Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla and Bram Stoker’s vampire ladies as representations of Cesare Lombroso’s donna delinquente?

Bea Klüsener

Abstract


In the middle of the 19th century, the Italian physician and psychiatrist Cesare Lombroso (1835-1909) founded what became later known as criminal anthropology, one of his two major works being La donna delinquente or Criminal Woman, the Prostitute, and the Normal Woman (1893). Lombroso is famous for his theory of the born criminal, who is characterized by “anomalies”, i.e. physical and psychological abnormalities, which made Lombroso regard criminal men and women as atavistic throwbacks on the evolutionary scale. These ideas were not new, but Lombroso was the one to formulate and systematize them in his criminal anthropology. To Lombroso, gender was one important aspect in the analysis of criminality. He thought that the main characteristic of criminal women was their strong sexual drive, which expressed itself in their development into criminals and prostitutes. Lombroso was very interested in female offenders and even sympathetic in some cases, but he propagated harsh punishments for murderesses and incorrigible “monsters”. Although his main works from 1867 and 1893 were not translated into English until 1895 and 1911, he was an internationally renowned criminologist and it can be taken for granted that British 19th-century authors were acquainted with his theories. Based on the idea of an interdependence of literature and culture, this paper examines the question to what extent Lombroso’s ideas concerning criminal women are implied in 19th-century representations of female vampires by taking Le Fanu’s Carmilla (1872) and Stoker’s vampire ladies in Dracula (1898) as examples. Thus, this paper aims at showing how, in the case of Le Fanu’s child vampire Carmilla, biological markers mix with contemporary prejudices on women but are not yet explicitly explained in terms of criminal anthropology while Stoker’s female vampires obviously correspond to Lombroso’s version of the criminal woman.


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