Saturday, 24 December 2016

Announcement: Reimagining the Gothic 2017: Gothic Spaces: Keynote

Sheffield Gothic is delighted to announce that our keynote for Reimagining the Gothic 2017: Gothic Spaces will be Professor Dale Townshend.

Dale Townshend is Professor of Gothic Literature in the Centre for Gothic Studies, Manchester Metropolitan University.  His most recent publications include The Gothic World (with Glennis Byron; Routledge, 2014) and Romantic Gothic: An Edinburgh Companion (with Angela Wright; Edinburgh University Press, 2016).  The recipient of an AHRC Leadership Fellowship (June 2015–December 2016), he is currently completing Writing Britain’s Ruins, 1700–1850 and Gothic Antiquity: History, Romance and the Architectural Imagination, 1760–1840, two major projects that explore the relationship between Gothic architecture and Gothic fiction, drama and poetry in the long eighteenth century.

The title for Dale's keynote and further details will follow in the New Year, so as always watch this space!

And from all of us here at the Sheffield Gothic Team, we wish you all a very happy Christmas and New Year.


Reimagining the Gothic 2017: Gothic Spaces is generously sponsered and supported by the AHPGR Forum and the Alumni Foundation at the University of Sheffield.

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Gothic Ghibli: Howl’s Moving Castle; Reimagining the Gothic Romance and the Gothic Castle

Merry Christmas from all of us here at Sheffield Gothic! We're making this occasion by discussing some of the Gothic implications of some of our favourite films from a wonderful studio in our latest series: 

Gothic Ghibli is a blog series hosted by Sheffield Gothic , exploring the Gothic flavours of Studio Ghibli films. In this post, Sheffield Gothic’s own Mary Going discusses the Gothic elements of Howl’s Moving Castle. 

A girl with a curse. A strikingly attractive but enigmatic wizard. And a magical, mysterious, moving castle. These are the foundational parts of Studio Ghibli’s 2005 animation, Howl’s Moving Castle, adapted by directed Hayao Miyazaki from Dianna Wynn Jones’ fantasy novel of the same title. Miyazaki transforms the story of Sophie, Howl, and his Castle into the widely recognized and beautifully stunning aesthetics of a Ghibli production. This adaptation draws on the traditions of the fairy tale and the Romance, but arguably it also emulates the traditions of the Gothic Romance. This post will explore the Gothic elements present within Howl’s Moving Castle, a film that can be viewed as a Gothic Romance and that places a very Gothic castle at its heart.

Howl's castle here depicted with the same structural integrity
as our PhD Theses. 
If we view Howl’s Moving Castle as a Gothic Romance, then Sophie, the girl with a curse, is its Gothic heroine. Working in a hat shop and living under the shadow of her beautiful sister, ‘plain’ Sophie is first rescued by the mysterious wizard Howl, then cursed by the Witch of the Waste. The Witch of the Waste is jealous when she spies Sophie with her former lover, Howl, and as a result seeks revenge and casts a spell on Sophie. While traditional Gothic heroines are bodily transported to and trapped within building such as castles and convents – sometimes for their own protection but often to keep them away from potential lover, or in order to enforce authority and control over them – here Sophie is physically trapped within her own body. The curse physically transforms Sophie into an old woman, trapping her within an elderly version of herself. Cruelly, Sophie is also unable to speak about the curse, and thus unable to reverse the spell and escape from her own body.

However, in the true fashion of Gothic heroines, Sophie maintains her resolve and strength of mind. It is with determination that she leaves her home town and seeks out Howl and his famed moving castle. Carving her own path, Sophie travels across the wastes despite warnings: ‘I don’t recommend it grandma. There’s only witches and wizards ahead.’ Eventually Sophie situates herself in the castle as Howl’s cleaner, still in the guise of an old woman. Since her first encounter with Howl, it is clear that Sophie has fallen in love with Howl, but she assumes that he could never love her back. Instead, she resigns herself to her new (old) identity, taking charge and choosing to care for Howl, the inhabitants of his castle, and the castle itself.

