Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Half Dust/Half Deity

This Christmas I received my very own copy of Bran Stoker’s Dracula, an item I requested along with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. I have loved vampires from the impressionable age of eight when I saw Stephen King’s mini-series Salem’s Lot. Since then I have read many vampire novels, including Anne Rice’s series, True Blood, and of course Twilight. It struck me as interesting how the image of vampires has gone from terrifying, blood-thirsty monster to chivalrous, sparkling hunk.

To figure this out, I looked to John Polidori’s The Vampire(1897). In Polidori’s novel the villain Lord Ruthven, was said to have been based on George Gordon, Lord Byron. Polidori was Byron’s physician, and knew only too well the tumultuous, fiery and fitful passions of this infamous poet. Byron’s ex-lover Lady Caroline Lamb described him as “mad, bad and dangerous to know.”

In his time, Byron was the first of the modern-day celebrity. His readings were sold-out events; his persona known across Europe, likely due to the combination of his fine poetry and a highly scandalous love life. Women found him magnetic and irresistible due to his passionate, fierce disposition. Byron himself was aware of how his temperament imbued his image: “I am such a strange mélange of good and evil, that it would be difficult to describe me.”

Polidori’s vampire Lord Ruthven was like Byron, brooding, attractive and aristocratic; the blueprint for the first romantic vampire. Ruthven was attractive, but flawed by “one grey, dead eye.” Byron too was thought of as charming, but was lame in one leg. Byron would attend events dressed all in black, and unable to dance due to his disability he would sneer at the contemporary craze of the Waltz. He was shy, lending him a sense of aloof superiority; and he was rarely seen to eat or drink as a result of an obsessive fear of gaining weight. As a result, his restricted diet led to a pale, drawn look, adding to his supernatural aura. Byron personified the Fatal Man of his poetry.

In writing, outsiders are compelling and interesting; rule-breakers with a certain melancholy and loneliness that incites our sympathy and curiosity. In fiction, if your romantic hero is supernaturally powerful, dangerous and charming as well as being a lonely outsider, you have all of the elements of the classic vulnerable hero in place. The darkly romantic cast to Byron’s poetry was intrinsically twined with his “naturally burning” temperament. He wrote of Man: “half dust/half deity, alike unfit/to sink or soar”. Throughout his autobiographical poems was the brooding awareness of the fleeting nature of life, a sense of dark foreboding and palpable undercurrent of thwarted destiny.

I had always wanted to write a vampire novel that returned to a horror story, but after finding this connection to Lord Byron, I don’t think I will. I am enchanted by the concept of the vampire who has unwittingly become victim to a horrible, incurable affliction and fallen back in love with the romantic, lonely, brooding vampire. I guess the horror novel idea will be shelved indefinitely. In the meantime, I just picked up my new copy of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which she wrote while in the company of both Lord Byron and John Polanski. Maybe I could try a new romantic twist on the horrific dead/alive Frankenstein.


Hayley E. Lavik said...

Lovely, Joanne. I'm such a fan of Byron's work and his ever-intriguing personal life. This connection is also a marvelous justification for the achingly tragic/appealing style of vampire. I think the thing that irks me about more modern vampires is a loss of the tragedy.. or a legitimate sense of the curse/affliction of their state. It's become a bit of a lazy by-line for being angsty, rather than a legitimate theme to explore and delve into.

Byron, the Shelleys (Percy Bysshe and Mary), and their literary companions are a really fascinating bunch. I love hearing the stories about their lives, such as how Mary's great work came out of a dare of Byron's that she wouldn't be able to tell a scary story. I think a new exploration of Frankenstein's monster would be very welcome now, and I'd love to see what you'd do with it.

You've settled me. I've been poking at a possible post on the Byronic hero for a while now. Now I know what I'm doing for next week. He may not be a vampire, but Mr Heathcliff can kick Edward Cullen's butt anyway -- and he comes back from the dead! ;)

connie said...

Really enjoyed this blog. Even though it is almost 4 in the morning, I now have to look up Byron and the Shelleys.
I have always felt sorry for vampires,forced to hang around forever. But their brutality was a bit much. Modern vampires are too unbelievable. Rather than develop their evil, they seem to be more interested in what to do about their lover and the authors try to frighten readers/movie goers, but never with the depth of the writings of Shelley.
I had a friend in Brandon who was born in Transylvania on October 30th (phew - born just in the nick of time). She was really unusual, but in a very nice way. She had a horror of blood too.

Janet said...

Great post, Joanne! And did you know there has been a sequel to Dracula written this past year? Bram Stoker's great-grandnephew (Canadian citizen), Dacre Stoker, has penned the follow-up and has received wonderful reviews. Here's some links:

The Official Site: www.draculatheun-dead.com

And a review/blurb at Usa Today

I am not into the modern vampire stories - as for reasons listed by yourself. The angsty, melodramatic, really-nice-underneath-the-fangs hero just doesn't ring true and find that any heroine who falls for one would be out of her mind. I'm all for the bad boy hero archetype, but not a bad boy hero who is undead and pale to boot.

Now, a story based on Frankenstein - that would hold my interest.

(Hope these links work)


Janet said...

Links worked - woo hoo!

Have no idea about the "And" at the end of my post?

DebH said...

