So if you missed this session you missed a genuine vampire-slaying kit. (I’m pretty sure that as vampires don’t exist I can call this a ‘genuine’ kit even if it is made by a company who provide props for theatre and films). The kit belongs to and was smuggle into the library by Bev. Not only did it arouse some interesting looks from our fellow library users but it lead to an interesting discussion on weapons in the library – do stakes and a hammer count?
Following a significant time ooh-ing and aah-ing over the kit we got to talking about what we were expecting from the talk ‘Twilight of the Gothic’ by Dr Joseph Crawford. Given that any discussion of the Twilight series in the context of Gothic, or vampire, studies has become the byword for cynicism and bemoaning the state of 21st Century Gothic, I was hoping for something rather different.
And, it turned out, I was in luck. The talk was lively, engaging and, most importantly, tried to answer the question of why Twilight was so successful and what it offered readers. For the answer to why Twilight is so appealing, I suggest reading Sam George’s review of the talk on the Open Graves, Open Minds blog. She picks out a really pertinent quotation from Dr Crawford’s book, Twilight of the Gothic. However, what struck me from his paper was the importance of contextualising zeitgeists. Rather than looking at the Twilight series as an aberration, the talk considered the books and films within the literary culture of paranormal romance. The catalyst for this research was the dismissive attitude of many academics to the novels – academics who would happily engage with other genre fiction and consider it to be worthy of interest. The disavowal of the series spoke to wider concerns regarding female-fandom and chic-lit which often falls under the heading of romance. (Something of particular interest given the recent Twitter furore over Gamer Gate and the presence of women in gaming culture).
Romance is a genre that has the biggest gap between its real-world popularity versus critical/ academic acclaim. This opposition of what we should be reading as opposed to what we are reading underlies the creation of the literary canon. The connection between romance and the Gothic is not new – early Gothic novels were known as Gothic romance. What is interesting though is that recent Gothic studies have tried to distance themselves from modern incarnations of paranormal romance such as Christine Feehan’s Dark Series featuring the Carpathians, or my preferred series Katie MacAlister’s Dark Ones. By doing so Gothic studies seem to be presenting themselves as more academic, literary, and rooted in a historical tradition. (A recent article on Ann Radcliffe’s 250th birthday seems to suggest that classic female Gothic writers are still being overlooked – although given the comments below the article it would appear that the author of the article is misinformed).
The talk also suggested that the sympathetic vampire started not with Louis and Lestat in Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire (1976) but with the Gothic soap-opera Dark Shadows (1966-1971) which featured a vampire called Barnabas Collins. The story goes that with the number of viewers flagging the produce,r on the advice of his daughter, decided to include a vampire as a character. However, he had a problem: all vampire stories end with the death of the vampire something which would give a limited run to Barnabas’ story arc. So, the producers and the writers decided to make him sympathetic and no longer monstrous so that they didn’t have to kill him off. Barnabas Collins became a house-wife’s favourite and the sympathetic, series-long vampire was born! This account appealed to me because once again it returns to the importance of female fandom in creating Gothic trends.
By the time, Meyer was writing there was a 15 year old literary vampire romance tradition although much of it appears under the radar and to little fanfare. To dismiss Twilight as vapid, bad literature which is unsuitable for women is to recycle the arguments made against Gothic romance centuries ago. And, a few years after the boom years of Twilight there does not seem to be a generation of women who want an abusive, controlling boyfriend who force them to choose marriage over university – which was the scare story regarding the Twilight readership. What is more interesting is to ask as Dr Crawford does: Why vampires? Why now? Why Twilight? These were the suggestions given by the talk:
Since John Polidori modelled his vampire on Lord Byron himself, the vampire has been synonymous with the Byronic hero. Paranormal romance takes the Byronic vampire and exaggerates these features taking the Ur-plot of romances to a hyperbolic level. The vampire of romance is: wounded, damaged, strong, powerful, rich, cold, hard, and handsome. He has Old World values combined with the animalistic desire for blood and his tortured soul literalises emotional ‘living death’.
The different humans rights movements of the late 20th century prioritised the idea of equality (in the sense that we can all live like white, straight, middle-class, cis-gendered, men) but also the right to be different. As we move closer to the realisation of the equal rights (?), paranormal romances offer a way of exploring how to live differently.
In terms of feminism, the idea of liberated female sexuality is only tolerated in a private sphere and so long as it does not ask for social change on a public level. Paranormal romance offers a space to explore female fantasies without engaging with the wider political arguments.
The presentation of the teenager has often been related to low-level alienation which is something that has been capitalised on in YA literature. Combine this with the new ways of mass distribution in the publishing world which came with the success of the Harry Potter franchise, and you can give young adults easy and quick access to the books that reflect this feelings. Twilight was published at just the right time to make the most of this atmosphere.
Meyer always stated that she was not interested in Gothic horror and vampire stories. Thus her works seem peculiarly naive and often invert certain vampire tropes, ie, that vampires get stronger as they get older and cannot go out in the sunlight without dying. (Although, let’s just remember that Count Dracula could walk in the sun). This gave the text an appealing sincerity. The big selling point of Twilight though was that it was wish-fulfilment par excellence – the equivalent of James Bond for the guys. (Although, I appreciate that people of both genders enjoy Twilight and James Bond equally and the there is not sex chromosome for fandom). The internet meant that consumers of the novels and films had somewhere to share their interest allowing it to flourish beyond its limited first release.
Hopefully, this gives an adequate overview of what was discussed. Certainly, I will be buying the book and perusing it at my leisure. This was a refreshing discussion of the power of the Gothic and its many incarnations – even the sparkly ones.