Thursday, 20 August 2015

Innsmouth Gold

The first book of H. P. Lovecraft’s work I owned was The Lurking Fear and Other Stories. I had purchased it because my friend had told me “The Lurking Fear” was absolutely terrifying (he was right). But this slim volume also contained “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” and this story has become one of my favorites. With Lovecraft’s 125th birthday shambling towards  us today, August 20th (happy birthday, you Gothic weirdo), I asked myself why I liked this story so much. Of all of his stories, why does “Innsmouth” give me such a horrid thrill?

I suppose some of it is my personal background. I grew up in Detroit where Prohibition-era bootlegging is a part our communal folklore, and on the very first page the narrator reveals that the government’s story about federal agents battling bootleggers in Innsmouth was fabricated to hide a darker secret. Moreover, my childhood in Detroit afforded me the opportunity to experience the smell of dead, rotting fish washed up under a pier. While I don’t have the extreme dislike of the sea and its denizens that Lovecraft had, it is true that I rarely eat fish unless it comes deep fried and drowned in lemon juice.

Perhaps my childhood memories  of watching Hammer horror films with my older brothers and later reading Poe are also factors. For “Innsmouth" is one of Lovecraft’s most Gothic stories. Now if I was to say, “Lovecraft and Gothic,” the first story that would come to mind would probably be “The Rats in the Wall.” That “Innsmouth” does not come to mind first, makes it also, I would argue, one of his best.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. What makes “Innsmouth” so Gothic? The curious narrator visits  the town of Innsmouth and finds it in a state of moldering decay that is the equal to any ruin found in Radcliffe. The Innsmouth locals are standoffish until he comes across a superstitious and chatty servant – I mean the superstitious town drunk, Zadok Allen. Once plied with bootleg alcohol, Zadok reveals – in great detail – the cursed history of the town. It all began when the sea captain Obed March brought back a strange object – and stranger ideas – from a remote island in the South Pacific. Eventually, Captain March took a second wife. While she may not have been locked in an attic like the first Mrs. Rochester, Obed’s second wife was never seen outside of the house. I don’t want to give too much away in case anyone hasn’t read it, but the curse involves sex and immortality (but no vampires). Like many Gothic heroines before him, the narrator flees through Innsmouth’s dark, labyrinthine ruins and swoons when he cannot help but look at a horrid scene.

The above is by no means a comprehensive list, but it gives an idea of how steeped in Gothic tropes the story is. And yet, “Innsmouth” is much more than a collection of borrowed  effects. It is also a very modern story. Obed March did not make his Faustian deal with the devil. Rather, he made his deal with an alien species making the story just as much science fiction as Gothic horror.

As modern as it seems given the above, the story is almost a hundred yeas old. Has it aged well? The answer is another part of why I like it so much. Someone with modern sensibilities (and not just a fan of old-fashioned Gothic horror) can still be unnerved by it because the most chilling part of the tale is not the traffic with an alien species. Rather, it is that at any moment this species could take over the planet. Simply put “Innsmouth” creates a world in which humans are neither masters and possessors of nature, nor chosen and protected by a benevolent God. Humans are just one of many species and certainly not the most powerful.

Moreover, Lovecraft makes this powerlessness very personal. If there is a moral in Lewis’ The Monk, it might be that one should be moral, but also worldly enough to avoid the snares laid by the devil. The tragic fall of Ambrosio might have been avoided if he was a little less virtuous, if he had been raised in a more open, worldly home, instead of a monastery. However, the final fate of the narrator in “Innsmouth” could not have been avoided, which changes his dramatic escape from being heroic to tragic and ironic. That humans are doomed and there is no way to avoid it makes “Innsmouth" is a wonderful allegory of the twentieth century existential crisis.

It is a true testament to Lovecraft’s talent that he was able to so seamlessly blend an old genre with modern fears and anxieties.

T. G. Rivard is a guest blogger.  His love of the Gothic started with watching Hammer horror films which in turn lead to the stories of Edgar Allan Poe, H. P. Lovecraft, Walpole and Radcliffe. He writes Gothic and weird tales and posts them on his blog, A Weird Miscellany.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

International Gothic Association: Conference Report, "Gothic Migrations 2015"

The 12th Biennial International Gothic Association Conference: Gothic Migrations took place in Vancouver, Canada, from July 28th to August 1st this year. John Whatley of Simon Fraser University was the Conference Organizer, with funding and support provided by SFU Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, SFU Department of English, and SFU Centre for Online and Distance Education. The University of Sheffield was represented by Dr. Angela Wright (Co-President of the IGA) and Dr. Andy Smith, as well as PGR students Kathleen Hudson and Kate Gadsby-Mace.

The Conference started off with an introduction by IGA co-presidents Dr. Angela Wright (University of Sheffield) and Dr. Catherine Spooner (Lancaster University). David Punter then awarded the Alan Lloyd Smith prizes to Joseph Crawford for best monograph for his work The Twilight of the Gothic? Vampire Fiction and the Rise of the Paranormal Romance, 1991-2012 (University of Wales Press, 2014), and to Glennis Byron and Dale Townshend for editing the best collection of essays in their work The Gothic World (Routledge, 2013).

