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HSG
10th November 2009, 15:12
<br>Like so many tropes in Western literature, the popular vampire tale owes its origin to that greatest of English Romantics, the aristocratic rebel, Lord Byron.

While it is generally known that the idea behind Mary Shelley's novel <i>Frankenstein</I> germinated at the Villa Diodati in Switzerland--where Byron, the Shelleys, Claire Clairmont, and Byron's physician, Dr. John Polidori, passed a stormy evening in 1816 by recounting horror stories to one another--it is less commonly known that <i>each</i> member of this august group resolved to compose a horror yarn of their own. Having learned of the vampire myth during his travels in the East, Byron's contribution was to be a tale of the undead.

Alas, Byron only completed a fragment of his work. However, seizing a golden opportunity, Polidori went ahead and composed his own vampire story, with his ravening creature being a thinly disguised depiction of Byron himself. Called <i>The Vampyre</I> (1819), Polidori's novella initiated a vogue for <i>nosferatu</i> lore that culminated in Bram Stoker's masterpiece, <i>Dracula</I> (1897).

(For those who are interested, both Byron's fragment and Polidori's complete tale are included in <i><a href="http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0140124454/thejudgmenofpari" target="_blank">The Penguin Book of Vampire Stories</a>,</I> a fine genre collection.)<p><center>* * *</center><p>As evidenced by the array of related merchandise at the Torrid site, vampires are currently experiencing a dramatic rebirth. Unlike the majority of modern trends, however, this development is not unwelcome for proponents of the aesthetic restoration.

Most of the renewed popularity of the undead is due to one author, Stephenie Meyer, and her four-part <i><a href="http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0316015849/thejudgmenofpari" target="_blank">Twilight</a></I> saga. Her series suffers from many faults, particularly Meyer's resentment of girls who embody the fair-featured, golden-haired feminine ideal, a resentment that expresses itself in catty and puerile ways. Moreover, the fourth volume in the series, in which Bella, the female protagonist, becomes a "Mary Sue" of the worst kind, is an unreadable disaster, and deserves to be consigned to the rubbish heap.

However, in the first three <i>Twilight</i> books, Meyer tells a tale that could markedly enrich the sensibilities of the young women who comprise her fan base.

<i>Twilight</I> is a saga of love from afar, a convincing description of the sensations that one experiences when one in enamoured of someone who is completely out of one's league--someone who is too attractive, too charismatic, too perfect for one ever to have a chance of winning their heart.

The particular element that makes the <i>Twilight</I> series relevant to this forum, however, is identified in the following excerpt from the third book, <i>Eclipse.</i> In this passage, Edward (who is Meyer's Adonis-like vampire and the male lead of the series) has just proposed marriage to Bella, and offers her an ancient family heirloom in the form of an engagement ring.<p><blockquote><i>"I suppose it's a little outdated." His tone was playfully apologetic. "<strong>Old-fashioned, just like me</strong>. I can get you something more modern. Something from Tiffany's?"

"I like old-fashioned things," I mumbled as I hesitantly lifted the lid.
</blockquote></i><p>The entire worth of the series is summed up in that one exchange. Edward, whom the author has designed to be as appealing as possible to young girls, is indisputably and determinedly out of step with the modern world. He is someone from another time, and carries with him many of the values and sensibilities of that past age.

Better still, this old-fashioned quality is precisely what Bella adores about him. Meyer is subtly but persuasively encouraging her young, female readers that when they fall in love, they should choose someone like her elegant male protagonist, <i>with his resolutely unmodern values.</I>

The potential good that this could do for the coming generation is incalculable. Prior to the exchange quote above, Bella had just propositioned Edward sexually, seeking relations out of wedlock. But Edward sticks to his principles, and insists on marrying her first. <i>That's</i> the kind of man--a true gentleman, something unheard-of in this day and age--whom Meyer is prompting young women to love: someone with values and dignity.

Where else, in the modern world, do girls receive such counsel? In fact, where are they not told the exact opposite?

