Friday, 9 November 2018

Considering The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne

‘ON the north-east coast of Scotland, in the most romantic part of the Highlands, stood the Castle of Athlin; an edifice built on the summit of a rock whose base was in the sea. This pile was venerable from its antiquity, and from its Gothic structure; but more venerable from the virtues which it enclosed.’

It would be easy to overlook The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne, the first of Ann Radcliffe’s Gothic romances. ‘A Highland Story’, published in 1789, the novel lacks the depth and complexities that would define Radcliffe’s later works, such as The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) and The Italian (1797). In comparison with the novels that followed it, Athlin and Dunbayne could seem somewhat brief: the heroines appear thinly sketched, motivations are under explored and the whole thing is over far too quickly. But regardless of this The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne is an important text, key in the shaping of the Gothic tradition. And, let’s be honest, it’s pretty good fun too. 

The Gothic novel’s roots in the romances of the Medieval period are evident in Athlin and Dunbayne’s feudal setting, and there are echoes throughout the text of Richard Hurd’s 1762 treatise Letters on Chivalry and Romance. Though Hurd had previously shunned the ‘Gothick’ romances for their supernatural elements – because how could one see value in something full of dragons and giants, heaven forbid – in Letters Hurd defended the romance’s employment of the Gothic as a means of an analogy in which to explore and discuss contemporary issues. In Athlin and Dunbayne, rather than the supernatural, the analogy is in the ‘ancient’ feudal past itself. 
(Meme created by Carly Stevenson)

The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne tells the story of two castles, as the title would suggest, and two families. We learn in the opening pages that twelve years before the events of the novel the ‘noble’ Earl of Athlin has been ambushed and slain by Malcolm, the Baron of Dunbayne, a ‘proud, oppressive, revengeful’ man. Unwilling to risk the lives of her people, the widowed Countess Matilda had chosen to not pursue vengeance and instead retreated into the castle to raise her children. Athlin, ‘venerable from its antiquity, and from its Gothic structure but more venerable from the virtues which it enclosed’, is characterised by the idealised society that Matilda presides over whose virtues are exemplified in her children, Osbert and Mary. 

In Osbert chivalry and sensibility are blended to create the Gothic hero: ‘nature had given him a mind ardent and susceptible, to which education had added refinement and expansion. The visions of genius were bright in his imagination, and his heart, unchilled by the touch of disappointment, glowed with all the warmth of benevolence.’ Osbert is a skilled soldier and respected leader, but able to temper his martial passions through his engagement and appreciation of nature and the sublime. During one such wander to calm his anger over his father’s death at Malcolm’s hands Osbert meets and forms a friendship with Alleyn, a young peasant of strangely noble features (spoiler – he’s actually the displaced heir to Dunbayne!). After learning of Malcolm’s poor stewardship his lands and all round bad guyness, Osbert decides that he can longer suffer his father’s murder to go unrevenged and rallies Athlin in a mission against Dunbayne. 

(Meme created by Celine Frohn)
What follows is a feudal family drama, full of human passions and misdeeds that is ultimately resolved in the restoration of a rightful heir and two marriages that restore order to the two castles. It may not be the best of Radcliffe’s works, but in The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne the foundations are laid for the conventions that would define her as one of the most popular authors of the late eighteenth century. The use of the ‘ancient past’, devoid of the supernatural is of particular interest here – there is no hint of a spectre or suggestion of unnatural forces. Rather what takes focus is the ills and evils which man can commit against man, the passions which warp hearts and the consequences of such actions: the lands that surround Dunbayne suffer because of the human malevolence that resides in the castle. 

So, yes, compared to its mighty three and four volume siblings The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne struggles to hold its own. But for anyone interested in tracing the origins of the Gothic novel as a form, or looking to begin their reading it’s an extremely worthwhile text. Also, it’s a perfect emergency handbag novel – I carried it around with me for months for unexpected waits and crowded commutes and it never disappointed. 

Lauren Nixon is a PhD researcher at the University of Sheffield specialising in masculinity in the Gothic, and she is also co-organiser of Sheffield Gothic and the Reimagining the Gothic project. As Sheffield Gothic's own 'renegade Austen scholar', she only brings up Jane Austen when it is absolutely relevant, which is apparently three to four time a day. 

Friday, 2 November 2018

Frankenstein Alive, Alive: The Immortal Being

This is a guest post written by Alan D. D. 

Mary Shelley’s story of a mad scientist and his creation has left an undeniable print in popular culture. Not in vain, the story has been described as ‘one of the most adaptable and adapted novels of all time, spurring countless renditions in film, television, comic books, cartoons, and other products of popular culture.’ (Braid, 2017, p. 232). One of the most praised works is the comic series Frankenstein Alive, Alive. Ironically, ‘the least known works of Frankensteiniana appear to be examples of the comics medium’ (Torregrossa, 2018, p. 1), but ‘Frankenstein-inspired comics may also be the most numerous adaptations of the novel’ (Torregrossa, 2018, p. 2.)

(Frankenstein Alive, Alive)
The comic, written by Steve Niles and with art of Bernie Wrightson and Kelley Jones, offers a pretty accurate summary of the original story, which was enough for me to fall in love with it. Although it would be pretty easy to ignore it, the comic goes along with the rules of the myth and remains loyal to them, but this doesn’t mean the series has nothing new to offer. You don’t always find a respectful, yet original, sequel as this one.

Frankenstein Alive, Alive takes place after the events in the original tale. The Being attempts suicide several times to end his suffering, and he apparently succeeds, before he is awakened once again by a man who seems to be more benevolent than his creator, Victor Frankenstein: Dr. Simon Ingles, who has thoughts similar to Victor’s. Ingles also tries to control the limits between life and death, but for different reasons. While Victor was obsessed, driven by vanity, in creating a new species using dead bodies, Ingles genuinely tries to save a life, although he does considers murder as a way to ensure his success. If forced to decide between the two of them, I would consider Victor to be the most ethical, for he is honest before and after accomplishing his goal.

The narrative is pretty fluent and respects the original style of the novel, but due to Wrightson’s death, the last issue had to be completed by Jones, presenting a lot of light in the images and curved lines that contrast a lot with Wrightson’s art. The story, on the other hand and as I said before, follows closely Mary Shelley’s ideas and narrative, with a couple of modern dialogues I suspect were not corrected. However, the comic does an incredible job both capturing the emotion, the feelings of the story and the actual events in it. The Being’s inner and outside worlds are captured in his narration. This is mostly done by Wrightson’s use of dark colors, several somber scenarios and lack of light. He describes in graphics what Shelley did with words 200 years ago.

The Being created by Victor keeps his self-conscious character and tells his story in his own words, assuring that ‘my very appearance in any town or village provoked such agitation, fear and hostility that I was quickly run out of town. I had done nothing. Their fear was based solely on my appearance.’ (Niles, 2018, p. 14).  Because of this, he ‘is forced into alienation in order to survive, and becomes the savage that mankind believes it is.’ (Brännström, 2006, p. 23) He also remains as a martyr, thinking that: ‘I seemed invulnerable, but it made the pain no less.’ (Niles, 2018, p. 14).

(Panel from Frankenstein Alive, Alive)

Morals play an important role on the comic, in which The Being reasons: ‘Who was I to point and cry “murderer”?’ (Niles, 2018, p. 8). Although he is often perceived as a monster, it seems like that, with the correct education he received after the events in the novel, The Being is even more conscious of humanity, life and death. Does this mean that to be a monster is the same as being an ignorant? A question open to debate.
This matter is taken seriously even at the beginning of the series, when The Being says that ‘I am never what they expect... So I have also learned it is always best to give them what they expect. Give them what they want. A monster.’ (Niles, 2018, p. 6-7). This he says when he appears in front of a crowd who wants to see “The Frankenstein Monster” and is disappointed: The expected an angry, blood-thirsty creature, not a peaceful one, and so think they have been fooled.
The last issue ends with a powerful reflection, and that could support the idea that ‘monster’ and ‘ignorant’ are the same thing: ‘Even if not a man, I am still alive... and any creature of this world, whether born by science or sorcery, deserves to live.’ (Niles, 2018, p. 20). Seems like The Being and I agree in something.

Braid, B., 2017, The Frankenstein Meme: Penny Dreadful and The Frankenstein Chronicles as Adaptations, Open Cultural Studies 2017; 1: 232–243
Brännström, C. (2006). An Analysis of the Theme of Alienation in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Luleå University of Technology, Sweden.
Niles, S. (2018) Frankenstein Alive, Alive Trio. IDW Publishing, San Diego, United States of America.
Niles, S. (2018) Frankenstein Alive, Alive. Issue #4. IDW Publishing, San Diego, United States of America.
Torregrossa, M. A., 2018, Frankenstein in the Comics: A Neglected Tradition, 49th NeMLA Annual Convention, 14 April 2018, Pittsburg, Pennsylvania.

Alan D.D. is an author, blogger and journalist who has been freaking the world since 1995. Hailing and writing out of Venezuela, Alan D.D. has worked with books, comics, music, movies and almost anything else that catches his attention. 99% of the time, it’s something about witches. He’s currently publishing a dark fantasy saga in Wattpad and searching for a 24/7 chocolate supplier.

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: Genesis of an outcast

This is a guest post written by Alan D. D.

As ironic as it sounds, this has been pretty festive year for Goths. 1818 was not only the year when Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, by Jane Austen, were published after her death in 1817, it also started with the publication of Mary Shelley’s most famous work: Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus.

The novel describes the life of brilliant scientist Victor Frankenstein, who gets obsessed with the idea of creating life:

Life and death appeared to me ideal bounds, which I should first break through, and pour a torrent of light into our dark world. A new species would bless me as its creator and source, many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me. (Shelley, 2016, p. 26).

Using parts from corpses, he manages to accomplish this, only to say that this creature ‘was ugly then; but when those muscles and joints were rendered capable of motion, it became a thing such as even Dante could not have conceived.’ (Shelley, 2016, p. 28). Victor then attempts to correct his actions, first, shunning the creature, turning him into a murderer, and then trying to kill him. As if to wipe himself clean, he tells his story to Robert Walton, a seafarer he encounters, before dying.

Victor (Colin Clive) and his creation (Boris Karloff) meet (Frankenstein, 1931) 

I am not fond of Shelley’s book due to the amount of descriptions she includes, mostly those of the surroundings. However, the print she has left is undeniable, and while I didn’t enjoyed the original work as I expected because of personal likes, I do love the large amount of those derived from it, be it comic books, movies, TV series, and everything else. The Frankenstein Monster, or The Being, to respect the novel’s terminology, remains as appealing as it was 200 years ago, and I think I understand why.

Shelley describes how a pure, innocent creature that comes to life, knowing nothing about good or evil, could become a danger to society because of society’s perceptions and actions. There is a passage that explains it quite explicitly:

I am malicious because I am miserable; am I not shunned and hated by all mankind? You, my creator, would tear me to pieces, and triumph; remember that, and tell me why I should pity man more than he pities me? You would not call it murder, if you could precipitate me into one of those ice-rifts, and destroy my frame, the work of your own hands. Shall I respect man, when he contemns me? Let him live with me in the interchange of kindness, and, instead of injury, I would bestow every benefit upon him with tears of gratitude at his acceptance. But that cannot be; the human senses are insurmountable barriers to our union. Yet mine shall not be the submission of abject slavery. I will revenge my injuries: if I cannot inspire love, I will cause fear; and chiefly towards you my arch-enemy, because my creator, do I swear inextinguishable hatred. Have a care: I will work at your destruction, nor finish until I desolate your heart, so that you curse the hour of your birth. (Shelley, 2016, p. 79).

According to The Being, he is no monster, for he ‘had feelings of affection, and they were requited by detestation and scorn’ (Shelley, 2016, p. 92). We should see him as a victim of the circumstances, for he was not born a monster:

A lack of love in the monster’s life predetermines him to become evil: he was born as “Adam” and turned into “Satan”. Since he was abandoned early after his birth, he experiences hate and prejudice, which influences his bad behavior (Sic.) and negative attitude towards people. (Skalošová, 2015, p. 55)

1831 Frontispiece 
Moreover, ‘he is never allowed to speak because he is met with fear, disgust and expectations of an evil mind’ (Knudsen, 2012, p. 44). This is what turns The Being into a violent, dangerous creature, because an ‘authentic dialogue rests on the mutual recognition of the participants’ (Hughes, 2017, p. 18), whereas ‘the traditional view of monsters is that they should be seen but not heard’ (Brännström, 2006, p. 12).

The most prominent example in this case is Victor’s behavior: although he accepts he created The Being, he also rejects and shames doing it, and never recognizes him as a life worthy creature. However, it is curious that, while he decides to kill The Being, this, in turn, ‘kills everybody around Victor because he cannot kill his creator’ (Knudsen, 2012, p. 28).

Because of that, I’m inclined to consider him nobler than Victor. In the middle of his misery, The Being seems to still thank Victor for creating him, only hoping things could have been different between them. He loathes his actions as well, lamenting: ‘Oh, Frankenstein! generous and self-devoted being! what does it avail that I now ask thee to pardon me? I, who irretrievably destroyed thee by destroying all thou lovedst. Alas! he is cold; he may not answer me’ (Shelley, 2016, p. 121). He later asks Walton ‘think ye that the groans of Clerval were music to my ears?’ (ib.) which reinforces the fact that he detests his violent actions.

Keeping this in mind, viewing him and Victor Frankenstein as opposites, the second one fits the description of what a monster is according to The Being, a sentiment I think I understand. How often do we find or live a situation in which society creates a monster? How many times have we felt outcasts in the environment we live in? We all have felt deceived at least once, and sometimes this is caused by the person we thought would never harm us, making us discover a hatred we thought inconceivable. We all have been The Being.

The novel shows ‘how society alienates people because of their certain characteristics which usually do not fulfil the desired and decisive taste of the society’ (Sarkar, 2013, p. 29), which, as Shelley showed, is a harmful process that creates an actual monster. This makes me wonder: if we look at the news and our modern world, could we say that we have changed? Or could it be that some of us are still Beings in a Victor-ish society?

Danny Boyle's Frankenstein (2011) featuring Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller


Brännström, C. (2006). An Analysis of the Theme of Alienation in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Luleå University of Technology, Sweden.
Hughes, B. (2017) ‘A devout but nearly silent listener’: dialogue, sociability, and Promethean individualism in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818). The Irish Journal of Gothic and Horror Studies 16 (Autumn 2017). 4-21.
Knudsen, L. O. (2012). Reading Between the Lines: An analysis of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, or, the Modern Prometheus, using Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto as an example of male discourse about women. Master’s Thesis. Aalborg Universitet, Denmark.
Sarkar, P. (2013) Frankenstein: An Echo of Social Alienation and Social Madness. IOSR Journal Of Humanities And Social Science (IOSR-JHSS) Volume 9, Issue 3 (Mar. - Apr. 2013). 29-32.
Shelley, M. W. (2016). Frankenstein. Gothic Digital Series. British Gothic Novels (1764 - 1820). Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina, Brazil.
Skalošová, Ž. (2015). Monster and Monstrosity in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Diploma Thesis. Masaryk University, Czech Republic.

Alan D.D. is an author, blogger and journalist who has been freaking the world since 1995. Hailing and writing out of Venezuela, Alan D.D. has worked with books, comics, music, movies and almost anything else that catches his attention. 99% of the time, it’s something about witches. He’s currently publishing a dark fantasy saga in Wattpad and searching for a 24/7 chocolate supplier.

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Reimagining the Gothic 2018

Reimagining the Gothic 2018:
Aesthetics and Archetypes
Friday 26th - Sunday 28th October

Sheffield Gothic is pleased to announce the draft schedule for our upcoming conference 'Reimagining the Gothic: Aesthetics and Archetypes.' Taking a break from its traditional May slot, this year's Reimagining will be a one off Halloween special taking place from Friday 26th to Sunday 28th October. This event is also our first three day event and will be entirely devoted to reimagining, rethinking, and reconsidering Gothic Aesthetics and Archetypes - and we want you to join us! As always, Reimagining is open to all levels of study, including undergraduates, MA students, PGRs, ECRs, and independent scholars.

You can find the draft schedule here

Not only do we have schedule filled with brilliant papers exploring this year's theme, we are very excited to welcome our two keynotes, Professor Catherine Spooner (Lancaster University) and Kieron Gillen (Comics writer). On Saturday evening we will also be hosting our Creative Showcase: displaying lots of great artwork and creative projects. At the Creative Showcase, we will announce the winners of our Creative Competition (the deadline for our Creative Competition closes on Monday 17th September, and you can find more details here).

To register for the conference follow this link (there are two seperate ticket types for speakers and for delegates). The Creative Showcase will take place on Saturday 17th October 7-9 pm and will be free and open to the public: if you just wish to attend the Creative Showcase you will not need to register for the conference, and a seperate eventbrite will be created nearer the time. A full FAQ can be found here, but if you have any extra questions do email Sheffield Gothic at

Finally, although not part of the Reimagining schedule we would like to draw your attention to this year's Halloween special SIIBS seminar that is part of SIIBS's Autumn seminar programme, where our co-organiser Mary Going will be speaking about 'Cain, Shylock, and the Blood Libel: Exploring the Vampire's Jewish Origins.' Taking place on Monday 29th October at the University of Sheffield from 3-4.30 pm, our Reimagining delegates are welcome to attend this talk.

Reimagining the Gothic: Aesthetics and Archetypes is generously sponsored by the AHPGR Forum at the University of Sheffield. 

To keep up with the latest Reimagining the Gothic updates follow us at: @SheffieldGothic and @TheReimagining 


Thursday, 30 August 2018

Sheffield Gothic Profile Blog: Lauren Nixon

Sheffield Gothic's final instalment in our profile blog series features our co-organiser, Lauren Nixon, PhD student at the University of Sheffield. Read on as she explores her interest in the Gothic, her favourite Gothic texts, and who she would invite to dinner!

Hi! I’m Lauren Nixon, a PhD researcher at the University of Sheffield. Those of you familiar with this blog and the general goings on at Sheffield Gothic might already know me: I’ve been co-organiser of Sheffield Gothic since 2014, subsequently the Reimagining the Gothic project and, our recent endeavour, Gaming the Gothic. I did my undergraduate at Bath Spa University and came to Sheffield to begin my PhD part-time in 2013, though I’m based in my home town of Nottingham. You can find me on Twitter @literaryla.

What do you research?
My thesis research focuses on the way in which Gothic novels between 1764 and 1826 represented masculinity and national identity in the figure of the soldier. My thesis, ‘Conflicting Masculinities:  the figure of the soldier in Gothic fiction, 1764 – 1826’, explores the way in which the soldiers’ identity in Britain shifted and changed from the period following the Seven Years War, through the American Revolutionary War and into the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of gender, and the way in which social perception of gender is affected and altered by national identity, but my original research was far more focused on women in the Gothic. About a year into my PhD, I mentioned to my supervisors (Profs. Angela Wright and Andrew Smith, whose profile blogs you can find here and here) that I thought it was interesting how often the heroes of the early Gothic novels were knights, chevaliers and soldiers. I kept returning to the idea, and eventually Angela and Andy suggested that I make it my focus. My thesis looks particularly at the works of Ann Radcliffe, but also the ‘Northanger Novel’s’ and, of course, Jane Austen as well as Mary Shelley’s Valperga and The Last Man

My interest in gender and the Gothic stretches well beyond the long eighteenth century, however, and recently I’ve worked on the representation of the soldier and trauma in contemporary texts such as True Blood and Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
(Northanger Abbey)
How did you become interested in the Gothic?
Anyone who has followed the Sheffield Gothic blog for some time is probably well aware that I am a notoriously easy scare: my poor nerves can’t handle even the slightest jump scare, and I’ve never been much one for Horror. In fact, when I first came to the Gothic as undergraduate I was pretty certain I didn’t like it: I only took the module because it had my beloved Northanger Abbey on the reading list. But it was there that I discovered not only my love for the Gothic (even if I did think The Mysteries of Udolpho was boring the first time I read it…) but that, really, I’d always been in love with the it. I just didn’t really know what the Gothic actually was. As a kid, I was obsessed with myths, legends and fairytales (shout out to my local library for helping me find and read any and every text that related to King Arthur one particularly drizzly six weeks holiday) as well as texts like Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials and the Sally Lockheart series, Tove Janssons’s The Moomins and all things Alice in Wonderland. Once I began studying the Gothic, looking at everything from Le Fanu’s Carmilla to Blade Runner, I couldn’t stop – after all, the answer to ‘but is it Gothic?’ is always yes.
What Gothic texts (including shows, films, plays, music etc.) would you recommend and why? 
(Mervyn Peake)
So, the downside of going last is that my fellow Sheffield Goth’s have stolen away the best recommendations. However, there are few texts that are very close to my heart!

The Gormenghast series - Mervyn Peake
I absolutely adore these books: if I could only read one series for the rest of my life, it would be Gormenghast. (‘Yes, we know, you talk about it constantly!’ I hear you cry.) It’s hard to describe Gormenghast succinctly – the first time I read it, I had to constantly reread pages because I couldn’t quite work out what was happening. But in a good way, promise. Peake’s prose is so enchanting and unique: the way he paints both scenes and characters is easy to loose yourself in, and his exploration of the ways in which place, legacy and ritual shapes identity was part of what drew me to academia.

Over the Garden Wall – Cartoon Network, 2014 
Okay, yes, I know: I’ve also talked about this one before. But Over the Garden Wall is a must watch for anyone interested in Gothic storytelling. This ten part animation tells the story of Greg and Wirt, two brothers who find themselves lost in a strange place called The Unknown. The series draws on a number of American Gothic motifs and conventions, playing with what the viewer expects to create a story that is both entertaining and unsettling. Each episode is only around ten minutes long, which makes it a perfect binge watch for an Autumn evening.

The Romance of the Forest – Ann Radcliffe 
I couldn’t not recommend a Radcliffe novel, could I? It was a hard choice between The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne and The Romance of the Forest¸ but ultimately it’s Radcliffe’s third text that really won me to her. Though not as complex or as masterfully written as her later works, for me The Romance of the Forest is everything you could want from a Gothic romance: suspense, mystery, adventure and more. Also, I was a big fan of Disney’s Sleeping Beauty as a child and I am convinced someone working on that film must have read this novel. The scene where Aurora and Philip meet and dance to ‘Once Upon a Dream’ is almost identical to the first meeting of Adeline and Theodore. Including the friendly woodland creatures.

Dragon Age – Bioware
I was hesitant to recommend this video game series, not because I don’t think its Gothic but because playing them nearly ruined my PhD. The first in the series, Dragon Age: Origins captured my attention almost straight away with its Dungeons and Dragons inspired levelling system and in-depth worldbuilding. All three game employ Gothic aesthetics and conventions, but the second in the series (Dragon Age 2) for me was particularly consciously Gothic. I spoke briefly at this year’s IGA conference about the way in which the play experience is used in the series to convey and create emotional responses. Each game you play as a new hero, but your choices and decisions in the previous game directly affect the state of the world in the next. 

Buzzfeed Unsolved 
(Buzzfeed Unsolved)
I’m someone who consumes media constantly, and on a large scale. The dawn of platforms like Twitch (my beloved DnD livestream show Critical Role nearly made it to this list, and though I do highly recommend it for anyone interested in joint storytelling or fantasy gaming, it is a lot of hours of content) and Youtube have brought some wonderful shows to life. Buzzfeed Unsolved, which is now in its fourth season, is a must watch for anyone who enjoys mystery and the unexplained. The show is split into two: True Crime and Supernatural. Each week hosts, Ryan Bergara (who does believe in the supernatural) and Shane Madej (who most certainly does not) either discuss an unsolved mystery or visit a location that is supposedly haunted. It’s a fun and informative show, whether you believe or not (#Shaniac). 

Gaslight (1944) 
Each year when we decide the schedule for our reading group, we try to include a variety of mediums – which, as someone who can’t handle a scare, can be difficult sometimes when it comes to film. However Gaslight has always been at the top of my must see list when it comes to Gothic cinema: based on the play by Peter Hamilton and starring Ingrid Bergman, this film is truly a masterpiece in Gothic storytelling. The pacing, the score and the superb acting all create undeniable tension and sense of dread in the viewer that, for me, few films have ever achieved.

There are certainly more texts that I could recommend (I chose not to mention Austen’s Northanger Abbey, because everyone knows I love that book), but these are certainly the ones that I am fondest of. Lately I’ve been interested in the way in which pop culture uses Gothic aesthetics to frame masculinity, and what it is that makes it so appealing to a young female audience. I’ll be discussing the Marvel Universe’s beloved trickster Loki, but also the music videos of the hugely popular Korean boy band EXO. For a taster, check out the video to their 2016 single ‘Monster’:

If you could invite any Gothic writer, artist, musician or character to dinner, who would you choose and why?
Shocking I’m sure no one, I’d invite Jane Austen and Ann Radcliffe: to listen to them discuss books would be a dream come true. Plus that made up meeting in Becoming Jane did them both a huge disservice – I refuse to accept a meeting between the two would have been that dull. I’d invite Mervyn Peake and his wife Maeve, just to listen to their stories and peharps Sheridan Le Fanu, so we can have a frank conversation about how disturbing (but excellent) his short story Green Tea is.

Thursday, 23 August 2018

Sheffield Gothic Profile Blog: Mary Going

Sheffield Gothic's penultimate instalment in our series of profile blogs features our co-organiser, Mary Going, PhD student at the University of Sheffield. Read on to explore what drew Mary to the Gothic, her favourite Gothic texts, and who she would invite to dinner. 

Hi, I’m Mary Going and I’m a PhD candidate in the School of English at the University of Sheffield. An interloper from ‘down South,’ I first came to Sheffield to complete my undergraduate degree in English Literature, and somehow ended up staying on to study my Master’s degree in Nineteenth Century Literature, before starting my PhD which I am currently doing part-time. You can find me on twitter at @MazGoing

What do you research?
I have always been bewitched by the Gothic, but I am also fascinated with the portrayal of religion in fiction; from religious spaces, aesthetics, and identities to religious and biblical narratives, myths, and stories that are woven into so many texts. My current research explores the depiction of Jewish characters in late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth century fiction, with a particular focus on Gothic texts. I am especially interested in the development of the Wandering Jew myth, the character of Shylock, and the vampire during this period, as well as the representation of familial relationships and Jewish identity. More broadly, I am interested in the depiction of religion as it appears in Gothic and Horror of any period, and particularly anything that lets me research vampires. I also founded the Gothic Bible project with Katie Edwards, Caroline Blyth, and Christopher Scott. Along with curating a dedicated blog series and organising talks and special reading groups, this project hosted its inaugural conference last year on Halloween. You can keep up to date by following the project on twitter at @GothicBible.  

How did you become interested in the Gothic?
Looking back, it seems that I’ve always been drawn to texts that have darker, Gothic flavours. I can remember, as a child, being terrified but also entirely captivated by Josephine Lee’s Joy is Not Herself (1962), a children’s novel that tells the story of Melisande Joy Montgomery. Melisande is a witch, and following her increasingly ominous and evil behaviour (which includes causing a near fatal accident in which her neighbour Eleanor is thrown from a horse) Melisande is exorcised, and with evil expelled ‘Melisande’ becomes Joy.
Cover for Charmed Life

Keeping with the Witch theme, I loved Jill Murphy’s Worst Witch series (who didn’t!) and while I was at primary school, I dressed up as Hermione Granger for World Book day; although, frankly, the less said about my childhood obsession with the Harry Potter series the better. Another childhood favourite was Dianna Wynn Jones’ brilliant Chrestomanci series, set in a world parallel to ours where ‘magic is as common as music is with us’ and focusing on the eponymous Chrestomanci, an enchanter and government official. I especially enjoyed Charmed Life (1977), the first in the series and which introduces Christopher ‘Cat’ Chant and the Chrestomanci title (they are enchanters with nine lives) and Witch Week (1982) which is set in another parallel world, this time one without magic, drawing on the story of Guy Fawkes and featuring the adult Cat Chant as Chrestomanci.

Later, I was captivated by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Bram Stoker’s Dracula, both of which have stayed with me as two of my all-time favourites. During my undergrad I sought out as much Gothic that I could. I took Angela Wright and Helena Ifill’s fabulous second year module on the Gothic; got involved with the ‘Gothic Bites’ project (organised by Angela, Helena, and Kate Gadsby-Mace); and on hearing about the launch of a new Gothic reading group, I knew I had to attend. After the first meeting discussing Dominik Moll's Le Moine or The Monk (2011), I haven’t looked back.

What Gothic texts (including shows, films, plays, music etc.) would you recommend and why?
Ok, if you haven’t read Frankenstein or Dracula yet, then what have you been doing? These are perhaps really obvious choices, but no matter how many other books I read, I always end up coming back to these two, and the legacies of Shelley’s Creature and Stoker’s Count are still very apparent today. You can read more of my thoughts on Frankenstein, including why Danny Boyle’s 2011 stage adaptation is the best adaptation, here.

Cover for Paul Féval's Vampire City
For any fans of vampire fiction, I would definitely recommend Florence Marryat’s The Blood of the Vampire (which I have previously written about here). Published in the same year as Dracula, this novel tells the story of Harriet Brandt, an orphan who also happens to be a psychic vampire. Marryat’s vampire is a perfect contrast to Stoker’s Dracula: Harriet traces her ancestry not to Transylvania but to Jamaica, and, rather than draining the blood of her victims, she drains their life force.

Another unique but fabulous vampire novel is Paul Féval’s 1867 La Ville Vampire or Vampire City (translated by Brian Stableford). The vampires in this novel are simple amazing, and I could not do them justice at all here so you will just have to read it for yourself (although I will mention that they may glow in the dark!). However, the premise of the novel should be enough to hook any good Gothicist: the narrative begins with Ann Radcliffe (yes, that Ann Radcliffe) as she runs away with a band of vampire hunters on her wedding day to rescue her friends from the vampire lord Otto Goetzi. Yes, you read that right – this novel is essentially Ann Radcliffe fan fiction meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or, in other words, Ann Radcliffe the Vampire Slayer.

Speaking of Buffy, you may have noticed that I’m a bit obsessed with this show…enough to curate a dedicated Buffy the Vampire Slayer blog series in honour of the show’s twentieth anniversary in 2017. Although there are definitely conversations to be had about some aspects of the show which haven’t aged well (for example: Xander; the show’s portrayal of rape and rape culture; and of course, its creator), I still think Buffy is important in its premise: to empower the girl who, in Horror narratives, is typically killed off. Rather than being killed, or needing to be rescued, Buffy (and the Scoobies) fights back, and the show has never lost its cult status or appeal. With the recent announcement of a Buffy reboot (or is that a sequel?) along with reboots of Charmed and Sabrina the Teenage Witch coming soon as well, it’s clear that there is still a desire for female-fronted shows like Buffy – and what better time to watch (or re-watch) the original?

There are so many vampire texts that I could recommend, so I’ll finish with my favourite vampire film: Jason Krawczyk’s 2015 Horror-comedy, He Never Died. This is also a must-watch for any Henry Rollins fans, who portrays Jack, or rather, Cain (‘I’m in the Bible’), a weary vampire who has been wandering and murdering for centuries whilst being unable to die himself. Expect a lot of blood, but also a lot of humour.

I also really love Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials series: a beautiful trilogy that is, in part, a retelling of John Milton's Paradise Lost (whic you should also read, if only for its fantastic depiction of Satan and Hell) and the biblical story of Adam and Eve. This series follows young adults Lyra Belacqua and Will Parry as they journey through various parallel universes; and in one of these worlds, Lyra's, every human is paired with their own daemon. Another YA series that I would recommend is Cassandra Clare's Mortal Instruments series which tells the story of a group of young nephilim or shadowhunters - Clary, Jace, Isabelle, and Alec - who protect the world of 'mundanes' from demons, and who draw their powers from marking, or scarring, their bodies with specific marks. Of course, one of my favourite characters in this series is Clary's best friend, Simon, who is not a shadowhunter, but an ordinary, 'mundane,' Jewish teenager who somewho becomes a vampire, then a daylighter (a vampire who can walk in the Sun), and then is marked with the First Mark, or the Mark of Cain. And this makes Simon a very interesting example of a Jewish vampire!

Speaking of Cain, I have to quickly mention one of my favourite bands, Avenged Sevenfold. Taking their name from Genesis chapter four (that's the story of Cain and Abel), this heavy metal band often blends religious narratives and Gothic or Horror aethetics into their songs, while at the centre of their artwork are skulls and bats. Their song 'Chapter Four' retells the Genesis story of Cain killing his brother Abel ('From the soil his blood cries out to me') and has become the unofficial soundtrack of my current research.

Illustration from The Monk
In terms of religious Gothic, the texts I would recommend include Matthew Lewis’s The Monk (1796), Ann Radcliffe’s The Italian (1797), and James Hogg’s Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824). The Monk is a scandalous Gothic novel that verges on being pornographic; it was debated in Parliament, and then later bowdlerized by Lewis for being blasphemous, and features a fantastic cameo from the Wandering Jew who bears a revised version of the mark of Cain on his forehead in the form of a burning cross. Ann Radcliffe’s later novel functions as a corrective to Lewis’s, but is equally as enjoyable with its own immoral monk and type-scenes of the Inquisition. Hogg’s novel is of a different cast, and perhaps too complicated to describe in this post (you can read more about it here), but I will just say that it may or may not feature the devil – and it’s up to you the reader to decide.

Finally, I have to recommend Syd Moore’s fabulous Essex Witch Museum Mysteries. I posted a blog about Moore’s novel earlier this week, but if witches, Essex Girls, and unapologetic feminism are your thing you should definitely read this series!

If you could invite any Gothic writer, artist, musician or character to dinner, who would you choose and why?
I would invite Mary Shelley’s Creature and Bram Stoker’s Dracula to dinner because I think it would be fun to show them their numerous reincarnations and hear their thoughts on the versions of themselves. I would also invite Buffy and the Scoobies (although maybe not Xander…) because, let’s face it, of course I would! Not only do I think they would be excellent dinner guests, with the fabulous Giles (everyone's favourite librarian) keeping everything in check, but the gang would be able to make sure that Dracula (Stoker’s Dracula, not the version from ‘Buffy Versus Dracula’, Buffy S5E01!) was well-behaved.

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

The Only Way Is Witchcraft

Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live (Exodus  22:18)

Blonde, dumb, easy, sleeps around, drunk every night, is known for being a slut, stupid, cheap, hair tight to head etc. (Urban dictionary)

It’s my theory that, despite memories of the witch hunts fading, the reputation of the county’s women never really recovered, which is why, when the Essex girl reared her flossy blonde head she was taken up so quickly and decisively. (Syd Moore, ‘Were women accused of witchcraft the first Essex Girls?’)

Welcome to Witch County. Prepare to rethink everything you know about the stereotypical witch (and the stereotypical Essex girl). And remember: The Only Way Is Witchcraft. Revising the traditional ghost story, Syd Moore’s novels bring supernatural mysteries into the twenty-first century, putting the figure of the witch - and at the same time that of the Essex girl - at their heart. Moore’s novels are the perfect blend of Gothic and unapologetic feminism: and trust me, once you start reading them you won’t be able to put them down. 

But first, let me explain why I am so bewitched by these novels, and I’ll start with a confession: I am an Essex girl. Although relatively new, the Essex girl stereotype has been around for a few decades -  and if you're not sure what an 'Essex Girl' is, watch the above video from 1991 for a fairly accurate representation of this stereotype. Sure, I might not always sound ‘Essex’ (my mum is from London you know); I don’t wear white stiletto heels (being 5 foot, you may have noticed I do wear a lot of heels, but mainly of the black variety); and I’ve swapped the orange, baked, fake tan for a pale complexion more befitting a vampire. Also, while we’re here, no I don’t know anyone from TOWIE and no, we don’t all hang out at the Sugar Hut (FYI - Essex is a very big county). But that exactly the point - stereotypes aren’t accurate, and whether we choose to wear stilettos or not, or choose to be tanned or pasty, there is more to every Essex girl than the dumb, blonde stereotype. So, to summarise, I may not fit the stereotype, but this is what an Essex girl looks like.

(Thurrock heritage sign marking Dracula connection)
And even though I’m up in Sheffield researching the Gothic, I haven’t left Essex behind. Vampires have cropped up in my research a few times, and, when I say vampires, that includes the Count himself. Which is perfect for me, because not only is Dracula one of my favourite novels, but I especially enjoy reading the parts set in Purfleet, Essex (for those not as obsessed with Dracula as I am, that’s where Dr Seward’s Lunatic Asylum and Dracula’s Carfax house are situated). I can even remember visiting a local Purfleet museum, and turning into a hidden corned who should I find myself face-to-face with but the infamous Count Dracula! Ok, disclaimer: it was only a coffin surrounded by Dracula posters, but still, it marked a pretty important piece of Essex’s Gothic heritage. And I would be lying to say that I’m not thinking of the Count every time I pass Purfleet station on my journeys to and from Essex and Sheffield. 

(This image captures the importance of trains within Dracula

I never pretend that I’m from London as some of my friends have done, because I love where I’m from (although I’m also proud of my ties to London’s East End, but that’s a story for another time). And that’s why, when I walked into my local Essex book store and saw a book with a gorgeous skull on its cover, a playful tagline declaring that ‘The Only Way is Witchcraft,' and blurb that mentioned the ‘Essex Witch Museum’, I knew I had to read it. 

That book was Strange Magic, the first in Moore’s Essex Witch Museum Mysteries series where she links the historical stereotype of the Witch and the contemporary stereotype of the Essex Girl and questions the accuracy of them both:
‘The Essex girl threatens because she is attractive. That’s why she’s put into, a box, a stereotype, in the first place. So she can be controlled. And disempowered.’