Old Sophie
Howl’s manner is extremely self-indulgent yet insecure. He accepts his new cleaner with relative ease, only asking that she not go too far with cleaning. And so Sophie sets out on her new task cleaning Howl’s castle, with only one unfortunate hair-related incident. Cleaning his many products in the bathroom, she rearranges the bottles causing Howl to mix up the magic and his hair to turn from blonde to ginger, and then finally to black. In a state of despair, Howl becomes catatonic, while a green substance starts oozing from his body. It is up to Sophie to manage the mess caused by Howl’s tantrum, and once again clean the castle.

Of course, Howl has more pressing matters to deal with besides his hair. He is being chased by the Witch of the Waste and her very creepy blob men; he is being sought by the King’s own Sorceress, Suliman; and he is actively participating in the ongoing war that serves as the backdrop for the narrative. It is not clear on what side Howl is fighting for, but as the film progresses, it’s anti-war message becomes evident and Howl’s actions are directly shown as attempts to lessen civilian casualties. However, in order to fight in this war, Howl has to physically transform his body into a black feathered, bird-like creature, eerily human and not-human at the same time. This monstrous metamorphosis becomes increasingly grotesque the more he participates in the war, and starkly contrasts with his original self, a blonde, suave wizard who appears fixated with his appearance. Moreover, returning one night from fighting, it is noted that he ‘reek[s] of burnt flesh and steel,’ adding a sensory element to his grotesqueness. It also becomes clear that Howl is losing his control over these changes, and only one person can stop his permanent, monstrous transformation: Sophie.

This, then, is the story of Howl’s Moving Castle: the love story of Sophie and Howl, one cursed to appear like an old woman and believing her love to be unrequited, and the other dangerously transforming into a monstrous, grotesque creature and close to the point of no return. The backdrop for the story is war, but there is another setting, or rather another character, that needs to be discussed when exploring the films Gothic elements: the castle itself.

Howl’s moving castle is the very title of the film, and a central part of the narrative. Indeed, it is the castle, and not Howl or Sophie, that is first depicted in the opening scene of the film. Through a thick sea of fog Howl’s castle emerges; a strange amalgamation of parts walking on two mechanical legs. Comprised of different buildings and compartments inexplicably attached together, with a few sails and chimneys billowing smoke as well, the castle has an industrial, mechanical, and almost steampunk aesthetic.

In many Gothic texts, the castle assumes the status of character in its own right, with the castle’s gloomy walls, labyrinthine passages, and small eye-like windows often personified to create an oppressive, overpowering character. Here, Miyazaki employs a similar personification. Howl’s castle not only walks, but the animation deliberately ensures the movement and smoke emissions of the castle mimic that of a breathing, living being. Moreover, the exterior of the castle is undeniably crafted to imitate a face complete with eyes, a nose, and even a mouth that opens to reveal a mechanical tongue. The interior of the castle is no less mysterious. The labyrinthine passages of traditional Gothic castles are transformed into a labyrinthine interior that can be changed and altered through Howl’s magic, and that can transport its inhabitants to multiple geographical and temporal locations through a magic door. Again, through Howl’s magic, the door to the castle can open onto different locations depending on the colour selected on a dial. This dial creates a doorway between the castle and different locations, and at one point create a doorway into Howl’s past though which Sophie can pass.

The castle is quite literally the heart of the film, and the heart of Howl himself. It is powered by Calcifer, a fire demon bound to Howl by a magical contract and confined to the hearth of the castle. If Calcifer leaves, the castle falls apart, and if he is destroyed, Howl is destroyed too. When Sophie first glimpses the castle up close, she exclaims: ‘What is this? You call this a castle?’ and while it is not a conventional castle – with a solid, immovable foundation and towering foundations – it is castle nonetheless, and a very Gothic one at that.

