Apologies for this being a little late with this review. It’s not because Sam and I got lost in Transylvania (though I think both of us would have liked to spend longer exploring Timisoara and the surrounding Romanian countryside). The two of us attended the ‘Beliefs and Behaviours in Education and Culture’ (BBEC) conference at the West University in Timisoara, Romania to take part in the ‘Where’s the Place of Dracula’ workshop.
Arriving late the night before, Sam and I met with other delegates and were welcomed by our gracious host Marius-Mircea Crisan before heading to our hotel in the student part of the city. I have discovered that university cities across the world have a very similar atmosphere – perhaps the shared experience of last-minute studying and partying is the only truly universal language.
Given the breadth of the conference, not all the papers were directly involved with my research but I certainly found out some interesting things I didn’t know before. The two discoveries of particular interest were: a) finding out that violent video games do increase levels of aggression, and, b) discovering venting does not release your anger; it only makes it worse.
The theme of the of workshops/ panels which I was attending and taking part in was ‘Where’s the Place of Dracula’ which considered the mythologising of Romania through Stoker’s novel. William Hughes’ key note lecture gave this an intriguing twist by considered how Bram Stoker himself has been mythologised; through biographical and autobiographical texts, Stoker has been presented as everything from a ‘man’s man’ to a repressed homosexual. Hughes looked at how Stoker’s characters have eclipsed him; differing interpretations of Dracula and other vampiric texts have maintained that Jonathan Harker et. al are real people and Stoker simply a cypher for the story.
Donatella Badin’s key note lecture was on the subject of the presentation of Italy in nineteenth century Anglo-Irish Gothic. She gave examples of how Italy was presented as a Catholic-other in Gothic literature as a way of consolidating Protestant ideologies. Italy was represented as a place of sin, depravity and sexuality. Her paper effectively expressed how the Gothic mode uses the figure of the ‘Other’ to explore how notions of difference are created and maintained.
Following on from the use of Gothic tropes and the foreign ‘Other’ in literature, Duncan Light’s paper looked at how they are translated into the media. His key note looked at the presentation of Romanians in the British media (specifically tabloids) after Romania joined the EU. Sharp argued that the negative presentation of Romanian migrants was in part fuelled by Gothic representations of Romania in popular culture. As a British person, it was fair to say that some of the more lurid and xenophobic headlines caused me to cringe at my fellow countrymen’s ignorance.
The afternoon the Friday 26th June was the ‘Where’s the Place of Dracula’ panels and the chance for me to give my paper as well as listen to other paper’s on the subject. I was particularly interested in the presentation of tourism and New Orleans and Forks, amongst others, have engaged with Gothic mythology as a way of attracting visitors as discussed by Kristin Bone. It suggested a way of reclaiming and creating a counter-narrative to negative portrayals in literature and films. Marius-Mircea Crisan also considered how presentations of Romania are moving from Stoker’s Gothic geographies and there is an awareness that Dracula is a British vampire.
What was noticeable in the workshop’s was how the image of the vampire has infiltrated popular culture and been transformed over time: from Dorota Babilas’ vampire daddies/ new men to a discussion by Mark Benecke and Ines Fischer on the increasing number of people who openly identify as vampires. (Though I may require more warning when being shown pictures of week old corpses – I have a weak stomach). Given the number of papers that we saw, I was only sad that we didn’t have more time for discussion as there were some interesting links between them all.
The final day of the conference was a trip to Castle Corvinus and Alba Iulia. I have a great fondness for coach trips as they remind me of being a teenager and I relished a chance to stretch my legs. It was a wonderful trip as my photo album evidenced on my return. Castle Corvinus was beautiful and I got to wander up towers and down darkened halls like a heroine in a Radcliffe novel. We reached Alba Iulia around sunset and watched the changing colours of the sky reflected on the white marble architecture.
I returned to the UK exhausted but looking forward to going back to Romania for further adventures.