top of page
  • Writer's pictureHorror Spinsters

Monstrous Women with Bite! The Vampiric Women of Buffy & Angel Part I

For as long as I can remember I have been fascinated by vampires. I would read novels about them, watched any vampire movie I could get my hands on, and sometimes I even desired to become one. Of course, I was a 16 year old girl at the time so I was convinced I had a vampiric soul (my first email account was Vampires were so beautiful, alluring and frightening. I romanticized immortality, as I think we all have done at one point or another. As I grew older I saw them as more sympathetic creatures, probably because I had read Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles and realized what a lonely existence it would be to live forever. Even so, they continued to intrigue me.

When they aren't your run of the mill minions, the vampires of the Whedonverse are highly engaging, complex characters, either when they are villains or not. They are major characters with developed story arcs, and some of the more compelling ones at that. Or they just steal every scene with their very presence. These major players are: Angel, Spike, The Master, Mr. Trick, Darla, Drusilla, and Harmony. However, in this three-part series I will be discussing the main female vampires of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel: Druscilla, Darla, and Harmony.

The Vampire as the Monstrous Feminine

Historically, female vampires have been the concubines of Dracula, the most infamous of the vampires, either in stories or film. Yet, there is a little known story of a female vampire, Carmilla (1872), by Sheridan Le Fanu that has also been adapted into film {eg: Daughters of Darkness (1971) and Dracula’s Daughter (1936)} and has influenced aspects of female vampire lore throughout the decades. Women “should” be demure, docile, poised, and sexually submissive. However, our female vampires are purposefully the opposite: hypersexualized, aggressive, seductive lesbians (or at least bisexual). These women are considered major threats to the patriarchal rule as they seduce young women away from their heteronormative lives. Barbara Creed in The Monstrous Feminine states that the female vampire “threatens to seduce the daughters of patriarchy away from their proper gender roles.” In days of old, lesbians were considered to do this as well. The female vampire is monstrous, attractive and bewitching - completely undermining patriarchal rules. She “disrupts identity and order; driven by her lust for blood, she does not respect the dictates of the law which set down the rules of proper sexual conduct.” The female vampire is neither human nor animal, but something in between; something that exists between life and death, not living nor alive, but undead (and sexy).

Society requires women to be passive, so the concept of the monstrous feminine subverts this by turning women into active participants. The female vampire is generally the opposite of this passivity - engaging, assertive and dominant. She becomes the phallic woman -- with her fangs she is the one doing the penetrating -- challenging more aspects of femininity with her defined “masculine” traits, her world “signifies darkness, the undead, the moon, the tomb/womb, blood, oral sadism, bodily wounds and violation of the law.” However, in the land of the living, we often see a patriarchal figure overseeing and enforcing the law. This is the character of the vampire hunter, or commonly, a Dr. Van Helsing who “signifies light, life, the sun, destruction of the tomb, blood taboos, the stake/phallus, the unviolated body.”

The Victorian Female Vampire

In Laura Diehl’s essay, Why Drusilla’s More Interesting than Buffy, she acknowledges the concept of the monstrous feminine proposed by Creed but focuses on how Victorian-era medicine and science affected women's lives. Medicinal texts and courses took on many aspects of vampiric imagery and terminology as “reflecting a primal fear and loathing of the sexual instinct in women. In a world where the “ideal” woman as sex object is one with a big mouth and no teeth, the female vampire is an über-threat....” Just like the monstrous feminine, the female vampire’s monstrosity is linked to her sexuality or reproductive aspects: sex, gestation, lactation, and menstruation. During the Victorian age, a woman’s sexuality was pathologized and “caused” many ailments and diseases, particularly madness and death. The female vampire (especially the queer vampire) “functions as a repository of patriarchal anxieties over female strength and sexuality.” Men became obsessed with controlling a woman’s body and sexuality under the guise of science. They talked of anemia, pallor, sharp teeth, hysteria, nymphomania and more (sound familiar?).

