About 20 years ago, (yes, go ahead, do the math) I wrote a high school term paper on Dracula, outlining the inherent symbolism of the tale. Turns out most of it was about OMGSEX. As I was re-reading it for this post, (yes, I still have the rough draft and all my notes) I realized that the seeds of Dracula and Twilight have a lot more to do with each other than it might first seem possible. It’s actually kind of interesting, if you’ll bear with me.
In one corner we have Bram Stoker. A strict Protestant, he was wandering around during the Victorian era, well known for its repressive atmosphere. His wife was ‘frigid’, as they said back then, refusing his bed after their first, and only, child was born. A theater manager, hobnobbing with Oscar Wilde, Stoker turned to more adventurous women when his own bed grew cold. At the time Dracula was published, he contracted syphilis.
In the other corner, we have Stephenie Meyer. While she resides in a time when much of society is considerably more free in their ideas of sex than the Victorians, Ms. Meyer is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Mormons, too, have a strict moral code that many see as repressive, especially in regards to women and sexual practices outside of marriage.
With such similar moralistic backgrounds, it actually comes as little surprise that these two authors were both drawn to write about vampires. For Stoker, there was almost no precedent for his work. Instead, he was drawn to various scattered myths, gathering them to create the modern view of vampires. Meyer, too, combined several alternate versions of vampires into her own creations, but the fact that they both chose these blood-sucking creatures of the night is quite telling.
And now I’ll get to the more juicy stuff, as it were. I know this is what you’ve been waiting for.
According to critics, “[Dracula's] appeal derives from its images of murder, exploitation, necrophilia, sadism, chauvinism, and oral sex.” Examples of this can be seen throughout the book.
Necrophilia is on display quite plainly in the beguiling nature of both Dracula and his lamia wives, all quite dead, despite their animated facade. Chauvinism is expected in a book of this time, of course, but the men in the book are particularly dismissive of a woman’s place in doing anything except being pure, chaste wives. And the oral sex? Last time I checked, there was a whole lot of sucking going on, with blood standing in for ‘other’ fluids and the dental penetration standing in for, well, you know.
As for the characters themselves, the mortal men are, for the most part, faceless stand-ins for Stoker himself, all sharing the same views on women, and proceeding with their vampire hunt with little argument amongst themselves as to procedure, etc., so I’m going to focus here on Dracula and the mortal women in the tale.
Dracula is our classic Victorian rake. Rich, entrancing, and possessed of a “glittering eye”, women “fall” by being associated with him, succumbing to his spell. When his condition is passed on to them, these women become outcast from society, in this case “outcast” means becoming one of the undead. For example, the beautiful, pure, and sweet Lucy Westenra becomes a seductive predator of little children after she dies and rises as a vampire. She requires her noble suitors to kill her and free her soul.
Our rake has his eyes truly set on Mina Harker, though, who seems completely incapable of caring for herself, requiring a bevvy of men to look after her as well. She even asks them to kill her rather than let her become a vampire. Unlike so many strong women in literature who gather the courage to take their own lives when faced with a fate worse than death, Mina depends on the men’s strength.
If we take these ideas, these characters, and bring them to the modern era, we most definitely arrive at Twilight. Let me explain.
For Edward, Bella is his Mina, the irresistible girl who is so unable to take care of herself that she needs men to support her. In other words, easy prey. Her frailty manifested in an inability to walk a flight of stairs without tripping over her own two feet, Bella is held up as chaste and beautiful, with her own band of suitors, here in the form of werewolves, ready to protect her from the evil vampires.
Yet Bella is drawn to Edward, nonetheless. Where she is weak, she clings to his strength, pulled in by what the glittering skin, rather than eye, of this particular brand of vampirism. A rake is still a rake, no matter how he glitters, and some girls can’t resist the bad boys. In Bella’s case, her weakness are thrown into even greater relief and she appears even weaker in the face of Edward’s strength and desire. She is completely and utterly at his mercy, so much so that when he leaves her for a time, she becomes a shell of a thing, mirroring Lucy’s draining strength as Dracula feeds on her.
As for Edward himself, we find a slightly more compelling character. While we are surely dealing with the “older man, younger woman” scenario, his blood-lust remains at war with the moral code of the time he was born in and is fairly blatant symbolism for the war within himself between that same code and the sexual lust felt by the young man he was before being “turned”. He does not want Bella to become a vampire, thereby destroying the purity she has in various flavors. It is this inner conflict that separates him from his Gothic counterpart, as well as from his contemporaries at Forks High School.
Because I know I’ve gotten a bit long-winded here, I will sum all of this up with a few simple observations. For me, vampires symbolize sex in all its various incarnations, and in reading any story centered on the undead, I simply cannot help but wonder about the author’s own feelings on the subject and how it influenced their writing. Following that train of thought and knowing something of Stephenie Meyer’s religious beliefs, I cannot help but conclude that, much like Stoker, the restrictive nature of her own moral compass compressed her unexpressed feelings to the point where they were forced to find outlet in the dream of Edward that was the genesis for her series of novels.
And on a final note, having made the connection between oral sex and the bite of a vampire, between necrophilia and the undead nature of the vampire itself, I can’t help but wonder what is up with The Cullens and their justifications in sucking the blood of animals instead of humans. I’m just sayin’.