-but, as Dijkstra remarks with bitter irony-he was “forgiven for his biological misunderstanding” (231). The next theorist Dijkstra deals with is Gustave Le Bon, who established a parallelism between the feminine principle in nature and the anti-individualism of the socialists. The next step in the argumentation is the analysis of D. W. Griffith’s film The Birth of Nation (1915). Its racism is, as Dijkstra argues, forgiven by critics due to the technical innovations, the originality of which the author of the book questions. The plot juxtaposes the racially clean white woman and the demonized African-Americans one, and, with an “alarmist, genocidal message” (235) suggests that African-Americans might ‘contaminate’ the rest of the population. It also suggests that even white woman are weak and can be protected only by white man, and in the lack of it the only way is suicide to escape the mark of the beast. The film includes a parody of civil rights demonstration, with blacks enouncing the claims to “equal marriage”–with the obvious aim to frighten whites and create hostility and justification for massacre and aggression. The popularity of the film reveals that these thought were not revolting, instead, they were the norm. Following this, Dijkstra discusses Voronoff’s views of equating woman and death. Biology and politics are intertwined in a metaphor with gender anxieties: “Thus death was the triumph of the feminine, a yearning of the organism to return to its inorganic origins, a factor of the primitive collectivist principles of nature…” (243). The second part of the chapter discusses Jung’s anima figure, who includes both the submissive and the vampiric woman, and who is, in a surprising way, similar to today’s Cosmo girl, “compliant in her attempts to adapt herself to the latest fashions of the male imagination: a junior executive in Wonderbra” (246). Dijkstra acknowledges the appeal of the sexual woman of early twentieth century (embodied by film stars) for today’s women striving for autonomy, because such an “emotional independence from men, sexual confidence, pleasure in the seductive authority of her body, and ‘masculine’ economic depredations gave her a centrality in that period’s cultural imagination of which today’s manufactured ‘sex symbols can only dream” (246). She may seem a demon of “empowerment,” and I find this explanation very appropriate, however, the illusion is, unfortunately, dissolute in the next paragraph where the text claims that “to accept the vampire image of feminine sexuality as a positive model also requires acceptance of the aggressive-reactive principles of the turn of the century’s gender wars” (247). As Dijkstra argues very correctly, today’s popular culture lacks such powerful female figures. Getting back to the early twentieth century, these femme fatale figures often emanated from lower classes and/or ‘inferior’ races, and “the parallel appetites of the vampires of socialism and sex had, by 1920, clearly become a matter of public record” (252), appearing in the form of racial as well as domestic invasion, with a tendency of embodiment in a single figure.
The seventh chapter focuses on “Real Vampires: The Sexual Woman and Her Allies: Bolsheviks, Semites, and Eurasians; The Yellow Peril of the Asian Imagination.” First this chapter deals with the Theda Bara-myth. It reconstructs the feminist’s Theodosia Goodman’s own attitude to the figure personified by the “Arab Death” from interviews. She emphasized that it is an abstraction explaining the interest in the vampiric woman as “the return on earth of Venus,” and referring to a poem by Swinburne, which reveals a great level of awareness and insight into her period’s underlying theories on gender hostility, in spite her opposing theatrical claim that her enactment of the figure is truly intuitive. The chapter goes on reading the referred poem, and then turns to Sax Rohmer’s series of novels, which focus on Fu Manchu, a vicious character, a Lombrosian criminal mind, who, with his feminine accomplices, personified the threat which inferior races, immigrants and advocates on nonproductive pleasures. An important point Dijkstra makes here is that this issue went on through a variety of genres in the twentieth century from pulp fiction, spy narratives, comic book and their movie adaptations as far as James Bond-films. The Fu Manchu stories expressed anxieties of miscegenation as well as of intelligence in non-whites and/or in women. The Asian sexual vampire, in