I appreciate the little history information you've given in the post. For the most part, I avoid vampire stories (well, horror stories in general) because of the darkness and evil. I have noticed the trend for more "friendly" vampires in literature of late. I happened upon a really good vampire book by accident because I liked the author's first book so much, I decided to give his vampire novel a try. It's Nightlord, by Garon Whited. A very unique take on the whole vampire thing. I think you may enjoy it.

Again, thanks for the background info - it's always fun to learn something new.

JoanneBrothwell said...

Hayley, I agree the modern vampires have lost that sense of tragedy,which is disappointing. Anne Rice was planning to do a redemption novel about Lestat, but didn't do it. That maybe would have been a good read.

I can't wait to read about Heathcliff!

JoanneBrothwell said...

Connie, what in the world are you doing up at four in the morning?

I agree that the modern vampires are too fluffy, but a return to gory brutality doesn't seem much better.

Now go get some sleep! ;)

JoanneBrothwell said...

Hi Janet,
Wow, I had no idea there is a sequel to Dracula! And by a relative of Bram Stoker - OMG! I will definitely be checking that one out.

Doesn't the name Dacre Stoker just conjure up some great characters?

JoanneBrothwell said...

Hi DebH,
Thanks for the suggestion. I'll definitely be checking out Nightlord, I'm always interested in a new twist on an old theme.

Karyn Good said...

I remember the first time I watched a biography on Mary Shelley. I thought what the heck and I ended up completely fascinated by her life story, which reads like a novel in itself. I love the story of how the idea of Frankenstein came about, as Hayley mentioned, on a dare from Byron.

And Byron! Even if half the stories about him are true...he led quite the life! Then of course, there's the poetry :D

I am, however, a fan of the modern day vampire story. The possibilities are endless and I love it when a new twist makes an appearance whether it's a genetic anomaly, or sparkles. And if they happen to look like Damon or Stephan Salavator from The Vampire Diaries, who am I to complain.

Great post, Joanne!

StephB said...

How intriguing. You've stroked the creative the juices with this one. I definately want to learn more!


Hayley E. Lavik said...

I'd also recommend our readers take a moment to pop over to Honorary Chick Lesley-Anne McLeod's blog to read her entry on discovering the poetry of Lord Byron.

Anne Germaine said...

Wow. The things you can learn on your lunch hour... Fascinating post Joanne.

JoanneBrothwell said...

Hi Karyn,
I didn't include in my post that some believe Byron suffered from what is known today as BiPolar Affective Disorder, and I am sure they didn't have mood stabilizers back then!

Ahh, Damon and Stefan. I'm not even going to comment! :)

JoanneBrothwell said...

Hi StephB, glad I could help stimulate the juices!

JoanneBrothwell said...

Anne, thanks for the feedback. Hope you didn't choke on your lunch!

Vince said...

Hi Joanne:

I have been thinking about your post all day.

I think you could write about a handsome, outsider, brooding, vampire and still convey a strong sense of horror. I did this with a psychotic serial killer who only killed evil people. He loved the Army for the chance to kill and was a hero in two wars. He even went to England on business for a few weeks where he recognized and killed Jack the Ripper. (He recognized the same crazed look in Jack's eyes as he himself had).

Part of the horror comes from how this man was such a cold blooded killer who enjoyed killing like a drug addict enjoys his drugs. The other part is in how easily the reader can sympathize with this man’s anguish – perhaps even to the point of approving of him.

How about a crime-fighting vampire who kills evil people and enjoys doing it? That could be scary. Could you love such a flawed hero?


JoanneBrothwell said...

I would love to read your book about the serial killer. I do think I could love a flawed hero like that, in fact I know I have loved many such evil heroes. Maybe the vampire horror novel should be back on the table!

Jana Richards said...

Hi Joanne,
What a wonderful post! Ya gotta love those brooding, tragic, flawed heroes, with or without the bloodsucking. Makes me want to sit down and write a hero just like Byron, except for the part where he dies young, of course.

Great stuff!

Helena said...

Hi, Joanne. I've been enthralled by your post and all the interesting and informative discussion that it has generated all day. Don't have a lot of commenting time these days, but can't help getting sucked in (oh, please pardon that horrible image).

Altho I've said before that I have not been a fan of vampire stories, or horror of any kind for that matter, I am intrigued with the current output of hunky vampire heroes. Who knows, perhaps that will lead me to re-examine the older types with some of the same fascination so many of you obviously have.

As for Vince's question -- we do seem to be drawn to the characters that commit the most vile acts, and I wonder if there is something in the human psyche that yearns to find something redeeming in even the evil-doers.

After today, when I have more time, I do believe I will be going back to renew acquaintances with the romantic poets. It's been a long time since I have even thought of Byron, Shelley, and the rest.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Joanne, I've seen Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, The Lost Boys, and one Vampire Diary episode and some others but probably no more than 6 total. I just get creeped out instead of entertained. Just call me a fraidy-cat.

But I did see one a couple weeks ago that was intriguing. Can't remember the name but it was about one brother who was a werewolf and his brother who was a vampire. The werewolf brother had to stay locked up in this secret place but someone let him out. The heroine was their sister and it was a romance. Except that the man I thought was the hero died. I kinda lost interest after that.

Guess I'm just a romantic at heart.

Good post, though.

JoanneBrothwell said...

Jana, Helena and Anita Mae,
Thanks for the feedback. I'm a total sucker for the vampires, I'm still not totally sure why. It probably is something about that dark side of the human psyche that piques my curiosity.