Better still, the fact that Edward is an "old-fashioned" guy, and that Bella cherishes this quality, manifests itself in delightfully politically-incorrect ways. For example, long before they begin their romance, Edward makes a habit of watching Bella from afar, even stealing into her room and observing her sleeping. In our modern age--in which feminism has bred suspicion and enmity between the genders--such behaviour would be deemed "stalking." But in a more civilized era than our own, Edward's actions would have been regarded as the sweet, romantic behaviour of a lovesick suitor, the modern equivalent of Cyrano de Bergerac standing beneath Roxanne's balcony.

Significantly, although she is in some ways a modern girl herself, Bella does <i>not</I> react negatively to Edward's "stalking" when she learns of it. Rather, she appreciates it. She recognizes it as an expression of his genuine adoration of her.

How many potentially great love affairs end prematurely these days because women today have been taught to misinterpret and distrust the ardour of those men who are still true romantics? By introducing this politically incorrect element into the <i>Twilight</i> relationship, Meyer is encouraging young women to see past society's brainwashing, and to appreciate impulsively romantic gestures.

Meyer skillfully capitalizes on the conventions of the vampire genre to promote refreshingly old-fashioned values in other ways as well. For example, nothing is more fulfilling to both men and women than the traditional damsel-in-distress scenario. Although modern society has stigmatized such impulses, every authentic woman longs to be rescued, and every real man aspires to be a rescuer. By configuring her male protagonist as a vampire, and thereby endowing him with superior strength, Meyer has found a way to establish a traditional protector/protected relationship between her male and female characters, and get away with it. If this relationship had been presented "straight," without any trappings of genre, it would never have been accepted by a modern, politically correct publisher. Or if it had, leftist critics would have savaged it. But by presenting Edward as a vampire, Meyer was free to make him physically strong and heroic, giving him traditionally masculine attributes. And by putting her female character in imminent supernatural danger, she was free to make Bella vulnerable and needy, in a quintessentially feminine way. If one were to remove Meyer's <i>nosferatu</i> trappings, one would discover that she has told a refreshingly traditional tale of a knight protecting a damsel in distress.

It is a great blessing for young women to experience such a story, both as a fulfillment of their natural fantasies, and as a validation of their subconscious inclinations towards such relationships. After reading Meyer's books, young women will no longer feel ashamed of sinking into their boyfriends' arms, of longing to be protected, of wanting to feel safe, of requiring their partners to behave like <i>men</i> who are willing to defend their honour, and take care of them. They will no longer feel obliged to follow an artificial feminist script, but will feel empowered to be traditionally feminine. They will not view being "old-fashioned" as a negative, but as a positive.

Interestingly, despite the popular belief that <i>Twilight</i> is a "girls' story," many male readers enjoy it as well. This is not surprising. The way in which Bella loves Edward--which involves her dwelling endlessly on his "beauty," and gushing over the effect that his beauty has upon her--is actually representative of the way in which men love gorgeous women. Men are very visually oriented, and fall in love primarily because of the physical appearance of the girls whom they adore. Men idealize their significant others based on looks far more than girls do. Even the word that Bella repeatedly uses to describe Edward--"beautiful"--is properly a term applied to attractive women, not to men (the equivalent adjective for men being "handsome").

Therefore, male readers easily transpose genders when reading Meyer's novels, and relate Bella's impulses to the way in which they themselves have pined over unattainable goddesses. On the one hand, they relate to Bella's longing for an unattainable physical ideal, and on the other, they identify with Edward in his protector role (especially when the unworthy, primitive, rival suitor, the werewolf, enters the picture).<p><center>* * *</center><p>The other recently penned saga that is currently popularizing the <i>nosferatu</i> genre is <i><a href="http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/006114097X/thejudgmenofpari" target="_blank">The Vampire Diaries</a>,</I> written by L.J. Smith. It too comprises four volumes, of which only the first three are readable. Most of its fame is due to the CW network's eponymous television series--which actually has nothing in common with the books, other than its name.

In some ways, <i>The Vampire Diaries</I> novels are limited by their Young Adult genre origins. No one should be expecting Dostoevsky here, nor even Stoker. However, one single element makes Smith's books worthwhile, and that is the lead female character, Elena Gilbert, who is one of the most unique and exciting characters in popular fiction.

