Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Final Project Proposal

     For my final project, I’ve chosen to do Option A, the extended literary analysis. The idea that I’m leaning towards is analyzing the use of the journal-keeping and technology in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. It is interesting that the nineteenth century vampire stories that we read in this class all were told from the journalistic point of view -- yet the different ways in which each character relates the tale says a lot about the characters themselves and Victorian society.
     I think in Jonathan Harker’s case, he writes in his journal to validate his own sanity. Mina keeps a journal and often corresponds with Lucy via letters, yet as she is drawn more towards Dracula, she quits writing. Dr. Seward and Van Helsing initially keep their journals as a means of professionalism and documentation of their studies, but as the story progresses, they write to keep their own sanity as well. I also find it interesting that at the end, the men rely on their journal to validate their experience. -- it’s almost as if the events that occurred wouldn’t be as important if there was not a record of them.
     I’d definitely like to compare elements of Dracula to some of the other works that we have read in this class. Robert Neville does not keep a journal, but relies on the written word to learn more about the vampires. Louis comes to “the boy” in order to give a tale of warning against the vampire lifestyle, not just vampires in general. But in Dracula, each character that keeps a journal has a unique perspective that is also symbolic of the ideals found in Victorian society at the time of Dracula’s writing.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Feasting on the Taboo: Why are Anne Rice's Vampires so Popular?

Feasting on the Taboo:  Why are Anne Rice's Vampires so Popular?
Option #1

        One of the reasons for the popularity of Interview with the Vampire and the Vampire Chronicles is the differences between the vampires in the Rice’s novels versus the vampires in past literature. Yet a major difference is that the vampires in The Vampyre, Carmilla, and Dracula were singular threats. They had no companion vampires, and we learned nothing of their thoughts, their point of view, and their motives. While the vampires of Interview with the Vampire feasted off humans, they sought companionship with other vampires. In his article Anne Rice and the Queering of Culture, George Haggerty explores these ideas and wonders why the Vampire Chronicles are so popular in modern culture.
        As the depiction of vampires has evolved over the years, what vampires have come to symbolize has progressed as well. Nineteenth century vampire tales (Dracula, Carmilla) were symbolic of fear of Eastern and Jewish immigration into Britain and Ireland. Neville’s relationship with the vampires in Matheson’s I am Legend could be symbolic of segregation in America in the 1950’s. It is only natural that the next step would be that vampires would come to represent fear of homosexuality. As Haggerty states, “Rice may well be tapping the vampiric past in her delightfully lurid tales, but she is also tantalizing the homophobic present with her sleek and sultry undead” (Haggerty 6). While her Vampire Chronicles may be based in past vampire lore, she has yet again modernized what the vampire has come to symbolize.
        Haggerty notes that “the homoerotic bonds that surface everywhere in Rice's Vampire Chronicles function as part of the self-consuming culture that has produced them” (Haggerty 6). I think this statement coincides a lot with what Colleen mentioned in Discussion Forum A last week: that Lestat might be “the nihilistic aspect of modern existence”.
        Much of the controversy surrounding Rice’s novels is because of the way she combines love, hate, and sexuality within her vampires. Haggerty writes about The Tale of the Body Thief and a scene in which Lestat drains the life out of a man he desires, David. Haggerty claims that Lestat “transforms his act of brutal victimization into an act of love” (Haggerty 15). He notes that “[Lestat]’s fantasy is one of possession: he wants to be David as much he wants to have him. It is as much about himself, that is, as it is about the man whose blood he tastes. As if to emphasize this, his love can only be expressed in this draining of life, this absolute possession” (Haggerty 15 - 16). I think this coincides with the idea that Lestat such a powerful entity that he does what he pleases and takes what he wants when he wants it. Not only does he desire this person, he takes everything from him (his life) so no one else can have it.
        Homosexual themes are certainly nothing new to the vampire genre, as Carmilla’s relationship with Laura implied female sexual awakening through the help of another female. “Rice's vampires express our culture's secret desire for and secret fear of the gay man; the need to fly with him beyond the confines of heterosexual convention and bourgeois family life to an exploration of unauthorized desires, and at the same time to taste his body and his blood; to see him bleed and watch him succumb to death-in-life” (Haggerty 6).
        As always, the vampire is more than just a vampire. Haggerty asserts that “[t]he vampire moves with the suave invisibility of the prototypical gay man: offering companionship, friendship, even love, before revealing his true and deadly nature; appearing silently and taking his pleasure ruthlessly; and suffering for his sexual transgression by being shut out from the light and condemned to an eternity of darkness” (Haggerty 9-10). According to Haggerty, “Rice is about undoing the homosocial and re-eroticizing male relations so as to reawaken the sleeping homosexual threat that at the turn of the century was just being laid to rest” (Haggerty 16). This is quite similar to the threats imposed by the vampires in Dracula, Carmilla, and I am Legend, as the fear of the unknown and loss of power to this unknown are embodied in the vampire. Anne Rice uses homosexuality to enhance the mystique surrounding her vampires. By transcending sexuality, Rice is showing that the her vampires have also transcended mortal life, yet retained the basic human need for deep love and companionship.
        Haggerty declares that the love between Louis and Armand is “the ultimate transgression. This is what culture finally represses: not sexual desire, but love” (Haggerty 15). Yet “[i]t is the measure of the homophobia of the work that Lestat and Louis can never really make love: they can only play at making house” (Haggerty 13 - 14). While many scenes might imply homosexual acts, Lestat, Louis, and Armand are more concerned with companionship and love, rather than sexuality.
        I think that Haggerty makes a good and interesting argument concerning why Interview with the Vampire and the books that followed it are popular. Having only read Interview with the Vampire and The Vampire Lestat, it was nice to read criticism concerning the novels I haven’t read, as it seems Rice’s vampires progressed along with their increase in popularity. I think that Haggerty is correct when he claims that “Lestat is queer, that is, because heterosexist culture needs him as a reflection of its own dark secret.” (Haggerty 7). It is easy to see why readers would want to know more about Lestat and Louis, as they are complete contrasts of one another: Louis is jaded and wishes to take as little as possible, whereas Lestat lives his afterlife to the fullest, taking whatever he pleases along the way. Combing the ‘taboo’ nature of homosexuality and American consumerism, Rice has created vampires that will certainly stand the test of time.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Online Artifact