Mary 'Soot Sprite' Going is a PhD Researcher at the university of Sheffield and member of Sheffield Gothic. Her research focuses on representations of Jewish figures in Romantic and Gothic fiction

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Announcement: Sheffield Gothic has generously been awarded a Grant from the Alumni Foundation

The University of Sheffield Alumni Foundation is delighted to provide sponsorship to Sheffield Gothic’s’ Reimagining the Gothic’ Project. The Alumni Foundation exists to channel the donations of Sheffield alumni (former students), staff, and friends of the University, into projects involving current students. We would like to thank the University’s supporters for their generosity, which has made tremendous strides in enhancing the student experience. More information about the Foundation can be found at:

Sheffield Gothic is delighted to be awarded a grant from the Alumni Foundation to support our ‘Reimagining the Gothic’ Project. Since our first Reimagining the Gothic Symposium and Creative Showcase, held at the University of Sheffield on 9th May 2015, the success of the project has exceeded all of our expectations and interest in the project has grown year on year. In response to interest and demand, our one off, one-day event has grown into an annual conference bringing together and showcasing papers and Creative projects from a wide range of disciplines (including Archaeology, Biblical Studies, photography) and creative modes. The success of the project has also led to the creation of the ‘Reimagining the Gothic’ website where we aim to continue the Gothic conversation online, and showcase the amazing papers and creative projects we receive to a wider audience.

The grant from the Alumni Foundation will allow us to build on this success. We will be working to improve the content and functionality of the website, and also improve our 2017 Symposium and Creative Showcase, ‘Reimagining the Gothic: Gothic Spaces,’ and Sheffield Gothic is incredibly grateful to the Alumni Foundation for their generous grant.

As ever, Sheffield Gothic remains committed to showcasing critical and creative reimaginings of the Gothic that are free and accessible to all, and open to everyone from any and all disciplines and level of study. Everyone is welcome! #GothsAssemble

If you are interested in our events keep an eye out for announcements on our blog and across twitter. If you would like to contribute to the ‘Reimagining the Gothic’ website please get in touch via If you are interested in attending or contributing to our next Symposium and Creative Showcase, ‘Reimagining the Gothic: Gothic spaces’ then please see our CFPs and check our blog for details, or you can email us at For details on last year, visit

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

The Book that Haunts You: Jeremy Dyson's The Haunted Book

The Haunted Book – Jeremy Dyson.

Increasingly these days we see the term ‘anthology’ banded about, especially in terms of television series – American Horror Story and Channel Zero being the first two that spring to mind in terms of TV. If we turn to films, and these are some I would never want to re-watch, but The ABCs of Death, and, the VHS films follow this (Find and watch them at your own peril). But more interesting to my nerdy self, and probably you if you’re anything like me (and let’s face it, you probably are a little bit), is the way in which this idea has started to bleed into contemporary literature.

Pictured: Channel Zero's true monster - disappointment.
Of course, we’ve always had short story anthologies or collections, and it’s hard to even say the word ‘anthology’ without giving a major portion of the British population terrible flashbacks to the days of A-level English, but recently the idea of an anthology text is coming more and more to the fore, to lesser or greater degrees of success.

David Mitchell’s Slade House fits (albeit uncomfortably, but that’s the topic for another blog) into this category, along with, I would argue, Patrick McGrath’s Ghost Town, which acts a metafictional anthology; the collection situates itself as a series of three short stories centred around Manhattan, yet the progression of themes between the three directly mirrors the progression of style and concerns of the author himself. Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure works as an anthology series in some ways too – a series of stand-alone stories that all have a common theme or thread, though those toe the line of sequel.

There are countless examples of short story collections with common themes, and novels that match this, but the example that has become the most prevalent in my mind, and which I want to talk about today is a book that sat on my shelf gathering dust for way longer than it should have – Jeremy Dyson’s The Haunted Book.

