Friday, September 3, 2010

THE VAMPYRE by John Polidori

The Vampyre Blog Questions

For next week, read Polidori’s The Vampyre” and Nina Auerbach’s “Giving Up the Ghost” from her seminal book Our Vampires, Ourselves (located on D2L).

The following are some discussion questions to get you started. You do NOT have to use them, but feel free to draw from them for inspiration. In addition to using these questions, you could also respond to another student's blog. Make sure to provide links to these blogs and to any outside sources.

Your blogs plus two comments are due on Wednesday at 11:59 pm.

Lord Byron, largely the inspiration behind Polidori’s The Vampyre, was once described by his jilted lover Lady Caroline Lamb as “mad, bad, and dangerous to know.” For this blog, do some background research on Lord Byron and explore how and why his persona became the vampire prototype that still haunts contemporary representations. You should look up the term “Byronic hero” as that concept will come to inform the development of many later vampire characters. You might also want to do some background research on Polidori himself and of the particular nature of the relationship between him and Lord Byron. You could also do some research on that faithful night in Lake Geneva that produced such great gothic masterpieces as The Vampyre and Frankenstein. Polidori, Byron, Shelly, Mary Shelly (then Godwin), and her sister were once dubbed as “The Satanic School.” Do some research on this unique group of literary misfits and share what you find with the class. Were these young writers the original “Goth kids”?

How would you characterize what we might term “high society” in this story? In what ways is Lord Ruthven, and indeed the vampire figure as a whole, a response to this particular culture?

Why might it be significant that Lord Ruthven comes from “The East” and seems grounded in that culture? How is “The East” juxtaposed with what might be termed “The West” in this story?

How does this story imagine femininity and womanhood? Why is the vampire figure significant to this representation?

On page 14 Auerbach quotes from Eve Sedgwick, using her term “paranoid Gothic.” In Epistemology of the Closet Sedgwick uses Frankenstein to define this term, which is also sometimes known as “homosexual panic.” As in Polidori’s The Vampyre, these texts contain

"A residue of two potent male figures locked in an epistemologically indissoluble clench of will and desire—through these means, the paranoid Gothic powerfully signified, at the very moment of crystallization of the modern, capitalism-marked oedipal family, the inextricability from that formation of a strangling double bind in male homosocial constitution. Put another way, the usefulness of Freud’s formulation…that paranoia in men results from the repression of their homosexual desire, has nothing to do with a classification of the paranoid Gothic in terms of ‘latent’ or ‘overt’ ‘homosexual’ ‘types,’ but everything to do with the foregrounding, under the specific, foundational historic conditions of the early Gothic, of intense male homosocial desire as at once the most compulsory and the most prohibited of social bonds." (187)

Unpack this quote for the class and attempt to explain what you think Sedgwick is saying about the paranoid Gothic. Given what Sedgwick and Auerbach are saying about homosexual panic and the nineteenth-century novel, how might we understand Polidori’s story as an example of the paranoid Gothic? How might we understand this all-important “oath”? What might the “oath” be symbolic of in the story?

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