Gothics, vampires, and and l'écriture-femme

The Vampire Tapestry

by Suzy McKee Charnas

Abastenia St. Leger Eberle (1878 - 1942) Windy Doorstep

Part 5: 'The Last of Dr Weyland'; Pre-AIDSLocal and Contemporary Politics; Our natural business lies in escaping; Weyland a Survival-Self; "the lure of the great outlaw; Little Explicit Violence (a remarkably repressed vampire; could even make it through a Jane Austen novel without attracting undue attention to himself, without disturbing it); Brown and Americana; Against Critical Reading; Negative Comments and "daring to get dirty"; Gothic Fiction Reactionary

Subject: From Susan Hoyle: on The Vampire Tapestry.

Susan is having trouble posting to the list so I am putting these two on for her:

First one:

At last I received my copy of this book, but then was unavoidably away from home and computer for a couple of weeks. In my return, way behind on all sorts of lists, I decided to go first with this light volume.... These are my notes on the first three chapters, written before I read what y'all have said about them.

Like many others who have been reading it, this is my first vampire book. It is not a genre which has ever appealed to me, but I have hopes that I will learn something from VT -- if only why I will never bother reading a vampire book again. I'd like to find a better response in myself than that, of course.

I liked the opening: I like her use of punctuation; it made me feel confident of Charnas' control as a writer. However, I failed utterly to enter into Katje's conviction that Weyland was a vampire. It read like the sudden 'insights' one has, and forgets as quickly, because they are plainly daft. I could believe her immediate fear at that level, but not in a way that would allow me to continue fearful for her in his presence. Perhaps we weren't meant to, but it seemed to me that we were intended to see her in this light.

How sad it is how clear it is that this was written pre-AIDS.

Katje is an interestingly unsympathetic character. Unreconstructed late 70s Afrikaaners remain spooky, at least to this barely reconstructed 60s leftie. It may be hard to remember that at the time this book was written, however alienated Katje may have felt from her 'homeland', supporters of apartheid were still firmly in control of the government and, above all, the police; and no one surely ever imagined that Nelson Mandela would be let out alive, let alone to run for President and become the world's favourite politician... And this Katje is a hunter, with hunter's instincts, whatever they are. People with guns are dangerous. Her shooting Weyland seemed as weird to me as it did to the few who knew she'd done it.

And so to Mark and his lovely family. Mark is another interestingly unsympathetic character, a survivor who needs to live on his wits, like Katje; though he uses money rather than a gun. Less dangerous in the short term, but nasty all the same. Children can be very tough, and Mark is tough. I need to know much more about his relationship with the ghastly Roger in order to understand why he behaves as he does, but overall I found the dynamic much more convincing than in the first chapter: and when the poor lad offers himself to Weyland, I felt engaged by the plot for the first time.

I like the suggestion that if we, humans, are not at the top of the food chain then we need to rethink our ethics, and I like the implicit discussion of that -- and here in chapter three we get some explicit discussion. Very jolly. But we *are* at the top of the food chain, so I'm not clear where we are meant to take this stuff. If little green men arrive from Mars with ill intent, then the skills that Mark and especially Katje have will be at a premium, but until then I'd prefer to keep my distance. Or perhaps it is about power and those who believe that some humans are ahead of others in the foodchain (or whatever chain). That keeps the theme relevant to our lives, but I'm not happy with using the vampire as an example -- the point is that he/it *is* un-human and that his need for food is as important and by implication as legitimate to him as ours is to us.

It is now a week (and several house-guests) later. The newspaper this morning has a grim story, which I will not be reading in detail, about a woman convicted of murder in Germany who 'became a vampire' in Britain. Apparently she joined a group of 'vampires'. And yes, I did find myself thinking that Weyland would take a very dim view of all these shenanigans...

The middle story with Floria was, as I am pretty sure the rest of the reading group will have agreed, the most satisfactory -- although I am resistant to tales in which psychologists hold some key to the human condition. (I just wasted a few hours watching The Sixth Sense, so I am allowed to be bitter, surely.) If I read it aright, what got to Weyland was not sex, not loneliness, not boredom even, but an appeal to his imagination -- 'put yourself in this situation, in this person's shoes... and tell me about it...'. This may be a liitle self-serving of the (very imaginative) author, but I'm willing to let her get away with it, if she continues to use her imagination.

Which doesn't really happen. The last two stories seemed incompletely imagined. Weyland continues interesting, but the people around him are intriguing at best and ciphers usually. The operatic interlude did not convince me, neither in its premise nor in its detail; while the New Mexico univ story read more like a pastiche of something which I for one have never read... As the evidence piles up and the horrid Allan fellow draws closer, I could only think: "What kept you?" Perhaps these characters are meant to tell us how Weyland sees them, but if that is so it only tells me why vampiric society is not for me.

