Vampires and Beauty
“I lay quiet, looking out under my eyelashes in an agony of delightful anticipation. The fair girl advanced and bent over me till I could feel the movement of her breath upon me. Sweet it was in one sense, honey-sweet, and sent the same tingling through the nerves as her voice, but with a bitter underlying the sweet, a bitter offensiveness, as one smells in blood.”
Despite what you may have thought based on the title, this post will have nothing to say about the Twilight series or any of the vampire TV shows it has inspired. The vampires I refer to do not sparkle in the sunlight or hang out in high schools. Rather, the vampires I want to consider come from the story which has shaped so much of vampire lore over the past century. I’m referring of course to Bram Stoker’s classic, Dracula.
One of my favorite works of fiction, Stoker’s story is a chilling tale told primarily through entries in the journals of several of its main characters. The creepy narrative unfolds day by day as we learn about the monster that is Count Dracula. Our knowledge surpasses that of the characters only inasmuch as we get to peer into the journals of each of them. In addition to effectively telling a chilling story, Stoker gives us some things to reflect on. His is the influential work which has inspired such aspects of vampire lore as their fear of garlic and crucifixes, their inability to see themselves in the mirror, and their ability to transform into bats. But you don’t become an influential work without being a fine piece of writing. And the thought this story provoked which I want to ponder is what we learn from vampires about beauty.
Dracula, being a vampire, feeds on blood. It’s what gives him his strength, his vitality. When he has gone awhile without feeding on a person’s blood, he becomes more pale and his countenance lacks its usual vigor. One of his victims is a young woman named Lucy. Lucy’s is one of the journals the writings of which we’re privy to, so we get to watch her encounters with Dracula from hers and her friends’ perspectives. Despite numerous blood transfusions and the best efforts of her friends Dr. Van Helsing and Dr. John Seward, (spoiler alert) Lucy begins transforming into a vampire and eventually dies. Only Van Helsing is aware of the transformation that took place in Lucy before she died. Only he realized, or at least speculated rightly, that the bite marks on her neck were caused by a vampire. He alone understood what the growth of her canine teeth meant.
As the days passed following her death and before her burial, several of the characters remark at the beauty of her appearance. She looked healthier than she did in her final living days. After she has been dead and buried a week, Van Helsing seeks confirmation for his belief in Lucy’s transformation and takes Dr. Seward to her coffin for evidence that she is among the undead. The first visit, at night, reveals an empty coffin. The second visit, during the day, reveals as one would expect, Lucy’s body. Convinced that her absense during the first visit wasn’t the result of the theft of her body, Dr. Seward is struck by her appearance. He exclaims at the sight of her, “There lay Lucy, seemingly just as beautiful as we had seen her the night before her funeral. She was, if possible, more radiantly beautiful than ever; and I could not believe that she was dead. The lips were red, nay redder than before; and on the cheeks was a delicate bloom.”
The vampiress is a beautiful creature. Its beauty is a seductive beauty as evidenced by the quote from a character who nearly became the victim of another of Dracula’s creation at the beginning of this post. The characters in Stoker’s story can’t help but be drawn to them. But the beauty is a façade. True beauty is that which is good and true. Vampires represent a lie. Their beauty, though it appeals to one’s sensuous desires, isn’t real. The reality is that they’re undead. The reality is that the vampires use their appeal in order to lure in their victims.
In his work, Art for God’s Sake, P. G. Ryken says, “God’s aesthetic standards include goodness, truth, and beauty.” The vampire conveys only one of these. Ryken describes the importance of truth as a criterion, saying, “it penetrates the surface of things to portray them as they really are.” Thus, while the vampire is outwardly beautiful, the beauty is a lie.
While initially struck and enraptured by the undead Lucy’s appearance, the horrors is that they realized she is capable of bringing them back to their senses. The characters who have seen her undead, wandering the streets at night victimizing small children, understand that her beauty is outward only and isn’t true. Though she lie in the coffin more beautiful than they remembered her while she was living, they know she must be destroyed to preserve that which is good and that which is true. So they instill the method of vampire destruction that has become so well known: they drive a stake through her heart. As she moves from the realm of the undead to the dead, Dr. Seward remarks, “There, in the coffin lay no longer the foul Thing we had so dreaded and grown to hate that the work of her destruction was yielded as a privilege to the one best entitled to it, but Lucy as we had seen her in her life, with her face of unequalled sweetness and purity. True that there were there, as we had seen them in life, the traces of care and pain and waste; but these were all dear to us, for they marked her truth to what we knew.”
What the characters of Stoker’s story come to realize and what we must wrestle to grasp is that beauty is only beautiful when it reflects truth and goodness.
Also, it doesn’t involve dazzling high school girls by glittering in the sunlight.