The Progression of Sexuality and the Popularity of the
Modern Literary Vampire


     For my online artifact, I originally wanted to find a “vampire family tree” of the vampires from Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles. Unable to find a valid source (most contained errors and omissions while offering no criticism of the text), I tried to find an interview with Anne Rice. The only problem was that a search for “interview” and “Anne Rice” turns up thousands of links to Interview with the Vampire, rather than interviews with the author. But during this search, I stumbled upon a piece of literary criticism that explores the progression of sexuality and the modern day popularity of literary vampires, both issues that we have written about in our blogs and discussion forums. This article, Love, Lust, and the Literary Vampire by Margaret L. Carter, brings a new insight to the progression of the vampire in literature and offers valid theories and criticisms of many of the stories that we have read this semester.
     The article, found at, compares the sexual nature and imposing threat of literary vampires of the past and present. Carter begins her essay by quoting author Carol Senf’s observations concerning Carmilla and Dracula, stating that “[c]ontemporary authors place ’increasing emphasis on the positive aspects of the vampire’s eroticism and on his or her right to rebel against the stultifying constraints of society’ (Senf 163)” (Carter). She notes that “the very qualities that make the traditional vampire a threat in nineteenth-century stories such as Carmilla and Dracula -- particularly his or her erotic power and unconventional behavior -- make the vampire appealing to twentieth-century readers” (Carter). This is particularly true when concerned with the vampires found in Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire.
     Carter makes a great point concerning Interview with the Vampire and Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles when she notes that “[c]ontemporary readers -- and writers -- more often see the vampire’s otherness and sexual ambiguity as alluring. Hence the more or less traditionally supernatural vampire, as transformed in the novels of such authors as Anne Rice and Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, becomes attractive rather than horrible” (Carter). Lestat, Armand, Louis, and the other vampires in Interview are certainly less physically imposing, and often act more threatening towards other vampires and each other, rather than humans. They are given more humanistic qualities than vampires of past novels, similar to Ruth from I am Legend. Modern literary vampires are “exogamous naturalistic vampires [that] can retain much of the sexual magnetism we associate with Carmilla, Dracula, and their descendants” (Carter), yet at the same time, the vampires in Interview are also viewed as much less of a sexual threat. Carter observes that male vampires “in such novels [are] usually incapable of penile-vaginal intercourse” (Carter). Rather than posing a sexual threat to humanity, the vampires are more concerned with companionship instead of sex. Louis’s bonds with Claudia and Armand are out of sympathy and the need for a partner to spend time with and experience his new vampire lifestyle.
     In contrast, Carter discusses the role of the female vampire in literature and the progression of these roles in modern literature. Carter states that “[f]rom the feminine viewpoint, then, vampire sexuality as portrayed in fiction, far from being ‘incomplete,’ instead compensates for the defects in conventional masculine sexual patterns” (Carter). This can be applied to Louis and Claudia, as Louis was neither fatherly nor a protector as a human, yet he gains these qualities after Lestat’s changing of Claudia. Louis feeds on Claudia instinctively, not because he is a sexual threat or predator, but because he “was torn in agony” (Rice 89) over his needs as a vampire and his former human expectations. The vampires in Interview are more consumed with how to spend the rest of eternity, rather than pillaging society of its innocence.
     This is not to say that some of the vampires in Interview with the Vampire do not display animalistic characteristics, as Lestat describes them as “[p]redators” (Rice 82). But while the vampires in Interview prey on humans to an extent, they pose an even bigger threat to other vampires. Lestat remarks to Louis that “Vampires are killers! They don’t want you or your sensibility! They’ll see you coming long before you see them, and they’ll see your flaw; and, distrusting you, they’ll seek to kill you … they are lone predators and seek for companionship no more than cats in the jungle” (Rice 82). Yet Lestat, Louis, Claudia, and Armand want nothing more than companionship. So while the threatening image of the vampire has been lessened to an extent, they still reflect the mysterious and enigmatic qualities of past literary vampires.
     Although this article is written prior to the Twilight series and the rise in popularity of the Southern Vampire Mysteries/the True Blood television series, it clearly applies to the twenty-first century revival of the vampire novel in American culture. At times, Carter seems to credit sexuality too much for the revitalized popularity of the vampire novel, but she makes a great point when she writes that novels such as Interview with the Vampire “appeals to the reader by addressing the human desire to know the mind of the Other” (Carter). Whereas vampire novels of the past (Carmilla, Dracula) offer no narration or viewpoint of the vampires, Interview is told from the perspective of one. By changing to this narrative technique, the reader gains insight into the mysterious, as the “process of touching an alien mind constitutes one of the most powerful attractions of contemporary vampire fiction …. we get a glimpse into a mode of being somehow both human and nonhuman.” (Carter).
     I think that this online artifact provides a new aspect to the debate surrounding the revitalized popularity of the vampire. Having not read most of the modern vampire stories discussed by Carter, she does a good job of summarizing the progression of the vampire from the nineteenth century to present day. Sexuality is unquestionably a constant theme of the vampire novel, and Carter shows how this theme has progressed throughout the years. Yet the vampire no longer simply represents a sexual threat, as the modern “vampire longs for communication and self-disclosure as well as self knowledge” (Carter). Readers have been let into the mind of the literary vampire and have unquestionably decided that they want to know more.


