The vampire might represent the most powerful and prolific influence of Gothic fiction on popular culture. A word of Slavonic origin, 'vampire' is a term describing a preternatural being of a malignant nature (or a reanimated corpse) who seeks nourishment and causes bodily harm by sucking the blood of the living. Characters in the Gothic can also be affected by a type of metaphoric vampirism, in which life is drained from one character by another without the actual act of drinking blood. As is suggested by the etymology of the word, the vampire is not originally an English Gothic creation. The vampire myth is derived from Slavic folkflore, then became a literary motif of the German Sturm und Drang movement, from which Johann Goethe's Bride of Corinth (1797) was born. The first vampire of English literature appears in Robert Southey's Oriental epic poem "Thalaba the Destroyer" (1797).
John Polidori's The Vampyre (1819) is the progenitor of the of the type of vampire who leaves marks on the necks of young maidens he kills while strongly reflecting Polidori's interest in Byronic heroes in his characterization. This somber, deliberating, romantic vampire type was reiterated in Elizabeth Caroline Grey's penny dreadful The Skeleton Count, or The Vampire Mistress (1828). A transition of sorts occurred in the weekly serial publication of Varney the Vampire, or the Feast of Blood, which would bring the vampire a step closer to his modern incarnation. With this massive, cheap publication of unknown authorship came the fangs, hypnotic abilities, and superhuman strength known to modern audiences. Another famous vampire in the later 19th century was Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu's Carmilla (1872), in which a female vampire takes a female victim, draining her blood, identity, and sanity. The 19th century version of the vampire was not merely a British fascination, making appearances in German, French, Russian, and Ukranian literature.
Bram Stroker's Dracula(1897) is the definitive piece of vampire fiction. Although inspired by the previous stories, Stoker's inventions established the vampire as we know him in Western culture. From Stoker we get the vampire hunter, the staking scene, the vampire's polymorphism, telepathy, aversion to garlic, lack of shadow, affinity with bats, wolves, and rats, and characteristic red-lipped black-caped appearance.
After Dracula the vampire becomes an iconic figure, branching out to the literature and film of the 20th century, and becoming firmly embedded in popular culture outside the Gothic tradition. Stephen King's Salem's Lot transports the vampire story to small-town America. Ann Rice's Interview with the Vampire creates sympathy for the vampire, while also locating him in the southern United States. Octavia Butler's Fledgling features a 53-year-old somewhat benevolent blood-sucker in the body of a ten year old African-American, whose dark skin allows her some maneuverability in the daytime. The vampire also appeared on television in the series Buffy the Vampire Slayer (based on an earlier film) and True Blood (based on Charlaine Harris' Southern Vampire Mysteries series). If the popularity of the True Blood series (which aired through 2014, and Stephanie Meyer's Twilight series of books and movies are any indication, the vampire has staying power to succeed as a literary figure for the 21st century.
Visit University of Virginia's exhibition on the Vampire for more information and images.
Courtesy of Douglass H. Thomson, Department of Literature and Philosophy, Georgia Southern University, and Wendy Fall, Marquette University
Hughes, William, David Punter, and Andrew Smith. The Encyclopedia of the Gothic . Chichester, West Sussex, UK : Wiley-Blackwell, 2013. Print.