Stereotypically, the female vampire, according to Diehl, “is much closer to the folkloric vampire, an agency-less corpse driven by a deathly desire that extends beyond the grave”, but for the fanged women of the Whedonverse, they are anything but this. The monstrousness of their vampiric nature gives them power, autonomy and liberation.

Drusilla: The Hysterical Woman

It was over the moment I saw her. She was my opposite in every way. Dutiful daughter. Devout Christian. Innocent and unspoiled. I took one look at her and I knew. She'd be my masterpiece.” ― Angel (Angel & Faith comic series issue Daddy Issues, part Two)

Drusilla is my favorite vampire of the Whedonverse, and I know she is quite popular for other fans of the show! Her classic Victorian elegance mixed with her nonsensical ramblings and ability to mesmerize makes her stand out (not to mention those perfect French manicured nails). Drusilla not only is representative of the “hysterical” woman stereotype, but she subverts it. Caroll Smith-Rosenburg in The Hysterical Woman: Sex Roles and Role Conflict in America argues that “hysterical women were hypertrophied versions of the Victorian icon of femininity—sick, weak, passive and anemic.” We don’t know much about Drusilla’s early life, but we do know that she was from a religious family, was deeply faithful herself, and also gifted with the “sight” - the ability to see the future and have premonitions. Already in a fragile state of mind, her mental state dramatically changed once turned into a vampire. After seeing her whole family brutally killed by Angel, she spirals, and becomes one of the most powerful vampires we see in both series of Buffy and Angel.

According to physicians of the Victorian era, the hysterical woman “was particularly susceptible to semiconscious states—to mesmerism, hypnosis and somnambulism. The extraordinary emotionalism and excessive excitability of the hysteric made her impressionable and prone to suggestion and hypnotic states”. Alas, Drusilla, once turned, is able to mesmerize and use hypnosis on her victims. Her vampiric nature allows her to take what would have been seen as a weakness and turns it into a powerful asset. The Master (our big bad from season one) was the only other vampire to be able to perform this, and he was over 1000 years old.

Drusilla, our “hysterical” woman, is a vampire, or perhaps a natural progression (or the vampire is the representation of the hysterical woman?) for her as in the past “hysterical” women were seen to be “at the mercy of a range of evil and unrestrained passions, appetites and morbid thoughts and impulses” (Smith-Rosenburg). Though we don’t know Drusilla’s exact age when she was sired (made a vampire), we can imagine she was less than twenty years old due to still living with her family. Hysteria was often linked to menstruation/coming of sexual maturity, and although Drusilla was pieous and virginal, her ““compromised” immune system during this time made her prey to sicknesses and perversions of all kinds, namely sexuality…..And the number one symptom of hysteria was anemia, the number one cure, re-sanguination.” Drusilla requires blood for eternity and as we know, blood is life.

The Angel of the Household

Drusilla, born between 1801-1900, was sired in 1860 by Angel. She transitioned into adulthood during the time of the Cult of True Womanhood (also known as the Cult of Domesticity). This was a period of time where, culturally, women were to abide by four seminial virtues: piety, purity, submission and domesticity. A “true” woman would uphold these virtues in order to prevent being ostracized by their middle to upper class society. In The Cult of True Womanhood: 1820-1860 by Barbara Welter she discusses sexual intercourse outside the confines of marriage, and that a woman that does this is was seen as a "fallen woman", and in essence she was a “"fallen angel," unworthy of the celestial company of her sex. To contemplate the loss of purity brought tears; to be guilty of such a crime, in the women's magazines at least, brought madness or death.” Drusilla was driven mad (and killed) by Angel; he mentally abused her, tortured and killed her family, and fornicated with Darla, all in front of her. All of these acts of perceived perversion by “impious” people and a “fallen woman" (Darla) challenged her obedience to being a “true woman”. By turning into a vampire, Drusilla became what she was taught to be so fervently opposed to: a creature “married” to darkness instead of a man, a blasphemer, and driven by lust for blood. Drusilla’s “innocence” (purity, piety) was lost not to submission and domesticity (as was tradition) but to emancipation from them. She could no longer be seen as the “Angel of the Household”.