She also meant to add the following:

I meant to say in my original notes about VT that the other Big Change in the world (in addition that is to AIDS) is the impact of computers on academic life -- all those typewriters and carbon-copies, and no emails! Life would generally be more difficult for Weyland nowadays. But who knows what he will need to do to survive in 30 years' time (assuming it was 20 years ago that he went back to sleep). Perhaps not computer science.

From Susan Hoyle

Two quick notes, while I prepare my Gothic lit syllabus (URL shortly):

Yes, the Penguin book doesn't emphasize the German. Generally, studies of the Gothic tend to be nationally-focused, especially for English-language literature. I am increasingly thinking that such a concentration is a fundamental mistake, since the Gothic looks, over time, as a world lit phenomenon. Americans and Japanese deliberately pick up the imported Gothic to create native twists, then their contributions enter the world mix. French and German authors play key roles in the rise of the British Gothic. Local cultures play key roles in other regions' texts: Haitian voodoo in American, British, and Danish stories; continental vampire stories in *Dracula*. Would love to hear thoughts on this -

I'm not sure of the politics, yet, and am rereading the last section with an eye to this question. We have several explicit political topics raised already: South African apartheid, the politics of *Tosca*. Since the novel uses Weyland partly as a satirical implement, I suspect we might find him revealing a critique of contemporary politics.

(I think Davenport-Hines is way off on this idea of his. He simply skips the avowed radicalism of authors like Godwin or Charles Johnson, yanks Mary Shelley's novel like taffy, ignores the substantial, longstanding feminist model of the female Gothic. His conservative model, I suspect, is one reason Anne Rice likes his book.)


From: "Bethany Nowviskie"
Subject: Vampire Tapestry: Last of Dr. W

A few thoughts on "The Last of Dr. Weyland," which is the chapter in which both the character and the novel (it seems to me) gain the crucial measure of self-awareness necessary for both holding on and letting go.

It's tempting to talk about this vision of the university and Weyland's place as an academic -- about the literal vampirism here displayed in faculty/grad-student relations, about the "hunger" of scholarship and the need to "adjust one's hungers to the times." There is of course this: "Scholarship was the best game humankind had yet invented: intricate, demanding, rich with risk and reward -- akin in many ways to the hunt itself." Some one will probably pick up on this thread. I'd be interested to hear if you think the picture of academic life has changed in this chapter from the opening scenes with Katje, for all the catharsis of therapy and the opera.

I was relieved to find this section much less misanthropic than the last. The constant vignettes of crass, stupid, self-involved, annoying opera-goers in "A Musical Interlude" was more than I could bear -- the one who hates "smart-talking women" but puts up with one in the hope of selling her some artwork; the t-shirt-buying woman selfrighteously angry at her possibly-drugged-out little sister. The sister's boyfriend who thinks it's all "rutting music;" the man who falls asleep but will later rave about the performance until he believes he heard it, the woman who finds Scarpia a "nasty brute, but so virile -- better than Telly Sevalas." (Worth coming from Buffalo for.) The woman in gold lame' evaluating the "boring hindquarters most guys got." It was unremitting.

In "The Last of Dr. Weyland," on the other hand, we have Alison and Irv (the warm center), Dorothea, who "likes a world with wonders in it," and Letty (connected even through her wanderlust) -- even an affectionate representation of a minor figure, Professor "Mapoblonsky." And the crowd scenes this time have lost their cruelty. Where, in the last chapter, we saw petty people in conversation at their petty worst, here we get passing glimpses of untold stories, interesting lives -- the young man telling an Anglo couple about floating under polar ice in a submarine. The view of victims is kinder, too, and respects their own untold stories -- the girl in a long dress and buckled boots, "heading to Denver with her calico cat in her arms."

And of course there's Irv, who shows us real humanity and prompts real love and grief. Our first sight of him is when he's encouraging Alison with talk of needing "good people with good hearts" in the profession. He is a foil to Weyland, even in his concept of scholarship: "I know taking down oral history isn't large conceptual work, Weyland's style, but it's not sterile scholasticism, either. We can rescue human lives and cultures from oblivion. We can snatch history from the jaws of death." It is through Irv that Weyland begins to understand the human condition (the "short trajectories of human lives"), reflecting that "Alison can't wait a hundred years for some swing of events in her favor."

