Exploring the Southern Vampiresses of Southern Gothic Literature through Kristeva's Abject Theory

Author: ORCID icon orcid.org/0000-0001-5262-4761
Smith, Stirling, English - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Pasanek, Brad, AS-English, University of Virginia

For the French literary theorist Julia Kristeva, abjection refers to a person’s rejection of an object which blurs the distinction between the self and other. The horror, the shame, the disgrace, the taboo, the perverse – the situations, objects, and thoughts that we inherently separate ourselves from because they are too disgusting, too horrible, too distasteful to associate ourselves with – are the facets of our lives that we repel and reject. They are parts of ourselves that we cast off and separate from in an effort to maintain social order. For example, women’s bodies (from which all human life stems), human waste, blood, and death are all examples of the abject. Essentially, any object that causes a strong reaction or causes a person to feel threatened can be termed abject. Thus, vampires in their very basic nature can be considered abject due to their relationship with blood: the extraction and exchange of it with their victims. The term signals attention to the abject, but when analyzing the female vampire as an abject, one must consider multiple layers of societal and cultural norms in order to completely dissect the abjection. This thesis focuses on the novels Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice and Dead
Until Dark by Charlaine Harris. Interview with the Vampire displays one of the main characters, the fearless vampiress, Claudia, as headstrong, cunning, and adventurous, while Dead Until Dark offers further commentary on Sookie, a woman who uses her clairvoyant powers to assist vampires; as Sookie Stackhouse, although not a vampiress, survives and shows that the powerful vampiress must still die by the hands of men. To investigate the abjection of female vampires, this thesis also will focus on Julia Kristeva’s psychoanalytic definition of the abject alongside Barbara Creed’s definition of the monstrous feminine in order to demonstrate how Claudia’s character encompasses the feminine abject. She is trapped in the body of a child, while being a daughter, a companion, a rebel, and above all, an undead. With fascination and horror, readers and audiences around the globe have watched as her story was brought to life by Rice and popularized by modern culture. I will argue that vampiresses are the epitome of the abject as defined by Kristeva and Creed, and by placing the vampiress in the South, social and cultural and societal issues revolving the feminine and sexual desire are brought to the forefront. By exploring the background of vampirism, abjection, horror, gothic, and Southern gothic in relation to the characters of Claudia and Sookie, I will analyze the connections among them. Ultimately, I will demonstrate how the 70-year-old Claudia exemplifies one of the most abject female vampire characters in Southern Gothic literature and how Claudia’s abjection enables a reader to make the connections between horror, abjection, the Southern gothic, and the monstrous feminine. In this thesis, I will also demonstrate that the vampiress of the South poses a threat to the male dominated society, thus often leading to their downfall, or even their death at the hands of men.

MA (Master of Arts)
Southern vampire, Abjection, Monstrous feminine, Anne Rice
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