notes from Romance And Vampires, lecture 9, Fiction for Young Adults by David Beagley, La Trobe University, podcast available on iTunes U
Can vampires ever be any good for young women?
Peter Cushing is shown in typical roles
There has been a huge amount of critical commentary on the Twilight series – serious academic commentary. Here is some of the best:
Silver, A. Studies In the Novel – these journals are not just YA journals. This one normally looks at adult, serious literature. Twilight is not good for maidens: gendered sexuality in the familyTwilight.
(Un)safe sex: romancing the vampire is from a movie journal, Cineaste.
Mercer, J.A., Pastoral Psychology Vampires Desire Girls and God.
Anne Klaus and Stefanie Krüger’s Vampires Without Fangs can be read in entirety from a home computer.
This looks more broadly at the development of the vampire as a character in literature, Journal of American Culture. (May be this one.)
An excellent book is Bitten By Twilight: Youth culture media and the vampire franchise, a series of articles by different people.
Nayar, P., How to Domesticate a Vampire, from the journal Nebula, an Australian teaching journal., available freely online.
Hermeutics is looking at the separate parts in order to understand the whole.
The Evolution Of The Vampire
How did the vampire become an outstanding character in fiction?
Until the 19th C the vampire existed as something to be feared. It was a revenant, coming back to haunt the living. The vampire is based on a real animal (a bat) which has a couple of fangs and lives on blood. Only trouble is, you can fit it in the palm of your hand. It usually feeds on slow moving grazing animals such as cattle. It’s quite a problem in certain parts of the world, where animals that are stabled are a lot of trouble because they can’t escape it. The bat flies down and nicks the animal with its incredibly sharp teeth, then drinks the blood that oozes out. But if there are a lot of them they weaken the host.
This animal is then linked to a real person in history: Vlad the Impaler. (1431-1476) He lived in Bulgaria and was a member of the House of Drăculești. In Bulgaria he is seen as a war hero. He is reputed to have killed tens of thousands of people.
In 1922 a movie called Nosferatu was made. He’s not an especially good-looking character – he was meant to be an absolute monster. He was presented as a bit of a sad outsider, a bit like Frankenstein created by Mary Shelley. The monsterness wasn’t inherent in him – it was that society rejected him and made him an outsider. (Grendel in Beowulf is a similar example.) There’s virtually no literature that includes a vampire until the early 1820s, the time of Frankenstein.
Let The Right One In is a Swedish story about bullying. A boy in Sweden is being bullied mercifully at school. An odd girl appears around his housing estate and starts looking out for him. She has no parents and has a middle-aged man there but she’s obviously the one in charge.
The ending is classically understated, as often seen in Scandinavian cinema. It’s quite horrific. This movie depicts the traditional view of the vampire as a monster.
Yet in 1819, 1820 a slight evolution took place in the presentation of the vampire as a monster. The monster vampire became seductive. The Vampyre has a sinister, haughty aristocrat, with much physical beauty. Instead of blood and violence being the focus, this antihero has much physical beauty. He drinks blood but he is immensely charming. This is also the point at which the victims become predominantly female.
In 1872 Carmilla was published, in which the vampire is a female, though this is an exception. The human sexuality of this lesbian-esque story is very much in this particular vampire story. She still has the bloodlust and the unnatural strength and near indestructibility of the male vampires but this is the dangerous lover – the outsider who lures women away from their proper place, but who is defeated by the good, moral, upstanding man.
The vampire can be compared to the wolf – the seducer wolf in Little Red Riding Hood and other stories. This is heading into the bad-boy lover genre, parodied in Grease. The vampire is the extreme example of that.
Bram Stoker was the writer to bring the name ‘Dracula’ together with the vampire story. He brings all the humanness of Vlad the Impaler to a monster.
Lately there has been another development in vampire literature. It follows the idea of vampire as seducer/seductress.
The Sympathetic Vampire
Anne Rice’s stories the Vampire Chronicles in the 1970s started this. LeStat and Louis are two vampires on a quest to understand themselves, understand the nature of vampireness and find out why they are this way. Why do people fear them? They philosophise, discuss and are presented as character who the reader is meant to understand. Rather than being monstrous, they are simply misunderstood.
This continues with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, particularly in the character of Angel, who is the love interest for Buffy, even though he is a vampire. His role is to go away and try and be good. The Edward Cullen character is developing in this way as well.
The Count is a children’s version. He speaks in an Eastern European accent and the outward appearance of a vampire but all he wants to do is count.
Count Duckula is a vampire duck.
The Little Vampire is a delightful movie. This family could be the prototype of The Cullens, simply looking for somewhere to live and be safe.
Being for children, there is no harm and no danger in these stories.
The audience is being asked to pity the poor misunderstood outsider. When the vampire changed from a monster into a sympathetic character, the audience of vampire literature changed from a largely male one to a female one, because the emphasis is now on caring and nurturing, with all the traditional stereotypes that go along with that.
