Copyright © 2011 Victoria Fairclough
The female physical form in the nineteenth century was granted a moral dimension as slenderness symbolised chastity and ethereality, while curvaceous and fleshy women were regarded as demonic daughters of Eve. According to Sandra Archimedes, ideal woman denied her sexuality in accordance with contemporary social and medical opinion that ‘“normal” women felt little or no sexual desire.’ The rejection of bodily appetite was achieved by engaging in the practice of self-starvation, resulting in the slender figure that symbolised a lack of physical desire, for both food and sexual interaction. Hilde Bruch describes ‘genuine anorexia’ as ‘characterized by the avoidance of any sexual encounter’, the behaviour of self-starvation being analogous to that of ideal Victorian femininity, to which regulation of sexual desire was fundamental. Those who did not follow this model were regarded as immoral and lacking in self-control. According to patriarchal conceptions, the voluptuous form denoted sexuality, corruption and the ability to devour the masculine figure. Thus the corpulent female deviated from conventional womanhood, instead becoming a vampiric monster as:
[w]omen’s hunger…with its symbolic associations with lust, aggression, and lack of self-control, finds its apogee in vampirism, which exaggerates cultural anxieties about consumption, especially female consumption, in the figure of the bloodthirsty vampire.
Peter Gay remarks upon the prevalence of this representation within the nineteenth century: no other historical period ‘“depicted woman as vampire, as castrator, as killer, so consistently, so programmatically, and so nakedly”’. Being a ‘negative representation of eating’ and thus a portrayal of perverse sexual desire, the vampire was an important figure in an era during which female bodily appetite was a significant concern. The division between the abstaining woman and the devouring vampire is depicted in Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) where Jonathan Harker draws a distinction between Mina Murray who ‘is a woman’ and the female vampires at Dracula’s castle who are described as ‘devils of the Pit!’
Nineteenth century vampiric literature associates cravings for food and sexual pleasure, placing them upon a moral continuum. In The Anthropology of Food and Body Carole Counihan associates:
[e]ating and intercourse [since] both involve passage across body boundaries of external substances…The instinctive drives for food and sex are similar, and they often take on overlapping symbolic associations. There is a life-long connection between oral and sexual gratification (Freud 1962).
In Dracula feeding and copulation are interchangeable as the female vampire’s hunger is ‘symbolically related to women’s predatory sexuality and aggression…[and] inseparable from her sexual desire.’ The vampiric bite is analogous to a lover’s kiss as the female vampires are urged to ‘“kiss”’ their victims, connecting the act and pleasures of eating with those of sexual activity. Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla (1872) also conflates sexuality and feeding. Death is both the result of the vampire’s bite and a euphemism for orgasm, although in this instance, both consuming body and consumed body are female: Carmilla tells Laura ‘“I live in your warm life, and you shall die–die, sweetly die–into mine.”’ Following her vampiric transformation, Laura will in turn ‘“draw near to others, and learn the rapture of that cruelty, which yet is love”’ as she will devour her victims and convert them to the living-dead through a cruel, yet loving bite.
The appetites for food and sex are united through the symbolic medium of the mouth, which, being the focus of consumption, is morally imbued. By fetishising the mouth, and therefore the erotic orality of the vampire, the nineteenth century novelist attempted to explain female sexuality. Such sexuality destabilised the contemporary binary of masculine/desiring/objectifying and feminine/desired/objectified. In Dracula Jonathan Harker observes the vampires’ ‘voluptuous lips’ and experiences ‘a wicked, burning desire that they would kiss [him] with those red lips’, while simultaneously experiencing the masculine fear of succumbing to female temptation. The exquisitely beautiful and tempting woman is also portrayed in Tess of the D’Urbervilles (1891) as Hardy calls attention to Tess Durbeyfield’s ‘pouted-up deep red mouth’. Alec D’Urberville accuses Tess of tempting him into sin as he ‘“was firm as a man could be till [he] saw those eyes and that mouth again – surely there never was such a maddening mouth since Eve’s”’. Likewise, in Elizabeth Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret (1862) the mouth is associated with sexual and Satanic devourment as ‘the ripe scarlet of the pouting lips’ gives Lady Audley’s portrait ‘something of the aspect of a beautiful fiend’. Attention to the mouth and lips reveals a preoccupation with the physically similar orifice of the female sexual organs. In Carmilla, the vampiric protagonist relates a dream in which she focuses upon Laura’s lips, which, as Carmilla ‘“was still upon [her] knees”’, suggests an act of lesbian sexuality.
