Monday, December 20, 2010

Final Project

     Writing and record keeping are used for a variety of reasons in early vampire novels, especially Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Sheridan LeFanu’s Carmilla. While each character has his or her own specific reason for beginning to write or to keep records, it is through the written (or recorded) word that many of the characters are able to justify their actions towards the vampire, which in turn helps to validate their sanity. Quite often, it is the character’s own written word that allows them to feel safe, sane, and secure throughout the many horrific situations they find themselves in. Throughout Dracula and Carmilla, it is evident that the band of “heroes” represent a Victorian society based on technology and record-keeping, appearing progressive yet traditional, while Count Dracula and Carmilla both represent the primitive, the irrational, and the unknown. However, a further extension of this idea is exemplified in the technology used by each character to create their respective journal entries, be they recorded by ink, typewriter or phonograph. While each character may begin to write or keep records for their own personal reasons, it is their journals which become an extension of their sanity and personality.

     The narrative style of both Le Fanu’s Carmilla and Stoker’s Dracula are strikingly similar, both told from journal entries and letters. It is clear that Le Fanu’s Carmilla influenced Stoker and his archetypical vampire tale, as the importance of the journal is primary to the story’s development. The reader is informed that “Doctor Hesselius has written a rather elaborate note, which he accompanies with a reference to his Essay on the strange subject which the MS illuminates” (Le Fanu 243). While the reader knows that the tale is fiction, both vampire tales are told from the perspective of journal entries and letters, giving the events a sense of realism. Because the tales are told from the perspectives of the characters within, the reader must decide for themselves what to believe and what to question. In fact, Laura asks the reader for their “faith in [her] veracity to believe [her] story”(Le Fanu 248), as the vampire and what he or she represents was a new adversary to Victorian society.

     The journal takes on a whole new importance in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Out of all the characters, Jonathan Harker seems most concerned with journal keeping and writing in general. Upon entering the Count’s castle, Harker “found, to [his] great delight, a vast number of English books” (25). While Harker does not know the real reason as to why Dracula is studying England, it is important to note that he initially believes Dracula to be a good man because of his knowledge and collection of old literature. Additionally, Harker goes on to validate his own abilities through the letter written to the Count from Harker’s employer, Mr. Hawkins. The letter states that Hawkins “can send a suitable substitute, one in whom [he] has every possible confidence. [Harker] is a young man, full of energy and talent in his own way, and of a very faithful disposition. He is discreet and silent, and has grown into manhood in [his] service” (Stoker 23). It is this letter that also sets the tone for how the reader is supposed to view Jonathan, as while the novel may end with Harker being a courageous protagonist, it certainly is a gradual progression.

     At first, Harker writes in his journal for pleasure. “I am not sleepy, and, as I am not to be called till I awake, naturally I write till sleep comes” (Stoker 13), he notes, prior to traveling to Transylvania. But once he has stayed in the castle for some time, Harker begins to worry and uses his journal to both relieve tension and to attempt to rationalize his situation. Harker writes, “I began to fear as I write in this book that I was getting too diffuse; but now I am glad that I went into detail from the first, for there is something so strange about this place and all in it that I cannot but feel uneasy” (Stoker 30). The fear that Harker feels is alleviated somewhat by his journal entry, as it provides him with an outlet for his emotions and a record of what horrible sights he has witnessed. He is unsure what to believe is real, yet because there is a written record of such events, he is more at ease and more likely to believe what he has seen.

     The fact that Jonathan vows to never read his Transylvania journal conveys the feeling that he wishes to forget whatever events occurred on his journey. His Victorian beliefs make him uncertain of what really occurred on his journey, and it is this uncertainty that leads to the loss of rationality and the beginning of his deterioration into insanity. While Mina had vowed not to read such journal entries herself, she is compelled to after the couple come across an ageless Count Dracula, and thus she must transcribe his manuscripts by typewriter. Harker’s memoirs are first blamed upon “brain fever” (Stoker 95), but soon his sanity is validated due to the existence of his journal entries. Van Helsing, a man who seems to bridge the gap between Harker and the scientific Dr. Seward. He is allowed to read transcripts of Harker’s journal, and because of Van Helsing’s status in the British Victorian community, he is able to validate Harker’s account.

     In contrast, after Mina has recalled her encounters with Dracula, Jonathan notes, “As I must do something or go mad, I write this diary” (Stoker 252). In a way, Harker relies on the fact that Van Helsing validated his sanity earlier after reading his journal entries. But in this instance, Jonathan resorts to writing in his diary, as the written word is the only thing that makes him still feel rational and of sound mind. Furthermore, he “must keep writing at every chance, for [he] dare not stop to think” (Stoker 253), which conveys the feeling that Harker uses writing to soothe the emotional horror that he has just experienced. Additionally, it seems as long as Jonathan has a record of these occurrences, he is recognized as being of sound mind. In ways, it seems that if he stops writing, he will lose his ability to do so, and thus lose his sanity.

     When compared with Jonathan Harker, Van Helsing seems to represent a balance between technology and traditional (or primitive) methods. While Van Helsing may not have relied on his own records to validate his sanity, he uses academic and religious texts that he has previously read in order to corroborate his viewpoint. His reliance upon old texts is symbolic of the traditional Victorian values that he, too, represents, which is also a main reason as to why the men unquestionably accept his knowledge of vampires. It is Van Helsing’s knowledge which causes the men to believe his ideas, and accordingly authorizes the men to hunt down Lucy, and eventually Count Dracula himself.

     Lucy Westerna begins writing for a simple purpose: to imitate Mina Harker, and to communicate with her. Lucy’s first journal entries are out of disbelief, as she has just been proposed to by three different gentlemen callers (Stoker 56 - 61). Yet despite her hysteria, Lucy finds herself calmed by writing her letters to Mina. She, too, is enthralled with writing and keeping records, as she writes “I do not know how I am writing this even to you. I do not want to stop, for I do so want to tell you all.” (Stoker 57) Although Lucy is new to writing, she seems to be just as enthusiastic, or obsessed about writing as Mina, Jonathan, and Seward are. Mina describes Lucy as being “[own the East Cliff, reading and writing all day. Lucy seems to have become as much in love with the spot as I am, and it is hard to get her away from it when it is time to come for lunch or tea or dinner” (Stoker 90).

     Ironically, it is the men’s exclusion of the women that allow Dracula to have his way with Lucy and Mina initially. With the “new woman” of Victorian society in mind, it is quite interesting to note that the only female characters who write and keep records (Laura, Lucy, and Mina) are the only women attacked by the vampire. Yet with all the knowledge and technology that the “heroes” of Dracula possess, they are unable to save Lucy. When contrasted with Mina Harker, Dracula’s other potential victim, Lucy’s fate is clear. It seems as if part of the reason that Mina is able to be saved is due to the fact that she was already technologically adept and able to type. Furthermore, it was Mina who got Lucy started writing journals, as Lucy writes “I must imitate Mina, and keep writing things down” (103). With the deterioration of Lucy’s health comes the decline of entries in her journal. This symbolizes that as Dracula overtakes Lucy, her sanity and rationality are lost as well.

     Mina, similar to her husband Jonathan, writes for pleasure in the initial chapters of the novel. She writes “I am anxious, and it soothes me to express myself here; it is like whispering to one’s self and listening at the same time. And there is also something about the shorthand symbols that makes it different from writing” (Stoker 72). Because of the traditional roles of women in London, writing on a regular basis was somewhat of a new activity for Mina. In addition, Mina is able to both write in shorthand and type, as she “sometimes write letters in shorthand” and was “practicing very hard” (Stoker 55) to type and write in order to communicate with Jonathan. Although Mina is quite traditional in many respects, this seems to enforce the idea that Mina’s character is representative of the “new-world woman” in London.

     Mina finds much importance in keeping records, and almost writes compulsively as she states “Oh, but I am tired! If it were not that I had made my diary a duty, I should not open it to-night” (Stoker 86). Like Jonathan and Lucy, she also uses her writing to cope with the many frightful events, such as Jonathan’s lack of correspondence, as she writes “Another three days, and no news. This suspense is getting dreadful. If I only knew where to write to or where to go, I should feel easier;” (Stoker 73). Furthermore, it is often difficult for Mina to stop writing in her journal. She writes to Lucy, “I must stop [writing], for Jonathan is waking -- I must attend to my husband!” (Stoker 101), which conveys the feeling that even though Mina loves the written word, she abides by traditional Victorian values as loves her husband more and knows that her role in society is to tend to him.

     Similar to Lucy, once Mina has been bitten, the frequency of her journal entries declines. In fact, just prior to Dracula’s death, Van Helsing must take over her job as record-keeper, noting that “for as Madam Mina write not in her stenography, I must, in my cumbrous old fashion, that so each day of us may not go unrecorded” (Stoker 314). Mina’s lack of writing symbolizes the fact that even though the vampire has been vanquished, Dracula’s hold on her is still quite strong and her sanity has slipped away for the time being. The fact that at the end, Mina has typed and transcribed each men’s journal is somewhat comparable to the multiple blood transfusions that Lucy received before her death. While Lucy had four different men’s blood pump through her, Mina had to read and re-write four men’s accounts of the events. In this instance, however it saves the heroes’ sanity, as it was Mina’s transcriptions that allow them to continue to have records after the Count attempted to destroy them all.

     The importance and need that the “heroes” place on keeping records is exemplified on Harker’s note following the end of Dracula. He writes that “We could hardly ask any one, even did we wish to, to accept these as proofs of so wild a story” (Stoker 326 - 327). Van Helsing, Seward, Godalming, and the Harkers know that the general public would find such tales difficult to believe, which is quite similar to the situation that Laura and her family find themselves in Carmilla. However, they keep the records for themselves, as a reminder of the horror that they each experienced, and to remind themselves of their sanity. If these journal entries are to be read by others, they are to be read as a “warning” against the unknown element of the vampire.

     When examining the methods in which each character records their experiences, it is evident that each character incorporates elements of their personality in the manner in which they chronicle the incidents involving the vampire. For example, Dr. Seward records most all of his experiences into a phonograph, as his emphasis on technology symbolizes not only the idea that he is both modern and intelligent, but that Britain is beginning to rely upon technology and medicine. His journal entries, which are “KEPT IN PHONOGRAPH” (Stoker 62), focus more on facts than emotion. Whereas many of the characters obsess about love and sentimentality in their writings, Seward takes a logical and factual approach to his journals. Harker, on the other hand, records all of his experiences in his hand-written journal. As he chronicles the events by hand, the traditional method of writing, it is symbolic, as Harker himself seems to represent traditional values in London. In the middle of the binary of these two characters is Van Helsing, who uses the phonograph, the typewriter, and his hand-written journal to keep records. He symbolizes a mixture of old and new methods, both technology and the primitive. Mina learns shorthand for Jonathan, but in this case her learning shorthand symbolizes how she is the “new woman” of sorts. The method in which each character records their experiences adds depth and symbolism to each narrator and their experience.

     Dracula is told from several perspectives, expressed through journal entries, telegrams, and phonograph recordings. But it is interesting to note that two central characters, Dracula and Renfield, do not narrate in the novel, nor do they ever write in a journal, and in similar manner, we learn nothing of the vampire Carmilla from her own perspective. While Dracula is written as a collection of the records of the surviving “heroes,“ Dracula and Renfield’s exclusions are due to the fact that both are considered to be irrational beings who represent the unknown. Quite early in the novel, the Count states to Harker that he knows “the grammar and the words” of London, but he knows “not how to speak them” (Stoker 26). This seems to signify that Dracula is a primitive, Eastern being who represents irrationality and insanity, especially when compared to the other characters and their ability to write.

     Technology and the record keeping were quite important in Bram Stoker‘s Dracula, as phonographs and typewriters were cutting-edge technology in the mid-1800’s. While the journals kept in this novel offered a suitable form of narration and character development, they also reflected the characters’ needs to validate their values, actions, sanity, and rationality. By having records of the strange occurrences, the “heroes” of Dracula and Carmilla seem to believe that it will confirm their sanity to whomever may read their records. When many of the characters’ ability to write declined, so did their ability to function in society. By keeping written and recorded records of their plights against the vampire, the “heroes” of Dracula and Carmilla validate their actions, their sanity, and their society’s values.
Le Fanu, Sheridan, In a Glass Darkly. Oxford University Press, London. 2008.
Stoker, Bram, Dracula. W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. New York, 1997.

“Validation of Sanity and Society in the
Early Vampire Novel”

Works Cited

Friday, December 17, 2010

Course Reflection

I definitely feel as if I learned a lot this semester, and I honestly enjoyed everything that we read -- and I especially enjoyed reading everyone‘s blogs. Throughout the semester , we explored the concepts of the Byronic Hero, the uncanny, and Orientalism, among other themes, and applied these ideas to the study of the vampire novel. I found this to be quite interesting, as while most may look at the obvious characteristics of the vampire and the vampire novel, there is much more beneath the surface.

The vampire is significant in literature because of what it says about culture. While early vampire novels often reflected (among other things) the decline of Victorian society, fear of immigration, and female sexual awakening, modern vampire literature conveys ideas of social anxiety, race relations, isolation, and love.  I had already read Dracula before this class years ago, but I looked at it in a new light because of this class.

I think out of all the novels, I enjoyed Matheson’s I am Legend the most. I had preconceived notions regarding this book because of the Will Smith film, but this book definitely turned out to be a pleasant surprise. Not only was it an entertaining story, the subtext, which revolved around isolation and race relations, offered an intriguing look at 1950’s America.

I wish I had experimented with the blog format a little more, although I think that it took a while to get used to blogspot. The online classes that I had taken before were all taught on D2L, which I will admit made it a this class a little difficult at first, making sure I was following everyone and that everyone was following me. But in the end, I found the format to be an effective and useful way to discuss the readings and discussion topics. I thought that aside from the novels we read, the best part of the class was reading everyone’s point of view on the stories and discussion prompts.

So far, I think my final project is coming along quite well. I’ve begun by analyzing the use of the journal by Harker, Mina, Lucy, and Seward in Dracula, and now plan to focus on the use of the journal in Carmilla and possibly Interview with the Vampire. I think it is interesting that in early vampire tales, the use of the written (and recorded, in the case of Dr. Seward) word is important in conveying the characters’ sanity and often times their implied superiority over the vampire and what the vampire represents.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A Faceless Community and Castration?

     Lindvquist’s Let the Right One In seems to say a lot about the human condition of Cold-War Sweden and the lack of identity amongst its citizens. As always with the vampire novel, Eli represents a change from the norm, yet the fear that she instills into the city is different from the hysteria found in Carmilla, Dracula, and other vampire novels.
     I think that the essentially faceless nature of the townspeople correlates not only with the lack of history and culture in Blackeberg, but also with the stereotypical idea of Soviet Communism. As Calhoun states in his essay, “these marginal figures are forgotten wards of a welfare state, and in their drunken late-night wanderings are easy targets for predation” (27). While Eli and the fear of an unknown murderer does cause some in the community to take notice, I think that the general reaction is much different than past vampire novels, as there is an overall tone of indifference. I think that this novel correlates more with I am Legend’s perspective of vampires, in that as “marginal figures” (27), the townspeople represent the “old way of thinking”, whereas Eli represents the “new”, or the “evolved“. Even though Eli is over 200 years old, her lifestyle is definitely unique, and actually reflects a progression or evolution in life. This is similar to Ruth and the evolved vampires in I am Legend, as their existence makes Robert Neville’s own existence essentially pointless.
     The deaths in the novel do not affect the community in the ways in which one would expect, or as seen in past vampire novels (especially Dracula). Out of all the deaths of townspeople in the novel, the death of Virginia seems to affect Lacke the most. To Lacke, Virginia’s death seems to give the area a sense of identity or purpose, as the feeling (or Lacke’s sadness) spreads when “he started to cry. Not quietly, no, he wailed like a kid, but worse, more … the cry deepened, started to reverberate against the concrete walls. Lacke’s scream of primal, bottomless sorrow filled the stairwell from top to bottom, streamed through the mail slots, keyholes, transformed the high-rise into one big tomb erected in the memory of love, hope” (421). Yet in reality, there is nothing he can do about it. He is as powerless as he was in the beginning of the novel, essentially frozen in Blackeberg.
     I found the police‘s response to Virginia‘s death to be amusing, as “They had not believed [Lacke]. Or rather, yes, they had believed him but refused to interpret the events in the way that he did” (426). I like how “spontaneous combustion is just about as well-documented and scientifically proven as vampires” (426), which seems to show just how little the government or authority actually cares to take a look into crime (or the unknown) in the area. On that note, I’m wondering if the monotonous or faceless nature of the town could be related to Communism, whereas the government’s lack of concern could apply to the fact that Sweden was somewhat of an absent participant in the Cold War?
     The scene in which Lacke encounters Gosta’s multiple cats is one of the most intriguing scenes in the novel, even though I‘m not sure what to completely make of it. “A large gray and white cat was lying flat on the floor, looked like it barely had the energy to lift its head up. Gosta nodded at it” (332). The cat (“Miriam”) seems to say a lot about the town of Blackeberg, as the cats are complacent in their situation with Gosta. Lacke asks, “You’ve never thought about … having them fixed? Like castration, or whatever it’s called … sterilizing? You could make do with one sex, you know.” (332). The mention of castration definitely stuck out to me, as it seems to be a metaphor for Eli’s situation in Blackeberg. I think this scene is a great contrast between humans and animals, and in that sense, humans and vampires. The lack of energy in the cat seems to reflect broken nature of the Swedish people, and the fact that Lacke suggests sterilization seems to either reflect an overpopulation problem or possibly lack of identity. It is interesting to think about Lacke’s thoughts concerning “one sex” (332), as he almost makes it sound like it would be a step forward for the cats. In addition, with Eli in mind, this can be compared to not only his past but his possible future with Oskar.
     I wasn’t sure what to think of this novel at first, but it was definitely one of the most compelling that we’ve read this semester. I think that the generally emotionless nature of the community only enhances this vampire tale. In past vampire literature, a general theme is that the vampire will prey on innocence if innocence is not protected. No one in this novel is innocent by any means, and the indifferent nature of the community only enhances this idea -- on the surface, the community cares, but in reality, the community only does so because it is supposed to do so.  This is a great contrast to the relationship between Eli and Oskar, as they help each other because they want to, not because they have to.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Let the Right One In: Full of Contrasts

