Dracula vs. "The Modern Vampire"

February 2, 2010
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You look at vampires from any given era and you see what [people] thought was

frightening. You see what they thought was sexy, and what they thought was

forbidden. – Eric Nuzum, NPR
Although over a century has passed since Bram Stoker published Dracula, the novel still influences our culture and society today, challenging many writers to try and recreate “the vampire” in a modern light. In Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight, the vampire’s image is changed from attacker to protector because of one of the main characters, Carlisle Cullen, head of the Cullen clan. Though Dracula and Carlisle are completely different in character, both books--and movies-- have had amazing success. How could this be? The answer is the image of “the vampire” is continually changing. Count Dracula and Carlisle Cullen differ because society’s image of the vampire has changed over time, shaping it into what the readers want.
When Stoker wrote Dracula, he never expanded on Count Dracula’s true origins, except to say that he is of the Szekely race and of noble descent. “Here I am noble. I am boyar, the common people know me, and I am master” (Stoker, Dracula 26). By leaving Dracula’s beginnings a mystery, Stoker heightens the reader’s curiosity and makes Dracula seem more dangerous. In Twilight, Carlisle’s origins are known. “[He] was born in London, in the sixteen-forties….just before Cromwell’s rule.” (Meyer, Twilight 331). In Stoker’s time, people wanted a creature that could scare them, thrill them, keep them on the edge of their seat, but in the Twilight crazed world of today, the vampire’s image is that of the courageous hero who abstains from committing the deeds his predecessors have done. People today aren’t looking for an image that scares them. Knowing Carlisle’s origins makes him seem even less danger and more appealing, and more viewers sympathize with him and his determination to be morally good.
Carlisle Cullen is the epitome of this new breed of good vampire. When he was bitten and “knew what he had become, he rebelled against it. He tried to destroy himself.” Then when he realized that he could live off of animals instead of humans, “he realized that there was an alternative to being the vile monster he feared.” (Meyer, Twilight 334). To help alleviate his guilt, he overcomes his thirst for human flesh and begins working as a doctor. “What I enjoy the most is when my…enhanced abilities let me save someone who would otherwise have been lost. It’s pleasant knowing that, thanks to what I can do, some people’s lives are better because I exist.” (Meyer, New Moon 34). When compared to this modern day vampire, Count Dracula seems like the devil personified. If he has a moral conscience, he never shows it, but instead roams the Transylvanian then English lands, where his helpless victims are killed or turned into vampires. "As the Count leaned over me and his hands touched me... a horrible feeling of nausea came over me, which, do what I would, I could not conceal." (Stoker, Dracula 24). Though both Dracula and Carlisle come from the same race, they completely differ in characteristics because today’s society in general finds heroes more appealing. They don’t want to be scared by the vampire, with its dreadful looks and evil ways; they want a sexy, gorgeous, more human character that they can sympathize with.
Lynn Neary’s NPR article The Modern Vampire: Bloodthirsty, But Chivalrous explains that Dracula sometimes “conjures up the images of a sexy, mysterious, debonair aristocrat.” However, in Bram Stoker’s novel, the Count is depicted with strong features, “a domed forehead” (23), profuse hair, massive eyebrows, and a heavy mustache that hides his cruel looking mouth and sharp teeth. This sounds nothing like the Dracula people think of today, where he as seen almost like a sex symbol. In her article, Suddenly Sexual Women in Dracula, Phyllis Roth explains, “Clearly, then, vampirism is associated not only with death, immortality, and orality, it is equivalent to sexuality….. [it is] a disguise for greatly desired and equally strongly feared fantasies” (414). Twilight’s Carlisle Cullen was created to fill this need. Bella Swan, Twilight’s female protagonist, says upon their second meeting, “I’d seen Dr. Cullen before, of course, yet I couldn’t help but be struck again by his youth, his outrageous perfection.” (Meyer, Twilight 322). Not only is he good but also smart, forever young, and handsome, the kind of guy that any woman would want.
Though Dracula and Carlisle both begin a “family,” the reasons they do so are completely different. Over the years, after drinking both men and especially women’s blood, Dracula forms a “family” of his own, three vampire wives. Though the women vampires are seductive, voluptuous, and beautiful, Dracula shows little interest in them and instead focuses his attentions on Lucy and then Mina. Unlike Dracula, Carlisle could be considered a “family man.” After centuries of helping humans and developing his diet of animal blood only, Carlisle, tired of being alone, thought of looking for a companion. “He’d been turning over the idea in his mind for several years, and he had almost decided to act-since he couldn’t find a companion, he would create one.” Though hungry for companionship, he was very hesitant to turn anyone because “he was loathe to steal anyone’s life away the way his had been stolen.” (Meyer, Twilight 341). However, when he found Edward, Twilight’s male protagonist, whose parents were already dead, dying of Spanish Influenza in 1918, Carlisle decided to act. “It was difficult.” Edward said of the act. “Not many of us have the restraint necessary to accomplish it. But Carlisle has always been the most humane, the most compassionate of us…I don’t think you could find his equal throughout all of history.”

Carlisle Cullen could be called “the modern Dracula.” The image of the evil, murderous, blood thirsty creature of the night has been replaced with the handsome, perfect, almost human hero who is constantly fighting the forces of evil, both internal and external. Though Stoker’s Dracula will forever be remembered as the creature that started the vampire craze, the vampire image has drastically changed based on what society desires. The image has changed to a kinder, gentler vampire because people in general are fascinated with the idea of dazzling beauty and impenetrable immortality, both qualities that Dracula lacks. This image, however appealing, will eventually change yet again because society’s wants will always change. Because the vampire is continually changing, it never ceases to amaze people at how much it differs from the original Dracula.

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Saphe said...
Apr. 30, 2014 at 5:57 pm
A well-written essay to the uttermost! Glad I stumbled across it. Good job supporting your claims; if this was a school paper, I would think this would've gotten a pretty darn good grade. :)
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