Fetishising the mouth calls attention to the vampire as a creature preoccupied with devouring others, both through eating and performing sexual acts. In Dracula Jonathan’s longing for the vampires’ voluptuous mouths is portrayed in a scene imbued with sexual anticipation:
[l]ower and lower went her head as the lips went below the range of my mouth and chin and seemed about to fasten on my throat. Then she paused, and I could hear the churning sound of her tongue as it licked her teeth and lips, and could feel the hot breath on my neck…I could feel the soft, shivering touch of the lips on the supersensitive skin of my throat, and the hard dents of two sharp teeth, just touching and pausing there.
Being red and moist, the mouth of the female vampire symbolises the vaginal passage, yet in Dracula, while Lucy Westenra’s mouth is described as ‘voluptuous’, it also contains ‘pointed teeth’. The Oxford English Dictionary describes this vagina dentata as ‘a vagina equipped with teeth which occurs in myth, folklore, and fantasy, and is said to symbolize fear of castration, the dangers of sexual intercourse, of birth or rebirth’. The vampire’s soft and inviting mouth is guarded by these ‘brilliant white teeth’ that threaten to devour the phallus, should it attempt to penetrate. Therein can be observed the masculine anxiety of being consumed by a woman’s cannibalistic desire, while the descriptions of abnormal oral physiognomy indicate the vampires’ unnatural and threatening practice of simultaneously satiating hunger and sexual passion.
The sharp defences that guard the mouth, and symbolically the sexual organs, indicate a resistance to force-feeding and rape. Vampires feed and reproduce according to their own volition, using their teeth as weapons to devour those who would force them to consume. S. Weir Mitchell describes the hysterical woman being forcefully treated by a physician as ‘“a vampire who sucks the blood of the healthy people [, the medical practioners,] around her”’. This occurs within Stoker’s text when Lucy Westenra’s requirement for repeated blood transfusions causes the male donors to experience their ‘own life blood drawn away into the veins of the woman’. The physician cannot feed, or force anything to enter the body of the vampiric female; the only method of penetration is via the breast into the heart.
It is also via the heart, through the medium of blood, that vampires reproduce by means of a sexually charged act which is inseparable from that of consumption. Rather than the maternal production of offspring, reproduction occurs through blood, a non-maternal action that symbolises the female vampire’s aversion to motherhood and is exemplified through the reverse maternal image of infanticide. Instead of the infant feeding from its mother’s breast milk, female vampires consume the blood of a baby: Jonathon hears ‘a gasp and a low wail, as of a half-smothered child.’ The vampiric body is presented as non-productive in that it devours blood instead of producing milk. The lack of maternal instinct is exemplified by Lucy’s actions where ‘[w]ith a careless motion, she flung to the ground, callous as a devil, the child that up to now she had clutched strenuously to her breast’. As children are prepubescent, the female vampire rejects the maternal role while simultaneously ridding the world of non-sexual beings. In Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1847) Jane desires to free herself from the burden of a ‘little child’ who haunts her dreams: she ‘might not lay it down anywhere, however tired were [her] arms – however much its weight impeded [her] progress’. The child represents Jane’s non-sexual, anorexic self, the antithesis of her sexualised double, Bertha Mason whose ‘“[f]earful and ghastly”’ features are reminiscent ‘“[o]f the foul German spectre – the Vampyre”’. The child must depart from her in order to facilitate Jane’s entrance into the sexual adult world and assume Bertha’s place as Mr Rochester’s wife.
