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Pangs of Pleasure, Pangs of Guilt: Girls, Sexuality and Desire

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Girls in Contemporary Vampire Fiction

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Abstract

This chapter focuses on sexuality and carnal desire in contemporary vampire fiction for adolescent women. Turning to the tropes of female virginity, blood consumption and sexual awakening in the vampire series by P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast, and Richelle Mead, it explores the questions of girl sexual agency, pleasure and autonomy, transpiring through the accounts of the young heroines’ sexual debuts. The larger discourses on the social regulation of female sexual expression and the complex negotiations between the sexually knowing and the respectable girl are further articulated through the juxtaposition of human, dhampir and vampire sexual mores and politics of desire, and explored through the power plays embedded in slut shaming.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    See Kokkola (2013, 21–41), for a comprehensive explanation of the controversies produced by the intertwining of the discourses of adolescence and sexuality.

  2. 2.

    Acknowledging the pervasiveness of the idea of sex and sexuality as the organising principle of vampire fiction, William Hughes (2014) warns against the potentially reductive effect of this perspective on the scholarly interrogations of the vampire figure.

  3. 3.

    Both Bernhardt-House (2016, 164) and Wilson Overstreet (2006, loc. 39) exclude the figure of the werewolf from the body of “sexy” Gothic figures, particularly in comparison to the vampire (cf. Dyer 2002, 75). However, many contemporary narratives cast lycanthropic characters as erotically desirable and highly sexualised.

  4. 4.

    Importantly, Crossen emphasises that Buffy is far from consistent in depicting sexual activities as problematic, as the show contains examples of positive teenage sexual experience (2010, 115–116).

  5. 5.

    See Shepherd 2013, 31, for other examples of scholarly analyses of the interconnection between sex and violence in Buffy. Shepherd further underlines the difference between the representations of hetero- and lesbian sex in the series, and emphasises that the latter as depicted in positive and unthreatening terms (2013, 36–40).

  6. 6.

    Other, competing readings of Twilight’s representations of female sexuality that identify the moments of women’s agency and empowerment include Rana (2014) and Bellas (2017, ch. 3).

  7. 7.

    Referring to the figure of the vampire Caroline, Nicol further points to the heroine’s awareness of the injustice of double sexual standards, and praises Caroline’s agency over her sexuality (2016, 15). For a detailed analysis of the character of Caroline, see Schubart (2018, ch. 5).

  8. 8.

    See Farrimond 2013 and 2016 for a concise overview of the feminist scholarship on virginity.

  9. 9.

    For the trope of virginity in the horror movies, see e.g. Falconer 2010. Virginity within contemporary vampire narratives has been analysed in relation to True Blood (Zehentbauer and Santos 2016; Farrimond 2016), Twilight (Allan and Santos 2016; Crossen 2010) and The Vampire Diaries (Nicol 2016).

  10. 10.

    The concept of virginity is also important in the discourses of young masculinities; however, these narratives are markedly different from the ones concerning girls. For an interesting examination of the male virgin in fantasy/Gothic tales, see Farrimond (2016), Crossen (2010), Zehentbauer and Santos (2016) and Allan and Santos (2016).

  11. 11.

    A common understanding of the term “virgin” as a woman who has yet to have her first vaginal intercourse with a man is both gendered and heteronormative, and presents limitations in analysing the highly complex notion of virginity. While prevalent in the series under analysis, this understanding is sometimes challenged and subverted, which I hope to point out in this chapter.

  12. 12.

    The motif of a girl concealing her virginal/sexually inactive status is a recurrent one in the stories for young people (see e.g. Farrimond 2013; Kokkola 2013, 50). In YA vampire fiction, it emerges for instance in the literary version of The Vampire Diaries, as well as in Vampire Academy, where the respective central heroines Elena and Rose are virgins. Yet, being as they are popular, desirable and confident, they are regarded as sexually active or even promiscuous; and they appear to be mostly content with such a persona.

  13. 13.

    Earlier in the series, a vampire high priestess openly criticises fundamental Christianity as a religion that vilifies pleasure and connects it to guilt and fear (Betrayed 13).