Works Cited 
Carter, Margaret L. Lust, Love, and the Literary Vampire. Strange Horizons.
     July 22, 2002.

Rice, Anne. Interview with the Vampire. Random House Publishing, New York. 1976.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Literary Criticism

     In her essay “Echoes of Dracula: Racial Politics and the Failure of Segregated Spaces in Richard Matheson’s I am Legend”, Dr. Kathy Davis Patterson argues that the vampires in I am Legend coincide with segregation and the Civil Rights movement in America. Dr. Patterson contends that “the dramatic structure of Matheson’s novel contains a very clear, racially charged subtext that reflects the cultural anxieties of a white America newly confronted with the fact that it can no longer segregate itself from those whom it has labeled Other” (Patterson 20), or in this case, an “’Africanist’ presence” (Patterson 20).

     Patterson reminds the reader that “[t]he link between literary vampires and racialized constructions of monstrosity is nothing new. Numerous studies of Dracula, in particular, have explored the characterization of Bram Stoker’s infamous Count as an allegorical representation of late nineteenth-century British anxieties regarding the influx of large numbers of Eastern European Jewish immigrants onto English soil” (Patterson 19). Dracula, Carmilla, and even Polidori’s The Vampyre have all used Orientalist oppositions to suggest white cultural dominance over Eastern cultures that had relocated to central Europe. “Orientalism”, a term made famous by Edward Said in his book of the same name, is a term used to describe the ways in which the Western world views the East, or the Orient. John McLeod, author of Beginning Postcolonialism, writes 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). It is partly through Orientalism in European literature that Britain and France maintained cultural hegemony over colonized nations and Eastern immigrants.

     Patterson argues that such Orientalism is present in Matheson’s I am Legend upon examining the relationship between Robert Neville, the story’s protagonist, and the vampires that surround his house in post-outbreak America. Works by authors Toni Morrison, Jules Zanger, Judith Halberstam, and Gwendolyn Whitehead are quoted by Patterson in her argument. According to Patterson, author Toni Morrison “defines ‘Africanism’ as ‘the denotative and connotative blackness that African peoples have come to signify, as well as the entire range of views, assumptions, readings, and misreadings that accompany Eurocentric learning about these people’” (Patterson 20). This mention of “blackness” (Patterson 20) and black characteristics are found throughout Matheson’s I am Legend, Patterson points this out by stating that “Halberstam’s mention of black Africans as ‘threatening Others’ is especially worth noting in the context of this study” (Patterson 19), as evidenced by Neville’s constant connection of the vampires to “blackness” (Patterson 20). Patterson observes that “Neville recalls the Black Plague and thinks to himself that ‘Something black and of the night had come crawling out of the Middle Ages’ (Matheson 28)” (Patterson 20). She relates this to a passage later on in the story in which a preacher compares the vampires to “a black unholy animal” (Matheson 113).