Non-maternal reproduction is also depicted in Le Fanu’s novel as the vampire Carmilla ‘lay in one of the handsomest rooms in the schloss’ within which ‘[t]here was a somber piece of tapestry opposite the foot of the bed, representing Cleopatra with the asps to her bosom’. The poisonous asp resembles a vampire whose teeth sink into its victim’s bosom as do Carmilla’s in Laura’s dream, an action that could be interpreted as a manifestation of repressed lesbian desire. Laura longs for Carmilla in a manner similar to the suicidal Cleopatra who places the asp to her breast in order to bring about her death. Rather than a method of feeding others, the breast becomes sexualised as the asp and Carmilla both draw blood from the victim’s chest, combining feeding, sex and death. Carmilla’s bite produces sensations that are described as both sexually pleasurable and death-like:
[o]ne, not unpleasant, but very peculiar…resembled the flow of an icy stream against her breast. At a later time, she felt something like a pair of large needles pierce her, a little below the throat, with a very sharp pain. A few nights after, followed a gradual and convulsive sense of strangulation; then came unconsciousness.
This encounter allows the possibility that the victim derives pleasure from being bitten as the ensuing sense of strangulation and unconsciousness suggests sexual climax and also death. Similarly, when Carmilla bites Laura her ‘heart beat faster’, her ‘breathing rose and fell rapidly’ and she experiences ‘a sense of strangulation…[that] turned into a dreadful convulsion’ and, like the General’s niece, she too ‘became unconscious.’
The life-draining rather than life-giving method of reproduction is emphasised in imagery of stone. In Dracula Lucy Westenra’s ‘brows were wrinkled as though the folds of the flesh were the coils of Medusa’s snakes’. The dead and the living are thus interchangeable with the changing force located within the woman who can make the sterile productive through the natural process of bearing children and also transform life to death through vampiric reproduction. The living-dead vampire Carmilla stands motionless, ‘[a] block of stone could not have been more still’, producing nothing, starving herself of conventional nourishment while feeding upon others which drains them of life in turn.
According to Le Fanu’s text, vampiric reproduction originates when
“[a] person, more or less wicked, puts an end to himself. A suicide, under certain circumstances, becomes a vampire. That specter visits living people in their slumbers; they die, and almost invariably, in the grave, develop into vampires.”
The transformation from human to vampire is depicted in Dracula as Mina is force-fed blood from a wound in the Count’s chest ‘his right hand gripped her by the back of the neck forcing her face down on his bosom.’ This is unnatural breast feeding in which the female feeds from the male and the living from the dead. When Mina drinks Dracula’s blood it resembles ‘a child forcing a kitten’s nose into a saucer of milk to compel it to drink’, and according to Stephanie Demetrakopoulos ‘places Mina’s sexuality at a prepubescent level (infantile in fact) and reflects Stoker’s consistent view of good women as decarnalized and non-sexual.’ In this way, ‘good’ women are child-like, and thus resemble the anorexic, owing to their undeveloped, slender figures. Mina regresses to infancy through her conversion to a child of Dracula, becoming one with him as ‘“flesh of [his] flesh; blood of [his] blood.”’
Unlike the vampire, Mina does not derive sexual fulfilment from feeding, rather it induces disgust as she exclaims ‘“my God, my God! what have I done?”’ Having been forced to consume Dracula’s blood which she deems ‘“[u]nclean, unclean!”’, she wishes to purge her body of its contamination, beginning to ‘rub her lips as though to cleanse them from pollution.’ One form of purging unwanted substances from the body is menstruation. In images reminiscent of menstrual bleeding, Mina’s ‘white nightdress was smeared with blood’ and Carmilla’s is ‘bathed, from her chin to her feet, in one great stain of blood’. Blood is rejected from the uterus, which connotes the consumption of blood with sexuality. The body is purged of blood in both menstruation and vampiric reproduction, although, unlike that which is transferred from vampire to victim, menstrual blood becomes lost. In this instance, the female vampire consumes her victims’ blood, yet also purges herself of this substance when she forces the victim to drink her own, thus enabling vampiric transformation.
