Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Byronic Hero in Post-Apocalyptic America

A Byronic Hero in Post-Apocalyptic America
Option #2

Robert Neville is a significantly different character than the typical hero of past vampire novels. In Robert’s apocalyptic situation, the roles have been reversed in a significant manner, as not only is he the “hunter”, he is also the “hunted”. Neville exhibits several of the traits of the stereotypical Byronic hero: he is intelligent to the point of arrogance, struggles with himself and the past, and holds a distaste for social institutions and norms. He is quite the contrast from the protagonists found in the other vampire stories that we have read this semester.  Neville’s depiction as a hero depends very much upon whether or not the reader sides with Neville or the vampires.

I actually found Neville to be most similar to Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights, when compared to all the other stories we have read, because of the alienation and despair that he endures and the death that he dishes out on a daily basis. Neville sees it as his duty to rid the world of as many undead as he can, even though he knows that he is fighting a losing battle. “Despite everything he had or might have … life gave no promise of improvement or even of change.” (95). Having lost his wife and daughter, Robert has nothing left to lose -- the possibility of being shot for not burying his wife means little to him, other than that he will no longer be alive. Being the last “living” human being on Earth took its toll on Robert’s psyche, as “[t]he thought of forty more years of living as he was made him shudder” (95).

For being the last “living“ being, Neville is certainly not kind to himself. He abuses his body out of boredom and because of the solitude he faces, as “[t]rying to analyze it, he came to the conclusion that his last drunk had put him on the bottom, at the very nadir of frustrated despair. Now, unless he put himself under the ground, the only way he could go was up” (110). Robert knows that his only true escape is death, and for the most part, he does not fear death, as exemplified when he thinks to himself “I’ll drown myself in whiskey! Like Clarence in his malmsey, I’ll die, die, die!” (92). With all Byronic heroes, his tragic flaw is his need for companionship, as “he had clung to the hope that someday he would find someone like himself -- a man, a woman, a child, it didn’t matter. Sex was fast losing its meaning without the endless prodding of mass hypnosis. Loneliness he still felt” (101).

Robert’s interaction with the dog offers a great deal of insight into his loneliness and Matheson’s views on the food chain. Upon seeing the living dog, Robert undergoes a change, as he can no longer stand his loneliness and simply needs a companion. Matheson writes that “Somehow, though, he managed to ignore his iconoclastic self and went on praying anyway. Because he wanted the dog, because he needed the dog” (97). Similar to Heathcliff, Neville does whatever it takes to get the dog inside of his house. Neville is amazed by the dog’s intelligence and ability to survive just as long as he has, and even though it is another losing battle, he feels it to be his duty to nurse the dog back to health. The relationship with the dog is also representative of the dilemma he faces with the vampires -- “trust” (107). The dog does not trust Robert because of the actions of the undead. If Robert and the vampires were to even consider calling a truce, there would similarly be no trust because of everything that has already happened.

I found it quite interesting when Neville began to turn to science and technology in his search for the possible causes and cures of the disease. Neville’s relationship with technology is quite similar to his struggle against the vampires: as much as he loathes technology for what it has caused, he knows that it is the only way that he can possibly cure and end the disease. At the same time, as much as Neville taunts and hates the vampires around his house, he needs them in order to have a purpose in his solitary life. Neville obsesses about finding a cure much in the same way that Dr. Seward obsessed over his psychiatry but also in the same way that Carmilla obsessed over Laura and “the men” obsessed over Dracula’s demise.

