Table of contents
2. Outer Structure
2.1. Main Structural Features
2.2. Radiophonic Elements
2.2.1. Words and Voices
2.2.2. Non-verbal Utterances, Pauses and Silences
2.2.3. Music and Sound Effects proper
2.2.4. Technological Features
3. Central Themes & Conflicts
3.1. Introductory : Vampirella vs. Cinderella
3.2. The Radio Play as a Serio-Comedy
3.3. The Meaning of Love and Redemption
3.4. Vampirism as a (Timeless) Image
5. Literature List
Thinking about the success of the scaring black-and-white movies with the famous vampire ‘Dracula’ in the 1950’s, the popularity of ‘The Small Vampire’ Rüdiger in the 1980’s or the effect of modern versions like ‘Interview with the Vampire’ or ‘Buffy – the Vampire Slayer’ nowadays, it appears that people never get enough from mystic, sometimes a little bit horrified stories about vampires, wolves and werewolves, dark castles, everlasting life & beauty and more things, which could neither be explained nor proved in reality.
The British prose author and feminist philosopher of English literature Angela Carter (*1940 – 1992) knew the great fascination of folkloric material like fairy tales and superstitious legends well; and she made it to one of her favourite subjects of her literary work. With numerous, renewed fairy tales, novels, short stories, plays and verses she satisfied peoples’ desire for gothic and surrealistic stories diverting them from every-day-life. Due to the fact that the British Broadcasting Corporation’s radio plays had flourished in Britain after the Second World War and a lot of people enjoyed listening to them, Angela Carter paid attention to this sub-genre of drama and wrote several radio plays, too.
Her first radio play Vampirella - broadcasted on 20th July 1976 in Radio 3 - was born as such. Even a quick listening (or rather reading) of the radio play reveals, that the serio-comedy Vampirella offers a lot of interesting aspects which cannot be seen immediately, but should be recognised by all means. This interpretation focuses on its peculiarities, which originate from the problematic theme of Vampirism on the one hand and the composite art of the young medium radio on the other hand. Moreover, it is a text-centred interpretation that analyses the text and not the author’s intention or the individual impression.
Beginning with the obvious, the formal interpretation of structural features as time, place, action and characters and the radiophonic elements, the analysis will shift to the central themes and conflicts of the radio play. Above all the topic of Vampirism as a (Timeless) Image will appear again and again.
Having been provided with various quotations from Vampirella it should be possible to get a sense of Angela Carter’s unmistakable style and to imagine the female-interpreted story in mind, although the real radio listening experience is missing.
2. Outer Structure
Like every other literary genre a radio play has - of course - an outer structure. This one is determined by a number of formal elements, which are important and integral parts of the overall meaning of the text. Usually, the main structural features to be described and interpreted are time, place, action and characters. But in case of Vampirella or any other radio play, it is advisable to add the medial aspect of the production - namely the radiophonic elements - to complete the interpretation of the outer structure.
The subsequent sections will have a closer look at these elements and if necessary, point out general remarks on radio drama, too.
2.1. Main Structural Features
For most literary scholars and critics the radio play is only a ‘minor’ version of a stage play – and yes, of course, it is a sub-genre of drama, but it is far more than that. A radio play has its own distinguishing and structural features, which have influence on the text and therefore on the interpretation as well. More than television or plays on stage, it is concentrated on the spoken word and provokes the imagination of the audience. A radio play is an exclusively auditive, a purely mental, an individual and a private experience. Referring to these points, the difference towards the classical drama, which is an audio-visual group experience performed as the idea of one inspired director, should be obvious.
Because of the concentration on essentials in a radio play, it is rarely divided in many different acts or scenes, but structured within through pauses and changes of place and/or action. These feature could be found in Vampirella, too (see 2.1.3.).
In order to comprehend the basic conditions, the features time, place, action and characters are analysed in greater detail, as follows.
