Monday, 31 October 2016

Halloween Special! Sheffield Gothic Recommends

Hellish Halloween and spoooOOOooOOooky salutations, Gothic aficionados! We here at Sheffield Gothic generally celebrate this day all year round, as all good Goth kids should, but today - for your reading pleasure - some of us here have put together a list of some potential spooky reads and treats, some films and frights.

Here are Sheffield Gothic's redrum recommendations for the most wonderful time of the year:

First up, we have a soul-piercing piece on Kostova's The Historian from our long-distance Goth - Ellen Bulford Welch

The Historian

When Bram Stoker wrote Dracula he unleashed a phenomenon that would be a ubiquitous part of popular culture for years to come. Generations have been alternately terrified and seduced by the pointy-eared Nosferatu, the delightfully OTT hammer horror performances of Christopher Lee and the characters of Charlaine Harris’s True Blood series. In the last few years, the vampire has also undergone a somewhat saccharine conversion, manifesting (to the delight of teenage girls the world over) in the form of a tortured immortal teenager with a penchant for soulful piano playing and sparkling in the sunlight. In Elizabeth Kostova’s debut novel The Historian, however, we return to a world in which vampire law is refreshingly sinister and creepy. The novel centres around Paul, a studious historian, who discovers a mysterious Dracula-themed notebook left on his library desk. To his amazement he learns that his academic mentor, Professor Rossi, came into possession of a similar document twenty years earlier. Soon after this conversation, Rossi is violently abducted, prompting Paul and the Professor’s enigmatic, vampire-obsessed daughter Helen to embark on a thrilling world-wide rescue mission. The most compelling element of the novel is the way in which Kostova skilfully turns the most disappointing aspect of Stoker’s seminal work into a narrative tour de force. Whilst the first two thirds of Dracula are filled with iconic, hauntingly atmospheric scenes, the final pursuit of the un-dead aristocrat across Eastern Europe leaves the reader with the deeply unsatisfactory feeling of anti-climax. In The Historian, however, Kostova skilfully handles Paul and Helen’s journey across the globe to allow for action and painstaking historical excavation in equal measure. Dracula, for example, is traced back to his non-fictional counterpart Vlad Tepes (commonly known as Vlad the Impaler), allowing for fascinating insights into his bloody origins in the Ottoman Empire. Well worth a read this Halloween!

Ellen 'Hellish' Bulford Welch

Next, we present a couple of creepy 'commendations from Carly Stevenson:

-'This living hand now warm and capable' by John Keats, who was born on Halloween (1795). This poetic fragment is the perfect Halloween read, as it conjures a creepy-crawly, deathly hand that will 'haunt thy dreaming nights' thereafter.

-The Witch dir. Robert Eggers. One of the best horror films of 2016, in my opinion. Get your coven together and marvel at this exquisite piece of cinema. You'll never look at ravens in the same light again.

-John Carpenter's Halloween because TRADITION.

Carly 'possibly insert Robert Louis here?' Stevenson

Next, we have a series of spooky selections from Lauren Nixon:

Over The Garden Wall: I've waxed lyrical here on the blog before about Patrick McHale's excellent 2014 mini series, Over the Garden Wall, but if you haven't watched it yet then Halloween is the ideal time to do so for multiple reasons that I won't ruin for you. Just trust me, and take the trip into The Unknown.

Adventure Time, 'The Creeps': Okay, yes. Another cartoon. We all know I'm an easy scare, but honestly this episode of Adventure Time is perfect Halloween viewing even if you've never watched before. Finn, Jake and friends are invited by an unknown host to a strange mansion for a murder mystery party and things begin to get very strange.

Emily Carroll: Canadian comic creator Carroll is particularly known for excellently creepy and atmospheric webcomic 'His Face All Red' and her anthology collection 'Through the Woods'. Carroll also has a number of her horror comics for your immediate consumption on her website

Lauren 'Nightmarish' Nixon

Finally, an alarming assortment from Daniel Southward:

-Jeremy Dyson's The Haunted Book. an incredible find for me that, was wonderfully mind-bending. While the text first presents as just an anthology of ghost, witch and other supernatural stories, we are thrown layer by layer into increasingly archaic texts all before an ending that has repercussions for the reader that will leave you tingling for days afterwards. It's a damn good read from a damn good writer and one that reaches out of the text to drag you kicking and screaming into a terrible realisation that you, dear reader, may be the haunted one. 