     According to Patterson, “Neville’s feelings towards the vampires in explicitly xenophobic terms and creates a subtext within the novel that makes racial difference and vampirism synonymous” (Patterson 21). She examines a section of the story in which Neville is drunk and rambles to himself about the vampires being a “minority element” (Matheson 32), ending when Neville sarcastically asks himself “would you let your sister marry one?” (Matheson 32). This inner-dialogue that Neville has is one of the best examples of possible racial overtones in I am Legend, as it relays his hatred towards the vampires to the reader while giving the impression that Neville could be talking about racial issues.

     Patterson makes note of the fact that Matheson is quick to describe Neville as “a tall man, thirty-six, born of English-German stock” (Matheson 14), yet “the vampires have no obvious racial attributes per se.” (Patterson 21). It is thus that she describes Neville as “a white man who barricades himself in his house and spends most of his energy trying to keep the monsters out” (Patterson 21). She remarks that “[h]e has established a segregated space that he fights to keep exclusively for himself, a small bastion of civilization in the midst of a suburban wilderness decimated by the effects of the plague. His character parallels, in many ways, the ‘self-conscious but highly problematic construction of the American as a new white man’” (Patterson 21). It is interesting to think of Neville in this way, as in I am Legend, the roles have truly been reversed: Neville, the human, is the minority in a world inhabited by undead vampires.

     Kathy Davis Patterson also relates Neville’s protection of his wife’s corpse to white society’s attempts to keep African Americans’ bloodlines out of their race. Patterson contends that “[i]n Neville’s worldview, hybrid blood equals contaminated blood.” (Patterson 23). But this protection not only relates to racial issues, as Neville‘s protection of his wife correlates with the male predisposition to look at women as a possession. Patterson declares that: 

The phallicism of the stake, however, ensures that the sexual connotation remains. After being infected by the bacteria that causes vampirism, Virginia becomes a contaminated creature who threatens to reproduce her contagion in others. Her staking at the hands of Robert, her still-human husband and representative of the American cultural status quo, is a final act of possession, a gesture of his exclusive rights to penetrate her body. (Patterson 23)Yet when Neville rids his wife’s crypt of a vampire, Patterson argues that a deeper act has been committed, as“[t]hanks to [Neville’s] efforts, [Virginia’s] body will neither produce nor nourish any vampires. Metaphorically, the white male has protected the sanctity of the white female body, thereby assuring the continued incorruptibility of white blood” (Patterson 23).

     I think that Kathy Davis Patterson provides a fascinating insight into Matheson’s story, as much of her argument is sound and based in past literary criticism. At some times, however, her theory seems a bit far-fetched, especially when concerned with “blackness” (Patterson 20) and Neville’s “protection” (Patterson 23) of his wife. Yet Patterson backs up her claims with enough evidence that I have certainly looked at I am Legend in a while different manner. I especially like that Patterson points out how at the end of the story, “it is Neville who has become stagnant, ‘passé’, a persistent stereotype that refuses to die” (Patterson 27). This criticism brings to mind many issues concerning race and the modern vampire novel. I find it interesting to wonder if Matheson actually intended his story to reflect so much of the racial situation of 1950’s America, or if it truly is “coincidence” (Patterson 19). The criticism also makes me wonder how the connotations regarding “black” and “blackness” actually found their way into literature -- was it because of religion, superstitions, or Orientalism? Patterson notes that at the end of the story, Neville realizes that he is also a “monster” (Patterson 26) and also part of a dying breed. But with Patterson’s racial issues in mind, it is interesting to examine whether or not Neville’s relationship with Ruth led to this understanding, and whether or not Neville himself feels corrupted and therefore must end his life. This criticism has made me think of I am Legend in a different way. Even if Matheson’s intention was not to base his story on race, past vampire novels and the stereotypes presented have made Patterson’s criticism of I am Legend valid and interesting to contemplate.
                               Works Cited

Matheson, Richard. I Am Legend. New York: Tom Doherty Associates LLC. 1995.

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

Patterson, Kathy Davis. Echoes of Dracula: Racial Politics and the Failure of
     Segregated Spaces in Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend