Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Online Artifact

I Am Legend
For my online artifact I choose to explore a social networking/blog site about vampirism; in particular Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend.  The website is called geeks of doom, and, according to the founding members, was constructed to bring geeky entertainment news and features to the masses.  After searching through some of the blogs, one of them caught my eye.  The author, Movies at Midnight, discusses I Am Legend in an extremely critical and intriguing way.  Much of his argument centers around the “darker side of human emotion – loneliness and confusion especially – and the will to survive…” (Movies at Midnight). 
“While this is certainly a horror novel by any means, the horror comes not from the external attacks of the vampires, but from the internal tribulations of Neville, and the nightly menaces seem trivial compared to Neville’s mental demons” (Movies at Midnight).   The author comments on a central theme of not only I Am Legend, but vampire novels as a whole.  Like many other characters, Neville destroys himself because of a lack of knowledge.  He is paralyzed by the fact that he cannot understand the disease that has left him lost, alone, and tormented by the vampires.  Neville is much like Van Helsing in this way.  His central mission is to cure the world of this destructive force known as vampirism.    
Movies at Midnight also touches on some of the social connotations that are embedded in I Am Legend and it is truly fascinating.   Matheson wrote this novel in 1954.  During that time many things were occurring in America and around the world that have influenced our lives today.  First, World War II had just ended.  Germany was segregated into east and west, setting the stage for the Cold War between America and Russia; a time when nuclear annihilation was a real fear.  At home in America, the civil rights movement was gaining steam.  The Supreme Court had just ruled on Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, declaring that the practice of spate but equal schools was unconstitutional.  One might think, what does a vampire novel have to do with this?  I had the same reaction, but Movies at Midnight comments on this very question.  “Matheson isn’t just content with his dissection of the vampire mythos, but also dives head first into an exploration of what legends mean and the associated perception of truth, fear, and understanding based on a majority population thinking a certain way” (Movies at Midnight).  Neville simply does not declare that vampires must be destroyed, but rather becomes a self-taught scientist in order to strive to understand their nuances.  He discovers that they are remarkably human on a scientific level.  According to the author, Matheson is commenting on stereotypes and legends as a whole.  “Matheson here takes legends and transforms them into a tool to expose the irrational line of thinking of what is not understood and in a minority must be contained and destroyed”  (Movies at Midnight).  Matheson is commenting on the current social climate of America and the world with his analysis of the legend.  Simply containing them or destroying them is not the answer and, in many ways, is insane.  Rather, striving to understand them and determine the best course of action, just like Neville, is always preferred.  Matheson’s multi-level writing is fascinating in that it can be applied to the social and political contexts of the time. 
Authors commenting on the social climate of the times in nothing new though in the science fiction/ horror genre.  We see this in Stoker’s Dracula and Le Fanu’s Carmilla.  This is something I have also touched on in my blogs.  Both novels comment on the socially accepted belief in the Victorian female.  They are pure in mind, body and spirit.  This is not the case for the vampires in these novels.  Carmilla, Dracula, and the Brides of Dracula are sexual deviants who defy death and prey on the Victorian feminine ideal.             
Many of the blogs also discuss the novel in comparison to the movie.  Unlike the novel, the movie version featuring Will Smith as Neville replaces vampires with a zombie-like creature.  Furthermore, Neville is a government funded, professional scientist.  I have seen the movie, but some of the blogs mention an alternate ending.  Because of this, I watched it on youtube  (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nZTySHgSpBw).  This ending to the movie portrays the zombie-like creatures much closer to those in the novel.  They are intelligent, human-like creatures who do not simply attack humans for the sport of it.  Like their torment of Neville at night, their actions are premeditated and calculated.  I thought this was an interesting comparison to the vampires of the novel. 
The link to Movies at Midnights blog is as follows: (http://geeksofdoom.com/2007/12/10/book-review-i-am-legend/).  I really encourage everyone to read it.  His blog sheds new light on a novel that is extremely complex under the horror surface.  Like the vampire novels before it, Matheson’s comments on the current social climate as well as terrorizes its readers on a psychological level.  

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Count Dracula the Gentleman

The character of Dracula is a juxtaposition of two opposing forces that were gripping the Victorian world at the time Stoker's novel was written.  A historical context is important to understand the character of Dracula in these terms.  England was in the midst of another industrial revolution where those who opposed it were seen as savage and brutal, while those who accepted it represented the "Victorian Gentleman" to  a tee.  "For the fact is, by Hacker's own criteria, Dracula is the most "Western" character in the novel.  No one is more rational, more ntelligent, more organized or even more punctual than the Count (637)."  Arata is sure to note Haker's obsession with timeliness.  He writes in his diary that he would have been early if his train wasn't late.  Timeliness was a consequence of this industrial revolution occurring in England and was see by Victorian peoples as a mark of a gentleman.  As a result, because of the count's ability to be punctual, he represents a gentleman in the eyes of Hacker.  There is another side of Dracula that Arata comments on.