-Don't Hug Me I'm Scared. A webseries that starts as a slightly irregular pastiche of standard children's puppet-based learning shows, DHMIS takes a gradually darker and darker streak, but the song on it are ruddy catchy. It's an interesting series of six episodes that starts (relatively) innocent, but by the end has mind boggling implications. Worth a watch, though be warned of gore and mice made out of raw meat. If you've already seen it, then all I can say is: What's your favourite idea?

-SCP. So, this is kind of hard to describe. While Creepypasta gets a lot of attention for being an open-access internet scary story platform, though it falls under some severe criticism because of this (poor writing, for the most part. the SCP society is something similar, if slightly legitimised by the consistency of their reports and lack of first person narrative. It's a series of short files about a secret society that secure, contain, or protect the public from, certain supernatural objects. These objects and entities range from the benign to the horrific - from an amazing butter-like substance, to an autonomous sentient mass of blood, flesh and organs with a large yellow eye. There's a Youtube channel called SCPReadings, which goes through some of them and they're well worth a listen if you want to be mildly freaked out.

Danny '2016 is scary enough' Southward.

So that's all folks! Check out our recommendations and let us know what you thought. Feel free to contact us on the usual channels - tune in to our terrifying twitter, find us on our flesh-less facebook, or send us an enigmatic email at

(normal emails preferred to enigmatic ones).

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Announcement: Wikipedia Edit-A-Thon Event

One of the best pieces of advice I received as undergraduate was to use Wikipedia. Now, before you come for me with pitchforks and throw me out of academia, let me explain. Wikipedia a wonderful resource and remains the starting point for a lot of my research, be it to familiarise myself with the basics of a new topic or to remind myself of the plot of a novel. What is also extremely handy, as I’m sure many of you have also discovered, are those references and external links at the bottom of most articles that provide excellent jumping off points to delve deeper.

Wikipedia, along with other useful resources such as Wikicommons and Wikiquote, is hosted and managed by the Wikimedia Foundation ‘a nonprofit charitable organisation dedicated to encouraging the growth, development and distribution of free, multilingual, educational content, and to providing the full content of these wiki-based projects to the public free of charge'. 'Imagine a world', their mission statement reads, 'in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge. That’s our commitment.'

On Saturday 12th of November, The University of Edinburgh will be hosting a Wikipedia edit-a-thon in conjunction with Wikimedia and Robert Louis Stevenson Day. The Centre for the History of the Gothic is pleased to announce that we will be hosting a synchronous event, generously supported by Wikimedia, to improve the Gothic related content on Wikipedia, by gathering both experienced academics alongside members of the public. We hope that the academics' experience and knowledge can be put to use to the benefit of society at large. One of the Centre’s aims, and one that Sheffield Gothic works on improving year by year with projects such as Reimagining the Gothic, is taking Gothic Studies outside of its academic environment and opening it up to everybody.

Between the two Universities, a list of areas that require improvement have been identified and can be found on the University of Edinburgh’s event page along with details of the days itinerary and information on attending:

The event held at the University of Sheffield will also take place on the 12th of November, from 10am until 5pm, in The Diamond Building. Full schedule details will follow next week, but we’re excited to share that the morning will include a talk from Dr Frances Babbage titled 'Staging Carter's Gothic' along with a short presentation from us at the CHG.

All attendees will be provided with in depth Wiki-editing training on the day, provided by Wikimedia, before diving into the editing itself. Both events are open to any and all who wish to attend.You don’t even have to be a Goth! Sheffield Gothic will be assembling a body of resources to be used on the day for creating and referencing articles, alongside a collection of sweet treats and cake (as is their habit!).

If you would like to attend and want any further information, please email us at and stay tuned to the blog, Twitter and Facebook for more details!