‘Like women accused of witchcraft.’

‘Also controlled. Also disempowered by their label.’ 
(Strange Magic, 2017)

In the age of the Me Too movement, and as cries of a ‘Witch Hunt’ are inauthentically uttered (here is looking at you, Trump), it is important to remember that historical Witch Hunts, and the creation and perpetuation of stereotypes such as the Witch and the Essex girl, function to control, disempower, and silence women. The Me Too movement has proved powerful in empowering women and other disempowered individuals, giving them back, to some extent, control and their own voices. And this is exactly what Moore does through all of her novels, too. Reclaiming the narratives and identities of witches throughout history and that of the recent Essex girl, Moore’s novels are, simply, bewitching.

The Drowning Pool (2011)

Moore’s debut novel tells the story of Sarah Grey, a widow relocating to Leigh-on-Sea with her son Alfie after the death of her husband; expecting to rebuild her life, Sarah and Alfie are soon targeted by several hauntings, including eerie encounters with ‘the burning girl.’ The novel begins with a drunken séance, after which the hauntings begin. Sarah is especially targeted by a ghost who turns out to be her namesake, delving into local Essex legends that mark the nineteenth century Sarah Grey as a witch and therefore evil incarnate. This story is a great introduction to Moore’s expert juxtaposition of the historical witch stereotype and contemporary stereotypes of women, and especially the Essex girl stereotype. It also beautifully ties the fictional ghost of Sarah Grey to local Essex histories as Moore’s witch is based on the legends of Sarah Moore, Leigh’s very own sea-witch.

Witch Hunt (2012)

(Colchester Castle)
Delving deeper into the myths and legend of witches, Moore’s second novel explores the infamous Witch-Finder General, Matthew Hopkins, as well as drawing inspiration from the legends of his female victims accused of witchcraft such as Rebecca West. The novel’s protagonist, journalist Sadie Asquith, emulates Moore in her desire to research historical witches, acknowledge connections between the witch and the Essex girl stereotype, and also claim back these narratives for women. As Sadie investigates the ‘dark past of the Essex witch hunts,’ she soon experiences strange visions and hauntings. These include a very chilling episode during a visit to Colchester castle where Sadie is accidentally locked in one of its cells: yes, the very ones in which women accused of witchcraft would have been detained in during Matthew Hopkins reign. If that isn’t enough for you, Moore also weaves into her story a brilliant, though fictional, twist regarding the fate of Matthew Hopkins - which you will just have to read to find out! 

The Essex Witch Museum Mysteries

#1 Strange Magic (2017)

#2 Strange Sight (2017)

#3 Strange Fascination (2018)

Not only does the The Essex Witch Museum Mysteries Series have the best books covers, but they are simply fabulous stories. From the moment I read the first book, Strange Magic, I was hooked: the story opens with an eerie prologue detailing the demonic possession of a small boy by the ghost of a child from the era of witch hunts, and anyone who knows me will know that I find demonic possession stories terrifying (and no, I still won’t rewatch The Exorcist). Luckily, the book introduces its feisty protagonist, Essex girl Rosie Strange who has just inherited the Essex Witch museum from her grandfather, Septimus Strange. Skeptical about witches, ghosts and magic, and initially planning to tear down the museum (a museum that is, by the way, designed to look like a skull), Rosie ends up on a embroiled in a mysterious hunt with the museum’s curator, PhD student (who’s dissertation is on, you guessed it, witches) Sam Stone, who Rosie humorously oscillates between finding extremely irritating or attractively captivating. Teaming up, Rosie and Sam embark on a journey to find the bones of the Essex witch from St. Osyth, Ursula Cadence, in order to save the possessed boy. Along the way, Rosie is visited by the ghost of Ursula herself - or, surely not, because ghosts and witches aren’t real, are they? 

(Skeleton of a witch, believed to be Ursula Cadence or Kempe, found at St Osyth, Essex)
Moore’s wit makes Rosie and Sam one of the best literary detective duos, and trust me when I say that you will want to follow their relationship and their investigations throughout this series. The second book, Strange Sight, introduces a paranormal lockdown situation where the pair investigate the apparent haunting of an East End restaurant (did I mention that half of my family is from the East End?) while Strange Fascination explores the mysteries of a centuries-old boulder in the fiction Adder’s Fork, home to the Essex Witch Museum, as it is moved by developers. The boulder is said to mark the grave of a witch and is based of the legends of Ann Hewghes who lived in the village of Great Leighs, Essex where she was accused of witchcraft and burned at the stake, her remains buried under the boulder.

Throughout this series, Moore stylishly offers a commentary on the witch and Essex girl stereotypes. If you like Gothic tales of witches full of hauntings, magic, wit, and plenty of unashamed feminism, then this series is for you. And, like The Drowning Pool and Witch Hunt, Moore brilliantly ties her stories to the histories, myths, and locales of Essex while revisiting the stories of the counties many victims of historical witch hunts. 
Think you know witches? Think you know Essex girls? Think again.

Mary Going is a PhD researcher at the University of Sheffield exploring exploring depictions of Jewish characters, myths and legends - such as Shylock, vampires, and the Wandering Jew - in late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth century literature. She is co co-organiser of Sheffield Gothic and the Gothic Bible project, as well as being Sheffield Gothic's current Vampire Slayer, and keeping with the Witch theme of this blog Mary recommends the Buffy episode 'Gingerbread' (E11 S03) as a must watch. You can also find her on twitter: @MazGoing