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Dracula: The Roots of the Vampire Romance

Posted: 07/19/10 12:03 PM ET

I wrote Dracula, My Love, the story of Mina Harker's secret, passionate romance with Dracula, because I knew--I just knew--that Mina didn't tell the entire story in that journal of hers. I mean, let's be honest. If you were Dracula, and you could morph into a wolf, vanish through a crack, materialize out of mist, and grow younger at will, would you appear in the bedchamber of the woman you wished to woo as a fiendish, old monster? I think not. You'd present your youngest, most handsome and charming self, just as the vampire women at your castle appeared to Jonathan as ravishing beauties.

If you ask me, there was a whole lot more going on in that bedchamber than Mina revealed. It's easy to see why. Mina was admired and respected by her husband and all the men in her life, considered the epitome of Victorian innocence and virtue. If Mina fell madly, scandalously in love with the vampire they were all trying to destroy, do you think she would have admitted it to them? Or to Bram Stoker, for that matter?

We can identify with Mina's dilemma today. We like our vampires young, hot, and sexy: charismatic, tortured heroes who love us desperately and struggle to rise above their darkest desires to keep us safe. That's the Dracula we ladies want visiting our bedchambers in the middle of the night. Where do you think Edward got the idea to climb in through Bella's window while she was sleeping?

Bram Stoker's Dracula is unquestionably the forerunner of today's vampire craze. Vampire legends have existed in cultures across the globe since ancient times, but it's the 19th century European vampire that's endured and thrived. There were a variety of literary depictions of vampires before the infamous Count. But who remembers the German poems The Vampire or Lenore? Has anyone actually read Rymer's Varney the Vampyre or Le Fanu's Carmilla? Yet anyone, anywhere, can tell you who Count Dracula is, where he lives, what he wears, and what he looks like.

Vampires didn't used to be romantic or sexy. The early vampires of Eastern European folklore were hideous ghouls that rose from the grave to suck blood from the living. Their reputation began to change on that fateful summer night in 1816 at Lake Geneva's Villa Diodati, when four writers challenged each other to invent a scary tale. Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein. John Polidori created the smooth, seductive vampire Lord Ruthven who bore an uncanny resemblance to his friend Lord Byron. The modern myth of the vampire was born.

But if Polidori planted the seed, it was Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897) that took root. Admittedly, Stoker's Count--as portrayed in that novel--wasn't sexy, although he did have a certain dash and a way with words. But Stoker had to fit in with the mores of the time. Sex was considered an irresistible taboo with terrifying consequences (both syphilis and childbirth could be deadly.) Victorian women couldn't show their legs; even piano legs were covered by pantaloons. "There is nothing base in the book," Stoker once famously said. Indeed, there is not a whiff of romance on the pages and no actual sex. But it's all about biting and sucking, and runs rampant with sexual innuendo. The novel safely indulged the dark desires of the sexually repressed Victorians by replacing sex with blood exchange and portraying Dracula as a monster.

That image was changed forever by the movies. The 1931 film Dracula starred Bela Lugosi as a suave, elegant charmer in formal wear. In the countless film, TV, stage, and literary adaptations that followed, that image remained constant. Dracula developed a conscience, falling in love with the women he lusted after. The world embraced this handsome, tortured, romantic hero, giving rise to a new genre which has dispersed into every corner of our culture, inspiring such recent favorites as Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles, Buffy, Twilight, and True Blood.

Why is the world in love with the vampire romance? Because, in an age with such rapid technological advances, it's only through our dreams and nightmares that we can experience the thrill of fear and awe again. And because vampires have everything we want. They're good-looking, powerful, dangerous, immortal, eternally youthful, and not bound by any laws or morality except their conscience, if they have one. In a culture that's youth and sex obsessed, what could be better than to be young and beautiful and able to indulge one's dark desires and sexual urges without penalty ... forever?

I admit: if a handsome vampire crawled through my bedroom window, professed his love, and wanted a taste of my blood--like Mina Harker--I'd be hard pressed to refuse. But don't tell that to my husband.