By Stephen McKinley
Quinnipiac College students will be sinking their teeth into more than turkey this Christmas, when they embark on a vampire hunt in Ireland over the vacation.
Robert Smart, director of the Hamden, Conn., college’s writing program, plans to teach the course “Irish Vampires, Irish Politics: Sheridan LeFanu, Bram Stoker and Late Victorian Ireland” in Dublin, between Jan. 3-20, assisted by Professor Michael Kissane.
What’s at stake? For Smart, the last half of the 19th Century represents a particularly tumultuous time for Ireland’s Protestant elite, when public, political conflict was matched by the private, personal and emotional storms raging anew within the human psyche. Stoker and LeFanu were among the first writers to attempt to put these emotions on paper.
“For both LeFanu and Stoker,” Smart said, “work and the public and private storms that were raging around them could hardly be kept apart.”
Thus, the students will be carrying well-worn copies of LeFanu’s “Carmilla” and “Uncle Silas,” and Stoker’s “The Snake’s Pass” and, of course, the classic “Dracula,” as they head off on a Gothic tour of Dublin that will include visits to Lefanu’s and Stoker’s homes, The Abbey Theater, the Irish Writers’ Museum, Dublin Castle and the National Gallery.
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LeFanu was known as much for his novels as for his rabid anti-Catholic views, but later discredited himself within the Protestant elite when it became known that he supported Home Rule and the cause of Irish nationalism.
Both LeFanu and Stoker experienced unnerving dreams, and these masters of the Gothic reflected Ireland’s 19th Century tumult — the Famine, the land wars — through the ghoulish prism of their imagination.
But why do we associate Stoker and LeFanu with Eastern European settings? Professor Smart points to the fact that LeFanu’s London publisher demanded that he obscure the Irish landscape in order to render them more indistinctly European. And that’s one reason why we think of vampires as coming from Transylvania, not Tipperary.