In the moonlight opposite me were three young women, ladies by their dress and manner . . . they threw no shadow on the floor . . . two were dark, and had aquiline noses, like the Count, and great dark piercing eyes, that seemed to be almost red when contrasted with the pale yellow moon. The other was fair, as fair as can be, with great wavy masses of golden hair and eyes like pale sapphires . . . all three had brilliant white teeth that shone like pearls against the ruby of their voluptuous lips.
–from Dracula, Bram Stoker
The vampire brides are small characters in Stoker’s novel; they move onto the stage in chapter three, when Jonathan Harker is new in Count Dracula’s home. They only appear again once in the novel, toward the end—again in a short passage.
But my, what an impression they make.
A trio of beautiful and terrifying women invites associations with the Fates and the Furies, the Harpies and the Weird Sisters. Certainly, we are meant to pick up on the unholy trinity suggested by their number—and that is highlighted when Stoker at one point refers to them as the weird sisters.
Stoker describes the vampire brides painstakingly, but he doesn’t actually give us the term “vampire brides”—that nickname was given to them later and has stuck, as they are unnamed in the novel and in most adaptations.
The relationship of the vampires to Dracula is actually rather unclear. It’s clear that he helps them find victims and that they often use their sexual prowess to lure people back to the home they share with Dracula to feed on them. It’s also clear that they follow his orders.
The vampire brides also appear around Mina when she’s been bitten. They promise not to harm her and try to lure her away from Van Helsing and the protection of holy symbols. The sisters kill and feed on Van Helsing’s horses but must flee as the sun rises.
When Van Helsing finds their tombs, his hand is almost stayed by their beauty. Like Harker, Van Helsing is attracted to the beautiful vampires, even as they repulse him.
That seems to be a large part of the attraction of vampires in general—the lure of something very beautiful and very deadly. That sexiness has been built into all kinds of vampire stories, both before and after Stoker’s novel, but its presence in the Stoker story is important. Dracula has been a huge influence on modern vampire interpretations, and the themes of sexuality and blood lust that run through the novel run through much vampire fiction.
When the vampires are women, these themes often present themselves as the three vampire brides do. Two of the brides are exotically beautiful, with dark hair and skin. The third, who seems to be the oldest, is fair haired and fair skinned. They are the Dark Lady and the White Women, alluring with their rosy lips and heightened sexuality and deadly with their bite.
Watch out, oh ye mortal men!