The Virgin

Cristina Santos in Unbecoming Female Monsters: Witches, Vampires, and Virgins details the appeal of the virgin. Virginity is a patriarchal construct; our sexuality (and identity) is defined by whether or not we have penis in vagina sex (“normal” and acceptable sex). Virgins ``need to be penetrated, “possessed”” and are seen as “monstrous” because they are unequivocally “unobtainable and unpenetrated by her male Other.” They are also considered “deviant” because they have denied a man entry into the formation of their womanhood. And in the context of the Cult of True Womanhood, “purity was as essential as piety to a young woman, its absence as unnatural and unfeminine. Without it she was, in fact, no woman at all, but a member of some lower order.” If you have sex without marriage (to a man) then, since you were no longer a woman, are you perhaps a vampire?

Virgins are passive; once a woman becomes sexually active she is seen as audacious. The idea of a virgin is attractive to men due to their purity/being untouched, and Drusilla is pure, not only in her virginity but in her naive mind. This fascinated Angel (who was incredibly perverse by Victorian standards), and he destroyed her mind, but we have Spike to thank for “deflowering” Drusilla, completing her transformation into the vampire we know (and love). Though a man was responsible for this (as far as we know), an important part in defining her identity, her unexplored sexuality was kicked into overdrive -- Drusilla turns into the typical female vampire of being hypersexual. In her hysteria/monstrosity/sexuality she was transformed into her fully liberated self and has become “the aberrant embodiment of uncontrolled female desire and sexual voracity - the penetrator (her fangs) and not the penetrated.” (Santos)

Drusilla throughout Buffy and Angel makes many BDSM related, kinky sex remarks, especially to Angel, leading us to think that they had an intense sexual relationship. She lived in a very repressed society so her behavior could been seen as liberation of her sexual desire/fantasies innate within her - if this had manifested “naturally” it would have be seen as deviant but as a vampire, it’s acceptable since she is already a monster (in the Whedonverse kinky sex is equal to monstrosity).

The Barren Womb

When we first meet Drusilla she has a childlike appearance and manner to her: she talks to her dolls, and wears white, nightgown-like dresses (with empire waists in classic Victorian style). In Lie to Me (Buffy S02E07), there is a scene where Drusilla slowly approaches a little boy on the playground and sings him a song. She says “my mummy used to sing me to sleep at night, ‘Run and catch / the lamb is caught in the blackberry patch’ She had the sweetest voice. What will your mummy sing, when they find your body?” A relatable aspect of the female vampire (especially to those who choose to live a childfree life), is that they challenge repressive discourse surrounding a woman’s reproductive status/sexuality, linking it all to motherhood. The female vampire will, and does, take the lives of children, and Drusilla, like Lucy Westerna of Dracula fame, are “demonic mother parodies, women in white who stalk the neighborhood at night.” They have a “taste” for children, mocking the misogynists idea that women desire motherhood, which would make them complete women. Our female vampires are complete women all on their own.

Angel, Darla and Spike, though sometimes half heartedly, believed in Drusilla's visions, something that her old conservative and draconian Victorian society would have deemed her “hysterical”. With the Other supporting Others, you might say, they provided an encouraging environment for growth as a female vampire; an enriching lifestyle open to possibilities instead of stifling them. Drusilla was reborn, not as a “believer” but as a free woman. She was given mental, and physical, strength; immortality and beauty; and ultimately autonomy. Instead of being seen as virginal/pure, untouched/untouchable, and unable to take control of her own life, she was given LIFE.

8 views0 comments
bottom of page