I found Neville’s relationship with Ben Cortman, his neighbor-and-friend-turned-vampire, to be another interesting aspect of the story. Cortman’s taunting of Neville becomes expected after a while -- it’s almost as if it wouldn’t be nighttime without the vampire Ben saying “Come out, Neville!” (23). Neville, out of boredom and out of spite, plays games with the vampires. Ben Cortman and Robert Neville, two beings that were friends in a past life, are both out for each other’s blood -- yet when there is a possibility that Neville might not be the one to end Cortman’s undead existence, Neville feels distressed. “He couldn’t fight the sick apprehension he felt at the thought of Cortman’s being killed by these brutal strangers. Objectively, it was pointless, but he could not repress the feeling. Cortman was not theirs to put to rest” (159). I think this is a fascinating contrast when compared to Dracula and Carmilla, as the men kill the vampires out of fear, rather than spite. Neville knows that life as he knew it is over, and his post-apocalyptic lifestyle will come to an end sooner than later as well. Robert compares the situation to the “end of Oliver Hardy, he thought, the death of all comedy and all laughter. He didn’t hear the continuous full-scale of shots. He didn’t even feel the tears running down his. His eyes were riveted on the ungainly form of his old friend inching up the brightly lit roof” (160). Without a rival, Neville’s life would be even more unfulfilling -- just as he treats the undead as worthless unnatural beings, the undead treat him as worthless aside from the blood he will provide. Yet both need each other: Neville needs the vampires to keep his sanity, while the vampires need Neville to rally against and help form their new society.

Written in post-World War II American society, I found this story to be a great contrast to the other vampire novels and stories we have read this semester. Instead of a fear of Victorian decline, Americans at the time feared post-war change and the political based “Red Scare”, or fear of Communism. It is interesting especially as the roles have been reversed: instead of a society of humans fighting a single vampire, it was a society of vampires fighting against a single human -- “the world that was theirs and no longer his” (162). I also found Matheson’s usage and explanations of the stereotypical vampire hunting tools to be enjoyable. As Neville states, “Witches, vampires -- in all these feared being there was a sort of interwoven kinship. Legends and superstitions could overlap, and did.” (116). Matheson has twisted the archetypical vampire story into a new tale of survival, yet the underlying themes remain similar to the other vampire and gothic novels we have read so far this year.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Dracula and Victorian Fear of Decline

Dracula and Victorian Fear
Option # 2

In his criticism The Occidental Tourist: Dracula and the Anxiety of Reverse Colonization, Stephen D. Arata conveys the idea that the vampire represents the “decline of the empire” and Victorian society. I think much of the subtext of the novel clearly has to do with Victorian society’s fear of loss.

In his criticism, Arata writes that Stoker “transforms the materials of the vampire myth, making them bear the weight of the culture’s fears over its declining status. The appearance of vampires becomes the sign of profound trouble” (465). This statement relates Victorian society’s fear of decline and the arrival or integration of the unknown. Harker facilitates Dracula’s moving to London, in essence, letting the vampire “in” to Victorian society. British fears concerning outsiders and outside cultures are manifested in the character of Dracula and what he represents -- this not only shows an Orientalist attitude towards cultures that are not British and do not reflect the ideal Victorian viewpoint, but also the coming change (and fear of decline) of British culture. Once Dracula is “let in” to Victorian culture, he corrupts and alters society to the point that the men are motivated to action -- they must drive the interloper from their (supposedly) pure society. As Arata states, “[t]he Count endangers Britain’s integrity as a nation at the same time that he impales the personal integrity of individual citizens” (465). The fears expressed by the men are the fears of Victorian society -- fear of the unknown, loss of power, loss of culture, and loss of subservience when concerning women. In essence, the vampire, or the outsider, opposes everything that Victorian culture stands for.

Mina’s saviors’ fears are rooted in Orientalism and Orientalist oppositions -- Dracula represents the unknown, the mysterious, and the non-British. The characters that come in contact with Dracula experience a regression of sorts from the typical Victorian lifestyle: Renfield goes mad and reverts to primitive ways. Mina and Lucy experience a sexual awakening of sorts, and many characters that represent the “old blood” (Lucy’s mother, Mr. Hawkins) meet their demise after Dracula‘s arrival.

