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‘I could not wish for a sweeter death’: Sugar, Craving, and the Late-Victorian Vampire.
By the final decades of the nineteenth century, sugar had become dissolved into cultural as well as literal bloodstreams in Britain. Sugar production had risen from 572,000 tons in 1830 to 6.1M tons by 1890 and the average person’s intake had increased sixfold. This paper explores how sugar and sweetness functioned in the late-Victorian Gothic imagination and particularly in relation to the figure of the vampire.
From Dracula’s longing for ‘sweet, sweet Madam Mina’ to Harriet Brandt’s unsettling parallel cravings for sweets and the affections of ‘sweet little white’ children in Blood of the Vampire (1897), sugar has been an understudied signifier in the semantics of vampirism. Though the vampire has been widely theorised as an embodiment of addiction and sexual appetites, sugar offers us a new lens for reinterpreting the cultural meanings and popular appeal of the vampire.
I suggest that in some ways, a sugar-based reading makes the vampire a more relatable and less ‘othered’ creature, whose cravings would be widely understood by a sweet-eating readership. At the same time, however, the language of sugar places the vampire in a tradition of discourse on race, commerce, and power dating back to abolitionist boycotts of slave-produced sugar, where tea sweetened with sugar was decried as ‘the blood-sweetened beverage’ (Robert Southey) and consuming it equated with ‘drinking the blood of iniquity’ (William Fox).
Sugar offers us a way of understanding readers’ thirst for vampire stories, as well as the unsettling appeal of the vampire as a creature of abject consumption.