Table of Contents
Introduction • Steve Berman
The Tattered Boy • Lee Thomas
Yours is The Right to Begin • Livia Llewellyn
Self-Portrait as Jonathan Harker • Ed Madden
Seven Lovers and the Sea • Damon Shaw
The Calm of Despair • Jason Andrew
Bloofer Ladies • Elka Cloke
The Powers of Evil • William P. Coleman
My Arms Are Hungry • Traci Castleberry
Protect the King • Jeff Mann
Hungers • Rajan Khanna
The Letter that Doomed Nosferatu • Steve Berman
Ardor • Laird Barron
A Closer Walk with Thee • Sven Davisson
Unhallowed Ground • Seth Cadin
Bram Stoker was a fan of Walt Whitman. Does that seem odd? I am not suggesting that Stoker was himself attracted to other men. But his devotion cannot, should not, be ignored by critics:
“When he was twenty-two, Stoker read and fell in love with Walt Whitman’s poetry, finding solace and joy between the covers of Leaves of Grass. And, like many fans, he wanted the connection that he felt to Whitman to be real. Late one night, cloaked in the comfort of darkness, Stoker poured his soul out to Whitman in a shockingly honest letter that described himself and his disposition. That letter, when Stoker finally mustered the courage to mail it, would begin an unexpected literary friendship that lasted until Whitman’s death.”1
Stoker’s idolization of one of the most prominent and lasting homoerotic literary voices ever known did not begin with blind appreciation. Few copies of the unabridged Leaves were available to British readers. But Stoker’s earlier dismissal of Whitman’s verse gave way to insight and awareness of the poet’s talent. To a government clerk with a fondness for literature, Whitman was mythical, supernatural, otherworldly. And seductive in his power.
Perhaps his appreciation became a direct influence on Stoker’s desire to write (the short stories began in 1872). Whitman returned Stoker’s letters (as mentioned in With Walt Whitman in Camden) with encouragement. At this time Whitman was no longer the vibrant man of his poems. He was more akin to the earlier views of the Count: aged but possessing an unmistakable charisma that demanded attention. Whitman’s blatant homoerotic elements did not fare well with much of the establishment and certainly many reviewers.
Years later, Stoker, involved with his Lyceum tour in Philadelphia, did finally meet his idol in the flesh. Dennis R. Perry considered the link between Whitman and Stoker’s most well-known novel in a 1986 Virginia Quarterly Review article. Most convincing to gay readers of both authors are the scenes from “Song of Myself” which may have influenced Stoker’s image prey’s mouth to the vampire’s breast.
Did Stoker ever remark about Whitman being a “poof”? I have yet to read any disparaging remarks by him. I suspect his involvement in the theater inured him to homosexuality.
Stoker had a deep fondness for the romantic elements of Gothic literature. This part of his tastes may have made his fascination with both Whitman and Henry Irving, dramatic and imposing actor and manager of the Lyceum troupe, utterly natural. Dracula cannot be honestly termed the first homoerotic vampire; in the course of the novel, he never sinks his teeth into a male victim—but the reason for Suffered from the Night will soon be apparent after a brief discussion of more queer-themed undead.
Samuel Coleridge’s “Christabel” is regarded as the first vampire poem in English literature…and its Sapphic elements cannot be ignored. Its influence on Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla, one of the most well-known homoerotic vampire tales ever written, cannot be denied and the story has not diminished in its allure despite the passage of over a century.
The first gay-male-themed vampire to survive the passage of time would be found in The House of the Vampire, a novella published in America a decade after Dracula. George Sylvester Viereck is probably more known today for his Nazi sympathies and his 1952 memoir of prison life Men into Beasts (which some consider among the first examples of the “gay pulp” genre) than for the verse that made him famous in the first two decades of the twentieth century or, indeed, his vampire novella. The House of the Vampire’s fiend, Reginald Clarke, preys upon the psyche of young artist Ernest Fielding, who is no stranger to a Hellenistic bond with men. Consider this exchange:
The strange personality of the master of the house had enveloped the lad’s thoughts with an impenetrable maze. The day before Jack had come on a flying visit from Harvard, but even he was unable to free Ernest’s soul from the obsession of Reginald Clarke.
Ernest was lazily stretching himself on a couch, waving the smoke of his cigarette to Reginald, who was writing at his desk.
