In what ways does the novel Dracula play upon fears of infection and contagion? How does it represent sexually transmitted disease? Can it be viewed as a veiled reflection on the horrors of syphilis? Can the resurgence of vampire literature and cinema since the 1980s be linked to AIDS panic?

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The vampires are clearly seen as spreading the disease and infection of vampirism throughout the globe. Dracula and his vampires come to London precisely because it is a major port city from which they can fan out and create an army of vampires that will infiltrate the entire planet. The...

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The vampires are clearly seen as spreading the disease and infection of vampirism throughout the globe. Dracula and his vampires come to London precisely because it is a major port city from which they can fan out and create an army of vampires that will infiltrate the entire planet. The major story line is the fight to stop the vampire "contagion" from spreading.

The disease metaphor is overt: women who have been infected with the "bite" of the vampire are given blood transfusions to cure them (this is a little jarring, as there is no concept of blood types in the novel—people give blood to each other willy nilly). The vampire's bite is clearly a metaphor for diseased sex, and it does reflect a horror of sexually transmitted diseases such as syphilis.

It is possible that the current growth of interest in vampirism is connected to the 1980s AIDS epidemic, but as testing and treatment have alleviated fear of AIDS, it's evident that interest in vampirism transcends that particular issue. Fear of people or beings who are "not like us" transmitting "diseases" that will destroy society as we know it seems to be a universal anxiety.

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Dracula can easily be read as a cautionary tale about the dangers of infection and epidemic, particularly of sexually transmitted diseases. Dracula arrives in England like the plague, transported by a plague ship, finding in London anonymity and plentiful victims. The connection to STDs is pretty plain, too—after Mina is attacked by Dracula, she calls herself “unclean”—“’Unclean, unclean! I must touch him or kiss him no more. Oh, that it should be that it is I who am now his worst enemy, and whom he may have most cause to fear.’” (There is some speculation that Stoker himself died of syphilis.) Vampire stories remain popular in part because they dwell on the forbidden intersection of sex and death.

There is, I think, a real connection between the advent of AIDS in the 1980s and the prevalence of vampire stories (both novels and films) during this time. I would point you to Susan Sontag’s book Illness as Metaphor and AIDS and Its Metaphors (New York: Anchor Books, 1990) for a fuller discussion of the complex relationship between cinema, vampirism, sexuality, death/AIDS.

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