The real connection between Weyland and the human race -- despite past bouts with power and sex and art -- comes into focus in this last chapter, and is first fully articulated by Weyland in the unmailed letter to Dr. Landauer. Distressed humans need to have their vision focussed outward while a distressed predator's need is for inner vision. Is this a chapter of last, lost chances? Alan Reese "failed the final test." Does Weyland fail too, by opting out of pain and love and memory?

Bethany Nowviskie

To Litalk-l

January 6, 2002

Re: The Vampire Tapestry, Part 5: Our natural business lies in escaping

The quoted line comes from Robert Bolt's A Man for All Seasons and is one of the many resonant lines in the play which belong to a specific context but echo in the mind because they embody a real general truth. It's the way I see the end of this book. In the last few pages at long last we get a real sense of the weird (using the word in its supernatural sense) as Weyland turns away from his act as a human being; at the same time he does what in this world is wisest. Weyland's turn to sleep is not a paean to death or oblivion, but rather a better alternative to suicide.

I agree with Bethany that there is much misanthropic in Part 4, but I don't see this Part as any different from the rest and I like the hardness; I find it a relief from cant. Irv is presented as likable, but also a fool, a sap; someone around whom Weyland could last and last and last, but he commits suicide and so spoils it for Weyland. Dorothea is an irritant; of course Weyland did nothing. she herself has no idea why Irv killed himself. Nor do we. Still human beings seem to get upset over suicide and investigate -- that's the ironic tone here. Weyland feels for Irv as he feels for Mark, these are the sensitive types who go to the wall. The last we hear of Mark he has escaped too. Our natural business.

The remarks on the opera reminded me of remarks I have heard when going to opera: once my husband and I as graduate students got into a box from being in standing room. There were three overly-dressed people in the box; one man let me sit in the first row next to the woman (one of the three) because I was short. Their remarks were things like "great boobs" (for the soprano). Years of opera-going and watching and listening to people in the foyers taught me these sorts of remarks are common. Of course the book is more unremitting than reality; here and there were people who came to listen to the music or had some taste, but they were in the minority.

The academic satire is similar too. Once you drop out and end up in a scandal it is very difficult to get back into such a niche. In other words, this chapter was as naive in its approach (meaning unreal) as the others. The story of Alison was painful but probable.

There was power to the ending, to the final revenge, and everything was knotted up. Perhaps that was the problem with this Part for me. Charnas needed to end her book somehow, and as with, say, Anthony Powell's final novella of his enormous A Dance to the Music of Time, there is a straining for a sense of closure that felt artificial.

What did seem different was that at long last we did seem to look at the world from Weyland's point of view. We were in his mind much more than we had ever been in the earlier parts of the book. Katje was the lucid reflector of Part I, Mark of Part II, Floria of Part III. Weyland started to become that center in Part IV and emerges as it in Part V. Since he is seen as un-human, or not-human and cold, calculating, a force, the survival-self, that may be why these chapters seem so cool. However, in Part V, he has again integrated into relationships to the extent he can -- to the extent it is safe for him to do so. That give the chapter its quality. There was also a sudden reversal: from man up on top, the Big Professor, he turns to be man who is a bum, the loner, the drifter, or at least at first he considers it. I liked that. Another form of outsider -- but this time making us see that such a person is human -- or at least equal to "us" in thought too.

And there was a depth of feeling in Weyland in the last few paragraphs. Up to then he is on the alert, watching for violence, watching for the way human beings get at you. Now that he can relax as he retreats, he gets the gift. What is that? His dreams of these people whose bodily warmth, brightness, colour, simply protoplasms of life itself gave him pleasure and to whom he responded with reasonable kindness, as much as he could afford. And what do we get out of life after all? No more than that. I liked the last three paragraphs of the book especially:

"At length, when possession of that life was achieved, all was effortlessly let go like a release of breath.

In the still vault of his mind darkness began to thicken and drift. Tranquilly he recognized the onset of sleep. He did not resist."

This book did reach for the core of the gothic in the end and here it was not so much its center in grief as its cunning reachings for safety. Weyland is indeed a survival-self.

Ellen Moody

Date: Sun, 6 Jan 2002
From: Elvira Casal
Subject: The Vampire Tapestry

Coming in here at the very end, I thought I'd remark on that having the Weyland move from episode to episode to some extent avoids problems with realism. Each chapter begins with a situation in which the vampire finds himself; the way the vampire got there is not as important as how he responds to that situation.

Although I agree with Ellen and Bryan that the ease with which Weyland gets a new job is a little odd, in fact to me the main oddity is that people took the trouble to help him. In my experience, it is not that odd for someone who has prestige to maintain his professional standing even after a scandal or major embarrassment. What is odd is for someone who isolates himself, who has relatively few "connections" to get help making a new start. Either Weyland had gathered a lot of prestige and "networked" ably in the time before the book begins, or he was exceptionally lucky.

I wanted also to say something about point-of-view and how the novel moves from seeing the vampire from the outside to seeing the vampire through his own eyes. The therapy chapter marks a sort of breakthrough in how close we (the readers) are to Weyland's thoughts.


Date: Tue, 8 Jan 2002
From: "Ines Barg"
Subject: VT: "the lure of the great outlaw"

Like a cow's tail always behind, I'd nevertheless like to contribute a few lines (now that I've finished Doctor Faustus by Thomas Mann which by its very German-ness of style neatly bricked my English vocabulary channels).

What pleased me most in Charnas' novel is that the vampire isn't some grief-ridden fallen angel, but a predator down to the core - maybe a by-product of evolution (or are we the mutation?) or even of extraterrestrial origin. She also modeled her vampire in a morally very ambigious way - beyond the reach of categorical imperative thinking - and she doesn't make a secret of his elitist attitude, for numerous passages explicate Weyland's contempt for (being dependent on) his "cattle-stock" and he sneers at conventional Christian 'herd morality' according to his 'superior' uniqueness. In this context, there are two characters who perceive a faint German accent in his voice (I hope I'm not over-interpreting).

Furthermore, Charnas takes pains to make clear that Weyland's killing is not existential -he's wiping out life for the pleasure of doing so and mocks the anthropocentric double standard of morality e.g. when refering to the habitual and unnecessary butchery of billions of presumed 'inferior' beings through human hands.

Nevertheless, as has already been remarked on, there are many sections in which Weyland comes out positively - his insights in the human condition, his ability to socialize (if only in a remote way) with persons of a certain cast, his longing for "like closing to like". It's perhaps this latter 'separateness' that makes him likable and which reminded me of Shelley's essay On Love in which he ponders upon separateness as the fundamental traumatic experience in human life.

What furthermore arrested my thoughts was the blind willingness some characters showed when confronted with his vampiric otherness and which reminded me of Julia Kristeva's observation that "many victims of the abject are its fascinated victims - if not its submissive and willing ones" (Powers of Horror. An Essay on Abjection). Why is that so? As this fascination comprises desire as well as fear, here nourished by popular vampire representations (e.g. vampire movies), I think the phenomenon of the vampire can be well illustrated by Lacan's concept of desiring the other, not-present, as quoted in a passage by Toril Moi:

"Lacan's famous statement 'the unconscious is structured like a language' contains an important insight into the nature of desire: for Lacan, desire 'behaves' in precisely the same way as language: it moves ceaselessly on from object to object or from signifier to signifier, and will never find full and present satisfaction just as meaning can never be seized as full presence.[...] There can be no final satisfaction to our desire since there is no final signifier or object that can be that which has been lost forever (the imaginary harmony with the mother and the world). If we accept that the end of desire is the logical consequence of satisfaction (if we are satisfied we desire no more), we can see why Freud, in _Jenseits des Lustprinzips_ posits death as the ultimate objects of desire - as [...] the recapturing of the lost unity, the final healing of the split subject." (Sexual/Textual Politics)

The relationship of desire and death is depicted as a central borderline situation in human existence. When two lovers 'become lost in each other' (a German idiom), the borders of the self are transgressed and the I dissolves into a mystic union, a process resembling death itself. Esp. in German romanticism love and death were inseparable, and dying was equated with sexual fulfillment. This sexualizing of death is most successfully pictured by the vampire figure, he is the iconic expression of an 'eternalized desire' promising final satisfaction.

With regard to the gothic and its supposedly conservative core - first, I can't follow the connection of the conservative/reactionary with the atavistic/irrational? (are Dylan Thomas' works for instance conservative/reactionary because of their essentialism?). I have read several essays on the gothic genre stressing its cultural oppositional nature, i.e. north/south , middle (dark) ages/enlightenment, superstition/reason, utilizing the gothic to mark everything that could endanger the civilized English identity. Ann Radcliffe's novels are accordingly often reduced to the supernatural explained and 'virtue rewarded, vice punished', ignoring the motif of the persecuted and imprisoned maiden and the terror that goes with it. On the other hand, there are interpretations ignoring the generic diffusion and the often didactic strain in the gothic (e.g. Rosemary Jackson: Fantasy: The Literature of Subversion (1981) or Allan Lloyd Smith: Postmodernism/Gothicism. In: Modern Gothic. A Reader, hrsg. von Victor Sage & Allan Lloyd Smith,1996). Perhaps 'the' gothic is too often understood as a homogenous genre.

Eventually, I would like to thank the participant who drew my attention to Ludwig Tieck's Wake Not the Dead (, a story I didn't know before and which helped me to add a nuance to my paper on Poe's Ligeia.

Ines Barg

ps: I'd love to participate in the George Sand reading, but I'm afraid I'm too short of time at the moment. Hopefully, I'll be able to join the next group reading, as I've never before been in a mailing list with so many interesting postings and without any quarrels at all!

RE: VT "the lure of the great outlaw"

To Ines and all,

I certainly felt the lure of the great outlaw in Weyland and also found the stance towards the emotional lives of human beings appealing. The perspective of Weyland through an ironic disquieted light on this emotionalism as something not well understood, and ruthlessly self-interested no matter what the verbal rationales.

At the same time throughout the book I did feel Charnas subverted or overturned many common archetypes. Our vampire turns into our anima; when the student wants to yield to him once more, he is simply put off.

Take the thesis of an older 'seminal" book: Denis de Rougemont's Love and Death. Rougemont argues that the goal of romantic love is death, perhaps an exalted one, one which indicts the usual of society and refuses to be coopted, to compromise, but death nonetheless -- maybe in order imaginatively to reach some other realm before going out. I saw that in the 1941 film adaptation of Wuthering Heights I watched this summer. To feel intensely you must suffer. Now Weyland mocks this, and we see him use his victims as so many dummies.

We've all agreed that VT is episodic. I like Rougemont's idea that the plots in these sex as death/death as sex mythic stories are arranged not with any view to probability or consistently but rather to provide pretexts for the reader to enjoy a certain (usually unacknowledged) kind of emotion. This is certainly true of many movies today and many novels. But note how often Weyland does his drinking offstage, how little of his vampiric activities we actually see.

I'm too tired to write any more. Ines I'm glad you are going to stay -- and wish you had the time for George Sand. As the whirligig of the categories comes round, I'm sure we'll have a gothic of interest to you again. You can nominate one yourself :). Not only am I hopeful for Brown's Weyland, but also James Hogg's Confesssions of a Justified Sinner which I've never read either.


To Litalk-l

January 8, 2002

Re: The Vampire Tapestry and Violence

One of the things that has struck me about The Vampire Tapestry is now little actually violence there is in it -- at least how much of the violence that occurs happens offstage. We are given intense signs of violence, of power: the arms of a chair break. We are told of scenes of violence Weyland inflicts on others, but these are not dramatized. Indeed what little violence is placed before us is inflicted on Weyland. The concluding scene with Reese is retaliatory and there is nothing superfluous or particularly malicious and spiteful about Weyland's behavior. He is as calm as a state executioner and as swift: he gets it over with and proceeds to feed.

Maybe I am thinking about this as today I am reading Machiavelli's The Prince which seems to me to be a book about violence: the uses and misuses of violence by men. Machiavelli has seen that a state, any state, is that level of organization which has the means of legitimate violence in its hands -- the question is how to get that legitimate violence by violent means which leave you in power.

Bryan has suggested that war is at the heart of gothic; I know we get war scenes in many, but again not in this one. Nor will Weyland admit to grief, not even to sexual desire. He is a remarkably repressed vampire; could even make it through a Jane Austen novel without attracting undue attention to himself, without disturbing it. So too are we deprived of the masochistic anima: she is marginalized and scorned as not really what women are about.

I can see De Sade reading it and tossing it aside. A. S. Byatt's historical-gothic sequences and some of her "realistic" domestic ones have more direct violence, horrifying malice and triumph and revenge over the weak than The Vampire Tapestry.

I wonder if we have got to the heart of what is particular and peculiar in this book as a gothic vampire novel -- because it's more than the feminism. I do realise we could see it as dramatizing a Darwinian view of the world which is one which is not anymore violent than watching two birds building a nest and chasing another pair of birds away while a crow sleeps on the grass nearby.

Ellen Moody

Re: The Vampire Tapestry and Little Explicit Violence

In response to Ellen's fine post:

It's quite true, that there is little in the way of explicit violence in the novel. Your argument reminds me of Moers' model of the female gothic, which focuses more of traumas of the psyche, rather than the corpus.

There is quite a bit of tension anchored on likely, anticipated violence, as well. Mark spends most of his section brooding on the captured's impending doom and/or violent escape, while Floria's therapy reverberates with the potential of bloodshed.

Since, through all sections, the novel concerns itself with the question of hunting (predation, prey, etc.), this relatively goreless treatment forces us to think of the hunt as problem, rather than tension.

Suzy Subject: VT "the lure of the great outlaw"

In response to Ines' excellent email:

With regard to the gothic and its supposedly conservative core - first, I can't follow the connection of the conservative/reactionary with the atavistic/irrational? (are Dylan Thomas' works for instance conservative/reactionary because of their essentialism?).

I'm fully in agreement. Is Wordsworth, even young, a reactionary for his rejection of commerce and industry? Etc. I think many of these criticisms stem from an unexamined, modernist progress narrative, buying into the incremental but steady improvement of the human condition model. According to this, looking backwards with fascination reflects a nostalgia (literally, etymologically) for the sweetness and pains of the receding social orders. In the face of the French Revolution's Enlightenment/republican tornado, the reactionary follows Burke and misses a hazy ancient regime (one part chivalry, two parts peasants knowing their place), for example.

Further, this model rests on a fairly instrumental notion of texts, as simple conduits of reader and object. Rich textuality, with its multiple ways of articulating reader and discourse, is a very different mode.

I have read several essays on the gothic genre stressing its cultural oppositional nature, i.e. north/south , middle (dark) ages/enlightenment, superstition/reason, utilizing the gothic to mark everything that could endanger the civilized English identity. Ann Radcliffe's novels are accordingly often reduced to the supernatural explained and 'virtue rewarded, vice punished', ignoring the motif of the persecuted and imprisoned maiden and the terror that goes with it.

Yes. There's almost a sense of slumming in these oppositions, isn't there? The readers identify with one pole, visit and gawp at another, then return home confirmed in their polarity. Godwin's Things as They Are really doesn't fit, does it? :)

On the other hand, there are interpretations ignoring the generic diffusion and the often didactic strain in the gothic (e.g. Rosemary Jackson: Fantasy: The Literature of Subversion (1981) or Allan Lloyd Smith: Postmodernism/Gothicism. In: Modern Gothic. A Reader, hrsg. von Victor Sage & Allan Lloyd Smith,1996). Perhaps 'the' gothic is too often understood as a homogenous genre.

Very true.


PS: Doctor Faustus always strikes me as strange and amazing. Some of the best writing about the experience of listening to music, I think.

Subject: Gothic: Charnas, Brown

About Brown and Americana:

The students I mentioned in my older message spoke of Wieland's mix of religion, violence, and homesteading. For these Europeans, that was very much a rich sample of the America they'd seen from afar.

I'm entirely on their side. American schols prefer to move the clock forward, pointing to the kinder, gentler Cooper and his frontier tales. I think American lit crit was born in resisting Poe, and still can't quite tolerate this country's persist turn to the dark fantastic.

-Bryan, burning bridges in his profession

From: "Ines Barg"
Subject: Against critical reading (VT)

Allison wrote:

I waited for someone to say, "the characters are flat and unsympathetic," or, "this scene is gratuitous," or, "gee, where s the plot?" but read instead what appeared to be polite departures, leading away from the text ...

I cannot discern any reason for your 'reproach', all the above points have been made and more explicitly so. Most books have their flaws, but instead of harping on the not-so-well- accomplished, personally I feel it much more enriching to let a book resonate with one's self as well as one's reading background (and that of others). All topics that have been discussed emerged from the text, which indicates rich textuality - multiple strata to be excavated. I don't know if it's vulgar to label a book as mediocre pop fiction, I only sense it's a high-brow comment which should be well supported by arguments, lest it should sound hollow.

The Vampire Tapestry deals with a very potent myth in a singular intelligent manner; it is entertaining, vital; the protagonist gives the reader a demasking outside-view on humanity, he is furthermore a complex character who defies simple development in an optimistic Hegelian sense; it is consistent and well-structured despite its episodic character (well, "time has to be different for a creature of an enchanted forest, as morality has to be different"); it is not only a fine piece of work compared to other 'vampire novels', but also of its own accomplishment. I found this 'blind date' very stimulating. thanks, Suzy Charnas.


Subject: Vampire Tapestry

Hey Penny --

At the end of the book, the Weyland character goes into a sort of hibernation. We are given to understand that he "wakes up" as much as a hundred years later, wizened, naked, desiccated. He knows nothing except that that hiker over there is lunch. It s unclear whether he would be able to walk, or speak, or how he would learn to if he couldn't, but he definitely won't remember how to read, as he doesn't leave behind any messages for himself, or drawings, or any gold coins, or anything that he'd have to interpret.