This action also resembles bulimia nervosa in which large amounts of food are consumed and subsequently expulsed from the body. Mina purges herself in order to avoid becoming contaminated with evil vampiric blood and to prevent her transformation to a voluptuous vampire, instead desiring to remain slender and chaste. In Dracula, Lucy Westenra is initially described as ‘looking sweetly pretty in her white lawn frock’, adhering to ideological conceptions as, according to Sally Ledger, she is ‘very much an archetype of Victorian femininity: blonde, demurring and waiting for the right man to come along and marry her.’ Yet following her transformation to a vampire Lucy’s ‘eyes blazed with unholy light, and the face became wreathed with a voluptuous smile’ and she speaks ‘in a soft voluptuous voice…“Arthur! Oh, my love, I am so glad you have come! Kiss me!”’ As a vampiric kiss is a bite, Lucy wants Arthur to bite her and become a vampire like herself. Approaching Arthur ‘with outstretched arms and a wanton smile’, Lucy’s ‘“arms are hungry for [him]”’ in an attempt to physically embrace and devour.
This voluptuousness is attractive but is employed in order to captivate the male whom the female vampire wishes to consume. The ‘diabolically sweet’ tones of the vampire mask a bitter interior, as the breath has ‘a bitter underlying the sweet, a bitter offensiveness, as one smells in blood’. Likewise, the sensual caress becomes strangulation and the vampire’s kiss is converted into a fatal bite. When Lucy is transformed ‘[t]he sweetness was turned to adamantine’ and the tones of Carmilla’s voice are ‘sweet and tender, and at the same time terrible.’ Experiencing sensations of both sweet and bitter, Jonathon and Laura are simultaneously repulsed and attracted by vampiric sexuality. Laura remarks that she was ‘“drawn towards [Carmilla],” but there was also something of repulsion’ and Jonathan states that ‘[t]here was a deliberate voluptuousness which was both thrilling and repulsive.’ Vampires are concurrently sweet and bitter, desirable yet dangerous. That which appears attractive to consume is revealed to be bitter and ultimately the consumer becomes the consumed.
In Dracula this desire for sexual, voluptuous women renders the male subject passive as masculine desire is dependent upon the female. Jonathan Harker ‘closed [his] eyes in a languorous ecstasy and waited – waited with a beating heart’. His masculine agency is stripped by the nature of his desire, and performatively, he is rendered feminine. Consequently, to the patriarchal order, ‘nothing can be more awful than those awful women, who were – who are – waiting to suck [his] blood’. As McNally states, a ‘sensually aroused woman was and is often treated as a frightening thing, something not to be spoken or written about except in monstrous terms’, precisely because of her ability to render feminine the masculine agent. This is exemplified in Marie Corelli’s The Sorrows of Satan (1896) where Lucio states to Sibyl: ‘“with the seduction of your nude limbs and lying eyes, you make fools, cowards, and beasts of men!”’
The danger posed by the female vampire is reflected in the animal transformation as the vampire becomes a devouring predator. Jonathan notes that the vampire ‘arched her neck’ and ‘licked her lips like an animal, till [he] could see in the moonlight the moisture shining on the scarlet lips and on the red tongue as it lapped the white sharp teeth.’ This perception of women as capable of devouring men as well as food occurs in Jane Eyre, when Mr Rochester states that the habit of his sexually excessive wife is to attack people and ‘“bite their flesh from their bones”’. Vampire-like, Bertha springs at Mr Rochester, ‘grappled his throat viciously, and laid her teeth to his cheek’. Her lust for blood is insatiable, Mr Mason recounting how during Bertha’s attack she ‘“sucked the blood”’ and ‘“said she’d drain [his] heart”’. Like Bertha, Lucy Westenra exhibits predatory behaviour, drawing ‘back with an angry snarl, such as a cat gives when taken unawares’ and Carmilla assumes ‘“the shape of a beast”’, becoming ‘a sooty-black animal that resembled a monstrous cat’. According to The Witchcraft Sourcebook, witches traditionally ‘transubstantiated into cats’, creatures who also acted as the witch’s familiar, ‘a demon in animal form’ who ‘sucked blood’ from the witch in a vampiric act.
