Wednesday, October 27, 2010

I Am Lonely or Why I Thought of Bronte and PTSD While Reading Matheson

UPDATE: More material, academic papers, analysis & critique @ my current blog Elastic Collisions -

Richard Matheson has a way of leaving the reader in suspense near the end of every chapter with a story unfolding of a monstrous plague that is well paced and culturally relevant. When reading through I Am Legend I recall elements ranging from literature such as Dracula and early films such as Night of the Living Dead. This is because I Am Legend features many elements that would go on to inspire the horror genre, but it is also inspired by the gothic literature before it. This is all very apparent with the traits seen in the book: Neville finds the corpse in town and assumes sunlight kills these people like vampires is a great example. These similarities help toward the understanding of the text, especially since this book reminded me of a much slower paced, but also gothic piece, predating it by almost a hundred years.
A resemblance to the classic novel Jane Eyre resonance when reading through I Am Legend. In Eyre there is a man named Rochester who reveals, on his wedding day, that he is in fact already married, but that he keeps his wife in the attic. Throughout the novel, we never see the wife’s perspective, only Rochesters. We do not know if this woman, named Bertha, was made crazy, born crazy or is in fact crazy. Bertha could represent many ideas:  she could be an example of what happens to a woman when trapped in a voctorian ruled world. She could be an example of the stifled fate of women and the lack of gender equality. She could be a representation of how old monarchal rules amalgamated with middle class morality tears a person apart.
However, when one looks at the protagonist Robert Neville in I Am Legend, you can see similarities between these two works. Consider that Neville is immune to this disease that has spread throughout all of mankind because he has been bitten by a vampiric bat. This seems historically inspired of itself immediately, as smallpox was originally vaccinated by administering a patient cowpox. This was discovered when smallpox epidemics would break out, with everyone becoming infected except the farmers. This immunity that Neville has allows him justification to assume that he is the lone survivor. We know early on that Neville is prone to addictions and vices; he smokes cigarettes constantly. Interestingly, Bertha in Jane Eyre is described as having addiction problems, which cause her to go mad due to her ‘unfavorable genetics’. Neville has favorable but altered genetics, in an unfavorable landscape. Still, the only perspective we receive in this tale, at least so far, is Nevilles. He makes it seem as if he is not crazy, making to do lists that involve hauling bodies and checking generators, but what is most striking, is that he actively fights this aggression coming at him. Is this all really outside influence, or is it brought on Neville?
From this point it is interesting to consider that Richard Matheson took part in World War II as an infantry soldier. Although he was American and not Russian, I am sure he saw his fair share of bodies in the war. I researched some of his other stories and found many shorts with twists endings, along with other first person narratives.  With Neville, we have a strong perspective of his character. He retreats too drinking often, is sarcastic, and understandably gloomy. But he is quite active against the horrors around him. This could be a commentary on the human condition; how impossible the onslaught of war is. What hope does Neville have, if he assumes the world is taken over? Only to stake the hearts of his neighbors until his death? Are we reading a mental account of Neville considering suicide? Is this a metaphor for a man locked in an asylum, much like Bertha is locked in the attic? Or, what I find most plausible, is Matheson really bringing us into the mind of someone with post traumatic stress disorder?
Consider again the corpse Neville assumed was killed due to sunlight. Was the man a man before, or a corpse?  Again, everything is assumed from the narrators point of view. This leads me to believe that most of what I am reading is culturally relevant in its commentary of post world war 2 lifestyle being attacked, on violent human nature in general and, more importantly, the lack of help from the outside world It helps that Matheson, like Bronte, can craft a good story too go with it with a protagonist who is arguable both stubborn, heroic, addicted and insane. The eventual introduction of Ruth helps the tension raise, and where it is going, seems to have a very Kafka potential.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Arata on Dracula

UPDATE: More material, academic papers, analysis & critique @ my current blog Elastic Collisions -

Stephen D. Arata has many things to say about Dracula. From the Orientalist approach with Jonathon Harker and the gothic portrayel of traveling, to the effects of Dracula being Occidental. There are a few specifics in Arata’s well written essay that this post will go into specifically.

As stated in The Occidental Tourist: Dracula and the Anxiety of Reverse Colinization, Dracula himself is an Occidentialist, which is “someone who views the western world in a dehumanizing light” (Wikipedia – Occidentialism  According to Arata, Dracula’s “Occidentialism represents the essence of bad faith, since it both promotes and masks the Counts sinister plan to invade and exploit Britain and her people.”  Indeed, other students have noted on Englands desire for strong social change (such as Andrew) in the Victorian period, and Dracula represents this, as looking at Arata’s essay will show. This social change, however, is brought upon through fear. What I am looking to focus on his how Arata’s essay relates too England’s fear of the upcoming power in the west. What will be most looked at is the character of Dracula, what elements of the west he embodies and what effect this could have had for readers at the time.

Around this period there were a few philosophies kicking around the minds of the colonialists. The idea of westward expansion almost coincides with other ideas that are easily described as more sinister, such as manifest destiny, all which were well publicized beliefs by westerners. Keep in mind that the character of Dracula embodies the evil growing power of the western world, which I feel Arata argues. There of course are many reasons for this culturally and historically that would cause Arata too believe this; the whole drive of the middle class in England, which is part of its boom, is due too resources being shipped and creating jobs this way. America, through many years of fighting taxation and eventually separation, caused England to lose its title of “workplace of the world” through the 18th and 19th centuries. Then there is the idea of westward expansion, as these divine, holy people (the now inhabitants calling themselves Americans), bringing education with the likes of Berkley and ‘taming’  natives, being ideologies that are easy to attack and become frustrated with as they have inherent self righteous connotations. Arata almost seems to be stating that Bram Stoker is well aware of this, and that Dracula, sucking Europe dry, relates too this America, sucking up its lands. And not just with religion, but agriculture and manufacturing. With every essence of being a British Citizen. On top of that, Dracula is a foreigner.

