English professor teaches vampire literature

At home, Associate Professor Lauren Goodlad can be found reading Jonathan Auxier’s “Peter Nimble and his Fantastic Eyes” to her younger son. She said she thinks it’s a “beautifully written imaginative read,” and it might just be her son’s favorite. In a University classroom, she’s more likely to discuss Bram Stoker’s “Dracula,” the vampire narrative that her English 274 class, “The Serial Vampire,” focuses on. And having written books on Victorian literature and the Victorian state, gothic culture and the TV series, “Mad Men,” she has plenty to contribute as the director of the University’s Unit of Criticism and Interpretative Theory. Despite her busy schedule, Goodlad never strays far from a good novel.

As an undergraduate at Cornell University, Goodlad was sure that she was going to be a writer, not a literary critic or an English professor. She concentrated on studying literature as a graduate student, and then realized it was the right fit for her. Her first job after receiving a master’s degree from New York University and a Ph.D. from Columbia University was at the University of Washington, and in 2000, she came to the University of Illinois to teach.

Goodlad has taught on gothic and vampire themes on and off since her time as a graduate student. “The Serial Vampire” concentrates on an 1897 graphic horror novel, “Dracula,” and incorporates other vampire literature that has been published since. By the end of the semester, all of the students in the class will create their own chapter of “Dracula.”

Although Stephanie Meyer’s “Twilight” series gained popularity in recent years, Goodlad said most students taking her class may not consider themselves “Twihards.”

“I’ve actually never seen ‘Twilight,’” Goodlad said. “When I knew I was going to do this course, I thought, ‘(There is) no point trying to catch up. I’ll just simply admit I’ve never seen it.’ Most students, although they do know ‘Twilight,’ they weren’t interested in watching it.”

“Even though we’re reading novels about these monstrous, supernatural beings, we talk about themes that are very relevant to everyday life and humanity as a whole, such as morality and sexuality,” said Lucy Pakhnyuk, sophomore in LAS. “Vampire narratives juxtapose vampires against humans, and by doing so they show us some of the worst and best aspects of humanity.”

While Goodlad doesn’t have a favorite vampire, she does enjoy teaching “Dracula,” and said she sees it as a great Victorian novel. While Dracula may not be the attractive, romantic vampire one might find in a 21st century narrative, he is compelling nonetheless.

“I think that people are attracted to vampire narratives because they want something that they know is extraordinary, and they want to be surprised,” Goodlad said. “Yet, at the same time, they know that it’s also a way of exploring what it means to be human.”

On Tuesdays, the class focuses on vampire-themed works written after “Dracula,” and on Thursdays the discussion comes back to the main narrative.

“While many professors fail to connect with students while maintaining an intellectual atmosphere, Professor Goodlad has a seemingly innate ability to challenge the class in a communicable manner,” said Giancarlo Levato, junior in LAS.

Though many often mistake Goodlad as an expert in vampire themes, she said she considers herself a Victorianist first. In addition to teaching English 274, she is also working on completing her second book on Victorianism, “The Victorian Geopolitical Aesthetic: Realism, Sovereignty, and Transnational Experience.”

In addition to this book, Goodlad published, “Mad Men, Mad World: Sex, Politics, Style, and the 1960s,” earlier this year. She started watching “Mad Men” after its original air date, but never intended to continue with the series past season two. However, after hearing endless hype over the third season, she began regularly reading a series of columns from The New York Times that analyzed the show. One column’s analysis struck her as “not quite right,” and she began writing a piece that she felt could get it right. “Madmen Yourself” was originally published in the Chronicle of Higher Education, a newspaper and online publication for professors from all areas of academia. From there, the piece was republished in The McGraw Hill Reader. Shortly after, Goodlad held a symposium at the University with Robert Rushing, previous co-director for the Unit of Criticism and Interpretative Theory. After the success of the event, Goodlad invited attendees as well those who did not attend to contribute to the book. Three years later, “Madmen Yourself” became “Mad Men, Mad World: Sex, Politics, Style, and the 1960s,” and was published as a book, receiving positive reviews.

Apart from holding symposiums, Goodlad also holds programs and events on critical theory and cultural studies within the Unit of Criticism and Interpretive Theory. Along with other members of the unit, she uses a blog called, “Kritik,” which is an online forum for those interested in discussing contemporary theory and cultural studies.

At the end of the day, Goodlad still reminds herself to completely unplug and read at least one or two chapters of a book she cares about.

“I’m not exactly sure what it’s like to be a college student, but it seems you’re very busy,” she said. “You have a lot of things you want to get done, and in your spare time there’s a lot of temptations to follow social networks, text people and read short pieces on this and that.”

But Goodlad believes in the importance of reading novels, and encourages her students to see the value of it as well.

“I actually think that reading literature is very important, not necessarily novels that are other fictional genres or other literary genres that are very worthwhile. But novels are what I teach, and I think that people don’t spend enough time reading them,” she said. “They want something that moves a little faster.”

Alice can be reached at smelyan2@dailyillini.com.

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