In your estimation, assuming that he is not infantile, what is his mind like, when he reemerges? [Weyland is not human, but a lot of research has been done on higher primates, and we have to start somewhere.] If he had suffered no head trauma, just been comatose for a long time, what things might he have "lost"? What parts of the brain are impacted by that kind of long- term deprivation? What could he relearn? That Weyland is the protagonist, but cannot learn, change, or undergo an epiphany, contorts the entire piece. Could this sort of repeated, long-term "cold storage" of his brain make it less and less possible for him to learn anything?

Allison O.

Subject: The Vampire Tapestry
Re: "Why you didn't bring up your criticism of the book before this. Why wait for someone to say what you wanted to say yourself?"

---------What I think I said, was that those posting -- and those avoiding it -- must have been aware on some level that VT is substantively thin, or there would have been more talk about the work itself. That the tone of discussion was pastel when it could have been passionate bothered me, and I wondered if people were being diplomatic as a practice. The defensive and conflicting responses tell me that I did not communicate this clearly; this is my failure, and I apologize.

Why I didn't volunteer an opinion about the book before now is an apology in another sense.

Penny was a team player when she didn't announce that she felt her work as a reader was not being reciprocated by a commitment to her as a reader, and therefore, she'd stopped reading. If she had, everyone s reading would have become about that, and not about the text. Other large-scale critique is the same. It s unfair and self indulgent to discuss the efficacy of fiction -- the characters in their entirety, the arc, the work s comment on larger issues -- before the reading of it is complete. Opinions can be shared in an informal way, with still-reading friends, but even then they are allowed to pound you if you blab about "Rosebud" because you finished first: you've tainted their experience of the book.

Aside from that, unlike workshopping a book, it is not useful when discussing a published work to comment on whether the writing works or not, or argue about the big elements, as one reads. You have to consider the piece as a whole, take as given that it is considered and complete, then deduce the intent and judge if that objective has been met. For these reasons, debating the technical quality, and/or intent -- or presence -- of deliberate subtext in VT was not appropriate during most of the schedule.

After the reading -- I was reluctant. In hesitating, perhaps I missed the appropriate moment, but I didn't feel it was my prerogative to move the discussion to that level. I m the new kid, I don't know why this particular title was chosen, or what the tone of discussion is generally. So, I waited. Overt comment following was interesting, tame maybe, but with some meaty commentary on the gothic subgenre. Pleasant enough, but not enough to make a diet of commercial fiction palatable.

And again, it seemed as if we were following the: "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all," rule. It appeared that negative comment was being made, was being "brought up", by omission. Maybe some real discussion -- "Does the protagonist really have no impulse control, or was that just a device to shove the action along?" or about voyeurism in this book, in fiction generally, and gothic in particular -- was happening in off-list e-mails. I missed it, and wondered why it was not out in the open. But it might have been bad form to say so, so I didn't.

I wanted to talk about the writing because I am interested in writing as a craft, and the group was talking about commercial and fine art as audience. Maybe this just isn't the group for me -- no hard feelings. But, if I were not committed to continue reading with the group, I had no right to challenge its culture, or start a debate I didn't intend to finish. So, I didn't.

Why bring it up now?

I guess that is what I should have said in my posting: what about intellectual engagement as play? Is there a place here for that?


Re: The Vampire Tapestry: Negative Comments and "daring to get dirty" In reply to Allison,

I will answer the last posting. I did have a number of reservations about Suzy's book: I interpreted her dramatization of Katje in a manner very much against the grain of what she intended; I have repeatedly said that I like the model of female sexuality we find in Radcliffe gothic which I remarked her book was configured to refute; Bryan agreed with me that Chapter 4 (the opera sequence) was thin, and the academic satire inadequate. I used the word "tame" when I said Weyland could be found in an Austen drawing room without undue alarm. On the other hand, I found the book to be otherwise intellectually challenging, indeed superb in many ways; I enjoyed it and so did a number of my students. I am now thinking to "set" it as a text in a class. I can read a book whose outlook on female sexuality is very different from mine and engage with it in an open fashion and emerge from it having learnt something. I did that here. The read made me like Chapter 2 better than I had, understand Chapter 1 better than I had, and see the role of Loren Eiseley in it. I did like the idea that Weyland is the author's "survivor-self". I loved that ending: our natural business does indeed lie in escaping - and even oblivion. Thanatos is the obsverse of eros for me. Quite personally too.

My view is you are characterizing the tone of people's postings and also objecting to the nature of their content because you resented it and us. Commitment to so-and-so as a reader. What could that mean? We answered one another and endorsed one another and debated. Do you like people to bow down before your views? We didn't do that to one another.

