Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Foreshadowings: The Woman in Black and Reading Group Announcements

How quickly the year flies by!  This week will be our last Gothic Reading Group meeting of the 2014 academic year – we’ve covered all sorts of topics from post-colonialism to comic books, Alfred Hitchcock to Sleepy Hollow!  We’re going to wrap up our year with another film: The Woman in Black (2012) film starring Daniel Radcliffe and based (loosely) on the Susan Hill novel of the same name.  As ever, the question “But is it Gothic?” will surely pop up in our discussion, as well as such corkers as “is Daniel Radcliffe woefully miscast?” “Which is the best – the film, the play, or the novel?” and “what makes a Gothic ghost story?”  

The Woman in Black is a pretty fitting tale for this time of year in particular.  The original novel prefaces the main story by framing the narrative as a tale told at Christmas, a traditional ‘winter’s tale’ told by family members around a roaring fire.  As the group shares simple, relatively tame ghost stories, a true tale of horror remains waiting in the wings to be brought forward at last by the troubled patriarch.  Christmas ghost stories were particularly popular in the Victorian tradition, though their origins go back much further, and the amateur telling of ghost stories as a form of social interaction was a particularly interesting Christmas activity.  The film changes the ending of the original story and moves away from this framing device, but the theatrical production of The Woman in Black utilizes the idea of ‘storytelling’ in its frame.  In the play, roles shift from person to person as the main character, the hapless Mr. Kipps, attempts to articulate the horror that has occurred in his past.  It is only at the end of the narrative that we realize that his ghostly resurrection and emotional catharsis has potentially jeopardized others involved in his amateur production.  

Though they dropped these kinds of framing devices in the film version there are interwoven mini-narratives within the movie itself that emphasize the Gothic idea of ‘found manuscripts’ and subjective or incomplete narratives.  In fact, The Woman in Black is interesting in that it plays with the horror film formula to both emphasize and de-emphasize narrative exposure.  The story is made up of myriad narrative threads – every family in the community has engaged in some way with the ghostly Woman in Black and each family carries a personal tragedy, an individual narrative horror, unique to them.  Kipps pieces enough of the stories together, along with the documents and items unearthed in Eel Marsh House, to determine a course of action.  It is a popular conceit in supernatural horror films that if one can determine the cause of the haunting, i.e. learn and articulate the ghost’s origin story, one can somehow appease the ghost and end the curse.  Of course this trend is somewhat undermined by the need, in much contemporary cinema, to add that final jump-scare, the last moment when the ghost returns to shock the audience and potentially leave the story open for a sequel.  

In this film narrative unpredictability becomes the protagonist’s downfall – Kipps firmly believes that by exposing the Woman’s narrative and symbolically reuniting her with her son, he can somehow end the horror.  In the novel / play Kipp’s scepticism appears to be enough to protect him, at least temporarily.  The idiom of the Woman, however, remains one of infection, a taint of exposure which cannot be cured by traditional methods.  Even accidentally seeing the Woman brings tragedy, and attempts to exorcise via storytelling ultimately fail.  

This movie ties in with a few of the other texts we’ve read this year.  Many of the texts have emphasizes the alternative or repressed narrative – Rebecca and Wide Sargasso Sea, for example, employed unusual narrators in an attempt to tell a highly subjective story.  The Woman of The Woman in Black is similarly repressed – her social marginalization translates into a loss of family and control, and eventually spirals into a particularly violent end.  

This week’s meeting will feature a screening of the film and a brief discussion.  We will then go out for an informal Christmas meal after.  Please come along and join us for a night of Christmassy Gothic fun!

Some terrifying, uncanny, totally Gothic announcements

As we are at the end of the year there are some other topics we want to mention for the joy and edification of all our myriad readers…

The International Gothic Association has issued its call for papers for its Bi-Annual Conference – the topic for the conference is “Gothic Migrations” and abstracts are due to the conference website by January 31st.  We are always supportive of UoS students representing Gothic studies at the University and strongly encourage both new and returning students and academics to get involved and submit an abstract.  The IGA conferences are always loads of fun and hopefully we can get a good turnout representing us this year!

A bit closer to home, members of the GRG are in the process of implementing an interdisciplinary Gothic studies project for the 2015 spring semester.  The project will cultivate projects from numerous departments in an attempt to re-evaluate how we see Gothic studies and how the Gothic can be applied in other areas of study.  A forthcoming blog will further outline some of the goals of the project. If you want to get involved in this public engagement project, either through the submission of a project or by helping with the planning and organizing bit, please contact Carly Stevenson, Lauren Nixon, or Kathleen Hudson for more details.  

We have not yet planned the reading for the next semester and are putting out a general call for topics of interest.  If you have a text (and texts can be books, movies, radio programs, etc., anything you like) that you would like read and discussed at a GRG meeting, please let us know!  We are planning to start off the new year with a screening of a Globe production of Doctor Faustus in an attempt to explore some new avenues of Gothic studies.  Otherwise it’s up to you, the lovely GRG participants, to decide what you would like us to discuss! Drop a line to the GRG email, come along to a meeting, or contact any of the GRG organizers to let your voice be heard!

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