The fear of the unknown relates to Said’s theory of Orientalism in which the notion that colonized nations are inferior is imposed on both the colonized and the colonizer. With this in mind, the coming of Dracula represents Victorian society’s fears of losing racial identity. Lucy succumbs to the power of Dracula, representing the fear that Victorian women might be corrupted by the non-British culture spreading across western Europe. Not only is Dracula from the anomalous Transylvania, his servants are described as “gypsies” (323), further exemplifying Orientalist oppositions. In essence, the men in the story wish to do what Colonial Britain poised to do: dominate and assimilate other cultures. Dracula stands in opposition to this philosophy, and therefore must be removed. It is interesting to note that Quincey, an American, is the only man who suffers death during the final encounter. I think this could be Stoker’s way of contrasting Quincey with the pure-blooded British men who live to tell the tale and to re-validate Victorian ideals. Quincey is described as “all man” (285), perhaps insinuating that although he holds physical power, he lacks the superior rationale of pure British society.

The loss of Victorian power coincides with the loss of female obedience and virtue. Mina is seen as pure and strong (or at least as strong as a woman is allowed to be), and thus she is able to survive Dracula’s attempts at corruption. Lucy, on the other hand, shows weakness and succumbs to his actions. Dracula distorts the Victorian ideas of what is right and wrong. The men’s attempt to save Mina doubles as Victorian society’s efforts to confine the female sexual awakening in Britain. With Orientalism in mind, it is interesting to examine the power that religion holds over the men and the vampires. Most Victorian ideas come from Christianity, and the power that religious iconography holds over the vampires is certainly of note, as it is the ultimate “squelcher” of the unknown.

I’m not quite sure if the reinvigorated popularity of the vampire in American culture is due to “a sign of profound trouble in our current society”, however it is an interesting idea to explore.   I really don’t think that the popularity of True Blood or Twilight is due to immigration issues or the Iraq war, however many of the themes found in Dracula are valid, especially if the vampire and other characters were transported to 2010 America. I think that over the years, the “mystique” of the vampire has become less frightening and more interesting -- rather than driving Dracula from the land, we choose to look closer. Orientalist attitudes still exist in America and other countries, however the modern vampire tale seems to work in reverse. As society is obviously much more “open” than it was in Victorian times, it is intriguing that we now choose to embrace the vampire and the vampire tale.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Dr. Seward and Technology

Dr. Seward and Technology
Option #5
My blog this week is going to focus mostly on option #5, but it is difficult to discuss the character of Dr. Seward without mentioning technology, science, and Renfield (options 2 and 3). Much of Dracula is revealed from the perspective of Dr. Seward. It is through this perspective that we get a sense of the purpose of technology and science, two aspects of Victorian society that offset the presence of Dracula and the unknown.

Dr. Seward seems to represent the growing reliance upon technology and medicine in Victorian society. The simple fact that Seward’s journal is “KEPT IN PHONOGRAPH” (62), whereas the other characters physically write letters says a great deal about his role in the novel. While some characters (Renfield) keep no journal, and others communicate frequently via letters (Jonathan, Mina, Lucy), Seward keeps notes on his phonograph, which was innovative at the time as it had just been invented and few would have access to such a device. Seward’s actions reflect the use of such technology, as he tends to act and observe more logically (or factually) than the other characters -- unlike the other characters, his passion appears to consist of science and facts, rather than emotions.

Unlike the other perspectives used in Dracula, Seward’s journal entries seem to focus more on facts than emotion. This could be due to proximity to the Count, as Harker’s letters begin as being more fact-based, but soon turn towards emotion. Lucy and Mina’s correspondences focus almost primarily on their emotions. It is also through Seward that we are exposed to the frequency of Lucy’s sleepwalking and a medical perspective of Dracula‘s effects on a young Victorian woman. Seward notes that “Lucy walks more now than ever” (72) before choosing a suitor, which could be symbolizing that without the guardianship (or protection) of a man , Lucy would give into her impulses. It is also interesting to note that the only times when Seward shows emotion are concerning Lucy and her rejections of him.

Not only does Seward use the phonograph, he relies on it to validate his memories. Seward states that “I began a new record. So it will be until the Great Recorder sums me up closes my ledger account with a balance to profit or loss” (71). Instead of obsessing about sex or emotion, Seward obsesses with science and technology. He uses the phonograph to calm his fears -- in fact, it often seems that characters write (or keep record) to calm their fears. Seward does physically write when necessary to communicate (104-108), but prefers to use the telegraph. It is also because of Seward that Professor Van Helsing, another character who represents knowledge and science, is brought into the situation.