I like as we go along to see a book at large and believe I have every right to -- as if you prefer to stay with "small" things (e.g., an immediate character or incident). I will continue to look at books in the way I like to, in the way they are meaningful to me. If you want to argue with my comments about the content of the book, fair game, but not about the nature of my posts. Or my tone. If I don't "get dirty," it's because I don't want to. I find much more heat than light emerges when people do this: it usually includes subtexts about other people's characters, backgrounds, values &c. I have no desire to do this and will continue not to. It's not a matter of courage with me I assure you. I tell you this because if you are "sticking around" to participate in the George Sand read you should not expect me to "get dirty", and if you do complain about my postings in that way, I will say that you have no right to. Chacun à son goût

Ellen Moody

From: "Susan Hoyle"
To: "Ellen Moody"
Subject: VT: further thoughts
Date: Fri, 1 Feb 2002

Reading the lively discussion on VT I am once more assailed with the knowledge that I read as an historian and as someone whose values are very political -- not aesthetically, not for literature; not primarily, sometimes not at all. Reading what you, especially, write about the book, opens up aspects to which I seem otherwise blind. I did note for example that Weyland is not sentimental and that he despises sentimentality, and I liked that -- it seemed in character and was amusing (to this avowed anti-sentimentalist), but I don't have access, except through what I read here, to the literature of sentimentality or of its opponents, and I don't seem to think of looking for it.... Transgression appears to me as a sociological or political statement rather than a literary one: which is why I have avoided gothic stories all my life so far, I suppose, and why I can read lots and lots of detective stories.

I did enjoy your taking us back to Cropper in his Mercedes! Somehow I don't think AS Byatt reads vampire stories... (and I could be wrong). I was happy to regard Weyland as sexually attractive until we got all that stuff (only in the last tale I think) about his being 'everyone's dream father'. Not mine, thank you, and father-daughter incest was never my bag in any case. (See what I mean about my attitude to trangression in literature! Am I a sad case?)

(The posts, which I tried to collect in date order, actually seem to be muddled.) I have just read Laura Carroll's interseting post, and especially liked her remark a propos Katje de Groot: <> That makes me think of Katje as an answer to that question: she is fit to (try to) kill vampires because she is already accustomed to think of some people as sub-human. None of the people who want to destroy Weyland are 'nice' or admirable. Katje indeed is as good as they get. Floria and her kind are the ones that will save us from vampires?

I am reading your account of the gothick as radical, as deeply critical of society. I need to think about this, because I suspect that my strong supposition has been that the gothick is profoundly reactionary (I think you say that it is both radical and reactionary...) -- if only because it ignores what is real. I come from a long line of Puritans, and a critique of literature which attacks its escapism does speak to me, sufficiently for me to feel guilty about how much fiction I do read, if not enough to stop me reading it.... The world needs changing and literature should or shouldn't play its role??? I quail at a policy of Soviet-style social realism and the dreadful literaure that engendered; but where is the middle way? This is a very ill-thought-out wail! And now I see you equating the radicalism of the gothick with its melancholy; and I wonder whether the political radicals with whom I have consorted despise literature (insofar as they do) because of that pessimism; for we socialists have to keep the faith, you know -- be optimistic! At the same time, I'm not sure where to go with this pessimism. Post 11th Sept and post the bombing of Afghanistan it is easy to be pessimistic about the world: but where does that leave you? Misanthropic, reactionary, complacent ... I have a copy of Godwin's 'great novel' Caleb Williams (is it called that?) packed away in those famous boxes in our big room: is that gothick? should I read it in this light?

I'm reading Laura's post about the second story (16th Dec) and for some reason it reminds me how very visual this book is -- or at least I get the impression that Charnas wants us to _see_ what's going on -- that this is a draft for a film script -- and that therefore we aren't told as much as we should be because when the movie comes out, then we'll see how grey he is in the NY cage, how suave he is on the NM campus...

I meant to say in my original notes about VT that the other Big Change in the world (in addition that is to AIDS) is the impact of computers on academic life -- all those typewriters and carbon-copies, and no emails! Life would generally be more difficult for Weyland nowadays. But who knows what he will need to do to survive in 30 years' time (assuming it was 20 years ago that he went back to sleep). Perhaps not computer science.

Well, the electricity is still off and anyway I have come to the end of theposts I received on VT, so I shall stop for now.

best wishes

Mimi (Marie Bolette Wilhelmine) Falsen (Gjerdrum) (1861 - 1957) Self-portrait

Suzy McKee Charnas: On Writing Her Father's Ghost Interviewed by Gavin J. Grant
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