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Chapter Five - Shadows of the Vampire: Neo-Gothicism in Dracula, Ripper Street and What We Do in the Shadows

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 February 2022

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Summary

Neo-Gothicism, like vampirism, is an afterlife; or, more precisely, an un-death in which, as William Faulkner's Temple Drake famously observes, “The past is never dead. It's not even past” (2011, 69). Both neo-Gothicism and vampirism elide past and present, life and death, and shadow and substance—which last conflation is especially striking in neo-Gothic films and television series about vampires. Like the recorded image of a vampire, the neo-Gothic is a shadow of a shadow. Neo-Gothicism differs significantly from neo-Victorianism, because the latter's relationship to history and culture is more direct than the former’s. Victorian denotes a specific historical period, whereas Gothic connotes not only the Medieval period, but also adaptations, interpretations and fantasies of it—which original neo-Gothic expressions in art, literature and architecture emerged in the eighteenth century and flourished during the Victorian period. The Gothic and the neo-Gothic thus tend to merge, rendering the contemporary neo-Gothic work a simulacrum of a simulacrum, positioning its interpreters in a textual mise en abyme and greatly enhancing its metatextual and intertextual characteristics. Given the compelling parallels between neo-Gothicism and vampirism, neo-Gothic narratives featuring vampires are arguably the richest of all such texts. The shadowy relationship between vampirism and neo-Gothicism is illustrated, with considerable complexity and nuance, by two exemplary neo-Gothic vampire narratives: “A White World Made Red” (2016; hereafter “White World”), an episode of the BBC series Ripper Street (2013–16); and What We Do in the Shadows (2014; hereafter Shadows), the faux documentary written and directed by Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi.

These works are themselves shadows of the original neo-Gothic vampire story, Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897), whose neo-Gothicism is far more than a function of its adapting the traits of its eighteenth-century forebears. The most noteworthy neo-Gothic feature of Dracula is Stoker's decision to bring what he conceives of as a Medieval monster into his own late-Victorian world, thereby blurring the lines between past and present, fact and fiction, and superstition and science. Stoker's long-standing engagement with these categories—and their amalgamation—is evident in his 1897 interview for the British Weekly, in which he accounts for his long-time interest in “the vampire legend” by characterising vampirism as “a very fascinating theme, since it touches both on mystery and fact.”

Type
Chapter
Information
Neo-Gothic Narratives
Illusory Allusions from the Past
, pp. 75 - 90
Publisher: Anthem Press
Print publication year: 2020

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