26 July 2011

Transmutations of the Vampire / Friday, 22 July 2011 at 19:28

On the Mlitt in the Gothic Imagination at Stirling we have been studying an option course, "Transmutations of The Vampire". The focus in this class has been on late 20C vampire novels, beginning with Anne Rice’sInterview with the Vampire and The Vampire Lestat, moving on to Poppy Z. Brite’s Lost Souls, then Witley Strieber’s The Hunger, and finishing with Geroge R.R Matrin’s Fevre Dream.

Each of these texts appropriate the vampire in their own way. Some of the vampires are existenial and moral, for example Louis in Interview with The Vampire, and some are pragmatic and a-moral, the most striking example being Zillah in Lost Souls. Queer sexuality is also a common theme. In Lost Souls’ Nothing (yes, this is a name) is bored by normal human perversions of the hetrosexual relationship and feels none of the incestual guilt, common in the Gothic, when he finds out that he has slept with his father Zillah. The thirst is also presented in different guises. In Fevre Dream it is an addiction to be cured, while in Lost Souls it causes Zillah and friends very little bother.
Where some of these novels converge is in setting and literary influence. Rice, Brite and Martin all use New Orleans as the backdrop to their stories. The queer sexuality of the Mardi Gras town is what attracts Brite to use the city, while the immigrative link with the decadence of Paris gets Rice’s (un)imaginative juices flowing. In terms of literary influence, rewritings of Dracula are obviously present.  Also, the Romantic poets are prominent in some of the texts. The most striking example of this is in Fevre Dream, in the shape of vampire Joshua York’s obsession with Byron, whom he admits to have met.  Lord Byron, being of course the "real-life" Lord Ruthven from Polidori’s influential text The Vampyre, has a vicarious influence over all modern vampire literature.  However, in Fevre Dream three specific Byron poems are quoted, these beingShe Walks in Beauty (1814), Darkness (1816)  and The Destruction of Sennacherib (1815).
The entire text of She Walks in Beauty is produced below:

SHE walks in beauty, like the night 
Of cloudless climes and starry skies; 
And all that ‘s best of dark and bright  
Meet in her aspect and her eyes:     
Thus mellow’d to that tender light             5
 Which heaven to gaudy day denies.     
One shade the more, one ray the less,     
Had half impair’d the nameless grace    
Which waves in every raven tress,     
Or softly lightens o’er her face;      10
Where thoughts serenely sweet express     
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.     
And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,     
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,     
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,      15
But tell of days in goodness spent,     
A mind at peace with all below,     
A heart whose love is innocent!

Joshua York comments, after reading the poem, that "the night is beautiful, and we can hope to find peace and nobility in its dark splendor as well. Too many men fear the dark unreasoningly." The poem becomes a mantra for York’s vessel Fevre Dream and his crusade to find light in the darkness of vampiric addiction.
For all of the vaguely high-brow allusions it was agreed in class discussion that most modern vampire novels are not "great" novels. Although, Poppy Z Brite did have her fans. However, not being an expert in the area, i was wondering why, aside from vampiric fiction, Romanticism seems to be the dominant literary canon alluded to by the novelists? Is it simply a link back to Lake Geneva or Christabel, or is there something about the two literary modes which makes them particularly complementary?

Article by Posted by Matt Foley university Sterling

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