Monday, May 21, 2018

Gender in the Vampire Narrative – review

Editors: Amanda Hobson & U. Melissa Anyiwo

Release date: 2016

Contains spoilers

The Blurb: Gender in the Vampire Narrative addresses issues of masculinity and femininity, unpacking cultural norms of gender. This collection demonstrates the way that representations of gender in the vampire narrative traverse a large scope of expectations and tropes. The text offers classroom ready original essays that outline contemporary debates about sexual objectification and gender norms using the lens of the vampire in order to examine the ways those roles are undone and reinforced through popular culture through a specific emphasis on cultural fears and anxieties about gender roles. The essays explore the presentations of gendered identities in a wide variety of sources including novels, films, graphic novels and more, focusing on wildly popular examples, such as The Vampire Diaries, True Blood, and Twilight, and also lesser known works, for instance, Byzantium and The Blood of the Vampire. The authors work to unravel the ties that bind gender to the body and the sociocultural institutions that shape our views of gendered norms and invite students of all levels to engage in interdisciplinary conversations about both theoretical and embodied constructions of gender. This text makes a fascinating accompanying text for many courses, such as first-year studies, literature, film, women’s and gender studies, sociology, popular culture or media studies, cultural studies, American studies or history. Ultimately this is a text for all fans of popular culture

The review: It wasn’t a shock, despite the title of the book being “gender”, that this volume was concentrated upon one of the genders (and, in the one ostensibly male orientated chapter, the focus was the female gender) and, in so doing, had a very feminist perspective. Whilst it wasn’t a shock it seemed like a waste. Not that there isn’t a place for feminist studies (indeed I’d have bought the book had it been accurately titled The Female in the Vampire Narrative) but the genre has so many other perspectives to explore.

In a book on gender I would have liked some of the contributions to examine gender identity and genderqueering within the genre. Certainly, there is opportunity to do so and that would have added an extra dimension to what is, generally, an excellent collection of articles.

It was great to see Florence Marryat’s work getting some attention as well as da Sweet Blood of Jesus, however there were some minor missed opportunities (beyond the massive one mentioned).

When discussing Byzantium, Hobson footnotes to point out the connection to  the Vampyre: A Tale but misses that Darvell is a reach over to Byron’s fragment that the Vampyre was based on. Kristina DuRocher suggests that vampires came to life, via the medium of film, rather than resting in the reader’s imagination – looking squarely at the Twentieth Century. However, this ignores the phenomenal popularity of the vampire on the stage at certain parts of the Nineteenth Century. There is also a serious under-estimation of how many films featured Dracula as a character. And, as a pet peeve, there is a chapter looking at La Belle Dame Sand Merci and Christabel. Although author Ana G Gal recognises that the neither poem's antagonist is “a vampire in the strictest sense”, I do not subscribe to Christabel being a vampire poem at all.

Minor points however (even the Christabel point as there are counter arguments) and the point about exploring gender identity and non-binary gender is a wish and certainly not an indication of quality/worth. This is, overall, a great volume. 8 out of 10.

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