Arata also points towards something else, hinting at a more passive effect. “Dracula is different, however. A large part of the terror he inspires originates in his ability to stroll, unrecognized and unhindered, through the streets of London.”  This is the passage that most struck out to me, as Literature is at, arguable, its strongest point. And here, with the human races most popular medium, is Dracula, so dangerous because he is so deceptive he can hide among the Englishmen, before he uses them by feeding on their life essence.  This also creates an attack on the idea of “Englishness”; what it means to be an English man, which was quite popular at the time.  It creates an important connection; western ideas can invade and effect the English identity. It can be so unnoticeable that someone may not perceive it. The message too the Englishman is simple: Be warned. Dracula is still there as America is. It may even walk around you. Be vigilant. Be English.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Dracula and the Fear of Women

There are many elements in Dracula that play on the culmination of the Romantic and Victorian era. When reading through the first chapters, one can see fears and moments of the 19th century finalizing in this novel. Not all these themes are new, in fact, Dracula seems too invoke now classic Gothic tropes, along with using tactics from other popular literature before it. Consider Frankenstein, a monster made of other parts, made at a time when Mary Shelly and Lord Byron witnessed galvanization. It is no far stretch too say that Frankenstein is made up other parts of humans in a way to demonstrate man looking to remove one undeniably necessary trait of women; birth.  Dracula as well is looking too sap something from women. It’s what he is trying too sap and who these women are that is important.

The style of the book is quite inspired by popular literature at the time. Much if it is written as letters back and forth, starting with notes from a man named Jonathon Harker eventually moving onto the two main characters of study for the novel, Lucy Westenra and Mina Murry. Their flat characters, unchanging in demeanor, show that Dracula, as a general commentary, is noting the act of men trying to dominate women, primarily with the theme of sexuality through blood sucking. Or, as Dr. John Seward might call it, a sort of zoophagous behavior. 

During the suffrage movement there were handbooks being created that would dictate how a woman could be a governess of her home. This involved being an ‘angel of the household’; she was a moral compass for the private life.  Consider that through the 19th century there were many reformations upon parliament and society. This was needed for women more than anything, and the eventual education boom is welcomed upon historical view. But this does not just mean it is one sided; in chapter 10, Dr. Seward offers his ‘lifeblood’ to Lucy, saying; “No man knows till he experiences it, what it is like to feel his own life-blood drawn away from the woman he loves.”

This passage is especially interesting as it touches on something not seen in British literature often; fear of women due to their power. Some cultures would tattoo and chisel their bodies, not just for decoration, but to protect their pores so they did not lose their essence from being with a female. These discoveries date too the time of Captain Cook, which predates Dracula. It is possible this could be inspired by the art discovered in Polynesia at the time, as the locals would initially tell of the meaning of their work. 

It is with these issues in mind that I continue reading Dracula, which is a first for me. I do find it somewhat progressive in that regards; despite it mashing up many popular elements, it still brings forth a necessary critique while being entertaining. It is also striking how these similarities can be found across multiple authors of the period.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Sexual Hysteria in Carmilla

UPDATE: More material, academic papers, analysis & critique @ my current blog Elastic Collisions -

I found Heller’s essay to be so informative that it reshaped many ideas I had regarding Carmilla. In this essay, the author discusses how, at one time in the Victorian period, that hysteria and mania was “synonymous with female sexuality” (The Vampire in the House p78). I find this very interesting as, until now, I mostly have put the concerns of Laura and Carmilla as those of fears over immigration and foreigners upon the established. Considering that the suffrage movement had not even included women at this point, it makes sense. I found it very eye opening when reading through Carmilla with Heller’s essay in mind. Heller connects the sexual energy in Carmilla too girls becoming hysterical and infecting one another. This hysteria and sexuality are linked together with the Victorian fear over menstruation. As stated in The Vampire in the House on pages 81-82; “Many Victorian medical tests imply that menstruation was symbolic not so much of feminine lack-the loss or wounding of blood letting-but the violent sexual appetite its onset could precipitate.” Here, Heller fully connects her argument. If there is a female in the act of menstruation then there is also a chance for a contagious form of hysteria to go unrelenting which would then lead too the women needing to being released or contained from their sexual desires. This creates a horrible cycle of misunderstanding and further misinformed ideas toward women. The elements of hysteria are most felt and explored during the dream sequences.
                Considering the oppression of women at the time and the popularity of the medium(i.e. literature) and it’s involvement with social change, I now have a newfound respect for Le Fanu. There is a large amount of self awareness in the novel and Heller brings an interesting idea too the table that the author could almost be attempting to insight mass sexual hysteria. In a way, I agree with this. Le Fanu is inciting hysteria, but its through the hysteria of exploration and knowledge. The very embodiment of Carmilla is counterculture; alluring, sexual in a taboo manner and of course supernatural. This is fearful for a large amount of people, especially in an era when married women had literally no rights. When considering the essay of Heller, it helps transform, at least for me, the novel of Carmilla from a titillating romp too a amibgous message of social equality veiled with an entertaining story.