Elena is, in many ways, a female equivalent of Meyer's Edward--a mortal goddess whose beauty turns every man who looks upon her into a lovesick admirer, a male version of Bella.

Elena's appearance is described thus:<p><blockquote><i>That pale golden hair, so fair it almost seemed to shimmer. The creamy skin, which had always made him think of swans, or alabaster, flushing faintly pink over the cheekbones. And the eyes . . . a colour he had never seen before; darker than sky blue, as rich as the lapis lazuli in her jeweled headband.</i></blockquote><p>Apart from the fact that she is not plus-size, Elena possesses every trait of timeless beauty. Furthermore, she is the most popular girl in school, the one whose boyfriend is the captain of the football team. She is the girl whom every guy wants, and whom every other girl wants to be. She is, in short, the kind of character who is never allowed to be the heroine in American popular culture. In countless books and movies, such girls--the prom-princess, head-cheerleader types--are depicted as the antagonists of tomboyish, shrewd, politically correct heroines. Invariably, the Elenas of American high-school culture are depicted as villainesses who get their "comeuppance," without even a single chivalrous male rising up to defend them.

The reasons for this are myriad. Racism plays a major part, and one can easily see in the ritual dethroning of these blonde "queen bees" an analogy to the displacement of American's fallen Anglo-Saxon elite. ("Victors' justice," one might call it.) But undoubtedly the trope exists largely because it gives female authors, whose tomboyish brunettes are their literary stand-ins, the chance to avenge themselves on the blonde princesses whom they envied and resented in high school.

(Rosalie, in the <i>Twilight</I> saga, is a classic example of an unattainable, beautiful blonde who is made to "lose" to the author's Mary Sue stand-in, the brunette Bella.)

It is worth noting that this character type existed in English literature long before it appeared in America. Otherwise fine authors such as Charlotte Bronte and George Eliot are not above creating gorgeous blonde antagonists for their surrogate brunette protagonists to dethrone, testifying to these authors' all-too-human failings.

But in <i>The Vampire Diaries,</i> for once, this type of character is allowed to be the heroine. This is a wonderfully refreshing change, almost Nietzschean in its revalution of common values. The only caveat to Smith's boldness is that as the series progresses, she makes her blonde heroine more conventionally moral, thus depriving Elena of her more transgressive qualities. But the Elena of the first book is a revelation.

A Nietzschean perspective is genuinely warranted here, incidentally, because what makes Elena such a revolutionary character is not only her superlative beauty, but also her consciousness of her own allure:<p><blockquote><i>In that instant, Elena was aware that she was beautiful. It wasn't just the dress, or the way her hair was done. She was beautiful in herself: imperial, a thing made of silk and inner fire.</i></blockquote><p>She has the vain awareness of her own beauty that the greatest plus-size models display in their images:<p><blockquote><i>She knew, suddenly, what she must look like to him, pale hair spilling over the blackness of the cape, one white hand holding the velvet closed at her throat: a ravaged princess pacing in her tower.</i></blockquote><p>Most daring of all is the following passage, in which Elena permits herself an exciting thought that all true goddesses secretly entertain (and that all men and women subconsciously know to be true):<p><blockquote><i>But then she remembered something else, just a flash: looking up at Damon's face in the woods and feeling such--such excitement, such affinity with him. As if he understood the flame that burned inside her as nobody else ever could. As if together they could do anything they liked, conquer the world or destroy it; as if <strong>they were better than anyone else who had ever lived</strong>.</i></blockquote><p>On some level, Elena realizes that she exists on a higher plane than those around her, because of her superhuman beauty and passion. She considers herself <i>better</i> than the common run of humanity--and she is absolutely right.

The author herself encourages such superlatives. At one point in the book, someone who gazes upon Elena after she is dressed for a school dance is dumbfounded by her attractiveness, and expresses his admiration in almost poetic terms:<p><blockquote><i>Robert was looking at Elena, too. He blinked, opened his mouth, and closed it again.

"What's the matter, Bob?"

"Oh." He looked at Aunt Judith, seeming embarrassed. "Well, actually, it just occurred to me that Elena is a form of the name Helen. And for some reason <strong>I was thinking of Helen of Troy</strong>."</blockquote></i><p>Elena's beauty has epic connotations--literally. Elena's blonde beauty matches the traditional appearance of Helen, whose fair features are a part of her legend. And just as Helen's beauty prompted two nations to go to war for her, so Elena's beauty incites mortal combat between the two principal male characters of the series (two brothers), in a conflict that has an undeniable grandeur about it. Elena is as close to an epic princess as the author could conceive, given the limitations of the teen genre for which the books were developed.

Incidentally, one of those brothers, named Stefan, shares many qualities in common with <i>Twilight</i>'s lead vampire. Like Edward, Stefan has old-fashioned values, elegant turns of phrase, and he too is allowed to save his beloved from harm when Elena finds herself imperilled, in a classic damsel-in-distress moment. Also, the scene describing Elena and Stefan's initial kiss is passionately described, especially for a work of teen fiction, and is actually far more provocative than anything in the <i>Twilight</I> series.

Sadly, the Elena of the <i>Vampire Diaries</i> television series has nothing in common with the Elena of the books, neither looks-wise nor personality-wise. Instead of a transgressive, exciting blonde goddess, the show presents her as a dull, mousy, politically correct brunette. In typical fashion, Hollywood neutered a character who was a thoroughgoing challenge to its slave morality, and made her tediously conventional.<p><center>* * *</center><p>Anne Rice, who is as qualified as anyone to comment about this genre, recently had this to say of <i>Twilight.</I> She noted that the books reflect
<p><blockquote><i>the deep desire of young women to have the mystery and protection and wisdom of older men. I think many girls mature much earlier than boys, and they are frustrated when they approach young boys for love or protection. Hence the fantasy of a wise and protective vampire coming into the life of a young girl who, of course, appreciates him in a special way.</i></blockquote><p>In one sense, these latter-day vampire stories are literary analogies for May-December romances between distinguished gentlemen and young women. But more importantly, they subtly advance the idea that Old World sensibilities have a tremendous appeal, and are far superior to the degenerate values of the modern age. The books quietly encourage their young female readers not to reject suitors with old souls (whatever their chronological age may be), but to give them real consideration, for with them they will find love and respect of a kind that they would never experience with more modern types.

No, these young adult novels do not qualify as great literature. Far from it. Would we rather see today's youth reading Stoker? Certainly. But here's the thing--they <i>aren't</i> reading Stoker. They are, however, reading <i>Twilight</I> and <i>The Vampire Diaries,</I> and there is at least a chance that these books will introduce today's youth to forbidden, old-fashioned ways of thinking.

Albert-Joseph Pénot, <i>Bat-woman,</I> c.1890:<p><center><img src="http://www.judgmentofparis.com/pinacotheca/penot/penot01.jpg"></center><p>- <a href="http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0451530667/thejudgmenofpari" target="_blank">An authentically <i>great</I> vampire novel . . .</a>

Tamika
11th November 2009, 04:42
How interesting! Thank you for posting this. Twilight is one of those novels that most people either love or hate, and I must admit that I am definitely not a fan (that horrible Mary Sue of a main character is exceedingly off-putting). However, this post has enabled me to appreciate the series a tad more. Despite the shoddiness of the books, the values displayed in them are quite encouraging, and the presentation of Edward's old-fashioned nature as something desirable is a huge step forward.

After reading Meyer's books, young women will no longer feel ashamed of sinking into their boyfriends' arms, of longing to be protected, of wanting to feel safe, of requiring their partners to behave like men who are willing to defend their honour, and take care of them. They will no longer feel obliged to follow an artificial feminist script, but will feel empowered to be traditionally feminine. They will not view being "old-fashioned" as a negative, but as a positive.
This is undoubtedly a good thing. Anything that enables girls to realise that they don't have to be 'tough' or 'manly' in order to be worth anything in life is definitely a positive. It's remarkable (and often scary) how many girls feel they must be 'one of the boys' in order to succeed, make friends, fit in or be 'cool', and force themselves into a false character or personality that is ultimately unfulfiling and does more harm than good.

I've never really looked at Twilight in this way before, but now I can see that some positive aspects of the books do exist. This still won't stop me hoping that they pick up Dracula and find out what real vampires are like, though.

Emily
12th November 2009, 14:53
Would we rather see today's youth reading Stoker? Certainly. But here's the thing--they <i>aren't</i> reading Stoker. They are, however, reading <i>Twilight</I> and <i>The Vampire Diaries,</I> and there is at least a chance that these books will introduce today's youth to forbidden, old-fashioned ways of thinking.
Well, I know of at least one young woman who is reading Stoker, and that is, of course, the amazing Kailee O'Sullivan. I recall this excerpt from the Judgment of Paris interview (http://www.judgmentofparis.com/kailee/part2.htm) with her:

“What sort of books and movies do you enjoy? Literature, for example. I read on your Facebook page that you like Dracula.”

“I loooove Dracula,” she enthused.

“Dracula is a great novel.”

“I love that,” she professed. “I read that in senior year of high school, and I love it.”

“You would make a great Lucy Westenra,” I submitted, thinking of Stoker’s fair-haired beauty, and how well Kailee matched her description.

She chuckled. “Maybe. Maybe in theatre school, when I go. But I like that question, because I’ve always loved books and movies.”

“You do?”

“Yeah. I’m such a movie buff. Such a bookworm too.”
So there's hope! Between Kailee and Tamika, we find two young women right there who enjoy the classics.

As this thread suggests, though, hopefully those girls who are reading Meyer and Smith will be prompted, by the pro-vintage elements in the books, to cultivate an appreciation of "the old things," and to discover the rich literary wellsprings of the genre.

vargas
13th November 2009, 01:49
I found it interesting, and perhaps not that surprising, that post-modernist horror writers like Stephen King (he of the penny dreadfuls) trashed the Twilight series and its author for the very values that it espouses. I was never particularly interested in the series until he attacked Meyer. I figured that if there is something old fashioned and anti-modern about it, it must be worth checking out.

One thing that I've always liked about vampires is that the very legends themselves have a grand, old-fashioned lineage, as they were influenced by the lives of actual noblemen and women, disturbing as some of these people may have been. Prince Dracula of Romania and Elizabeth Bathory of Transylvania come to mind.

Hannah
1st December 2009, 06:09
Here's anther way in which the current love of vampires could bring back at least one aspect of timeless beauty - the appreciation of a fair complexion. So says this article, at least:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/beauty/article-1231176/Vamping-new-make-craze-New-Moon-sends-sales-pale-foundation-soaring.html

The point:

It has long been seen as the ideal - a sun-blushed complexion signifies beauty and good health, leaving the pale-skinned English rose struggling to achieve the bronzed look.

But now the classic Saint-Tropez tan is being shunned...

A pale complexion is the new ideal, as women take inspiration from the vampire film New Moon.
Unfortunately, the celebrities featured in the article are very poor representatives of fair beauty, and the article emphasizes how girls are trying to achieve this look through cosmetics, whereas ideally fair features are natural. Plus, there is an important difference between "pale" and "fair" - the ideal is not pallor, but a luminous complexion with a hint of a flush.

On the other hand, I love the fact that the article notes the health-related advantages of fair skin, and even mentions that it is a "classic" ideal:

The trend will come as good news for campaigners against the use of cancer-causing sun beds, which were revealed to be as dangerous as smoking earlier this year.

Siobhan McDermott, of FeelUnique.com, said: 'Porcelain skin is a classic, chic and glamorous look but has long been shunned in favour of bronzed skin.

'It is great to see that this trend is making women proud to be pale and those who aren't, envious.'
I wish there were an article celebrating this look, but showcasing some of the loveliest plus-size goddesses who have fair features (Kelsey, Kailee, etc.).

Christine
2nd December 2009, 07:32
I am big fan of classic vampire stories like Dracula, Carmilla, Clarimonde, etc., because I prefer classy, clean-mouthed, richly atmospheric stories of Gothic romanticism. Stephen King is total opposite of those things, to put it mildly.

I also thought today that Chloe Agnew would make great Victorian-era vampire beauty: voluptuous rather than slender, dressed in gorgeous period gowns, and beautiful like an angel.

