Sunday 2 February 2014

In Styria ...

'In Styria ...' Irishman Sheridan Le Fanu set his Carmilla in Styria, part of current day Austria. A current exhibition at the GrazMuseum in Graz in Styria now explores the role of Styria in vampire literature, the development of the media vampire, and what it is all about.

Le Fanu appears to have read an 1836 travel book, Schloss Hainfeld, or a Winter in Lower Styria by Basil Hall, and probably found the description of a pre-industrial and romantic part of Europe an appropriate setting for his vampire novella. By the time Bram Stoker was working on Dracula, he also chose Styria as the home of the vampire count, before deciding to place Count Dracula's castle in Transylvania. The curators of the GrazMuseum believe that at the end of the nineteenth century the construction of a backwards, threatening, and superstitious East Europe had moved further to the Southeast, making Styria a region less likely for a vampire story. Stoker, however, as we know, still retained Styria as a location in his short story Dracula's Guest.

The exhibition, Carmilla, der Vampir und wir (Carmilla, the vampire and us), sees the fictional vampire of Le Fanu and Stoker not only as an extension of the Romantic vampire figure, but rather as a reaction to the industrialization that changed the face of many West European countries throughout the nineteenth century. This is, of course, evident in the conflict between East and West in Dracula, but as industries, media, and the globalization has developed and transforms even remote places, the vampire becomes (in the view of the curators) more a mirror image of the problems that humans face in an everchanging world more and more out of contact with its history and roots. At the same time the vampire of fiction, just like humans, faces his (or her) own existential crisis.

The exhibition at the GrazMuseum appears to explore such themes rather than the vampire's roots in folk beliefs. It consists of five rooms, glimpses of which can be seen in a clip from Austrian TV, from which a few shots are shown below. It is open until Halloween this year, and a publication related to the exhibition will be available later this year.

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