The book is the story of an author tasked with the creation of a book. So, metafictional. But not just metafictional, but linking back to Alistair Fowler’s idea of the Poioumenon:

‘In this genre (poioumenon) the central strand of the action purports to be the work’s own composition, although it is really ‘about’ something else […] often the writing is a metaphor for constructing a world. […] the poioumenon is calculated to offer opportunities to explore the boundaries of fiction and reality – the limits of narrative truth.’ [1]

While Fowler’s attempts to define metafiction before the term was introduced later by Gass ultimately failed – Stop trying to make poioumenon happen Fowler! – The sentiment here remains true. The poioumenon is a recurrent feature of metafictional texts. See House of Leaves for a recent and wonderful example. Also, just go read that book. But anyway, back to the haunted book.

The text initially seems a simple anthology of ghost stories. The main narrative is of Jeremy Dyson travelling around the United Kingdom, visiting cites of certain supernatural reports in order to get the inspiration needed to flesh them out into full short stories for his anthology ‘The Haunted Book’. All well and good. Sure, he starts to see the figure of a small girl following him as he travels, but such is the nature of the Gothic. Nothing to write home about, right? Oh, how innocent I was when I thought these words.

The twist comes part way through when, in following a lead for a particularly existential story, our author comes across another document. A Document titled ‘This Book is Haunted’, which tells the tale of a writer in the late 70s travelling around the UK chasing ghost stories, who begins to see the figure of a small ghostly girl following him. The text itself shifts format at this point to mimic the book our original author has found. 

However, the author of This Book is Haunted eventually comes across a book in a haunted library titled ‘A Book of Hauntings´ written in the the late 1930s, a collection of short Ghost Stories told by an author who admits to seeing a small ghostly – You see where this is going.

The author of this text then finds a collection of stories published in 1885 about various supernatural accounts before THE PAGES TURN BLACK! We travel from The Haunted Book (2012), to This Book is Haunted (1978), to A Book of Hauntings (1938), to Glimpses in the Twilight (1885), and finally to black.

It’s an interesting, experience, as with each narrative layer we expect to be removed back out, to find ourselves thrust at some point back into the original narrative frame of Jeremy Dyson and The Haunted Book, but this never comes. I don’t want to ruin the ending for you, but as soon as you hit the black pages at the back of the book ones mind truly blows. 

The contents of these dark, final pages, reach out of the book and drag you – yes you, dear reader – into the narrative tradition. Much as each layer finds a book and reads it, The Haunted Book effectively places its reader as the first of these narrative layers; just as each of the authors has found a book of short stories, so too does the reader come to realise that they too have just done that very same thing. That they are the first short story, in which a reader finds a book. 

The experience is incredibly thrilling, and incredibly smart, as this reader found himself looking around for that ghostly female figure for several days after reading. But this reader is incredibly paranoid and easily scared. 

Hiding under the bed like a true scaredy cat.
I really can’t recommend this book enough, for the incredibly clever way that it draws the reader in through the multiple narrative layers before the grand shock of the end and forcing the reader into their own hellish realisation. It’s a smart, well written text with great implications in terms of both reader response theory and Gothic literature, and it raises questions about that actual role of texts that I dare not too think too heavily about. It’s also an interesting metafictional application of the genre tropes of the anthology, and a clever final twist that the most recent season of American Horror Story also managed with the final title splash.

So, yes, go out and get yourself haunted. And get thee a damn good book!

[1] Alastair Fowler, A History of English Literature (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1987), p. 370. My Parenthesis

Daniel ‘Don’t Read This Book’ Southward is a PhD Researcher at the university of Sheffield. His research focuses on contemporary Gothic literature, metafiction, and post-postmodernity. He is a big old scaredy cat who should not be allowed to read alone. But then, he’s never alone… he’s just behind you, reading this over your shoulder his skeletal fingers grazing the top of your ear… or not. Merry Christmas.