"Beauty in the Beast: The 'Feminization' of Weyland in the Vampire Tapestry

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* Like their counterparts in male-authored vampire fiction, vampire characters in works by women tend to be quite attractive creatures. Their bodies combine incredible beauty with equally incredible strength--traits that allow them to move easily and often with impunity through human society. Seductive and compelling, they survive by exploiting humanity's reliance upon surfaces/appearances as signifiers of truth, as well as triggers for sexual desire. Herein lies an intriguing aspect of the connection between women and the vampires they create.

In Western society, women are encouraged to be extremely conscious of their bodies. "How do I look?" is the perpetual question fostered by a worldview that stresses looks/physical beauty/sex appeal as a primary venue through which women may hope to achieve status and recognition. Small wonder, then, that women should find a certain appeal in a character that has eternal--and effortless--youth and beauty at its disposal. The vampires of Anne Rice, for instance, are creatures who can be seen in mirrors, and who openly confess that they enjoy looking at their own reflections. This quality of stereotypical female vanity is given a deadly twist, however, because the beauty of vampire characters created by Rice and other women is neither passive nor ornamental. It is an aggressive, predatory mask that conceals often-deadly intentions while sparking sexual desire in humans of both sexes, rendering them vulnerable to whatever designs the vampire has in mind. To this degree, it mimics the beauty of vampires created by male authors. Female authors tend to carry the attraction of the vampire further than their male counterparts, however, by romanticizing it. In other words, vampire beauty in novels by women incorporates but typically surpasses pure sex appeal and enters the realm of aesthetics and interpersonal relationships. These vampires are driven by more than just a lust for blood or power--they are driven by love, by empathy, by a desire for communion with humans, with each other, and with their own unwritten history. Fundamentally, all of these drives are pointed toward one goal: survival.

In The Vampire Tapestry, Suzy McKee Charnas has created in Weyland, the novel's vampire protagonist, an urbane, educated monster who acquires access to his victims via his respectable status as a college professor and his cultured good looks, which are so pronounced that they set him apart as "Other." His sex appeal is apparent to all who encounter him. One female faculty member observes that "half the faculty--of both sexes-- are in love with the man," while another female character notes that Dr. Weyland is "kind of cute, in a gloomy sort of way... When he smiles you'd be amazed how good he looks; he could really turn a girl on" (Charnas 18,30). Charnas makes it clear, however, that this attraction is far from supernatural. Like other predators, Weyland is a product of evolution, a separate species, and his appearance is not a gratuitous endowment. Katje de Groot, the human female protagonist in the first segment of the book (entitled "The Ancient Mind at Work"), is well aware of this fact. She herself has a hunting background, acquired from the years she spent growing up in colonial Africa, and she observes how others on the campus around her behave in the presence of Weyland. From her perspective, "these people were spellbound, rapt under his rule, enjoying his domination of them. They saw nothing of his menace, only the beauty of his quick hawk-glance and his panther-playfulness" (38). She also notes that "For over-civilized p eople to experience the approach of such a predator as sexually attractive was not strange.., the great cats were all beautiful, and maybe beauty helped them to capture their prey" (41). This type of dangerous attraction is an element of Weyland's character that persists throughout the novel, and he uses it to disarm the humans around him. …