Friday, 21 October 2016

Reimagining the Gothic 2017 - Gothic Spaces

Sheffield Gothic is pleased to announce its new 2017 symposium and showcase event: 

Reimagining Gothic: Gothic Spaces

What is dead may never die: Reimagining the Gothic is returning. Now in its third year, Reimagining the Gothic is ongoing project created and run by the Centre for the History of the Gothic’s postgraduate team- better known as Sheffield Gothic. Reimagining the Gothic is an ongoing project that seeks to explore how the Gothic can be re-read, re-analysed, and re-imagined through academic, interdisciplinary and creative methods. Rising once again, the focus for Reimagining the Gothic 2017 will be ‘Gothic Spaces’.

As ever, the theme is open to individual interpretation and interdisciplinary submissions are welcome. With Reimagining the Gothic: Gothic Spaces we hope to explore the use of Spaces within the Gothic: how space has developed over the decades (from architecture, urban, and eco spaces), the ways that space is used to reflect and explore key themes of the Gothic, and to what extent spaces are integral to the Gothic genre. As with previous years, we encourage both public interest and new academic avenues from students and scholars who wish to present on the Gothic using interdisciplinary and creative methods.

This year’s event will take place on the 12th and 13th of May, with some small changes to the format. We were honoured and overwhelmed with the interest and submissions for last year’s symposium and so for this year we’ve extended the event to all day Friday and Saturday morning, accommodate more speakers. Our showcase, which utilises creative methods and mediums to explore the theme, will take place on Saturday afternoon.

The nature of the event means that the criteria for submissions is extremely open, and we welcome papers from any discipline including, but not limited to:
  • · Film Studies and Media
  • · Science and the History of Science
  • · History and Archaeology
  • · Landscape
  • · Architecture
  • · Gender Studies
  • · Music
  • · Theology and Biblical Studies
  • · East Asian Studies

Reimagining the Gothic’s aim has always been to encourage and explore new avenues for Gothic study. In addition to traditional academic papers, this year we will also be inviting submissions for what we’re tentatively terming ‘creative’ papers: papers accompanied, interceded or centred on a creative piece such as a dramatic reading, artwork, an audio-visual presentation or music. Rather than the standard 20 minutes, to accommodate the creative or performative aspects, the time limit for these papers will be 30 to 40 minutes.

Have you a keen eye for ruins? Poetic musings on post-colonial Gothic? We once again seek those who fancy turning their hands and minds to a creative project, this year exploring Gothic Spaces. Projects will be displayed during the showcase, which will be open to the public. Examples of previous projects can be found residing on our website:

If you’d like to submit, then please see our CFP for further information. If you’d like to know more about the event, then email us at or, for details on last year, visit

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

But is it Gothic? - The Handmaid's Tale

This week we’ll be meeting to discuss The Handmaid’s Tale (1985) by Margaret Atwood, so now’s the time to grab a copy and start thinking about what makes this work of speculative fiction Gothic. The Handmaid’s Tale is one of those novels that I’ve found myself returning to time and time again through the course of my studies, but I never seem to get tired of it. This text definitely benefits from re-reading. I was first introduced to the novel during my A-Levels when it was sold to our class of wide-eyed 16 year-olds as Sci-Fi without the spaceships. Fast-forward to University and it was a set text for a module on dystopian fiction, but until now I’ve never stopped to consider Atwood’s vision of a nightmarish near-future in relation to the Gothic.

To give a synopsis without too many spoilers, Atwood presents a world where the Caucasian birth-rate has plummeted due to the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, pollution and the pro-choice movement. Following a terrorist attack in which the President of the United States is assassinated (supposedly by an Islamic extremist), a military regime founded on Christian ideology rises to power and sets about transforming swathes of North America into the Republic of Gilead. Women’s rights are gradually taken away as they begin to implement a society in which women are defined by their fertility. Handmaids, as the few remaining fertile women, are assigned to the households of high-ranking, married officials whose wives cannot conceive – a practice justified by the Bible story of Rachel and Leah. Through her first person narration, Offred, a Handmaid whose real name we never learn, drip-feeds the reader information so we can gradually piece together her history, learning that she lost her right to work and own property before her child was taken away following a failed escape attempt. 

