IMAGINE. A story of elite foreign investors buying up property and assets on these islands, particularly London, in order to exploit the local citizenry. Imagine again: these upper-class rentiers are “undead”, eternally greedy and cripplingly unsatisfied, drawing the life out of others as they possess their existence, body and soul.

No, I’ve not become a correspondent on Westminster or the super-rich, I promise. But I am dwelling, in this week of Dracula Day (May 26, the publication day of Bram Stoker’s Dracula), on the metaphorical power of the vampire. As we’ll see from the history, vampires are a construction of modern times, a velvet-caped shadow of the scientific and imperial Enlightenment.

But we need to get one thing out of the way first. We actually do have literal, blood-ingesting vampires, who consume the stuff to extend their lives, in our midst.

Silicon Valley elites are buying transfusions of blood and plasma from young adults and 20-somethings (a Stanford study showed it to work when young mice give old mice their blood). $5000 will currently buy you a litre of the youthful red stuff from a company called Ambrosia, registered in 20 US states.

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Averting your eyes? I understand. Sometimes you can have too much news. Yet the figure of the vampire – as it was fashioned by John Polidori’s novel The Vampyre in 1819 and cranked up to another level by Bram Stoker’s Dracula in 1897 – has always echoed with the headlines of the day.

Folktales of revenants (returners from the dead) and blood-drinkers exist in many cultures. But when German forces commandeered the area we now know as Serbia in the early 18th century, the locals told them vampire stories that sparked exhumations, books of philosophy, and research papers – the full Enlightenment attack. Polidori and Stoker raided this archive, but replaced misshapen monsters with haughty aristocrats.

The Vampyre’s monster was Lord Ruthven, portrayed as a Highland Scot and drinking deeply from Romantic myths of Scotland, as rendered by Ossian and others. The vampire as seducer and libertine also stems from Polidori. The scholars assume Ruthven is modelled on the notorious and lascivious Lord Byron, upon whose social set Polidori was a barely tolerated hanger-on.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula was written at the height of the British Empire and the Victorian era, upon the turn of the century. And Stoker’s version of the vampire narrative pulses with the energy (and anxieties) of that moment.

I started by rendering Dracula as the ultimate non-dom, propertied, parasite capitalist. But don’t take my word for it. A few decades earlier, in 1867’s Das Kapital, Karl Marx drew explicitly on the fanged ones: “Capital is dead labour, which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks.

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“The vampire will not lose its hold so long as there is a muscle, a nerve, a drop of blood to be exploited.” (Marx would have been referencing a half-century of vampire dramatisations in the theatre, as well as his own leisurely pastimes – which was reading horror stories).

There’s no evidence that Stoker was referencing Marx (he was an Irish establishment-conservative). And as the great literary critic Franco Moretti noted, if the Count was a metaphor for capital, it was of a particular kind – monopoly capital.

“Dracula is a true monopolist: solitary and despotic, he will not brook competition”, writes Moretti. “He no longer restricts himself to incorporating (in a literal sense) the physical and moral strength of his victims. He intends to make them his forever. One is bound to Dracula, as to the devil, for life”.

You don’t do bourgeois contracts with Dracula – there’s no “fixed period” whereby his enslaving bite can be eventually unbitten. The vampire, says Moretti, “like monopoly, destroys the hope that one’s independence can one day be bought back. He threatens the idea of individual liberty.”

Well, that’s one reading. It’s also difficult to avoid the one that takes on Dracula from the perspective of gender and sexuality. The symbolic rape, represented by the stake through the heart that finally kills an undead and vampirised maiden, is obviously misogynistic.

Yet Stoker’s text has subtleties. There’s clear homoeroticism in Dracula’s feasting on men as well as the cliched maidens. Some scholarship suggests that Stoker’s Dracula, in all his brilliant outsider charm, represents Oscar Wilde. Wilde was the great challenger to the reign of theatre impresario Henry Irving, to whom Stoker had become obsessively devoted, as manager of his Lyceum Theatre in London.

But there are also characters like Lucy Westenra, a “New Woman” of the age, who wondered “why can’t they let a girl marry three men, or as many as want her?” However, she is violently, indeed gruesomely staked at the end – so much for her autonomy. One of the genuine shivers in the movie versions, particularly as portrayed by Christopher Lee, is the way Dracula can shift in a flash from suave seducer to semi-crazed, relentless predator. Violent masculinity never had a more elegant vehicle.

There are other sticky themes to be explored. You can easily see a deep racism in the equation of the “foreign” and the “infectious”, capable of murderous lethality, in Stoker’s Dracula. “This was the being I was helping to transfer to London”, says the vampire’s pursuer Harker, “where perhaps for centuries to come he might, amongst its teeming millions, satiate his lust for blood, and create a new and ever widening circle of semi-demons to batten on the helpless.” Don’t let Farage or The Daily Mail section editors read this.

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However, are we in the process of defanging the sulphurous potency of Dracula? The Twilight franchise notoriously majored on gooey romance and teen sexual frustration than bracing terror and zeitgeist-tapping.

And we are giggling at the widows-peaked charmer these days, as much as shuddering at him. You could see him fighting other nubbly icons in The Batman Lego Movie (2017) or cavorting on a cruise-ship in the cartoon Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation (2018). We shouldn’t forget the Count in Sesame Street, or that the iconic Bela Lugosi once brought his incarnation of the mythic killer to an Abbott and Costello movie.

The brilliant satire What We Do In The Shadows (next series out this July) juggles all the vampire cliches in the setting of four vampire room-mates on Staten Island. One of them, Colin, is an “energy” vampire: he works in an office and feeds on the wellbeing of those around him, generating a general annoyance.

For me, that hints at a current version of the vampire which could return profitably (as it were) to Marx’s characterisation. As the veteran website Boing Boing puts it: “They’re arguably the best monster for 2022. Bram Stoker’s Dracula is undoubtedly a metaphor for lazy elites that sleep all day, party all night, and feast on the common folk to survive. They’d be the perfect commentary for billionaires”.

Something to nibble on as a potential box set? And if you think that’s bad… Q: Why does Dracula make an inexpensive date? A: Because he eats necks to nothing. I’ll get my cape.