Tag Archives | Literature

Varney the Vampire’s Feast of Blood

Varney_the_VampireThe fictional vampire may have made his debut at the Algonquin Round Table, but he flourished alongside the cave-dwelling cannibals and homicidal maniacs who introduced the British working class to the magic of reading. The 1845-1847 penny dreadful Varney the Vampire was penned by none other than James Malcolm Rymer, who created the character Sweeney Todd. Victorian Gothic writes:

James Malcolm Rymer’s Varney the Vampire has been described as the worst book of the 19th century. Introduced in 1845, the completed serial consists of over 600,000 words of tedious dialog, aimlessly meandering storylines, maddening repetition, and enough kernels of genius to consistently inspire horror fiction into the present day. Bram Stoker, Anne Rice, Stephen King, Russell T. Davies and Freidrich Wilhelm Murnau are just some of the writers and filmmakers who have been indebted to concepts originated in the pages of Varney, making it easily the most influential vampire story that nobody reads.

The first full-length work of vampire fiction, Varney appeared in the penny press some 36 years after the original short story sketches by Lord Byron and John William Polidori, and decades before J.

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The Lesbian Vampire Story That Inspired “Dracula”

CarmillaIn composing his novel Dracula, Bram Stoker drew heavily upon an earlier, more seedy story in which a young woman succumbs to the attractions of an undead countess. Victorian Gothic reviews J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla:

First published in 1897, Bram Stoker’s Dracula was destined to become the universally-acknowledged masterwork of vampire fiction, but it was not, by any means, the first of its kind. Stokers genius consisted not in having invented the modern vampire monster, but in the imaginative way he synthesized and expanded upon the ideas that prior authors had already been exploring.

One of these was J. Sheridan Le Fanu, whose 1872 tale Carmilla provided a template for many of Dracula’s best-remembered characters and motifs, including the occult doctor (Dr. Hesselius), and the lonely Gothic castle set in a barbarous region of Europe. Many of the proper names in Dracula, in fact, are direct allusions to Carmilla’s characters and settings: “Karnstein” became “Carfax,” “Reinfeldt” became “Renfield,” and so on.

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The Extraordinary Syllabus Of David Foster Wallace

The best people you will ever knowFor fans of Foster-Wallace, the archive of his work at the University of Texas is an absolute treat. Katie Roiphe looks at his teaching syllabus when he was faculty member at Pomona College in the years before his death, for Slate:

Lately David Foster Wallace seems to be in the air: Is his style still influencing bloggers? Is Jeffrey Eugenides’ bandana-wearing depressed character in The Marriage Plot based on him? My own reasons for thinking about him are less high-flown. Like lots of other professors, I am just now sitting down to write the syllabus for a class next semester, and the extraordinary syllabuses of David Foster Wallace are in my head.

I am not generally into the reverential hush that seems to surround any mention of David Foster Wallace’s name by most writers of my generation or remotely proximate to it; I am not enchanted by some fundamental childlike innocence people seem to find in him.

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Six Fictional Drugs With Unintended Side Effects

Datos Pegados ff93Substance D, Soma, Melange – they’ve all been part of our culture for decades. Gabe Habash looks at the side effects for Publishers Weekly:

In fiction and in reality, medicine is designed and set up to operate with the best of intentions, to eliminate pain and disease and the things that push us toward mortality. In theory. In practice, we know that there are holes in this theory. But for all the problems in the reality of medicine, at least we don’t have to worry about these 6 fictional drugs, which were designed to make the world a better place, but failed in all types of spectacular ways.

1. Altruizine from “Altruizine” by Stanislaw Lem

Unintended Side Effect: It makes people too altruistic.

Lem, one of the most widely-read sci-fi writers in the world, wrote a short story within his collection The Cyberiad about Altruizine, a metapsychotropic drug that causes the user to feel the pains and emotions of others within a radius of fifty yards.