Kaitlynn
29th December 2009, 02:45
Despite the shoddiness of the books, the values displayed in them are quite encouraging, and the presentation of Edward's old-fashioned nature as something desirable is a huge step forward.

This is undoubtedly a good thing. Anything that enables girls to realise that they don't have to be 'tough' or 'manly' in order to be worth anything in life is definitely a positive. It's remarkable (and often scary) how many girls feel they must be 'one of the boys' in order to succeed, make friends, fit in or be 'cool', and force themselves into a false character or personality that is ultimately unfulfiling and does more harm than good.
I absolutely agree. I came across an article today that suggests that maybe, just maybe, the old-fashioned values in the books are actually making an impact on their readers:

http://www.independent.ie/lifestyle/once-bitten--now-chaste--why-our--vampireloving-teens-are--just-saying--no-to-sex-1990726.html

The pertinent point:

Parents can breathe a sigh of relief -- teenage sex is out, chastity is in and it's all thanks to a good looking vampire. According to Robert Pattinson, star of the hit Twilight films, the sexiest thing that today's teens can do is not have sex.

Pattinson, who plays 'good' vampire Edward Cullen in the screen adaptation of Stephenie Meyer's bestselling Twilight books, says: "Twilight is a big metaphor for sexual abstinence...

With no premarital sex and little more than a chaste kiss shared in the first three books, Bella and Edward's relationship revolves around attraction, respect and protection -- a romantic ideal that has sent teenage girls, and boys, wild.
I love the fact that people are speaking of a "romantic ideal" involving "respect and protection" (protection- a forbidden, timeless, chivalric notion) in such a positive way.

Could these books be teaching morality to a generation that has grown up in an immoral culture, and often with amoral role models?

New research carried out in the States revealed that young fans, aka Twi-hards, agreed with Pattinson's appraisal that chastity can be cool.

Melissa Click who worked on the new book Bitten By Twilight: Youth Culture, Media And The Vampire Franchise, says: "What really surprised us was the obvious abstinence message in the books and that teens were responding favourably to this message."

Dawn Eden, author of The Thrill Of The Chaste, believes chastity could be the new sexual revolution. She says: "Teenagers are more open to waiting because they want to show their individuality, to rebel, and the most counter-cultural thing they can do these days is to save sex for marriage."
I especially like that last point, which is an idea that has been raised on the forum before- that to be ever-more-shockingly modern is no longer any kind of rebellion. It's typical, modern, media-prescribed behaviour. But to believe in old-fashion ideals, like femininity, full-figured beauty, chastity, honour- that is a rebellious stance. That is the hallmark of an independent spirit.

Are we seeing the first stirrings of an aesthetic restoration, and a restoration of traditional values in general? It's too much to hope for- but I hope for it, all the same.

MelanieW
30th December 2009, 17:35
Here's anther way in which the current love of vampires could bring back at least one aspect of timeless beauty - the appreciation of a fair complexion.
Yes! There was another article about this in a Canadian newspaper just the other day:

http://cnews.canoe.ca/CNEWS/Canada/2009/12/28/12285991-cp.html

The significant excerpts:

Jane McKay, a senior artist with MAC Cosmetics in Toronto, says younger customers bewitched by the pallid lovers aren’t coming for bronzer anymore. They want lighter foundation and pale powder...

The first Twilight movie sold Marta Tryshak, a 21-year-old University of Toronto student, on Bella and Edward’s faded beauty. Tryshak says she likes the pale skin tones, flushed cheeks and natural lip tones.

Bella’s embrace of natural beauty sends a positive message to young girls, Tryshak says.
Its nice to hear of girls turning away from that horrid orange, radioactive-tan look that Hollywood promoted for so many years. And the fact that the student quoted in this article mentions a love of "flushed cheeks" is important, because it means that what girls are appreciating in themselves is a fresh, fair complexion - not corpse-like whiteness, but a healthy, delicate peaches-and-cream skin tone. The timeless look, in other words.

And yes, I do think it sends a positive message to young girls, not just to avoid cancer-causing tanning, but also that they should appreciate their natural appearance, the skin tone they were born with, and not try to change it.

Let us hope that this idea of appreciating their God-given look stays with them, and helps them love their natural figures as well as their natural complexions.