Perhaps the most interesting part of Seward’s diary is the asylum that he supervises. It is through Dr. Seward that we learn about the odd plight of Renfield, one of his patients.. Seward’s fascination with Renfield is definitely worth examining because it seems to slowly lead Seward into madness himself. Instead of the vampire causing Seward to stay up late into the night, it is his obsession with studying Renfield. It is also interesting to contrast the manner in which Seward observes Renfield with the way that Renfield interacts with his “pets” (69). I think much of Seward’s interaction with Renfield is representative of the advent of psychology. The theories of Sigmund Freud were being published and studied around the time of this novel, and although they might have been controversial at the time, they marked the beginning of psychoanalysis. Seward’s psychoanalysis of Renfield often follows Freud’s notions. Seward notes that Renfield “has certain qualities very largely developed: selfishness, secrecy, and purpose” (69). Not only are Renfield’s actions symbolic of the coming of the vampire, they offer an examination of primitive vs. civilized from the viewpoint of a doctor. As Renfield consumes his “pets” (69), Seward invents “a new classification for him, [calling] him a zoophagous (life-eating) maniac” (71). His fear of Renfield is also intriguing, as Seward notes “a strong man with homicidal and religious mania at once might be dangerous. The combination is a dreadful one” (96). The fear of the primitive is clearly noted, but it is also worth noting Seward’s trepidation with religion, especially when concerning the ways that Catholicism is used to protect the women from the vampire.

I especially find it is interesting to contrast the way that Seward appears in his own journals compared with the way that he is written about by others. Lucy remarks in a letter to Mina that Seward “is a doctor and really clever. Just fancy! He is only nine-and-twenty, and he has an immense lunatic asylum all under his own care” (56). Lucy is not attracted to him, rather, she is attracted to his position in society (although obviously not enough to marry him). In fact, Lucy suggests that Seward “would just do for [Mina]” (56), if Mina was not already engaged to Jonathan. Seward is described by Lucy as “the most resolute” (56) and “the most calm” (56) person that she has ever saw -- two traits also shown through Seward’s reliance on technology and science.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Carmilla from the Perspective of Orientalism

