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 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 mutabilityfrom 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 browsable: 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 territorya 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.

Pub Date: Oct. 31st, 1995
ISBN: 0-226-03201-9
Page count: 216pp
Publisher: Univ. of Chicago
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 1995