Mexican Gothic part II: On Vampires and Parody.

Posted by Inés Ordiz on December 11, 2011 in Guest Blog, Inés Ordiz Alonso-Collada tagged with , , , ,

One cannot refer to Mexican gothic fiction without mentioning Carlos Fuentes. In fact, I would dare to say that one cannot refer to Mexican 20th century fiction in general without mentioning Carlos Fuentes. As early as 1962 the author publishes Aura, a short novel that includes many traditional gothic features. Aura can be easily found in English translation (Manchester University Press) as well as in bilingual edition (Macmillan: Farrar, Strauss & Giroux). The narrative tells the story of Felipe Montero, a young historian who’s hired to organise and complete the memoirs of a dead general. The job has to be done in the old house where the general’s widow, Consuelo, and her niece, Aura, live. Ever since Felipe crosses the threshold of the sinister mansion, which seems to be perpetually dark and humid, the commonly accepted concepts of what’s rational and irrational collapse as the reader is thrown into a haunted (un)reality where present and past coexist. Human devices to measure time, such as watches, don’t even work in this timeless gothic space. Fuentes also explores the motive of the doppelganger, in a narrative where the boundaries between Consuelo’s old age and Aura’s young attractiveness seem to collide into one ageless figure.

Fuentes writes many other fictions which can be analysed from a gothic perspective, such as Cumpleaños (“Birthday”), and Constancia y otras novelas para vírgenes (“Constancia and Other Stories for Virgins”), among others. However, I will focus my analysis on the author’s take on the literary vampire in “Vlad”, the last story in the volume of gothic tales Inquieta Compañía (“Unquiet Company”, 2004).

Contrasting with Aura’s serious tone, “Vlad,” has a parodic nature. The story starts with Eloy Zurinaga, a tycoon in the realty business, asking his employee Yves Navarro to find a home for an old client from the Balkans who wishes to move to Mexico City. The buyer, who’s a count called Vladimir Radu, known as “Vlad” to his friends, demands that the house’s windows are bricked up so no daylight comes in the house, and asks for a dark tunnel to be built in the backyard. With this much information the reader already suspects what’s going on, but Navarro seems to ignore it. Even after visiting the count’s house and noticing that there are no mirrors, nobody ever sleeps in the beds, and the food, served by a hunchbacked attendant named Borgo, consists only of bloody entrails (and no garlic), Navarro doesn’t seem to figure out the identity of Vlad. The count even states, in an open reference to Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula, that he never drinks… wine. This naiveté could be acceptable for Jonathan Harker in the 19th century, but in our modern times, where Dracula is a cultural touchstone and vampires appear even in cereal boxes, it is simply absurd. Facing this situation, the reader can either get exasperated at the protagonist’s idiocy and shout ‘Haven’t you read Dracula!!??? Or at least seen the movie!!!???’ to the book pages, or take the narrative as what it is: a hilarious parody.

Apart from the humour hidden in the text for the sharp reader to find, the narrative also shows numerous references to well-known vampire movies. Thus, the count is bald, his skin is entirely white, and his body is “completamente liso, como un huevo” (“completely smooth, like an egg”, 2004: 231), which immediately evokes the egg-shaped head of both Murnau’s and Herzog’s vampires.

Max Schreck in 1922 F. W. Murnau’s Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens.

Klaus Kinski as Drácula in Werner Herzog’s 1979 Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht.

Fuentes also makes use of Coppola’s Dracula to exaggerate his effeminate and almost comical features. If Coppola’s vampire opens the door for Jonathan Harker wearing a bright red dressing gown that’s quite ridiculous on its own, Fuentes’ count becomes a proper drag queen of the afterlife with his long robe, “digno del zar de una ópera rusa” (“worthy of the czar in a Russian opera” 2004: 233), and a room full of all kinds of cosmetics and wigs. This Dragula (using McGunnigle’s term, 2005) provokes something between fear, disgust and laughter that characterizes Fuentes’ whole tale in general.

Gary Oldman as Dracula in Coppola’s adaptation. Is that a wig?

Carmen Boullosa is another Mexican writer who parodies vampire fiction but, in her account, the protagonist is a frantic female. “Isabel” is a short narrative which is published in the volume Prosa rota (“Defeated Prose”, 2000). The main character of the story is a young woman called Isabel who, devastated by the end of a romantic relationship, alters her own nature to invoke death, becoming a vampire. The tale is built up as a postmodern mixture of different genres such as pulp fiction, detective story, erotic novel and gothic romance, narrated from different perspectives and including many metafictional references. Boullosa sometimes speaks to the reader directly, exposing herself as the narrator, and even asking Isabel how she wants her own story to end. What’s more, she uses (and exaggerates) many of the gothic and romantic conventions, turning the tale into a parody of previous forms.

The Mexican writer Carmen Boullosa

Isabel finds, seduces, sleeps with, and then feeds from many men, the first of whom being her ex-husband Jaime, and in her constant quest for a male companion, she becomes addicted to sex. In her parodic view of the vampire story, Boullosa transforms the evocative eroticism of previous female revenants such as Le Fanu’s Carmilla or Stoker’s Lucy into a grotesque nymphomania.

In a parallel way, Jaime’s vampiric death at the hands of Tere, Isabel’s best friend, replicates so many gothic and erotic clichés that it becomes extremely comical. Tere, being also a part of Isabel’s collection of (sex) victims, also becomes a vampire. When she realises the dark nature of her new self she decides to put an end to her own (un-)life and, while she’s at it, to Jaime’s too. Heading to the cemetery to find him, a horse appears out of nowhere, so she jumps on it and rides among the tombs under the moonlight, feeling supernaturally beautiful and eternal. She then decides to undress for no apparent reason (other than, maybe, stimulating the reader’s imagination and, surely, evoke some erotic fiction), stakes Jaime’s heart, flies away (??) and falls on the stake, killing herself. Boullosa ends this parodic scene with an even more parodic comment: “Colorín, Colorado, el cuento de Tere se ha acabado” (“Snip, snap snout, Tere’s tale’s told out”, 2000: 227).

Both Fuentes and Boullosa take advantage of the popularity of vampire fiction to reinterpret the canon from the perspective of parody. Their takes on the gothic tradition are intelligent and thought-provoking examples of a witty postmodern narrative.

In the next entry I will look into Mexican fictions that present different kinds of monsters coming from a Pre-Hispanic past, and the way they blend with some traditional gothic conventions creating a very interesting hybrid.

References:

Boullosa, Carmen. “Isabel”, Prosa Rota. México D.F: Plaza Janés, 2000, pp. 167-260.

Fuentes, Carlos. Aura. México D.F.: Era, 1975 (Spanish original version).

._ New York: Farrar, Strauss and Gioux, 1986 (Bilingual edition).

._ Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2009 (English translation).

Fuentes, Carlos. “Vlad”, Inquieta compañía. Madrid: Alfaguara, 2004, pp. 203-270.

McGunnigle, Christopher. “My Own Vampire: The Metamorphosis of the Queer Monster in Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula”. Gothic Studies 7/2 (2005) pp. 172-184.

Tiny URL for this post: http://tinyurl.com/c9ske3q