On Wednesday the conference started in earnest and delegates participated in a wide selection of panels. Panel topics ranged from Medical Migrations to Transgothic to Neoliberal and Consumerist Gothic, to Gothic media, to Vampires and the Posthuman, to Gothic food and sensory experience. Notably, many papers provided diverse representations of international Gothic studies, exploring Canadian, Latin America, Southern, and Asian Gothic (among others).

The conference had three plenary speakers. Dale Townshend presented first on “16 October 1834: Architecture, Romance, and the Migration of the Gothic Imagination,” a paper on Gothic architecture and the British national identity (specifically reflecting the design of the Houses of Parliament). The next day Julia Wright offered her take on Gothic homelessness in her paper “Spooky Houses and the Unheimlich State.” Justin Edwards provided the final plenary talk with his discussion of kitsch and zombies in discourses of terrorism in “Migrations of Terror; or, Zombification and Everyday Terror/ism.”

There were readings from two fiction writers: David Chariandy, reading from his novel Soucouyant (2007), a work examining post-colonialism and dementia, and Wayde Compton, reading from his collection of short stories entitled The Outer Harbour (2014).

The conference also provided several round table discussions, including one on Southern Gothic, moderated by Charles Crow, and one on Vancouver Gothic Film, moderated by William Dow.

The IGA offered its delegates a range of activities outside of the conference. On Wednesday evening many attended the ‘Festival of Lights,’ a fireworks show at one of Vancouver’s beautiful beaches. On Thursday delegates were treated to an evening of “Liminal Darkness: A Celebration of Canadian Gothic Film.” Hosted by The Cinametheque Theatre, actor William Dow and academics Julia Wright and Karen Budra introduced the event by playing clips from the TV shows X-Files and Supernatural, both filmed and produced in Vancouver, while discussing some of the Gothic elements and specifically Canadian influences. They then screened the Canadian film Ginger Snaps (2000), a darkly humorous horror movie directed by John Fawcett about the relationship between two troubled sisters after one of them is bitten by a werewolf. Dealing with Gothic themes of body abjection, gender, familial trauma, and uncanniness, and filmed in a highly self-referential style, this movie has a particularly Canadian feel, problematizing space, identity, and transitions.

On Friday afternoon members of the IGA attended the Annual General Meeting. At this meeting Angela Wright and Catherine Spooner were re-elected as co-presidents of the IGA, the budget and plans for publications were discussed, and the host institution and theme of the next conferences were announced.

After the meeting delegates attended the Conference Banquet by Sunset Harbour Cruise, a two hour cruise around Vancouver harbor complete with a wonderful meal.

The Conference wrapped up with a few more panels and the closing meeting on Saturday. IGA 2015: Gothic Migrations was a highly successful conference, and we would like to give special thanks to the organizers and participants who made the whole week not only possible but also enjoyable and enlightening.

Papers presented by delegates from the University of Sheffield
Angela Wright presented: “‘Moving Forests’: Gothic migrations in ‘Mont Blanc’ and “The Triumph of Life’ by P.B. Shelley”

Andrew Smith presented: “Anglo-American migrations: Saul Bellow and the Gothic”

Kate Gadsby-Mace presented: “The Gothic Nation: Landscape, architecture and the Wanderer in William Henry Ireland’s Gondez the Monk (1805)”

Kathleen Hudson presented: “‘I say it is mine’: Narrative migration and colonization in Charlotte Dacre’s Zofloya, or The Moor”

Report composed by Kathleen Hudson

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

CFP: The Summer of 1816 Conference

‘The year without a summer’, as 1816 was known, was the year in which Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Godwin (later Shelley), Lord Byron, John Polidori and Claire Claremont came together, for the first time, in Geneva. This meeting of five creative minds at Lake Geneva in 1816 has been the subject of several films and a recent documentary. To date, however, it has not been the subject of an academic conference.

To commemorate the 200th anniversary of this extraordinary summer, the University of Sheffield will celebrate this unique meeting between these Romantic authors. We invite proposals that will explore the literary, biographical, scientific and historical readings of the Villa Diodati group.

We will offer a pre-conference day long event for PhD students and Early Career Researchers. The Centre for Archival Practice will also host a masterclass that takes the delegates to visit the Sheffield Archives which contain a wealth of material. Each keynote speaker will offer a masterclass focused on their internationally renowned skills as editors and researchers.

We invite panel proposals and proposals for individual papers that will explore the literary, biographical, scientific, Gothic and historical readings of the Villa Diodati group, but we also encourage papers that focus on other authors working in 1816. We also welcome suggestions for panels for the conference. Please send 200-word proposals as an email attached document to the conference email address by 15th January 2016. Please ensure that your proposal is headed with your paper title, your name, institutional affiliation, and an e-mail contact address.

Visit our website, for more information, updates on the conference, help with finding accommodation, and registration instructions.

Four of our research centres are involved and we are grateful for their support:

The Centre for the History of the Gothic (

The Centre for Nineteenth Century Studies (

The Centre for Archival Practices (

The Centre for Poetry and Poetics (