Vampire literature: the crisis of being human

Sunday 31 October, 12.30pm until 1.30pm, Lecture Theatre 2 Lunchtime Debates

Humanity has always had a fascination with the undead: from ancient folklore to Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula to teen heartthrob Edward Cullen in the recent Twilight books and films. Indeed, with the current resurgence in vampire literature and films - globalised by the phenomenon of Twilight and HBO’s True Blood – it seems the genre is more popular than ever. And with the world’s first master’s degree in vampire literature launched at the University of Hertfordshire in September, it is clear that a new generation is keen to get under the skin of this spooky fascination. We still just can’t seem to get enough of these blood-sucking monsters.  But what does our obsession with the undead tell us about what it means to be human, and what is the particular appeal today?

Historically, vampire literature has been seen as a metaphorical expression of anxieties about everything from sex to disease to immigration. Karl Marx even described capital as ‘vampire-like’ in its need to suck in human labour. Today, some critics believe that the immortality of the vampire serves as a reminder that life is fleeting, and that we have little control over the world around us – particularly poignant given the current worries over climate change, the economy and so on.

Or is it a far simpler story – that we (or women in particular) find the idea of vampires, frankly, a bit of a turn-on? It’s the classic tale of wanting a man you shouldn’t (he might rip you to pieces), that every woman can relate to. Conversely, in Twilight, Edward and Bella’s more tender relationship sends out a definite message to teens – no sex before marriage! The vampire – once a foul smelling, evil bloodsucking monster - has grown up into a sensitive soul more concerned with protecting his victims from other vampires, and other humans, than gorging on their blood. So is vampire literature simply escapist, or does the romantic allure of our fanged friends reveal an unease about the messy business of being human?

Listen to session audio:

 

Speakers
Dolan Cummings
associate fellow, Academy of Ideas; author, That Existential Leap: a crime story (forthcoming from Zero Books)

Dr Sam George
senior lecturer, English literature, University of Hertfordshire;

Mark Neocleous
professor of the Critique of Political Economy and head of department, politics and history, Brunel University

Marcus Sedgwick
writer-in-residence, Bath Spa University; novelist, White Crow and My Swordhand is Singing

Chair:
Abigail Ross-Jackson
speakers' agent, Ed Victor Speakers Bureau LLP

Produced by
Abigail Ross-Jackson speakers' agent, Ed Victor Speakers Bureau LLP
Recommended readings
Twilight's sulky vampires are less frightening than a knitted cushion

The campaign for real monsters starts now

Charlie Brooker, Guardian, 12 July 2010

True Blood is latest in the vampire trend

New drama from Six Feet Under writer Alan Ball follows popularity of Stephanie Meyer's books and Let The Right One In

Stephen Armstrong, The Times, 22 June 2010

Vampires Make it Into Academia

A group of academics met at the University of Hertfordshire in England to discuss the

Javier Espinoza, Wall Street Journal, 7 May 2010

University conference sinks its teeth into vampire fiction

A university lecturer hopes the undead can liven up English literature for the Twilight generation.

Lucy Tobin, Guardian, 7 April 2010

Vampires Suck

Actually, they don't. And that's the problem.

Grady Hendrix, Slate, 29 July 2009

Bloodlust: What Women Want

Forbidden love and the vampire takeover.

Sophie Chen, Psychology Today, 21 July 2009

Why Vampires Never Die

Tonight, you or someone you love will likely be visited by a vampire — on cable television or the big screen, or in the bookstore. Our own novel describes a modern-day epidemic that spreads across New York City.

Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan, New York Times, 1 July 2009

The Kiss of Death

Marko and Sorrel must uncover the mystery of what has happened both to Sorrel's father, plagued by a strange madness that prevents him from sleeping, and to Marko's father, a doctor, who has mysteriously gone missing after travelling to Venice to help his old friend.

Marcus Sedgwick, Orion Childrens, 2 April 2009

In The Blood

Why do vampires still thrill?

Joan Acocella, New Yorker, 17 March 2009

Festival Buzz

Eco-imperialism? - Ross Clark

"I was stunned at the incisive level of debate, the packed venues, the calibre of the panellists and audience... getting out for face-to-face intelligent, gritty and gloves-off exchanges of views."
Humphrey Hawksley, BBC World Affairs Correspondent

in association with