It all comes together in Twilight. Twilight was almost waiting to be written. It didn’t just suddenly magically appear out of nowhere. It developed from a long stream of styles in literature.
The Author As One Of The Players
Rather than as a god-like creator, setting something up, with the reader taking everything the author says.
Stephanie Myer, born 1973, married at 21 and never worked in a major career role. She did work briefly as a receptionist but stopped paid work when the children arrived. She had never published anything before the Twilight novels. She is reasonably well educated but only through to high school. She is a copious reader and has quite deliberately structured elements of other stories in her book. She quite deliberately used parts of Pride and Prejudice in Twilight.
Now with the success of Twilight, Myer runs the commercial arm of her business which delivers Twilight, the movies, the spinoffs etc. Her husband has left work to look after the kids while she does all of that.
One of the key elements that keeps coming up about Myer: She is a member of the Mormon church. It’s a much larger movement in the USA than in Australia because it began in the United States. It’s a branch of Christianity, started by Joseph Smith near New York, who received, he says, a book from the angels which he translated.
Within that book of Mormon, looking largely at America as a centre of religious belief, and Native Americans as connected to the New Testament story of Jesus. Joseph Smith and his family said that God had given him a mission, that all the other churches had got it wrong and become corrupted. It was now up to him to change them and get back to being good.
Christian Primativist churches (of which Mormon is one) is a movement toward returning to earlier beliefs. Mormonism is based around the idea of ‘crusade’. It has a stated role to change things. All churches fit somewhere on that continuum, but in Mormonism this crusade part of the culture is clearly expressed.
How does this affect the commentary on Twilight?
The books are very, very sexualised. There is a huge emphasis on physical appearance, male-female interaction, desperately falling in love, the expression of the key characters’ sexuality. There is also a lot of violence. The very concept of the vampire is dangerous. The sheer physicality is there. Despite that, the morality (the right and wrongness) is very very conservative.
Abstinence is emphasised. The whole book is structured around unresolved sexual tension. Will I or won’t I? I want to. You mustn’t. Abstinence is the key to it.
It’s also heteronormative – standard boy-girl relationships. Similar appearance, similar age. White Europeans.
There’s also submissive femininity. The girls go along with what the boys suggest.
The vampires are worried about the souls, not only of themselves, but of the people around them, and whether they can be redeemed. Twilight is neither a horror nor a monster story; it is a love story. Morality revolves around interpersonal relations, not upon the diet of vampires.
In the story itself, what do we have that demonstrates those ideas?
Bella has virtually no agency. She can’t make choices and decisions that change the course of her life. It starts with her parents who split up. Bella is left to go somewhere. From then on she responds to Edward. She is reactive, not proactive to his suggestions. Is Edward a stalker? He lets slip that he hangs round her bedroom all night. He’s been doing it for a month before they’ve even started going out together. This is symbolic of him as the one controlling/supervising/demanding/initiating/concluding all of the actions. When she decides to go shopping and gets into trouble with some boys following her, of course he’s there. He’s the one who solves the problem of getting rid of other vampires. Bella almost sleep walks throughout he story. In moral terms, though, he is the one who won’t kiss her. He is the chaste vampire. In fact, she is seen as quite unreliable. She freely admits that she’d probably leap into whatever situation he suggested at the drop of a hat.
Myer has therefore been called anti-feminist. She romanticises an abusive relationship. This is a very unequal relationship. All of the red flags of an abusive, over-controlling relationship are there in the story. Bella is absolutely dependent upon Edward. He is there to protect her life, her virginity, her humanity.
Myer has disagreed with this. It’s all around Bella’s choice, and she’s the one who chooses Edward. “Her damsel in distress persona is only due to her humanity.” But surely that’s the feminist point – that she is being portrayed as human and therefore weak.
So what message does this send to readers about the moral capacity of girls to make their own choices?
They require a strong male to protect her.
The sin is in the girl, and requires a strong boy to protect her from herself. (There are places in the world where women are not allowed to leave the house without a male protector. We see this as incredibly wrong yet surely this is what Edward Cullen is doing here.)
The ordination of women in Catholic Churches – this is a theological argument.
A couple of books later, when finally Bella and Edward do get married, have sex, and have a baby, Bella explodes and childbirth kills her. (This being a vampire story, they live happily ever after.)
MORE ON VAMPIRES
The Great New England Vampire Panic from The Smithsonian
The 10 Best Vampire Novels No one Has Read from Barnes & Nobel
Revamped – How the Twenty-First Century Vampire Is Redefining Masculinity from Interesting Literature
10 of the Grossest and Most Grotesque Vampires from Folklore from io9
Vampire Movies — how many off this list have you seen? (Me: 2.5)
A list of books about vampires from Miami University database