In The Vampire in Nineteenth-Century English Literature, Carol Senf presents a specialized view of the vampire as symbolic of the concerns of women. Why, Senf asks, do twentieth-century portrayals of vampires differ so gready from the traditional supernatural menace of earlier fiction? She describes a few mildly fearsome, even attractive vampire figures from modern popular fiction and films, examines the vampire of eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century folklore and then moves to ninteenth-century fiction. She defines three types of fictional vampires: traditional blood suckers, ambiguous vampire figures who may not be supernatural, and metaphoric vampires in major novels. She compares folkloric and literary vampires and notes innovations by particular writers. Polidori's vampire, LeFanu's Carmilla, Stoker's Dracula, and Varney the Vampire of the penny dreadfuls are traditional. In "Carmilla" LeFanu created the first female vampire, who shows both weaknesses and strengths of women in nineteenth-century society. Senf suggests that the women vampires in Dracula also demonstrate symbolically the position of woman, including the "New Woman" of the 1890s. Ambiguous vampires include Headicliff and Catherine Earnshaw in Wuthering Heights and the woman who pretends to be a vampire in Stoker's The Lady of the Shroud (1909). Heathcliff, an outsider, rebel, and avenger, manifests many qualities of vampirism as does Catherine Earnshaw who, like all vampires, possesses power yet is powerless in society. Senf examines at length the metaphoric vampire figures in Jane Eyre (the mad wife); Bleak House (Vholes, Krook, and even Chancery that "becomes, by analogy, a kind of macro-vampire that draws all people under its control"); and Middlemarch (Bulstrode, Lydgate, and Rosamond). All destroy other human beings in one way or another. "Like other nineteenth-century writers," Senf states, "Eliot uses the superstitious belief in blood-sucking ghosts as a metaphor of the ways human beings prey on one another, ruining the happiness and sometimes the lives of their victims." Furthermore, "Eliot suggests that women resemble vampires because nineteenth-century education prepares them to be nothing but pampered and protected parasites." The vampire metaphor allowed major Victorian novelists a wide variety of critical comment on social and ethical problems not generally thought of as supernatural, such as marriage or business.
In her final chapter Senf returns to the problem of the sympathetic treatment of vampires in the twentieth-century. She offers three reasons for this: modern acceptance of mass killing, especially mass killing in war as shown widely on television; more ready acceptance of the rebel-figure, for some rebels in the modern world seem admirable; and easier acceptance of sensuality and sexuality.
Senf's analysis of vampire figures and metaphors is exhaustive. She achieves new insights concerning social and feminist issues in genre fiction like "Carmilla" and Dracula and new interpretations of major nineteenth-century novels, showing how writers of fiction skillfully used the figure of the vampire to depict the position of woman. Occasional lapses distract the reader from Senf's illuminating discussions. She has trouble deciding whether the surname of a character is "Crofton" or "Croftin." At least three stories noted briefly in the text are not included in the bibliography. In her recapitulation Senf belabors her description of the five stages in the development of woman in society, stages that are now common [End Page 322] knowledge. Burke and Hare are usually called "ghouls" not "vampires." Her publisher does Senf a disservice by not printing her name anywhere on the title page, at least in the copy received for review. Just her last name appears on the spine of the book, and her complete name is only on the dust jacket. Most distressing is the lack of an index. Without one, the mass of information drawn together by Senf and her insightful interpretations become inaccessible.