  14. 14.

    Except for the case of feral red vampires and fledglings who drink blood and eat flesh, and whose feedings are narrated as repulsive acts of violation with no erotic undertones.

  15. 15.

    See e.g. Dyer (2002, 75–76), Nakagawa (2011), Hughes (2014) Piatti-Farnell (2014, 70–73), Byron and Deans (2014, 90), Rana (2014, 124), Smith and Moruzi (2020, 612). In the vampire narratives advocating conservative sexual values, abstinence from blood and sex often go hand in hand. As observed by Ní Fhlainn in relation to Twilight, blood and semen are subjected to similar regulations, with both blood and sexual cravings narrated as dangerous and in need of containment (2019, 231).

  16. 16.

    Zoey’s best friend Stevie Rae compares them to Romeo and Juliet (Betrayed 73).

  17. 17.

    For the ways in which the relations of power embedded in the account of female sexual awakening in the literary series The Southern Vampire Mysteries (Harris 2001–2013) have become re-scripted in its televised adaptation True Blood, see Stasiewicz-Bieńkowska (2019).

  18. 18.

    In “Mary Sues, Sluts and Rapists”, Gaïane Hanser construes this scene explicitly as rape, and criticises the series for failing to reflect upon the abusive dimension of Zoey and Loren’s union (2018, 10–11). I, however, argue to the contrary and claim that in this particular storyline, the novels clearly emphasise the wrongness of Loren’s actions.

  19. 19.

    Discussing Rachel Caine’s Morganville Vampires (2006–2014), Priest identifies this series as exceptional among other YA vampire texts as it “demonstrate[s] awareness of the uneasiness generated by placing teenage girls alongside older, adult vampires” (2013, 67).

  20. 20.

    An interesting case of a literalisation of a predatory female pedagogue can be found in the first season of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. In the episode “Teacher’s Pet”, a female teacher seduces and then imprisons male students to have sex with them and then devour them as she turns into a monstrous giant praying mantis (S1E4).

  21. 21.

    In their interpretation of the scene, Smith and Moruzi point out that Dimitri burdens Rose with the decision whether to keep or reveal their secret (2018, 14).

  22. 22.

    Kokkola notes that Nordic literary works for young readers generally offer more liberal perspectives on adolescent sex (2013, 6–7).

  23. 23.

    As noted by Shepherd, Buffy is further compelled to “atone” for acting on her desires when she must deliver a fatal blow that sends her beloved straight into hell (2013, 32). For an insightful analysis of Bella’s monstrous pregnancy, see e.g. Kokkola (2011).

  24. 24.

    Playing upon the trope of the vampire’s alleged infertility, some vampire stories are built around an unplanned and “miraculous” pregnancy. Notably, it is typically a vampire male who turns out to be capable of biological procreation, usually with a woman of another species. The two well-known examples involve the vampire Edward, who impregnates his human wife Bella in Twilight, and the vampire Niklaus Mikaelson of the TV show The Originals (The CW 2013–2018), who becomes a father after a one-night-stand with werewolf Hayley Marshall.

  25. 25.

    However, even in the case of Adrian and Sydney sex is followed by disastrous events. In a post-coital moment they lose a phone that becomes a proof of their relationship and results in Sydney’s imprisonment by the Alchemists.

  26. 26.

    Kokkola is careful to note that her remarks regard English; other languages can reveal different understandings of sexual initiation.

  27. 27.

    Cf. Nicol’s (2016) remarks on The Vampire Diaries, where she contrasts the show’s imageries of female sexual initiation with those conjured in Twilight and Buffy. Nicol draws attention to the “uncertain” status of the central heroine Elena who might or might not be a virgin upon meeting her first—although not her last—true vampire love, emphasising that female chastity is depicted as a matter of relatively little importance in the show.

  28. 28.

    For an interesting discussion of the sexualised predatory female figure in Twilight see Kokkola (2011, 173–175). See also Stasiewicz-Bieńkowska (2019), for the study of “extreme” female sexuality in True Blood.

