EVIL SISTERS by Bram Dijkstra


The Threat of Female Sexuality and the Cult of Manhood
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 An ideologically framed study of women as sexually insatiable vampires in the racist culture of Europe and the United States at the turn of the last century. Dijkstra (American and Comparative Literature/Univ. of Calif., San Diego) made his first pass at this theme in his 1986 Idols of Perversity (not reviewed), a lusciously illustrated study of the femme fatale in art and literature. This time out he seeks to illuminate how late 19th century evolutionary theory and biomedical lore conditioned the representation of women in popular and high culture: ``The theory of evolution, given its emphasis on `natural selection' and it assumption of the existence of inherent hierarchies of inequality among all beings, gave a dramatic ring of truth to the period's imagery of women as prowling sexual animals, veritable spermatophages in search of nourishment.'' Women, Dijkstra argues, were seen as vampires (e.g., the ``evil sisters'' in Dracula's castle) thirsty for the lifeblood of men--which is to say, successful white men, the ``evolutionary elite.'' The ensuing blood- and sperm-letting saps the vital essence of male culture, which, in contrast with the lustful quiddity of woman, is cerebral and spiritual. Dijkstra also makes a case for the idea that blood and semen were symbols of capital, the life-source of modern commerce, and that these vamps were linked in the popular imagination with the ``lower orders'' of the day (meaning foreigners--like Dracula--and non-white races), who threatened to weaken the ``Anglo-Aryan'' bloodline. The author does not so much argue his case as bludgeon his reader into submission with example after example, offering ingenious readings of some famous but mostly little-known films and works of fiction, from Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar to Mein Kampf. Dijkstra, who writes about sex with irrepressible verve, could be Camille Paglia's twin brother, kidnapped in childhood by moralists and raised in the cult of race-gender-and-class guilt. (37 illustrations, not seen)

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-394-56945-1
Page count: 496pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 1996