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gothic

Vampires as a Means of Expression For Stoker and Le Fanu

 The vampire is such a compelling figure of literary representation for Irish writers like Le Fanu and Stoker because the medium of the vampire could be used to express ideas and convey thoughts about the authors’ lives and society that could not be expressed before. Le Fanu and Stoker were both upper class Anglo-Irish Protestants who lived in a country where the majority lower class Catholic population would not affiliate with them either by choice or through reason. This makes both Carmilla by Le Fanu and Dracula by Stoker such compelling literary presentations of both authors. As Milly Williamson puts it:

The vampire offers a way of inhabiting difference with pride, for embracing defiantly an identity that the world at large sees as other. To embrace the vampire is also to embrace pain; a painful awareness of outsiderdom, a life at least partly lived on the edges.

Stoker and Le Fanu were writers entangled in a cultural identity crisis, a crisis that gave rise to the perfect conditions to create the image of the vampire, who epitomized the outsider, living life ‘partly on the edges’ of society.

One major commonality between both literary representations is the position of the vampire as an obscure detached entity straddling the realms of human existence and the supernatural. An entity that is struggling to remain normal and abide by cultural conventions may very well have paralleled the feelings of Le Fanu as he was writing Carmilla. In the novella we see Carmilla’s unorthodox behaviour and ghostly antics being called into question as Laura struggles to correlate the natural and supernatural:

It was long before the terror of recent events subsided; and to this hour the image of Carmilla returns to memory with ambiguous alternations—sometimes the playful, languid, beautiful girl; sometimes the writhing fiend I saw in the ruined church. – Carmilla

In this instance Carmilla broke societal and cultural norms by advancing on Laura in a homoerotic way. She challenged contemporary sexual norms and perhaps the very nature of societal order by instigating something so taboo for Le Fanu’s time, even if she is not completely of the mortal world. The fact that Carmilla was not fully mortal allowed Le Fanu to push the moral limits of popular fiction at the time. Williamson dissects this same theme in Dracula by denoting that ‘the sexual desires dramatised in the novel take the symbolic form of vampires because of the sexual repression of the Victorian age’.

By being able to convert such relatable repression of any nature, including sexual, into the symbolic nature of the vampire, it allowed authors like Le Fanu and Stoker to finally convey ideas that would’ve been so out of place and unpopular previously. Having the ability or indeed the very option to write in a way that allowed greater freedom of expression was a big step forward for popular fiction in this period. Le Fanu, Stoker and Maturin relished this period to explore the occult and the taboo and open it up to the people who were now reading such fiction. Gothic literature in Ireland can thusly be seen as indulgent escapist literature. An example of this is Stoker’s use of Catholic imagery throughout Dracula. It later transpires that an immense level of comfort is attained through bearing the Catholic crucifix as Harker exclaims ‘bless that good, good woman who hung the crucifix round my neck! For it is a comfort and a strength to me whenever I touch it’.  Stoker would have been acutely aware of Catholic tradition and rituality by living in Ireland and through the gothic setting of Dracula he can indulge what must have been an inner curiosity.

Stoker’s vampire Count Dracula perpetuates the prototypical image of the vampire that has remained steadfast in popular culture right up to the present day. Le Fanu on the other hand makes it obvious that vampires do not always follow such conventions. The image of the vampire is forever evolving but it serves the same function today as it did for these Irish gothic writers. Vampires blur the lines between the natural and supernatural realms, indulge inner fantasies and often romanticise the occult. Through embracing the vampire both authors embraced outsiderdom, which they must have felt themselves living such an intricately complicated lifestyle in Ireland at the time.

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VampireFreaks – A In-depth Look at an Alternative Online Community

We are all aware of or maybe even be members ourselves of online communities dedicated to specific interests. I used to be a member of a railway modeling site for example. While that is a niche enough interest it stands aside when one delves into some of the communities on the internet catering for niche interests. Online communities have always fascinated me and I’ve recently been reading about the website VampireFreaks.com that allows people with an interest in all elements of the gothic communicate and collaborate.

The VampireFreaks.com website was started in 1999 by Jet Berelson, who remains active on the site under the username “jet”. The explanation given for the naming of the site is pretty simple, as Jet writes: “The term “VampireFreaks” actually dates back to my years in high school in Brooklyn. When I was about 15, I was just getting into the industrial scene, and I would draw random drawings and graffiti in my notebooks during class, just something to do when I was bored. One of the prevalent things I would write would be “Vampire Freaks”, which I thought would be a cool name for a band or something, as I was also really interested in vampire stories at the time. And around the same time I also would draw a version of the VF logo, but with jagged teeth in it. So when I decided to make my own website, luckily “vampirefreaks.com” was not taken.”

