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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Sucking the Life from Our Children, Part 2

Lord Byron on the Prowl
John William Polidori’s “The Vampyre” (1819) 

1.    The Romantic Period and Gothic romance (Romatic period: 1780-1830); “along with the Frankenstein monster, the vampire is one of the major mythic figures bequeathed to us by the English Romantics” James B. Twitchell, The Living Dead: A Study of the Vampire in Romantic Literature (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1981), ix.
2.    Why the Romantic taste for the Gothic?
a.    A reaction against Enlightenment rationality…a search for mystery + anxiety about modernity, repressive fears; a glimpse of the “otherness of cosmic indifference.”
b.    An important aspect of the anxiety expressed by the Gothic is anxiety about the innocent, the virtuous who are vulnerable to (sexual) predators…
3.    Thus we find: the critique of Gothic romances in Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey (published posthumously in 1817): indulgence in the Gothic corrected by virtue: a young woman at the threshold of adulthood encounters the horrible, even a kind of vampire-like figure in Captain Tilney. But rescued by the virtues of his son, Henry.
4.    Interestingly, the first published vampire story, Polidori’s “The Vampyre” is also a cautionary tale (sets the tone for later vampire tales, including Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897).
5.    Set the stage: Villa Diodati, Geneva 1819. Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Shelley, Claire Clairmont, and Polidori. Summarize the story.
6.    Polidori’s vampire, Lord Strongmore, is a critique of Byron himself, as well as of the Byronic hero. The Byronic hero: “proud, moody, cynical, with defiance on his brow, and misery in his heart, a scorner of his kind, implacable in revenge, yet capable of deep and strong affection” Thomas Babbinton Macaulay, quoted in The Oxford Illustrated History of English Literature, p. 297. Think also of Milton’s Satan, the dark and discontented heroes of Gothic novels (Heathcliff).
7.    Lord Strongmore, like Byron, is a lord; although with a “dead grey eye,” has a mysterious power over other people…is said to have the “serpent’s art”; a pretense of virtue among the virtuous, he gives money to profligates; a destroyer of the needy around the gambling table; a spoiler of feminine (especially young feminine) virtue. He is MacIntyre’s “aesthete,” who preys upon other people, taken to an absurd, macabre degree. 
8.   Lord Strongmore: “It had been discovered, that his contempt for the adultress had not originated in hatred of her character; but that he had required, to enhance his gratification, that his victim, the partner of his guilt, should be hurled from the pinnacle of unsullied virtue, down to the lowest abyss of infamy and degradation: in fine, that all those females whom he had sought, apparently on account of their virtue, had, since his departure, thrown even the mask aside, and had not scrupled to expose the whole deformity of their vices to the public view.”
9.    For Polidori, the vampire is a demon who preys upon the virtues of innocent young women and therefore needs to be destroyed. 

Living in Twilight
The Twilight Series by Stephenie Meyer

1.    “Twilight, in these southern climates, is almost unknown; immediately the sun sets, night begins….” Polidori, “The Vampyre,” (40). Polidori gives us a world of clear lights and darks, in the Twilight series we move into a world where all is “twilight”… a place where good and evil have to be reconceived
2.    sketch the basic contours of the story; show scene of Edward Cullen and Bella Swan in the woods when she finally discovers he's a vampire
3.    Strange reversals: in Edward Cullen, we have something of a return of the Byronic hero, as a vampire—but this time not as villain, but as hero. And in Bella we have the innocent who wants to, and eventually becomes, a vampire.
4.    The “vampire” in these books is not intrinsically evil—there are good vampires and evil vampires. Wanting to feast on human blood is simply a natural necessity. So what makes for a good vampire?
5.    It is to act against prohibitions. Edward’s vampirism, plus the Volutri, prohibits romance with a human; Bella’s humanity prohibits romance with a vampire. And yet…they fall in love.
6.    Image of the book's front cover: the apple. The Mormon understanding of the Fall. “Twilight is a romantic retelling of the story of Man’s Fall presented in the engaging and exciting wrappers of a romance and an international thriller” (John Granger, "Mormon Vampires in the Garden of Eden," Touchstone Magazine, November/December 2009). True, Genesis says “You will surely die.” But this death is salvation. Ending with the quotation from Meyer herself (“choice”).
7.    Choice. It is because they choose to disregard everything—devouring humans + human life—for the romantic relationship as vampires. Eros and Thanatos fused in archetypal embrace.
8.    And thus a kind of “innocence” is regained. The virtues of his “true self” are honesty, integrity, benevolence, generosity, sensitivity. The virtues of authenticity (Charles Taylor). Or the choice to be a humanitarian (the character of Carlisle). Vampires with liberal-romantic sensibilities. But the image of the apple (if not Meyer herself) attempts to persuade us that “innocence” is achieved by acting against all prohibition. It attempts to persuade us that there is truth in the serpent’s words: “You certainly will not die! No, God knows well that the moment you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods” (Genesis 3:4-5).

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