In contrast to narrative prose or poetry, a radio play is an experience in time. When it is performed on radio, one has to go on listening unstoppably - that demands a high degree of attention and concentration to follow radio plays. For that reason most of them do not exceed a length of 60-80 minutes discourse time, like Vampirella. Due to the fact that its concrete time takes more than one night, namely the time span from the “early evening” (Carter, 1985 : 100) over “midnight” (id.: 109) till the next “glorious morning” (id.: 115), an unity of time is not possible, because some sequences of time are skipped.
As just stated, the story plays during night time. The fragments “Night and silence.” or “…only comes out at night.” from the hero’s speech (Carter, 1985 : 86), the reference to “ a nightbird” (id.: 86) and “no moonlight” (id.: 87), the greeting “Good evening” (id.: 91) or simply the fact that the countess is awake and says : “Usually I wake about nightfall.” (id.: 101), indicate this time in the text. Every other choice of time would have been incredible, because the vampires image intends them for acting during night and darkness (see 3.4.).
In Vampirella, the listener is put back in the historical year 1914, exactly in the summer months, when the First World War started, this could be proved in the text through the hero’s last thoughts “...; but when I arrived at Bucharest, I learned of the assassination at Sarajevo [28.6.1914] and returned to England immediately, to rejoin my regiment.” (Carter, 1985 : 116). In Europe still reigned kings or emperors and it was honourable, that young men like the hero fought patriotically for their nations. People were afraid of vampires and hunted these creatures of the night with rituals and deepest belief in god (see Carter, 1985 : 85). Apart from that, the hero’s suggestion to travel “…to Vienna, to those Jewboy jennies who stretch you out on a couch and let you tell them how you always wanted to murder your father…” hint at the historical popularity of the psychoanalyse after 1900. Thanks to the medium radio it is possible to spring in time. In Vampirella various sequences of the past are mentioned or better described; that is to say for example the desperate pleasures of cannibalism in the Beane family (Carter, 1985 : 95/96), the sentences from the Countess’s childhood (id.: 91+97), the story of Henri Blot’s preference for corpses (id.: 106-108) or the hero’s memories of the North West Frontier (id.: 86+104). These flashbacks function like a frame, which decorates the action and heightens the tension at the same time.
Before starting to quote any description concerning the place, it is important to tell the location hints in a radio play apart from the final scenery, the audience has in mind whilst listening. In contrast to a stage play, where one really sees a finished form on stage, this scenery is totally mental and above all, individually different. It provokes the ability to imagine a place and to complement its details with well-known images and schemes. This process is never complete, because every new stimulus modifies another ‘creator-reality’. Therefore, the scenery of a radio play, as the listener’s own creation, is felt to be quiet perfect.
Vampirella is set in a frightening, dark atmosphere fitting to the image of vampires; and has its geographical location, where else as “in the Land of the Vampires” (Carter, 1985 : 87), in the “phantom-haunted region” (id.: 87) of Transylvania. In the text are a lot of hints to the “Carpathians” (id.: 86+93+104), the mountains which surround this unfrequented landscape in the East and South. The count’s first words “In Hungary [Transylvania belonged to Hungary till the Piece of Trianon 1920], in the county of Temesvar,...”(id.: 84) and the mentioning of the city “Bucharest” (id.:116) as a nearer city indicates the country Romania. Apart from that exterior setting, the audience has to imagine a lot of more concrete locations in Vampirella. The most important one is the “vast, ruined castle” (Carter, 1985 : 88) “far, far from the world on the windy crests of the mountain” (id.: 90), where the main action takes place. It is surrounded by “Dark, scarcely tenanted forests”(id.: 94), where the hero crashes with the bicycle. Inside the castle, there are dark, luxurious rooms which are “shaded from daylight”, smell “of incense, like a church” an are equipped with “Dark tapestries”, “Velvet curtains” and “Persian carpets” (id.: 97). Portraits of ancestors decorate the different rooms, which represent locations within the action in the castle; that is the concierge’s private quarters, a room with a fireplace, the drawing-room and the countess’s and the hero’s bedrooms.