The unnatural form of vampiric consumption is emphasised through its juxtaposition with scenes of conventional dining. During his journey to Dracula’s castle Jonathan Harker records extensive descriptions of food as he dines on ‘a chicken done up some way with red pepper’, ‘a sort of porridge of maize flour which they said was “mamaliga,”’ ‘egg-plant stuffed with forcemeat, a very excellent dish, which they call “impletata”’ and ‘“robber steak” – bits of bacon, onion, and beef, seasoned with red pepper, and strung on sticks and roasted over the fire’. The emphasis upon conventional, albeit foreign dishes provides a stark contrast when at Dracula’s castle Jonathan ‘discovered that [he] was half-famished with hunger’ and ‘fell to at once on an excellent roast chicken’ while the Count ‘excused himself, as he had dined out on his being away from home.’ In addition, the vampire Carmilla does not dine with the family but instead would rise late, ‘take a cup of chocolate, but eat nothing’. While Lucy breakfasts upon ‘coffee and chocolate…Carmilla did not take any’.
The subversion of the social order by such female appetite is demonstrated by the fact that vampires do not eat with others, as was customarily demanded. Dinner was sacred, one critic noting that ‘[i]n the nineteenth century cult of the home, the dinner table served as the altar.’ The behaviour of refusing to eat in a social situation is also exhibited by the anorexic girl and because the sufferer rejected the offerings of her parents ‘anorexia nervosa can be seen for what it is: a striking dysfunction in the bourgeois family system.’ Although they do not dine with others, anorexics and vampires do possess appetites, therefore Mina and Lucy are also associated with the female vampires since Mina writes, ‘[we] had a capital “severe tea” at Robin Hood’s bay…I believe we should have shocked the “New Woman” with our appetites.’ When she transforms into a vampire, Lucy experiences considerable desire for food, stating that she has ‘an appetite like a cormorant’. Being of a vicious and gluttonous nature, these birds are associated with the devil in Milton’s Paradise Lost in which Satan transforms himself into a cormorant:
Thence up he flew, and on the Tree of Life,
The middle Tree and highest there that grew,
Sat like a Cormorant; yet not true Life
Thereby regain’d, but sat devising Death
In a letter to Mina, Lucy’s statement that they have ‘eaten together’ since they were children establishes further similarities between themselves and female vampires who also eat in a group. Counihan remarks that ‘[e]ating together connotes intimacy, often sexual intimacy or kinship (Freud 1918, 175; Siskind 1973, 9)’, thus the communal feeding of women and female vampires within Stoker’s text creates social, almost sexual bonds between those who consume.
Victims of the vampiric bite lose their appetite as they themselves have become the consumed. When Lucy has been transformed and is presented with food ‘[s]he took but little, and that languidly’ and likewise, Mina ‘would not eat, simply saying that she had not hunger.’ Rather than food, blood is required to revive the ailing, newly-transformed vampire as in order to recover, Lucy must be ‘“well fed”’ with blood. The vampire’s obsession with feeding is described by Le Fanu who writes that the
horrible lust for living blood supplies the vigor of its waking existence. The vampire is prone to be fascinated with an engrossing vehemence, resembling the passion of love, by particular persons…It will never desist until it has satiated its passion, and drained the very life of its coveted victim…it goes direct to its object, overpowers with violence, and strangles and exhausts often at a single feast.
Lucy ‘“wants blood, and blood she must have or die.”’ In this case the masculine figures are willing to donate their own blood in order to save her life: Arthur states that ‘“[m]y life is hers, and I would give the last drop of blood in my body for her.”’ When Lucy actively desires blood, she is killed for her desire; thus it is acceptable to be fed by men, but when women desire food for themselves, they must be destroyed.
A further form of transgressive bodily desire is portrayed through vampiric lesbianism in which not only food but heteronormative desire is rejected. In Carmilla Laura recalls:
I saw a very pretty face looking at me from the side of the bed. It was that of a young lady who was kneeling, with her hands under the coverlet. I looked at her with a kind of pleased wonder, and ceased whimpering. She caressed me with her hands, and lay down beside me on the bed, and drew me towards her, smiling; I felt immediately delightfully soothed, and fell asleep again. I was wakened by a sensation as if two needles ran into my breast very deep at the same moment, and I cried loudly.
Carmilla’s kneeling posture and the position of her hands ‘under the coverlet’ suggest that she is providing Laura with oral pleasure and manual stimulation, exciting feelings of ‘pleased wonder.’Laura is both soothed and aroused by these caresses until Carmilla’s teeth sink into her breast in a mode of sexual consummation as the penetrating phallic shaped fangs enter Laura’s flesh.