Dijkstra’s reading, is the woman with the phallus as “in the iconography of early-twentieth century sin, a cigarette in a woman’s hand or mouth was as certain a sign of aggressive sexual promiscuity as a gun or knife” (275). The right way to handle such a woman, as it is suggested by the highly popular Rohmer, is abuse and violence: “seize her by the hair, drag her to some cellar, hurl her down and stand over her with a whip…and she would adore you for your savagery, deeming you forceful and strong!” (277). Here I would add that the author is not dead for Dijkstra, who emphasizes these ‘scientists’ and theorists’ immediate responsibility for gender and racial hostility. The assumption that women long to be subordinated and dominated (although very often exclusively by the so-called Mr. Right) emerges several times as well in the referred theories. The spermatophagous Asian woman, who is luring and repulsive at the same time, was personified on screen by Nita Naldi and Anna May Wong. This theme did not appear only in pulp fiction, but also in the works of canonized authors, such as William Faulkner. However, the gender subtext was suppressed again for ‘universal’ readings, though, as Dijkstra sees, contemporary men internalized sadistic views on love and women. Here even the figure of Anne Rice’s Lestat emerges (without, unfortunately, any reference to Rice or a more thorough consideration of her Vampire Chronicles): “The Vampire Lestat and his violent pop-culture minions are not erotic revolutionaries but contemporary businessmen with late Victorian dental work” (278). What is also frequently emphasized in the argumentation is the effect of fiction on reality: “A relentlessly repeated fiction all too often becomes a social reality in the long run.” (284). The chapter concludes by the representation of misogynist and racist theories in three novels that were immensely popular in early twentieth century: Abraham Merrit’s The Moon Pool (1919), James Branch Cabell’s Jürgen (1919) and James Gibbons Huneker’s Painted Veils (1920).
The eighth chapter is “Domesticating the Vampire: Hollywood and Seminal Economy” and its opening part provides some challenging insights into the nature of metaphors, which “do the dirty work of ideology;” what is more, “they telescope complex ideas into simple imagery and encourage us to see others not as persons but as patterns” (311), they turn “scientific theories into social propaganda,” and, finally, lead to genocide (312). Dijkstra argues for the educative power of early silent films, which were based upon fin-de-siécle paintings in visual terms, solidifying the myth of the predatory sexual woman. In the book’s argumentation, silent films were successful because they reinforced already existing prejudices. Following the theoretical introduction Dijkstra shows how this ideology works in early silent films directed by D. W. Griffith: Cabiria (1914), Judith of Betulia (1913), Home Sweet Home (1914), and Intolerance (1916); all contributing to racist and imperialist as well as misogynist ideology, which are usually not recognized by today’s critics, because “it is difficult to recognize the propagandistic intensity of his films without a specialized knowledge of the intentional parallels between sex and race his contemporaries had established” (323). Then the analysis of Cecil B. De Mille’s film The Ten Commandments follow in the text, and this discussion in centered on the figure of the vampire woman. What follows is how silent films showed, from The Sheik on, the possible solution of domesticating the female vampire: instead of killing her. Spanking of the tomboy-feminist is one of the most reiterated scenes in Hollywood comedies of the ‘30s and ‘40s, and it appears in today’s popular culture in the form of masochistic fantasies of the therapeutic rape in “bodice ripper” romances. These works suggest women “to find erotic pleasure in being colonized” (338), in order “to see sexual violence done to them as a proof of their lovers’ manhood” (339), thus representing female masochism as an inherent biological trait. The argumentation goes on to the twists that had been done to the good girl–bad girl dichotomy, keeping the original binary idea, but adding the juxtaposition of illusion and reality: the innocent girl turns out to be a female vampire and vice versa. Dijkstra’s argumentat bring the example of such twists from Fritz Lang’s well-known Metropolis (1926), which gained acknowledgement as a progressive social manifesto.
