Vampire

In Brief

In an odd amalgamation of literary borrowings, Stephen fuses Douglas Hyde's romantic west-of-Ireland "mouth to my mouth" with a gothic vampire motif: "He comes, pale vampire, through storm his eyes, his bat sails bloodying the sea, mouth to her mouth's kiss." This prose revery in Proteus ripens into a rhymed quatrain before Stephen leaves the strand (though the lines are withheld from the reader until Aeolus), and he continues thinking about vampires in Oxen of the Sun and Circe. His principal source is clearly fellow Dubliner Bram Stoker.

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The lines that Stephen writes down on a scrap of Deasy's letter as he sits on the rocks, and calls to mind in the newspaper office, eliminate the bat image but preserve the idea of a sea voyage:
On swift sail flaming
From storm and south,
He comes, pale vampire,
Mouth to my mouth.
The sailing ship is one clue to the influence of Stoker, who was born in Clontarf in 1847 and worked in Dublin as a young man before marrying and moving to London in 1878. His gothic novel Dracula (1897) tells the story of a vampire who leaves his native Transylvania to find un-dead victims abroad. Dracula boards a Russian schooner, the Demeter, which departs from a port on the Black Sea. By the time the ship runs aground on the northeastern coast of England "with all sails set" in a sudden, tremendously violent storm, all the crew are dead.

Stephen's "From storm and south" evokes the ship's journey north from the Mediterranean and the intense tempest at its conclusion. His "bloodying the sea" may have been inspired by the supernatural terror that drove the crew to suicide, caused the captain to lash himself to the helm, and brought the ship to England as a ghostly hulk. Several details from this point forward in the novel also seem to have spoken to Stephen. A huge dog or wolf leaps from the ship's hold and runs ashore, later declaring its presence by eviscerating a mastiff. Having shown his ability to assume animal shapes, Dracula appears several times in the night sky as "a great bat" that lands on windowsills of the house where Mina Murray and Lucy Westenra are staying. The novel emphasizes his red "eyes," and he and his female victims call their bloody bites a "kiss."

It is fitting that the bat allusion should occur in Proteus, given Stephen's preoccupation with animals and shapeshifting in that chapter.  Stoker did not invent this detail—Varney the Vampire, serialized in weekly penny dreadfuls and published as a book in 1847, had featured illustrations of vampiric beings with bat-like wings—but he made it one of the most memorable features of his vampire. One other work may lie behind Stephen's phrase "bat sails," which so strangely fuses two elements that exist unconnected in Dracula. In an article titled "How Stephen Wrote His Vampire Poem," JJQ 17.2 (1980): 183-97, Robert Adams Day points to a drawing in a book which Joyce owned, W. T. Horton's A Book of Images (1898). Horton's symbolist image shows a terrified or terrifying man, immersed in ocean waves, whose shoulders sprout "two huge wings or sails," like "the wings of a bat" or "the sails of an Oriental vessel" (192).

§ The vampiric bat coheres with other morbid animal figures of Stephen's imagination: the humanized dog digging in the sand in Proteus, the fox digging up his dead grandmother in Nestor, Haines' black panther, Stephen's maternal "Ghoul" (identified with a "Hyena" in Circe), the "lemur" of Circe. These nightmarish grave-robbing figures infuse demonic intelligence with terrifying animal energy, just as vampires do. But vampires embody the additional quality of sexual hunger, and whenever Stephen thinks of them it is in the context of sexual interaction.

As he sits on the rocks in Proteus, looking at a couple that he imagines to be prostitute and pimp, and longing for a woman's touch and kiss, Stephen imagines the kiss being given by a "pale vampire." Later, in Oxen of the Sun, he speaks of the "potency of vampires mouth to mouth" as one possible avenue to pregnancy. (Vampires do not have this "potency," but as Gifford notes, "another demon of the night, the incubus, was supposed to impregnate sleeping women.") In Circe the Parisian sex show barker that he mimes for his comparnions' amusement advertises a vampire act: "All chic womans which arrive full of modesty then disrobe and squeal loud to see vampire man debauch nun very fresh young with dessous troublants." (The French means something like "disturbing lower parts," though Gifford translates it as "disordered underclothes.") Lynch provides a chorus: "Vive le vampire!"

Many forces seem to converge in Stephen's vampire sexuality. The prostitution context of his Proteus revery expresses his Catholic linkage of sex with sinfulness, and the sharing of blood in the vampire's kiss may trigger his related fantasy that Eve's original sin is passed down to all human beings by anastomosis. This poisonous linkage between religious proscription and female sexuality has been intensified by guilt over his refusal to pray at his mother's deathbed, which may explain the resemblance between the animalistic vampire (wolf, bat) and the grave-robbing animals of Stephen's imagination (fox, dog, hyena-ghoul).