When she is taken to the Rachel and Leah Re-education Centre to be assimilated into the regime as a Handmaid every aspect of her life is controlled – from the nun-like red habit she has to wear, to the food she consumes – even the formulaic call and response form of language she uses is prescribed. Reading and writing is forbidden, thus turning something as innocuous as a game of Scrabble into a clandestine act of rebellion. The novel delights in word play and dual meanings - just take ‘spell’ as an example. When this word can refer to the spelling of a word, or a charm cast by witches it perfectly illustrates the power of language and the fear of women using it for their own ends.

The familiar trappings of the Gothic may be absent - there are no monsters, vampires, or zombies; no crumbling castles or ruined abbeys - but we do have an incarcerated heroine trying to escape tyranny. Offred is continually haunted by the past in her claustrophobic, mechanical existence, and references to ‘the time before’ abound throughout the course of her stream of conscious narrative. Reminders of her previous existence, or ‘echoes of the past’, survive in spite of the regime’s attempt to destroy all traces. The scent of flowers, the taste of cigarette smoke, or the sight of repurposed university buildings all have the power to trigger memories, and what makes The Handmaid’s Tale scary is how quickly the familiar becomes unfamiliar: ‘in a gradually heating bathtub you’d be boiled to death before you knew it.’[1]

You don’t have to suspend your disbelief to imagine how easily it all could happen; many aspects of the novel have happened at one time, or are happening right now. Atwood emphasised this very point during an interview about another one of her works of speculative fiction, Oryx and Crake (2003), in which she said: ‘As with The Handmaid's Tale, I didn't put in anything that we haven't already done, we're not already doing, we're seriously trying to do, coupled with trends that are already in progress.’[2] The fact that Atwood collected newspaper cuttings whilst planning the novel to get a sense of the contemporary climate of anxiety is clear for all to see… depletion of fishing stocks, disposal of nuclear waste, religious extremism, sexually transmitted diseases, reproduction and the role of women in society are just some of the issues highlighted that are still as relevant today as they were in 1985. The humiliating victim-shaming Ofwarren faces for having been raped as a teenager also stands out when factors including what the woman was wearing are so frequently reported in media coverage of rape cases.

As a work of speculative fiction, The Handmaid’s Tale tends to be discussed alongside texts including George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932) and P.D. James’ Children of Men (1992) as opposed to a Gothic novel such as Matthew Lewis’ The Monk (1796) for example, but a focus on prevalent cultural anxieties is more often than not what defines, and unites, seemingly disparate texts as Gothic. 

That’s not to say that The Handmaid’s Tale has nothing else in common with early Gothic novels. The dangers of pseudo-religious enthusiasm really come to the fore in Atwood’s description of the ‘Particicution’, and the way in which the collective anger of the Handmaids is built up before they are let loose to tear apart a man accused of rape recalls the pulverisation of the Abbess at the hands of the rampaging mob in The Monk. Even the form of The Handmaid’s Tale makes a nod to origins of the Gothic novel, with the found manuscript having been associated with the genre ever since Horace Walpole infamously tried to pass off The Castle of Otranto (1764) as the work of an Italian monk. Atwood takes this trope and subverts it by shifting the metatextual content from the preface to the afterword. 

[Ed's Note: Oh, Atwood, you beautiful meta woman you]
Destabilising everything we as readers thought we knew about Offred, the Historical Notes appended to the end of the text reveal that academics have pieced together the narrative from a collection of audio cassette tapes found hidden in a New England attic. Whilst this suggests that Offred escaped Gilead using the underground femaleroad, it also raises the possibility that the recordings have at worst been faked, or at best embellished with various names changed to protect the identities of those involved. The very idea of identity is unstable with a patronymic system whereby names are constantly being formed and exchanged by combining the possessive preposition ‘of’ with the name of a specific Commander.

Basically, the more I think about The Handmaid’s Tale, the more Gothic it seems – but what do you think? Two questions we’ll be addressing during Wednesday’s meeting are:

How does Atwood use religious language and imagery to create a dystopian setting?