The title of the ninth chapter is “Rigging the Great Race: Against the Beautiful and the Damned: The Cultural Genetics of Unclean Women and Emasculate Men.” This part discusses racial anxieties merging with gender ones. As the “lower races” threatened to invade and contaminate the “superior Aryan race,” women were supposed to threaten with the dominance of regressive masculinization, which, in turn, would turn men feminine, or, in their weirdest anxieties, even female. However, Dijkstra mentions an author called Ellsworth Huntington who tried to soothe public opinion by reassuring his readers that women standing out for their rights will not be the mothers of the next generation, and soon it will have to be hung on the wall as an interesting trophy. In this chapter Dijkstra has selected works that focus on women as economic vampires after the overtly sexual ones began to lose their attractive power. In the ‘20s and ‘30s vampire women mutated into domesticated “gold diggers,” which, as it is described in Betty van Deventer’s confessions (1929), is a way of compensation for subordinated intelligent women, who seemingly serve the man’s needs and conceal their intelligence–even laughing behind their backs-but depriving them of their wealth without qualms. The gold digger “in victimizing her masters, […] mercilessly satirized their expectations of what a woman should be” (356). Thus, Dijkstra argues, Daventer’s book gives a more authentic insight to the ideas of the ‘20s and ‘30s that Anita Loos’s far more famous Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1925), which enacts the dumb-blonde stereotype and the “cult of invalidism” (357). In the following part of the chapter Dijkstra examines how racial and gender metaphors are portrayed even in the works of such canonized authors as F. Scott Fitzgerald and William Faulkner. He ironically writes: “to be a literary contender in the Twenties, you had to be a racist, an ironist, a misogynist male” (359). Reading The Beautiful and the Damned by Fitzgerald Dijkstra shows how the author deliberately enacted the ur-feminine, the eternal Eve stereotype in Gloria’s character. As Dijkstra argues, this cynic attitude was due to the association with women and collectivist humanism, which obstructs the road to racial progress and, as the protofascist dream suggested again and again, the Nietzschean master race of intellectual males should take the role of selection from nature. Both lower classes and women were suggested to be secretly yearning for being dominated, and there are many examples how colonization and even violence to women are justified. In another textual example, the female character begs the male one to hit her, thus the theme of women’s supposed inherent masochism recurs. Sometimes a contemporary reader might openly laugh at the allegedly scientific ideas of these authors, but this chapter, along with the last one, is quite depressing with its outspokenness because it powerfully argues for the long lasting and deeply rooted character of misogyny and legitimization of violence against women. The reader should take a deep breath before going on reading the discussion of the bullfight scene in Hemingway’s novel as a metaphor for sexual dominance, and of the condemnation of shameful ‘masculine’ powerful women, who are, all the same, weepy if not provided with males’ vital essence. The female character becomes the mouthpiece of misogyny: “I’m thirty-four, you know. I’m not going to be one of these bitches that ruin children” (Hemingway qtd. in Dijkstra 377). Faulkner, Dijkstra writes, also accepted his era’s scientific views on the psyche and sex, and he also portrayed an atavistic woman in Sanctuary (1931), who is even suggested to enjoy being raped with a corncob as a kind of awakening experience. In the analysis the reader has the opportunity to enjoy Freud’s views on penis envy again as an inherent part of female identity, and rendering woman as scapegoats.