I think that Lindqvist’s Let the Right One In definitely flows with the progression of the vampire and the vampire tale. It is a novel full of character contrasts, and on that note, I think it would be interesting to compare and contrast Eli to some of the vampires found in earlier novels that we have read in this class.

To begin, it is obvious to contrast Eli’s situation with Claudia from Interview with the Vampire, based on their age and appearance. While Claudia is an aged being trapped in a young body, Eli has many difficulties with every-day vampire life because of her size and mental capacity. Claudia is able to grow mentally, yet Eli’s mentality reflects her young appearance. Whereas Claudia grew sick of Louis and Lestat and wished for her own independence, Eli knows that she cannot make it without assistance. But Claudia has a different relationship with Louis and Lestat, as even though they provide for Claudia, they also teach her the ways of the vampire. Eli has no one to teach her what to do, and even if she did, she still would not be able to feed for herself.

Out of all the vampire characters, I think that Eli compares and contrasts best with Carmilla. Both charcters are noticeably similar on the surface because of their young ages and mysterious nature.  I think that the relationship between Oskar and Eli is quite similar to the relationship between Laura and Carmilla, as the two are drawn to each other and are more comfortable together than with any other beings. I think that the scene in which Eli comes to Oskar’s house naked shows the bond that these two have. Lindqvist writes, “They laid like that for a long time. When Oskar could tell from his mom’s breathing that she had fallen asleep again, when the lump of their hands was warmed through and starting to get sweaty, he whispered: ‘Where have you been?’ … Oskar nodded, signaling that he wasn’t going to ask her any more questions, and Eli put both her hands under her head, staring up at the ceiling. ‘I was feeling lonely. So I came here. Was that OK?” (168 - 169). Even though Oskar is suspicious of Eli, he doesn’t care because he finally has someone in his life that accepts him for who he is. The fact that Lindqvist takes away Eli‘s sexuality adds a new dimension to their relationship. Oskar asks, “Then what are you?” (170), to which Eli replies “Nothing” (170). So far in the novel, Eli and Oskar’s friendship is one of mutual need for companionship. Oskar’s “friends” (105) clearly aren’t his friends, and Eli needs someone like Oskar in her life. In Carmilla, Laura was drawn to Carmilla because of her dreams, Carmilla’s beauty, and her newfound awakened sexuality. Carmilla claimed to love Laura, yet it is impossible to know if she was telling the truth or merely wanted to feed more off of Laura.

Within the novel itself, I think the contrast between Hakan and Eli is very interesting as well. In a sense, while Eli is the supernatural version of a monster, Hakan is the realistic version of a monster. Hakan will do anything for Eli, although he has his own motivations.

One thing I’m not quite sure about the novel is the constant use of urine and bodily functions. In a way, I think this contrasts to blood -- blood being considered pure, and the bodily functions being considered ‘dirty’. It is difficult to come to a conclusion because the taste of blood is often described by Eli as being impure. Lindqvist writes, “A waft of blue cheese filled Eli’s nostrils as she threw herself over the woman, pushing her mouth against her throat and drinking deeply … The blood tasted like medication. Morphine” (158). Since the narration is from essentially an omniscient perspective, we are given even more information about the vampire than we had from past literature. But the “craving” (161) for blood is contrasted with the human characters’ need for food -- life feeding on life -- which reminded me a lot of Renfield in Dracula.

I don’t think that anyone in this novel can really be considered “innocent”, although Eli and Oskar‘s relationship can probably be considered more uncorrupted than any other relationship in past vampire novels. As far as the title of the story goes, so far I can see it applying to both Eli and Oskar. They each fill a void in the other’s life, yet they are initially hesitant to let each other in because everyone else has let them down so much. Much like Carmilla, I am Legend, and Interview with the Vampire, I think that this vampire novel conveys the need for companionship and unconditional empathy.