The figure of the lesbian vampire demonstrates that the rejection of heteronormative desire does not equal a rejection of sexual appetite but merely displaces it onto transgressive forms that undermine the patriarchal order. While Carmilla is physically thin she is still sexualised, disrupting masculine conceptions of slender and voluptuous as respectively chaste and sexual. Carmilla thus embodies the true nature of anorexia nervosa, and unlike previous conceptions of the condition, vampirism is analogous to anorexia rather than its antithesis. Laura describes Carmilla’s ‘slender pretty figure’ that is ‘enveloped in the soft silk dressing gown, embroidered with flowers’ embodying nineteenth century ideological conceptions of the female form. However, the flowers upon her gown denote sexuality as they are associated with female sexual organs and are euphemistic for menstrual discharge. In addition, the flower also symbolises chastity since the vampire is a virgin in the sense that they do not engage in normal heterosexual intercourse but derive sexual fulfilment from feeding.
Such a dichotomy of thin/chaste and voluptuous/sexual is erroneous since both the anorexic and the female vampire are intensely sexual creatures who consume others. Sandra Archimedes states that ‘Foucault credits the nineteenth century with the creation of perverse sexualities and targets “the setting apart of the ‘unnatural’ as a specific dimension in the field of sexuality” as a pivotal moment in the history of sexuality’. Foucault observes that what physicians scrutinised ‘“was [the] sexuality of children, mad men and women, and criminals; the sensuality of those who did not like the opposite sex” (Sexuality 38)’. Vampiric sexuality, especially homoerotic vampiric sexuality, was perverse and transgressed the antithetical conceptions of the ethereal virtuous heroine and the carnal woman dominated by her appetite. Such destabilisation of the Victorian binary of thin/virtuous voluptuous/sinful is evident in the manner of adapting source material. As Paul Barber notes, there is a distinction between:
the fictional and the folkloric vampire. The former sucks blood from the neck of the victim, for example, while the other–when he sucks blood at all–attacks the chest area of the victim, in the vicinity of the heart, with only rare exception … The fictional vampire tends to be tall, thin, and sallow, the folkloric vampire is plump and ruddy.
The changing nature of sexuality within the Victorian era that was identified by Foucault and resulted in the autoerotic adaptation of the vampiric source material is also present in the development of anorexia nervosa. In contrast to the thin Victorian woman who refuses food in order to avoid becoming consumed by desire, the anorexic is self-consuming because she reduces herself. Similarly, Carmilla feeds upon female victims, thereby consuming a form of her female self. Self-starvation and vampiric consumption are not a rejection of sexual desire but are a rejection of heterosexual relationships within which the female is consumed. In Carmilla Laura compares the sensation of the vampiric bite to ‘the ardor of a lover’ and has erotic dreams in which ‘warm lips kissed me, and longer and longer and more lovingly as they reached my throat’. Vampiric consumption in this novels is autoerotic as the vampire and her victim are both female, the vampire consuming a form of her female self. Carmilla tells Laura ‘“[y]ou are mine, you shall be mine, you and I are one for ever”’ and, viewing Laura as part of herself, the vampiric lesbianism of the novel is analogous to the autoeroticism of the anorexic as during vampirism the flesh of the self is consumed [need to say that this self-consumotion is metaphorical] in a manner akin to anorexic self-reduction.
Michel Foucault argues that ‘in the nineteenth century, European “experts” of various kinds—doctors, scientists, educators, parents—became preoccupied with locating and defining unnatural or deviant sexualities.”’ Unconventional eating habits, both self-starvation and vampiric feeding are forms of autoeroticism and thus of deviant sexuality since they transgress normative heterosexual relationships. According to the Victorian physician ‘normal desire, for both men and women, could only be experienced in relation to a normal object choice. For women, that object choice was clear: it was the male subject of bourgeois heteronormativity.’ Therefore, the autoeroticism of anorexia nervosa and vampirism falls outside of this because they prevent heteronormative union. Anorexic and vampiric autoeroticism both involve self-consumption and associate self-starvation with excessive feeding, thus undermining the traditional binary of the thin, chaste woman and the voluptuous, vampiric whore.
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