Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Vampire Comparison: The Heights versus The Modern


Early on in the article Why Am I So Changed by Lakshma Krishman there is a point made by the author regarding the origin of Vampires: 

“In the tradition of gothic fiends, the vampire is one of the oldest; its legends flourished in Eastern Europe long before gothic writers appropriated the vampire for their tales.”

This is a interesting point to keep in mind, as this article will explore the difference between Wuthering Heights Byronic character of Heathcliff to modern vampire heroes too see if there is a cultural trend toward what vampires represent. Specifically, that in the beginning, vampires were fiends.

In the case of Heathcliff, he is considered a character that is a “Byronic Hero”; someone that is dangerous, arrogant but also able to adapt despite their own ability to self destruct. This is shown with Heathcliff especially during the climax of Wuthering Heights, near the end of the book, where he is still ‘followed’ by Cahtrines ghost, still aimlessly exploring catacombs. Whats interesting about Haethcliff is that his death becomes very obvious too the reader, that is, the fact that it is impending, but it is revealed very slowly as his own demise is quite slow. And in his death is what I find lies an example of the largest differences between modern and classic vampires. Most notable, from the start of the 1900’s with the introduction of film.

Much like the classic 1922 film Nosferatue, Heathcliff faces many moral questions and issues. Unlike Nosferatu however, Heathcliff does not give in to this. In a sense, he exhibits more of European upper class sensibilities of honor, despite being quite mad and narcissistic at times.

Heathcliff however dies by being passive. He accepts his fate, much as how all classes ‘should’, according to a monarchy, accept their fate.Nosferatue breaks this mold; he tries to have what he should not. And when he reaches for it, he is destroyed by his greed,

Other characters, such as Lestat in the film adaptation of Interview with a Vampire, gives in to his desires throughout the course of his whole existence, until the very end, and only seems more or less rewarded as he does not die but in fact ends up renewed.  This is also interesting as around this time Vampires are becoming more and more beautiful in appearance in their American iterations, culminating, of course, with the Twilight series, which has characters described as beautiful in both adaptations; film and novel.

Interestingly enough, when comparing modern vampires to Wuthering Heights, one comes to a perfect comparison with Heathcliff and Edward, the most modern of popular vampires. Despite the character of Edward in the Twilight series being  declared as “overly Byronic” (Kirkus Reviews,, he ends up living a rather charmed life. He ends up out of harms way and with what he wants. He does not die a terrible death, in fact, he brings an air of romance. His desires are not only given to him, in a way, it becomes expected as one reads the series. There will be adversity, but it will be overcome by these beautiful, powerful creatures. In a way, this leads to entitlement, and of course, this upcoming generations sense of entitlement, especially among the privileged.

Heathcliff is not a Nosferatu or an Edward, but in the endgame of all these characters we see a trend with modern literature; making the vampire less of an outcast, less of high society, and more titillating. Where Heathcliff did not completely give in to his revenge and instead gave into his own insanity, Lestat feigns repentance. Where Heathcliff demonstrates abilities to rise and fall, Edward ends up taking honeymoons with his newborn child while reading the minds of people miles away. Beauty is retained for these new vampires of the masses, but for Heathcliff, in a way an example of high society values, in today's eyes, represents a Byronic hero type that I wish modern mediums would gravitate more toward; something that ends up as dust.

1 comment:

  1. Adam, I would agree with you. It does seem very trite for modern vampire tales to evolve the vampire into a “happy ending” plot device. I especially enjoyed the distinction you made between modern vampire tales and the pre-modern versions such as Nosferatu. In regards to Wuthering Heights, you mention the end of Heathcliff’s life as a substantial contrast of what you typically see now. You summed your ideas up nicely by stating that “And in his death is what I find lies an example of the largest differences between modern and classic vampires.”

    My only explanation as to why this would be is our societies seeming aversion to having to deal with things that do not end well. In the case of the traditional archetype of the vampire, this has taken the form of vampires that we “like” or that are “beautiful” as being worthy of survival. Whereas in past vampire movies, and in Heathcliff’s case, you have the main vampire protagonist usually meeting his/her demise. Furthermore, in the original film version of Dracula, you have a party hunting him down in order to destroy the vampire. While it still happens that you have hunters searching for vampires, in modern films they seem to be much less likely to hit the mark. Americans love to have neat and tidy endings, but is it really that simple? I am sure there are other plausible explanations, but why else has it become so pervasive for our vampire movies to end ‘positively’ for this traditionally tragic monster?

    Nice post!