Carmilla from the Perspective of Orientalism
Option #4

     In the essay The Vampire in the House: Hysteria, Female Sexuality, and Female Knowledge in Le Fanu’s ‘Carmilla’, Tamar Hellar comments on the elements of Orientalism found in Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla. Carmilla exemplifies Orientalist stereotypes and binary oppositions, as the vampire and everything that surrounds her are shrouded in Orientalist contrasts.
     Having taken Professor Wilson’s American Indian/Postcolonial Literature class (English 520), I am familiar with the term Orientalism and its significance. To define the term, I simply had to dig out my English 520 textbook, Beginning Postcolonialism by John McLeod. “Orientalism” is a term made famous by Edward Said in his book of the same name to describe the ways in which the Western world views the East, or the Orient. McLeod states that “Said’s Orientalism is a study of how the Western colonial powers of Britain and France represented North African and Middle Eastern lands in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries” (McLeod 39). McLeod notes that “’Orientalism’ refers to the sum of the West’s representations of the Orient” (McLeod 39), and also observes that “Said shows how the modes of representation common to colonialism have continued after decolonization and are still very much a part of the contemporary world” (McLeod 40).
     Upon close examination of almost any text from the 19th and 20th centuries, the term “Orientalism” can be applied as many authors (some knowingly, some unknowingly) have asserted binary oppositions towards what is considered to be odd or ‘the unknown’ in their literature. McLeod states that “Orientalism constructs binary divisions … is a western fantasy … is literary … and acts as an institution” (McLeod 40 - 45). Orientalism essentially uses western or “civilized” stereotypes to compare what eastern and “uncivilized” lands are like and should be like. Nations that do not act in the western “norm” are quite often made to look inferior by drawing binary oppositions between western culture and non-western culture. Once Carmilla is exterminated (or executed), the Baron speculates that evils such as Carmilla could not come from within a civilized land such as Styria, as he “[assumes], at starting, a territory perfectly free from the pest” (318). Since Carmilla and her characteristics are far from the implicit “norm,” nothing of her kind could come from within a civilized society.
     Much of Carmilla’s secrecy is shrouded in binary oppositions and Orientalist ideas, beginning with the crash of the carriage. Le Fanu writes “she described a hideous black woman, with a sort of colored turban on her head, who was gazing all the time from the carriage window, nodding and grinning derisively towards the ladies, with gleaming eyes and large white eye-balls, and her teeth set as if in fury” (257). Laura’s father and Madame Perrodon immediately draw Orientalist oppositions, as Laura’s father describes the men as “ugly, hang-dog looking fellows … They are clever rogues” (257). In reply, Madame Perrodon remarks that “Besides looking wicked, their faces were so strangely lean, and dark, and sullen” (257), yet she is “curious” (257) to hear why Carmilla would be traveling with them to begin with.
     This brings to mind the “return of the repressed”, which is the process whereby repressed elements, preserved in the unconscious, tend to reappear, in consciousness or in behavior, in the shape of secondary and more or less unrecognizable "derivatives of the unconscious." ( This theory derived by Sigmund Freud in his The Interpretation of Dreams, focuses on the subconscious. Because we (or Laura and the villagers of Styria), have repressed certain memories, our thoughts and actions are influenced by what is being repressed. This applies to both what Laura has been taught and what happened in her first encounter with Carmilla as a young girl. Laura’s awakening (282) and new sexual feelings are dually influenced by the “norms” of Styria and what happened to her as a child -- the main reason that she does not give in completely to her newfound feelings is because she has been taught not to. This coincides with Said’s Orientalism, as people of a savage or uncivilized nature are considered to be primitive, and thus more animalistic and sexually free.
     Some of McLeod and Said’s descriptions of Orientalism struck me as imperative to the discussion of Carmilla and Orientalism, especially when concerned with Heller‘s essay. In his criticism, Said states that “Orientalism makes assumptions about gender” (McLeod 45), that “the orient is degenerate” (McLeod 46), but most notably, that “the Orient is feminine” (McLeod 45). Heller explores this notion in her essay when she writes that the “feminine invasion is figured in terms of imperialist anxiety, for Carmilla rides into Styria -- already, because of its orientalism, an only tenuously domesticated zone -- like the return of the repressed colonized Other” (84). I think that Heller’s opinion is justified and quite valid, as Carmilla’s sexuality and sexual nature threaten the male hegemony of Styria (and other Western cultures). Laura states that Carmilla’s “confidence won [her] the first night [Laura] saw her” (262), which shows that Carmilla is clearly unlike the stereotypical 19th century woman -- she is opinionated, assertive, and obviously a major contrast to any female Laura has encountered before. The fact that Carmilla attempts to impose her sexual feelings on another female shows the male fear of losing authority and the restructuring of power. She is described in exotic manner to convey her differences from the town of Styria and the conventional norms -- Carmilla exposes her history with “an ever wakeful reserve” (262), is surrounded by images of “black” (262), and constantly conveys a representation of the unknown.
     After taking a class that focused on Orientalism, it is difficult to read any text without Orientalist oppositions in mind. Knowing that most of the “classics” in literature are filled with Orientalist thoughts and oppositions is difficult to fathom, yet such Orientalist viewpoints must be examined to truly understand the text. While most of the oppositions in this tale were evident, they say a great deal about 19th century beliefs while adding to Carmilla’s mystique at the same time.


Works cited
Definition of Return of the Repressed -

Hellar, Tamar. The Vampire in the House: Hysteria, Female Sexuality, and Female
     Knowledge in Le Fanu’s Carmilla (1872)
. Harman, Barbara, and Meyer,
     Susan (ed). The New Nineteenth Century: Feminist Readings of Underread
     Victorian Fiction
. USA. 1996.

Le Fanu, Sheridan. In a Glass Darkly. Oxford University Press, New York, 2008.

McLeod, John. Beginning Postcolonialism. Manchester University Press,
     Manchester, 2000