  29. 29.

    Female sexuality can also be used by the forces of good as it is the case in the story of A-ya, a perfect maiden created by the magic of Cherokee Wise Women in order to defeat an immortal serial rapist Kalona. A-ya lures Kalona underground with the promise of intimacy and imprisons him there in a centuries-long embrace (Untamed 220). Another example can be found in Jeaniene Frost’s Night Huntress (2007–present), a series that caters to an adult readership, in which the vampire huntress Cat lures the monsters in with her highly sexualised performance. In both cases, female erotic allure is still a threatening power, used as a trap and a weapon.

  30. 30.

    For more examples of scholarly works on slut shaming as a regulating practice in girl teen and tween cultures, see Ringrose and Renold 2012, 335–336.

  31. 31.

    See Attwood (2007), and Ringrose and Renold (2012), for reflections upon the possibilities of re-signification and re-appropriation of the word “slut” for the feminist agenda.

  32. 32.

    Even after they have become friends, Zoey and her circle occasionally refer to Aphrodite as “skanky” (see e.g. Untamed 154). Hanser suggests that this development presents “the stigma of a bad reputation” as impossible to shake (2018, 7).

  33. 33.

    It is against these restrictions that the two leading heroines rebel. Nonetheless, ultimately the lower status of dhampirs and their subjugation to the Moroi remain largely unchallenged.

  34. 34.

    Paradoxically, while tarnishing the involved dhampir’s reputation, intercourse with a Moroi is believed to be the only way for dhampirs to reproduce—a highly desirable outcome as the numbers of guardians need to be constantly replenished.

  35. 35.

    In one of the early scenes in the Vampire Academy movie (Waters 2014), Lissa admonishes Rose for flirting with vampire Jesse, who apparently has a “terrible personality”. “Jesse has a personality? I didn’t know”, Rose replies jokingly, clearly signalling that she is only interested in Jesse’s physical charms.

  36. 36.

    Admittedly, as Dimitri and Rose are falling in love Dimitri might have an underlying—if yet not entirely realised—motive in preventing her erotic exploits.

  37. 37.

    The question of female reputation surfaces again when Rose’s guardian mother drags her out of a party, scolding her for wearing an attractive dress and talking to a Moroi man. The matter emerges also in Rose’s conversation with Lissa when the latter denies having had sex with her new love interest Christian, at the same time implying Rose’s promiscuity: “No! … I told you that already. God … Not everyone thinks—and acts—like you.” (VA 108).

  38. 38.

    Interestingly, in a later volume of the series, Spirit Bound, Rose invites her vampire boyfriend Adrian to feed off her in an erotically charged scene in her bedroom. Formerly terrified of being branded a “blood whore”, in this encounter Rose rejects social labels and restrictions, and is willing to act on her long suppressed desire.

  39. 39.

    Cf. Hanser (2018, 6) who notes that in House of Night, slut shaming occurs primarily among female protagonists.

  40. 40.

    Interestingly, in Bloodlines the presence of “blood whores” is used as a way to engage with the debates on prostitution, women’s rights and safety. The dhampir leader Lana explains her decision to allow prostitution in her community: “[T]here are some girls who would do it anyway. They’d sneak off, live somewhere unsafe. I’d rather keep everything under my control” (RC 142).

  41. 41.

    See e.g. Piatti-Farnell (2014, 87), Allan and Santos (2016, 72), Wilson Overstreet (2006, loc. 466, 470) and Stasiewicz-Bieńkowska (2019).

  42. 42.

    In a similar vein, the question of the male sexual debut remains largely undiscussed, confirming, yet again, the understanding of virginity studies as “a field dominated by the idea that virginity is female” (Allan et al. 2016, 11; see also Allan and Santos 2016, 68–69).

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Stasiewicz-Bieńkowska, A. (2021). Pangs of Pleasure, Pangs of Guilt: Girls, Sexuality and Desire. In: Girls in Contemporary Vampire Fiction. Palgrave Gothic. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-71744-5_4

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