“Your friend Jack is delightful,” Reginald remarked, looking up from his papers. “And his ebon-coloured hair contrasts prettily with the gold in yours. I should imagine that you are temperamental antipodes.”
“So we are; but friendship bridges the chasm between.”
“How long have you known him?”
“We have been chums ever since our sophomore year.”
“What attracted you in him?”
“It is no simple matter to define exactly one’s likes and dislikes. Even a tiny protoplasmic animal appears to be highly complex under the microscope. How can we hope to analyse, with any degree of certitude, our souls, especially when, under the influence of feeling, we see as through a glass darkly.”
“It is true that personal feeling colours our spectacles and distorts the perspective. Still, we should not shrink from self-analysis. We must learn to see clearly into our own hearts if we would give vitality to our work. Indiscretion is the better part of literature, and it behooves us to hound down each delicate elusive shadow of emotion, and convert it into copy.”
“It is because I am so self-analytical that I realise the complexity of my nature, and am at a loss to define my emotions. Conflicting forces sway us hither and thither without neutralising each other. Physicology isn’t physics. There were many things to attract me to Jack. He was subtler, more sympathetic, more feminine, perhaps, than the rest of my college-mates.”
“That I have noticed. In fact, his lashes are those of a girl. You still care for him very much?”
“It isn’t a matter of caring. We are two beings that live one life.”
“A sort of psychic Siamese twins?”
“Almost. Why, the matter is very simple. Our hearts root in the same soil; the same books have nourished us, the same great winds have shaken our being, and the same sunshine called forth the beautiful blossom of friendship.”
Ahh, “Indiscretion is the better part of literature” could have been spoken by Oscar Wilde.
Dracula conquered where so many other vampires (Polidori’s Lord Ruthven, Southey’s Oneiza, or even the infamous penny-dreadful Varney) faltered. Perhaps because Stoker’s novel found an ideal zeitgeist in Victorian British xenophobia and fears of contagion brought by foreigners. Perhaps the medical elements introduced into a profoundly supernatural tale possessed the lure of sciencefiction to the turn-of-the-century reader. Perhaps the potency of the sexual imagery meant that none could resist the taboo images it brought to mind. And let us not forget that love so many of us feel when reading horror.
None of this has changed, even though some twenty-first century readers might be distressed by the epistolary style of the novel and those early elements of the vampire folklore that have been discarded from the canon by later films and fiction. Yet every day of the year some website is offering a daily excerpt from Stoker’s book. Dracula does not die easily.
Beyond Viereck’s Reginald Clarke, modern and contemporary authors have deepened the role of vampire in the queer bestiary. Ann Rice treats them with an almost religious awe. The lost Jeffrey N. McMahan still owes readers more stories, though it seems sadly unlikely we’ll see them. Jewelle Gomez ensures that ethnicity is not forgotten. The author formerly known as Poppy Z. Brite created one of the most vocal and youthful fan bases. Jeff Mann has never felt tied to the smooth androgyny of any bête noire.
But back to the vampire proclaimed king of his kind by the entertainment industry. Stoker’s novel has never been out of print, making it the second work of fiction to achieve this honor (the various permutations of the Bible being the first such work). More versions of Dracula have appeared in print, on the radio, on television programs and a commercials, and in cinematic and video releases than any other Western character, trailed only by that other Victorian creation, Sherlock Holmes (and how many times have these two figures meet on the page?). Dracula does not die easily.
So, after Lethe Press released an anthology queering Holmes (A Study in Lavender), I knew that we could not deny Dracula his due. I sought stories that would be interstitial, fill in the cracks in the original novel with gay themes. The sailors aboard the Demeter are no different than so many men who found comfort in the arms of each other. Mina and Lucy’s friendship on Stoker’s page is revealed to be more than sisterly. Not all the gypsies protecting the Count do so out of fealty; one among them succumbs to ardor. One or two authors went further, inspired by the effect Stoker’s work had on the oeuvre of horror that just so happens to feature gay characters.
But I have begged your patience for too long. Night has fallen—somewhere in the world. Don’t bother to bolt windows and doors or drape fragrant strands of garlic. If you are reading this anthology, your desire is to encounter nosferatu, the vampyre, Homo sanguinus. If you happen to get a paper cut while turning the page, do not forget to share the little crimson drops with someone who you cannot resist.
1 Meredith Hindley, Humanities, November/December 2012, Volume 33, Number 6