Time and the Vampire: The Idea of the Past in Carmilla and Dracula
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This chapter explores the ways in which vampires encapsulate the idea of the past by means of their ambiguous temporality. Prisoners of a past they can never escape, vampires are yet also able to transcend the tyranny of embodied decay. The vampire emerged as a figure of intimate predation in popular fiction during the mid- to late nineteenth-century, with Irish writer Sheridan Le Fanu’s novella Carmilla (1871), followed by compatriot Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897). A key representational figure for exploring the ambiguities of power, in these texts the vampire features as both predator and prey. Later nineteenth-century vampire fiction contributed to a resurgence in the literary celebrations of Gothic excess that had been published at least a century earlier by Walpole, Edgeworth and Radcliffe. With their precursors, Le Fanu and Stoker convey a spectacle of European aristocracy in decline, while also evoking the idea of the past in inherently conflicted terms. The “history” of the vampire is presented in Carmilla and Dracula through multiple perspectives and interwoven chronological shifts, through which the recountability of human adventure—inflected with modern notions of reason and scientific investigation—comes face to face with the ravages of a living supernatural past. Both hosts and hostages of ancient familial legacy, immune to decay and capable of strange reproduction through intimate conquest, as Carmilla suggests, at least in fictional terms, only the vampire bloodline never dies.
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