He originally used the website purely for himself as he wanted something to work on to improve his computer coding skills in C++ and Java. He began to write reviews of gothic industrial music and created a messageboard that soon garnered some traction. In 2004 he completely revamped the vampirefreaks website, and made it a new interactive profile website, programmed in php. This new format allowed anybody to join and post their pictures whereas with the previous format he had to review everyone’s picture submissions and only choose a select few. Other new features included a rating system, where users could rate each other, and see who has made it to the top. An interactive messaging system for communicating with the other members was also created. The site traffic quickly skyrocketed after this, and in the space of a few months it was already getting more traffic than any other gothic/industrial website in the world. VampireFreaks was soon affiliated with the merchandise site “FuckTheMainstream.com” to create the VampireFreaks Store. Over the next few years extras such as “Cults”, “Band Profiles” and “Premium Membership” were added. As of 2011, which was the last time VampireFreaks membership numbers were updated “VampireFreaks has 1.5 Million active members (inactive users are deleted), and runs on over 30 dedicated servers in our Chicago server facility.

I asked one member of VampireFreaks a series of questions relating to how he used the site and he provided some good insight into what it’s like being an active member of the community. When asked if the website has shaped his personal relationships he told us that he had met friends from the community in real life and even started an online relationship with a girl who was a member of the community too. He explained that when making friends online he has often been blocked with no explanation given but that he’s used to it by now and that that’s a common thing in the community.

Q1. How has VF impacted or shaped your personal relationships, if in any way?

“Well quite badly to be honest ha! I have met a few friends and girlfriends off here, and they don’t want to be friends for long and they wait for the next person then leave you without any further explanation. They block you at the click of a button and there’s no other way to contact them so it can be frustrating and misleading.”

Q2. Has being part of this community affected your everyday life?

“Yeah! I check my phone lots everyday, I like talking to new people and find out about them. It gives me something to do in the evenings.”

Q3. Have any opportunities come from being part of this community?

“No, not really.”

Q4. What opportunities may come out from being part of this community?

“Nothing for me but maybe meeting people away from the site, starting relationships, and going from there really”

Q5. What does having access to the information shared in this community add to your social life?

“It stays random for the most part so you can talk to anyone, just about anything. It just gives you more knowledge on Gothic stuff so you are always up to date on the latest music, films and whatever. Those are always good topics of conversations when you are trying to talk to a girls who are also into the gothic stuff.”

Q6. Does having access to the information shared on VF empower you?

“No not really. I mean certain people do Hold some more knowledge than others, which can be a form of power. I am not into the cults or anything, which other members probably feel empower them.”

Q7. Can you think of any situation that your participation on here could possibly cause problems for you? What would the consequences be and Why would you take that risk?

No, this is the internet you should be more than ready to face any obstacles in your way or avoid them entirely. We all know there are creeps and fakes on here waiting for their next victim. I would never even consider going to any of the events because everyone knows they are drug fests and giant orgies, disguised as ‘Gigs’. I am pretty aware of that so I don’t see me being on here as a risk. I am on here to meet new friends.”

 

 

A Look at Le Fanu

When one begins to think about great Irish writers some legendary household staples spring to mind such as Joyce, Wilde, Yeats and Stoker. These are the names that we recognise so frequently that they feel like extended family members, especially if you’re a literature student! But as much as we sing their praises, or indeed condemn them, there are other Irish writers worthy of similar acclaim that are all but swept under the carpet. The writer I’d like to talk to you about in this blog post today is Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu (1814-1873).

Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu was a gothic fiction writer whose literary works advanced themes and custom in gothic literature as a whole, particularly the sub-genre of the ghost story. He was, as most Irish writers from the Victorian period were, a member of the waning Anglo-Irish caste with French Huguenot roots. He lived a precarious and fractured life in societal and historical contexts that permeate even his finest works.

The Purcell Papers collection of stories, his first foray into published literature, particularly his stories The Last Heir of Castle Connor and The Fortunes of Sir Robert Ardagh show an evocative nostalgia for dispossessed Catholic aristocracy. This sentiment was even before the Great Famine during which Le Fanu felt the aristocracy was failing in its humanitarian duty to help the native population. One can go as far as comparing the monkey in Green Tea, where the main character is afflicted to years of torment, restless nights, endless paranoia and inability to attend Church sermons as being somewhat inspired, or if not mirroring what Le Fanu must have been feeling in Abington, County Limerick during the Tithe Wars. The Tithe Wars brought with them a sense of claustrophobia and paranoia for the Le Fanu family as they were surrounded by agrarian upheaval and anger where they were seen as tools of oppression by natives who had now had enough, even if as it turns out, the Le Fanus were only scraping by also.

The House by the Churchyard gives us an intimate look into what Victorian life was like in the insular aristocratic village of Chapelizod where Le Fanu grew up and we can garner much about evolving Victorian mannerisms and behavior in his sensation novels. Stories like Carmilla challenge assumptions regarding sexuality and Le Fanu’s ghost writing is so revolutionary it inspired M.R. James who described Le Fanu as “absolutely in the first rank as a writer of ghost stories”. His work certainly influenced Bram Stoker’s Dracula which meant he was the major catalyst in spawning a whole new wave of gothic fiction, paving the way for the vampire novel to saturate mainstream readership. A Chapter in the History of a Tyrone Family may have influenced Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre too by the way! These are just the larger influences yet Le Fanu is a name that does not instantly click with a lot of people beyond Irish literary circles. After the bicentenary of his birth in 2014 new light has been shed on many of the nuances and layers that affirm his credentials as possibly Ireland’s most underappreciated writer.

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