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:


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

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

Produced by
Abigail Ross-Jackson speakers' agent, Ed Victor Speakers Bureau LLP
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