How do the Historical Notes change the way we think about Offred’s narrative?

No doubt we’ll also end up discussing the forth-coming 10 part TV series with Elizabeth Moss taking on the role of Offred and Joseph Fiennes as the Commander (personally I’ve always pictured someone more like Jonathan Pryce). Remember if you can’t make it in person, you can always tweet us @SheffieldGothic to join in the discussion.

[1] Margaret Atwood (2016). The Handmaid’s Tale, (London: Random House), pg. 89.
[2] Gruss, Susanne (2004). ""People confuse interpersonal relations with legal structures." An Interview with Margaret Atwood". Gender Forum: Gender Queries, 8.

Hannah 'Nolite te Bastardes Carborundum' Moss is a PhD researcher on perceptions of architecture in the 18th Century Gothic novel at the University of Sheffield and is a vital component of Sheffield Gothic. She has been known to scratch rebellious warnings into cupboards in pig latin. 

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

But is it Gothic? - Macbeth (2015) dir. Justin Kurzel

On Wednesday, Sheffield Gothic Reading Group gathered to watch and discuss Justin Kurzel’s 2015 film adaptation of Macbeth. 

Brace yourself for gratuitous Fassbendery
This brutal, stripped-back take on the Scottish play is emotionally demanding from start to finish; the film opens with the harrowing image of the Macbeths grieving at their infant’s funeral –something that is only inferred in Shakespeare’s text – before the viewer is transported to the stark, blood-drenched battlefield where Macbeth first meets the 'weird sisters'. Their 'hubble bubble' speech is abandoned in favor of soft-spoken incantations pronouncing Macbeth's rise to power. They are accompanied by children – presumably specters of other lost descendants in the frustrated line of inheritance – and their eerie stillness is heightened by the sublime Highlands that loom in the background of this purgatorial space.

Fassbender’s Thane is intense and carnal, while Lady Macbeth seems to inhabit the otherworldly, marginal realm of the ‘weird sisters’, most obviously when she delivers the ‘will these hands ne’er be clean?’ soliloquy (sans courtiers) to the ghost of her infant – a psychological manifestation of the grief she carries inside of her in place of an heir. This sequence wins no awards for subtlety, and yet it is effective in its simplicity. The absence of blood on her hands is, perhaps, more eloquent. The hushed tension that accompanies Marion Cotillard's careful, controlled delivery of Lady Macbeth final lines (which are bitterly, ironically pregnant in meaning) is possibly the most memorable moment of this production.

Notable in this scene is the lack of blood on her hands, though we do see it
on the face of the child she speaks to. 
The question at the heart of this particular GRG semester is: but is it gothic? In the case of Kurzel's Macbeth, this is difficult to answer definitively. His adaptation certainly contains elements of the Gothic, and yet, Kurzel shys away from portraying the witches as grotesque agents of evil, choosing instead to keep their dialogue minimal, their appearance muted and their intent ambiguous: their function is to deliver the prophecy, which they passively observe as the foretold events unfold and Macbeth's sanity unravels. 

The real horror of this film lies in Macbeth's brutal, ritualistic burning of Macduff's family, while Lady Macbeth looks on, silently traumatized by the escalation of her husband's ambition. It is this event that humanizes her, disrupts the power play and ultimately kills her off.

All in all, it is an appropriately bold and bloody reimagining of Shakespeare's play with the theme of childlessness at its core. Adam Arkapaw's cinematography is stunning and the use of color, particularly the palpable red haze in the final 'act', is strikingly memorable. Lighting is also significant – notice in the final sequence how golden sunlight spills into the castle, where before it had been increasingly dark and dismal. There are no bubbling cauldrons in sight, yet Kurzel manages to tap into the gothic elements of Shakespeare's play even as he downplays the supernatural excess.

*Sniff* We're not crying!
It's just raining on our faces

Carly 'wyrd sister' Stevenson is a PhD researcher at the University of Sheffield, researching Gothic and Romantic conceptualisations of mortality. She is a huge fan of Keats' bloody hand and Hiddleston in general.