The Essence Of The Vampires Being Gothic Villains

The Essence Of The Vampires Being Gothic Villains
Copyright © Photograph by Fenix Fatalist

Gothic is not a genre so easily defined as its aspects overlap with different genres, notably quite often with the Romantic. As Anne Williams suggests, Gothic and Romantic are not two different genres but one. Michael Gamer in his article ‘Gothic Fictions and Romantic writing in Britain’ published in ‘The Cambridge Companion to Gothic Fiction’ proposes that the Gothic is a mixed genre, brought together from other discourses, assembled like Frankenstein’s monster, using various possibilities of the narrative and lyric writing. However, when establishing a genre, it must be acknowledged that it is “a study of repetition, the patterns that constitute a tradition and a way that writers imitate, learn from and modify the work of their predecessors.” Gothic has its particular features that can be traced and established throughout the literature since the eighteenth-century when the term “gothic story” was introduced by Horatio Walpole and his ‘The Castle of Otranto,’ marking the beginning of the interest in this initially controversial genre.

The Gothic, as Allan Lloyd-Smith states, “is about the return of the past, of the repressed and denied, the buried secret that subverts and corrodes the present, whatever the culture does not want to know or admit, will not or dare not tell itself.” That challenges the limits of the society, and pushes towards the exploration of the extremes, while rethinking the previously “divinely ordained sanctions,” the ultimate laws, that with the evolution in sciences, gaining a strong position in relation to the organized religion, appear as social agreements of a lesser importance, rather than absolute and unquestionable divine prohibitions. Therefore, the perception of the violation of the laws and norms changes and explore the limits of the society, pushing it towards extremes like cruelty, passion, rapacity and sexual degradation but also free thinking, the notion of one’s own superiority and personal freedom. Free thinking characters unbounded by the socially respected norms are a frequent aspect of the Gothic and are “up to no good,” since their self-proclaimed freedom possess a significant danger to the “culturally prescribed doctrines of morality and propriety.” These characters usually pursue the innocent (they may be women, innocent virgin heroines or passive, submissive, easily influenced, sensitive characters) whose trust they gained and since then abuse.

The central Gothic figure, a variation on a villain, mainly the “pre-Byronic Gothic Villain” is unsympathetic, and his crimes are amplified with sadism and unnecessary cruelty. Striking in appearance, usually middle-aged, with a pale complexion and piercing eyes, the Gothic Villain, rebelling against society and God, acknowledges the moral codes of society and his own wickedness in violating those codes, and he therefore never engages our sympathies with his rebellion. The villain’s origin is often aristocratic, evoking the “sense of power” and “the air of the fallen angel, the air of Satanic greatness perverted,” covered in an aura of his past secret sins. The Gothic Villain resembles Satan before he was romanticised in the literature of Romanticism. The villain, as the central Gothic figure can be a form of the undead ― a phantom, a ghost, a corpse or a vampire. Since the boundary between life and death (and also past and present and often even between gender) is not fixed in the Gothic aesthetics, it can overlap. However, the death does not have to be a physical death of the body. It can be a spiritual death, a death of ethics, morality and religious faith. In that case, it signifies a rebirth to a new set of personal norms of the character that is potentially dangerous to the rest of the society dwelling in and following the culturally established norms of the majority. By this spiritual death, the dangerous free-thinking character is born, the boundaries and limits are broken and the “hero/villain,” with his own set of rules, rebelling against the society and questioning the fixed ethics, is unleashed.

The Vampire, especially the modern one, possesses very similar characteristics to the Gothic villain. Starting as a horrible, undead monster embedded in folkloric beliefs, the image of vampire and its characteristics changed through time ― monstrosity of the modern vampire is manifested somewhat spiritually or ethically and not physically. A vital vampire characteristic is the fact that they are dead, or rather “undead forms.” Yet, the death does not always have to be the death of the body but also a death of the mind, soul or ethics. Death can mean a change, a life renewed with a new set of values. As with the Gothic villain, the concept of the rebirth of values and norms carries a danger of conversion, a diversion from the majority and therefore is proclaimed dangerous, which depends on the particular cultural-historical background. To draw a similarity with the folkloric image of a vampire, a person could become a vampire only by converting from the Greek Orthodox Church to Roman Catholic Church, which was then perceived as being heretic. Even Joan of Arc with no need of the institution of the church, though being very religious, could be labelled as a vampire because she differed from the majority in the understanding of the role of the church.

The first creation of “the modern vampire” could be tracked to John William Polidori’s 1819 book ‘The Vampyre,’ which introduces to the world the fictional character of Lord Ruthven, an aristocratic vampire modelled on the real character of Lord George Gordon Byron, who “set up the model for the modern vampire as an elegant rebel who rejects the dictates of man, nature and conventional religion,” which again draws a similarity to the Gothic villain. A modern vampire, famously represented by Abraham Stoker’s ‘Dracula,’ is carefully choosing his victims, rather than going on a rampage like a hungry animal.

The infection of the victim is usually linked to vampire sucking the blood of their victims, a penetrative and oral act. Nevertheless, this is usually only in the modern depictions of vampires, as a folkloric understanding of vampirism suggests possibilities as a psychological vampirism when the vampire feeds on energy and emotions. Matthew Beresford proposes that the idea of a psychic vampire goes far back to the ancient demons and spirits who would drain life energy from people and give them sinful ideas. At that time, diseases such as depression were thought to be the result of being attacked by a vampire, who can leave the victims drained of energy, tired, apathetic. Also, the coined term “psychic vampire” is used to describe those, who deviate from the “normal.” In the Gothic terms, a vampire, an undead form with a different set of norms and values represents the “Otherness” and carries and “endless potential for radical alternative behaviour.” Hallab argues that the function of the vampire is not to be “mundane, ordinary, ordinary or well adjusted” and probably not “accepted,” a characteristic, that could be readily applied to the character of the pre-Byronic Gothic villain.

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