The final chapter focuses on “Dualism Enthroned: Oak Trees and Destroyers; Hitler and the Hammer of Death; Genocide as Gynecide in the Mythology of Popular Culture,” and it powerfully shows the way how all these views have become historical reality, used by Hitler in Mein Kampf to convince the masses of the necessity of racial cleansing. As Dijkstra argues, these ideas were not fully invented by Hitler, but he made these views more tangible and instead of the many scapegoats he pointed at and criminalized one group, the Jews. Among the possible sources of fascist ideology, Dijkstra discusses Jung’s theory on the collective unconscious and archetypes. The point of criticism is that “his ‘archetypes’ were all directly shaped by the prejudicial race and gender proposals of the scientists of the early years of this century” and his “system was tailor-made for the aggressive psychosocial paranoia of the Twenties” (395-6). A further possible source was Otto Weininger and his book Sex and Character which contributed to the association of the effeminate Jew with that of the perversely sexual woman. According to his logic, Dracula himself can be read as the contaminant Jew. In the following part of the chapter film analyses take place, first Josef von Sternberg’s The Blue Angel (1930), which enacted public obsession of sexual depredation, to which even a respectable teacher can fall victim; then follows the images of G. W. Pabst’s Pandora’s Box (1929), which warns against proto-Bolshevist fantasies of gender equality. What follows in the chapter is the reading of F. W. Murnau’s vampire film Nosferatu in terms of this racist and misogynist logic, arguing that “the film was thus, in a number of ways, to contribute forcefully, both directly and indirectly, to the Western world’s store of anti-Semitic imagery by offering its viewers what may well be the most relentlessly evil incarnation of Dracula ever imagined” (425). Whilst Dracula was portrayed as a ‘mere’ degenerate Lombrosian criminal type, Murnau portrayed Nosferatu as specifically Jewish, with his beak-like nose, suggesting a constant erective condition and posture suggesting giving himself over to contaminant solitary sins. Mina is the perfect Aryan woman who effaces herself as an individual, and manages to defeat Nosferatu by giving herself over to him, as “equal partners in the underworld of species evolution, the erotic forces of woman and Nosferatu ultimately cancel each-other out, leaving only Harker, the Aryan male” (433).
The conclusion and the implications of the book are highly powerful and relevant to our recent popular culture and ideological environment, with a warning that the catastrophe of genocide might happen again: “As long as we allow the social fictions of past mythologies to shape our concept of the future, the present can be little more than an unlocked armory on the road to the next human disaster” (440). In a highly plausible way Dijkstra argues for the wide variety of individuals instead of people categorized into well-defined groups in terms of stereotypes and expectations. He points out that sociobiology and evolutionary psychology undermine the potential development of this truly humane social environment, and he calls the attention to a great but forgotten German feminist psychologist Rosa Mayreder, who claimed quite early, in 1905, that the ‘woman’ is an abstraction and fetish, in comparison to the variety of existing individuals. Dijkstra also points out that today’s popular culture is still dismissing the successful women as ones who “resent being castrated males” (441) and it is still in favor of the highly eroticized portrayal of violence in films and music videos. However, the conclusion on the vampire theme is somewhat disturbing for a feminist researcher enthusiastic about this topic. While intending to draw her academic quest merging with her own identity, the process falls into the paradox and self-eradication: “To fantasize about warlocks and witches, about vampires and werewolves, about Mars, Venus, and the caveman within, is to perpetuate the fantasies of a world eager for war and to remain complicit in the fetishization of others as ‘evil,’ as ‘alien,’ as ‘inferior,.’ To do so is to see difference as disease” (443). Is there a way out of this paradox? The answer is ‘yes.’ As Auerbach has pointed it out, it is mainly achieved by discussing the way contemporary female writers reinterpret the theme of the female vampire in a liberating way, on which both the lure of the vampire and gender egalitarianism can be maintained, or even advancing each-other in the context of social and historical critique. However, when dealing with early vampire works, Dijkstra’s contributions must be regarded among the theoretical considerations of primal importance. Dijkstra’s book is indispensable for anyone dealing with gender studies and wanting to trace the roots of Western women’s subordinate situation, and it may be useful for students and scholars interested in the early American film or popular fiction as well as for ones with an interest in nineteenth and early twentieth century vampire fiction. It is beneficial to anyone with an interest in such specific topics as the criminalization and demonization of women in fiction and in social practices, and it contributes to the study of early “femme fatale” film stars, or even the theoretical roots of the Holocaust. It also contributes to the more general field of American Studies by revealing an aspect of early twentieth century American cultural history which has been greatly ignored by critics.
- Davenport-Hines, Richard. 200. Gothic. Four Hundred Years of Excess, Horror, Evil and Ruin. New York: North Point Press.
- Kline, Salli J. 1992. The Degeneration of Women: Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ as Allegorical Criticism of the ‘Fin de Siécle’. Rheinbach-Merzbach: CMZ-Verlag Winrich C.-W. Clasen.