Stoker experts bite back against Twilight and ‘Americanised’ teen vampires

“My revenge is just begun,” proclaimed Count Dracula in the original 1897 novel. “I spread it over centuries, and time is on my side.”

April 20, 2012

Today marks 100 years since the death of Dracula’s author Bram Stoker, and the centenary has been marked by conferences in London and at the University of Hull.

The latter, titled Bram Stoker and Gothic Transformations and held on 12-14 April, was convened by Catherine Wynne, senior lecturer in English at Hull, and set out, she said, to “look back from Stoker and look forward from Dracula”.

In the conference’s keynote lecture, Clive Bloom, emeritus professor of English and American literature at Middlesex University, argued that “Gothic studies have become institutionalised and safe. We need to return to a more visceral and scary notion of the Gothic. We need to stop using Freud and go back to de Sade – it’s all about perversity and the will to power.”

Professor Bloom also regretted “the Americanisation of the vampire” to be found, for example, in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight books, where “the dangerous violent aristocrat has become the dark boy no one talks to and who’s eternally 17”.

Speakers related Dracula to its original context of Victorian spiritualism, urban legends of a “monster” called “Spring-heeled Jack” and anxieties about religion, invasion and masculinity. Others looked at the novel’s reinvention everywhere from Turkey to Mexico and attempted to “rethink the menstrual vampire”, to explain why vampires are “as ubiquitous as the Big Mac” in the US and to decide whether “every generation gets the vampire it deserves”.

The Hull conference featured a lecture in Whitby about “the birth of horror” by Sir Christopher Frayling, former chairman of Arts Council England, appropriately held on Friday 13.

Another conference, titled Open Graves, Open Minds, has been organised by Sam George, senior lecturer in literature at the University of Hertfordshire. It is taking place at Keats House in London today and tomorrow and includes papers on necrophilia, Keats and vampires, comic vampires and “the televisual Dracula”, as well as a “Dracula-themed wine reception”.

Delegates will also get a chance to visit Golders Green Crematorium, where Stoker’s ashes share company with Marc Bolan’s and Sigmund Freud’s. A full moon should only add to the atmosphere.

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