But in addition to stoking horror of the female body, vampires seem to feed Stephen's defiance of God. Stoker and other writers had characterized the vampire as demonic—in Dracula, communion wafers are placed in his coffins of Transylvanian soil to neutralize their power, and people endlessly cross themselves to hold off the evil influence. Stephen, like his creator, identifies with the devil. His fantasy of a vampire debauching a nun expresses Luciferian defiance as clearly as does the Non serviam! that he shouts at his clinging ghoul of a mother later in Circe.

At the end of Circe, as he lies unconscious and Bloom's cries call him back from the depths, Stephen's final mention of the vampire could be read as self-identification. Bloom has been shouting his name: "Eh! Ho! (There is no answer; he bends again.) Mr Dedalus! (There is no answer.) The name if you call. Somnambulist. (He bends again and hesitating, brings his mouth near the face of the prostrate form.) Stephen! (There is no answer. He calls again.) Stephen!" In response to all these hollerings of his name Stephen asks, "Who? Black panther. Vampire," as if to say that he has been inhabiting the unconscious dark with those monsters.

But a more plausible construction of the passage, which most readers seem to adopt, is that Stephen wonders who is calling him, sees a pale-faced figure dressed all in black bending over him as if to bite his neck, and thinks of him as a vampire. Apparently he has already been imagining Bloom as a black panther, because at the end of Scylla and Charybdis, after Mulligan warns him about the man and Bloom passes between them, the free indirect narration reads, "A dark back went before them, step of a pard, down, out by the gateway," picking up on the phrase that Stephen had used in Proteus: "a pard, a panther, got in spousebreach, vulturing the dead." Even with Gabler's sensible insertion of a period between "Black panther" and "Vampire," this effectively links the two figures with each other and with Bloom.

In "Ulysses' Black Panther Vampire," JJQ 13.4 (1976): 415-27 (written when all print editions lacked the period), Michael Seidel suggests that Stephen may refuse the offer of a room for the night because he sees Bloom as a vampiric figure with unhealthy designs on him. Having caught Bloom looking between a museum goddess' buttocks, Mulligan has leeringly insinuated that he is "Greeker than the Greeks": "O, Kinch, thou art in peril. Get thee a breechpad." There is no reason to think that Bloom is turned on by young men, or that his attitude toward Stephen is predatory. After the breechpad remark, Stephen seems to attribute the homoerotic interests to Mulligan himself: "Manner of Oxenford." But perhaps an idea has been planted in his mind.

More to the point, several details in the novel suggest that Bloom's fantasy of having Stephen lodge in his house includes an intimate connection with Molly. Perhaps Stephen glimpses this train of thought in Eumaeus, when Bloom shows him a photo of his wife in a manner that could be construed as pandering. Seidel infers from Bloom's fantasy of substituting Stephen for Boylan that Stephen may somehow see the offer of a bed at 7 Eccles as "a means of infusing life into the corpse of a marriage" (425). By this reading, Stephen has no interest in being procured to satisfy another man's wife. Giving his young blood to relieve a mature couple's frustrations would be all too like the story of the Jew's daughter.

Such inferences about Stephen's psychology are speculative. But it is easy to imagine this romantically idealistic young man being reluctant to fulfill someone else's fantasy of triangulation. Sexual apprehensions aside, there can be little doubt that he is not yet sure that Bloom deserves such an important role in his life. The novel has coyly brought the two men's paths closer and closer together without quite demonstrating the basis for a close friendship. Seeing Bloom as a vampire at the end of Circe coheres with Stephen's sullen standoffishness toward him during the first part of Eumaeus, which that chapter aligns with the Homeric symbolism of a son not recognizing his disguised father. By the time the two men stand urinating under the stars, gazing up at the bedroom light of "an invisible attractive person," they are clearly much closer. But readers cannot know whether an Eccles Street Trinity may actually come to be, or whether it is destined to remain a figment of Bloom's lonely imagination.

JH 2018 
Photographic portrait of Bram Stoker ca. 1906. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Digital painting by an unknown artist. Source: medium.com.
Plate from William T. Horton's A Book of Images. Source: socks-studio.com.
Cover page of a reprint of the British penny dreadful series (1845), featuring five bat-man figures. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
1931 photograph of Bela Lugosi as Dracula from Universal Studios. Source: Wikimedia Commons.