Dracula is also the savage that an opposition to the changes in English life symbolizes.  "He is both the warrior nobleman, whose prowess dwarfs that of the novel's enfeebled English aristocrat, Lord Godalming, and is the primative savage, whose beastiality, fecundity, and vigot alternately repel and attract (634)."  Dracula's savage nature obviously manifests itself in his vampirism as Arata notes, but at the same time he is a dynamic nobleman who accepts the changing times.  I believe this is the newest evolution of the vampire.  Dracula is not the first aristocratic vampire, but he is the one who plays the role the best.  He has the ability to charm his victims in a way we have not seen in this class yet.  When Hacker arrives, Dracula is reading Bradshaw's Guide.  This was literature put out by Charles Bradshaw as a guide to the new railway system proliferating across England.  Again, the reference to Dracula's punctuality and the connection with the industrial revolution in England is present.

I think it is also important to note that the Victorian vampire has the ability to mold seamlessly with the expectations of the current society.  In many ways, Carmilla was timeless.  She could adapt her behaviors to suite the needs of her victims much like Dracula does.  As the reader, it can be assumed that they have done this for thousands of years.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Women of Dracula

As we have discussed before, the Victorian ideal of femininity centers around the idea that women should be pure emotionally and physically.  Bram Stocker's "Dracula" presents this ideal and the antithesis of this ideal.  Johnathan's encounter with the "brides of Dracula" represent the Victorian idea of how women should not act.  The brides of Dracula are lustful and sexually expressive, things that were looked down up through the lens of Victorian femininity.  When the brides visit Johnathan in an attempt to feed on him, they are driven away by Dracula, but their lust for him is apparent.  "Your's is the right to begin."  The view Johnathan as a piece of meat to be chased after and fed upon.  From this, the reader can conclude that, like in "Carmilla," vampirism was used in the Victorian age to express the suppressed female sexuality.

Lucy and Mina, on the other hand, represent the feminine ideal to the fullest.  They are pure of the evil's of the world, devoted to Van Helsing and Jonathan, and, most importantly, they are virgins.  When these characters are  compared to each other, the theme of vampirism and a lack of femininity is easily seen.  They stand in stark contrast to each other.  Furthermore, in an earlier blog cataloging the works and influences of Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, I commented that "Carmilla" is often thought of as a large influence on Bram Stocker.  I think that the appearance of an identical theme with almost identical players affirms that point.  Carmilla can be equated to the Brides of Dracula, while Laura seems very similar to Mina and Lucy.  Men of this time seem fascinated with not only women's sexuality, but with contradictions to the socially accepted norm.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Female Hysteria and the Vampire in Victorian Lit.

Tamar Heller's essay "The Vampire in the House" explores the idea of connecting female hysteria in the Victorian era with vampirism. After reading the essay I came away with two essential points to Heller's argument. First, female hysteria and vampirism symbolize an underlying tone of desire in Victorian literature. Female hysteria is the embodiment of this desire, according to Heller. "Moreover, as all this male nervousness about voracious women suggests, both the female hysteric and the female vampire embody a relation to desire…” It is evident that desire plays a key role in Carmilla as well. Laura desires a companion to engage with that is her own age and shares the same pitfalls. Carmilla desires blood, plain and simple.

Another main point that I took from Heller's essay was the connection that hysteria and sexuality had in Victorian times. Women's hysteria was also linked to sexual arousal in that the womb was thought to be "untamed and nervous" before childbirth. “Moreover, a tradition of ascribing hysteria to sexual frustration persisted into the nineteenth century and underlies the theory of Freud”.

These points were interesting, but they simply set up the framework for what I found most profound, and applicable to "Carmilla" in Heller's essay. He comments that "daughters physically, emotionally, and intellectually embody the nineteenth century ideal of femininity." This is especially interesting when examining Carmilla from this perspective. Carmilla, as is later revealed in the novel, is Countess of Karnstein. She can be thought of as the complete opposite of the nineteenth century ideal of femininity because she is not young. Laura, on the other hand, is. I believe this is important when thinking of Carmilla as a lesbian vampire. She prayes on those who embodies everything a women should be in that era. Furthermore, her desires to feed on this archetype make her a women of hysteria, according to Heller.