A vigorous, witty look at the undead as cultural icons in 19th- and 20th-century England and America. Though vampires haven't lacked fans or literary chroniclers, they too often thirst for intelligent appreciators: Most foragers in the vampirical vein are mere sensationalists. Not so Auerbach (English/Univ. of Pennsylvania; Communities of Women, 1978, etc.). Here she offers a challenging and mercifully succinct survey of the roles vampires have assumed in English and American society by examining novels, plays, and films in which they've figured. ""There is no such creature as 'The Vampire,'"" the author argues, praising their ""supreme adaptability"" to an ever-changing body politic. Likewise, this historian of the bloodthirsty shows a remarkable dexterity herself in appraising the vampire in his/her full mutability--from Dracula's chosen style of ""lonely rigidity,"" which in Auerbach's view ""repudiates the homoerotic intimacy with which earlier vampires had insinuated themselves into mortality,"" to the lesbian ""guardian angel"" school of vampirism alive in Jewelle Gomez's The Gilda Stories, where bloodsucking and the black arts are ""purged of aggression"" and instead celebrate ""empathy"" among women. The book is highly brow'sable: Oscar Wilde fanciers will gravitate to Auerbach's fascinating equation of Draculaism with the lot of ""the fallen Wilde, a monster of silence and exile""; movie buffs will head for her extended discussion of John Badham's Dracula (1979); and feminists should pay particular attention to the scholar's reclamation of this traditionally male ""horror"" genre territory--a reclamation made with brio yet due caution. One could wish for a more thoroughgoing reckoning of the impact and implications of the TV soap opera Dark Shadows. And the introduction leans in a personal direction that could (but does not) fruitfully inform the more straightforwardly lit-critical writing that follows. There's little reason to quibble, however, over this smart and snappy scholarly adventure story.