Wednesday, 14 November 2012

'Dracula' and the Culture of Vampires

The next book we have to read for Studying Literature is 'Dracula' by Bram Stoker. The review will follow as soon as I've finished the novel. But before them I had a very interesting lecture today about vampires and their role in our culture. First we were shown a clip from 'Nosferatu', the German 1922 movie. It was rather funny to see how vampires were represented back then. He looks like a misshapen creature from Michael Jackon's 'Thriller' video, even though the filmography is quite good. We then saw the "sparkle scene" from 'Twilight'. I don't think I need to say which I preferred.

What is really interesting is that vampire literature explores victim hood closely, especially og sexual assault. The vampire works with mind-control and seduction, convincing the women to open their windows and let him in. They feel partly responsible for the crime committed against them because, for a time, they wanted it. This is the idea of the 'other' penetrating the 'self', someone else's wish becoming your own. The idea of penetration is of course very relevant here since the vampire's teeth penetrate the women as another part of a man would during a sexual assault. This reflects the gender anxiety and gender politics of the time.

There are many "rules" concerning how vampires are supposed to behave. Can they walk in sunlight, do they explode, do they sleep, etc. What this shows is that these rules are very flexible. The history of vampires comes from folklore and tales which were very different at times, depending on where they came from. But what seems to be something crucial to vampires is their monstrosity, something that would exclude Edward from the category of vampires. He is no threat to society,  he just wants to love Bella. Throughout the 'Twilight' sage he does not from a threat to society or to Bella's sense of identity (I personally believe she doesn't have one). Dracula has a desire to assimilate into English society and this forms a threat to London. He represents the 'enemy within' that cannot be found.

So, here we have a short history of  vampire literature. In 1801, we had Robert Southey's 'Thalaba, the Destroyer'. In early vampire fiction there was nothing noble about the vampires and they almost resembled zombies. They wake at night, ravage their own kin and have no real control over themselves. We have Lord Byron to thank, indirectly, for the more noble vampire. His 1813 story 'The Giaour' also showed the traditional EU vampire that is a savage, but he himself inspired John Polidori and his 1819 story 'The Vampyre'. Little bit of literature trivia: the idea of this story came about on the same night Mary Shelley thought up 'Frankenstein': in Byron's Geneva home during a creativity match. The vampire here is an image of Byron, suave, seductive and wrong in all the right ways. Then in 1845 we had a text that directly influenced Stoker: James Ryner's 'Varney the Vampire or The Feast of Blood'. Another novel mentioned was 'Carmilla' by J. LeFanu which deals with a female vampire. And then there was 'Dracula'. And afterwards...'Twilight'.

Our lecturer thought that movie adaptations lead to the domestication of vampires. They are supposed to represent something alien and while reading a novel, the "voice" of the vampire might invade your mind, whereas we are further removed when watching movies. He also talked about the sexual inversion that happens in vampire novels, especially concerning female vampires. Women act like men, seducing men and acting free-spirited, whereas men are submissive and powerless. But even despite this, there has to be a happy ending during which social harmony is restored by the vampire dying. It, sadly, has to be that way.

I really enjoyed this lecture and  hope you enjoyed my notes on it!

1 comment:

  1. When I was in my first year, there was a seminar called 'Vampires in Modern Media' and Bram Stoker's 'Dracula' was one of the books used for it. Sadly, first-year students weren't allowed to take part in that seminar, I know I would have loved it! And I read 'Dracula' on my own during that semester anyway - just because I could.

    Next semester, the same teacher is teaching a seminar called 'Rewriting Fairytales' and it's on my list, but I'm not sure if I can make it time-wise.

    Great post, I can't wait to read your review once you've finished reading the book.