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Happy Halloween from William S. Burroughs (Remix Video)

William S. BurroughsOnce upon a time, there were witches ... in this classic remix, the silent film Haxan is wed in an unholy matrimony to the laconic snarl of William S. Burroughs narrative aplomb. For those of you with a big appetite, we've got a special sweet hidden away. Check out this great little recitation of Poe's "The Red Death" — also read by William S. Burroughs — at Joe Nolan's Insomnia.
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Is Less Reading Fiction Making Us Less Empathetic?

Stephenie-Meyer-fans-007The Guardian discusses research on the powerful link between empathy and reading fiction — a novel is a singular experience in terms of being immersed in the interior life of another person, forcing us to undergo events through the protagonist’s eyes and placing us amongst their thoughts. Studies have pointed to a stunting of empathy in young adults over the past few decades — could one reason be the decline of reading of novels for pleasure?

Burying your head in a novel isn’t just a way to escape the world: psychologists are increasingly finding that reading can affect our personalities.

Researchers from the University at Buffalo gave 140 undergraduates passages from either Meyer’s Twilight or JK Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone to read. The study’s authors, Dr. Shira Gabriel and Ariana Young, then applied what they dubbed the Twilight/Harry Potter Narrative Collective Assimilation Scale, which saw the students asked questions designed to measure their identification with the worlds they had been reading about.

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Storytelling As A National Security Issue?

darpaDavid Metcalfe writes on Modern Mythology:

“If I were a betting man or woman, I would say that certain types of stories might be addictive and, neurobiologically speaking, not that different from taking a tiny hit of cocaine.”

—William Casebeer of the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)

Despite the fact that it’s readily apparent Mr. Casebeer has never tried cocaine, DARPA’s current interest in narratives is an interesting development at an agency known for unique scientific inquiries. On April 25 and 26th DARPA held a conference called Narrative Networks (N2): The Neurobiology of Narratives. The purpose of this conference was to follow up a Feburary 26th event which sought to outline a quantitative methodology for measuring the effect of storytelling on human action.

We owe much of the early development of the internet to DARPA, along with remote viewing, remote controlled moths, invisibility cloaks and other wonders of the contemporary age.

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Kids’ Weight Loss Book Sparks Protests

alg_maggie-goes-on-a-dietIt seems everyday there’s a new statistic about which country is fighting obesity, how school lunches and fast food restaurants are offering “healthy” options, and other stories about reducing the weight problem of current and future generations. But a new book about a fourteen years old girl going on a diet has sparked controversy. Discovery News reports:

An upcoming children’s book with the seemingly noninflammatory title “Maggie Goes on a Diet” is causing a firestorm of protest.

According to the book’s description on Amazon.com, “This inspiring story is about a 14-year-old who goes on a diet and is transformed from being overweight and insecure to a normal sized teen who becomes the school soccer star. Through time, exercise and hard work, Maggie becomes more and more confident and develops a positive self-image.”

You’d think that with one-third of American kids overweight or obese, and children experiencing unprecedented weight-related health problems including diabetes, a book about a girl losing weight and gaining self-esteem would be welcomed.

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9/11 Fiction

911 fictionThe BBC asks if there is a novel that defines the 9/11 decade. I’m tempted to nominate The 9/11 Commission Report – any other suggestions that the Beeb left out?

Many books have been written about 9/11 but is there one that embodies the era that the attacks inaugurated?

When Changez, the Pakistani hero of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, watches the Twin Towers come crumbling down, he smiles.

Little Oskar Schell, the nine-year-old at the centre of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, grapples with his father’s death by creating a flip-book – 15 blurry stills, arranged in reverse order, of a man falling to his death from the World Trade Center. When he flicks through the pages, the flailing figure is restored to the top of the building – safe.

In Open City, writer Teju Cole describes Colonel Tassin – a (real) 19th Century figure – who kept count of the number of birds killed by flying into the Statue of Liberty, as many as 1,400 a night.

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