Thursday, 31 May 2018

Sheffield Gothic Profile Blog: Tim Moffatt

Sheffield Gothic's next installment in our series of profile blogs sees Tim Moffat from the University of Sheffield explore his interest in the Gothic, his favourite Gothic text, and who he would like to invite to dinner!

Tim Moffatt – PhD Researcher in The School of English, University of Sheffield

What do you research:
I am researching the films of Russian film director Andrei Tarkovsky through the lens of Hauntology, to determine how his seven films (and the three student ones) are cinematically haunted by Stalin’s policies of the 1930s. In response to the research project I am also writing a play as part of the PhD which is based around Soviet show trials and totalitarian persecution. This play centres around a Soviet film director in the late 30s who finds himself imprisoned for an editing mistake. As he awaits trial he reflects on key moments from his life, only for those moments to appear not as he remembered. The play will see his soul haunted by a constant questioning as to what is reality and what is unreality, as he awaits his inevitable death.

How did you become interested in the Gothic?
I first became interested in the Gothic as a teenager. This was a time when I lived in what was the village of Worrall, just outside of Sheffield. The family home was the last one mid-way up a hill before you were surrounded by farmers’ fields. A convent sat imposingly at the top of the hill. During the winter when the trees were barren you could see the this magnificent Victorian Gothic building on the horizon, and you would hear bells ringing at various times of day, though never seeing any living soul wandering around up there, just the occasional light emitting from a window. I found this mysterious building just up the road a source of fascination; there was a small hidden medieval civilisation there, never to be looked upon by anyone. Though I knew it was futile, I would stand outside and watch for hours in the vain hope of seeing a nun, or indeed anyone. From that point on I had an interest in the mysterious and uncanny. In 2002 I visited Auschwitz, which was naturally a harrowing experience and really opened my mind viscerally to the great evil that human beings are capable of. There is an incredible darkness found in humanity, and this darker side of life also became a source of interest and exploration as it is so alien to my own life’s experiences. It is fascinating to me that if you ask any actor if they would rather play hero or villain then most will say villain, which I say sheds some light on human nature.

What Gothic texts (including shows, films, plays, music etc.) would you recommend and why?
I read Dracula whilst holidaying in Whitby several years ago and I would recommend doing this as an immersive experience. There is a small fishing town located further up the east coast from Whitby called Staithes which I visited twice. I naively and unfairly used to think this was simply a tiny insignificant place, but there it is in full glory mentioned in Dracula, classic work of English Literature! Standing in the places Bram Stoker describes is an incredible experience due to the unnerving feeling the text emanates, evoking all kinds of Gothic resonances. I was disappointed with the end of Dracula, but in truth that is because I did not want the book to actually end. 

A more contemporary Gothic work I have enjoyed is Andrew Michael Hurley’s The Loney. This is a book that is peppered with the uncanny where everything about the text just left me questioning what was truly going on beneath the narrative. On the one hand nothing hugely terrifying occurs on the page, but the sub-narrative is one that makes you realise that something potentially very nasty had transpired in the past. The narrator describes a stretch of coastline known as ‘The Loney’ which he would visit as a child. It is through this narration that we uncover potentially strange and disturbing events involving macabre rituals and witchcraft; a young girl may have extraordinary powers to heal the sick… but we will never truly know the truth. 

The theme of the uncanny leads into my film recommendation which has to be The Wicker Man (1973) from Hammer Horror. This is a film that often divides opinion; people seem to love it or hate it. Edward Woodward’s policeman visits the island of Summerisle to investigate the disappearance of a missing girl only to discover a society still in the grip of paganistic rituals. It is these rituals that lead to the film’s incredible yet tragic finale which does leave some viewers a little hot under the collar. 

A piece of music I would recommend is Mozart’s Requiem from 1791. This was the first piece of classical music I ever bought and is an excellent way to embrace the classical genre. It is a piece frequently heard throughout culture: tv, films, video games, and takes the listener on a dark yet also spiritual journey. Rumour has it that Mozart wrote it for his own funeral on his death bed and surely you cannot get more poignant than that? My discovery of the composition came through watching the film Amadeus (1984) adapted from the play by Peter Shaffer which recounts the latter end of Mozart’s life as he forms a bond with the jealous rival composer Salieri, who conspires to damage Mozart due to Mozart’s greater talents. It is a Gothic tragedian tale told through flashback as Salieri is now incarcerated in an asylum. Shaffer’s other famous work Equus is a truly fascinating tale about a teenager called Alan Strang who blinds six horses with a spike. Why he chose to do this is uncovered by psychiatrist Dysart through Freudian psychological discussion. The finale is possibly still the most powerful imagery I have witnessed in a theatre; frightening but also hugely thought provoking.

Who would you invite to dinner:
If I could invite a Gothic character around for dinner I would probably choose Rick Grimes from The Walking Dead. If anything it would give him a bit of relief from the Southern Gothic space he constantly has to occupy, fighting the carnivorous zombie ‘undead’ all day. However, I guess meat would have to be off the menu, as it raises too many issues to mention!

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Read Watch Play: Gothic Novel Jam

Read Watch Play is a library partnership focused on running themed online book, film, game, and music discussions every month. 

During July it is also running a creative online jam around the theme of the Gothic novel. It runs from 1st to 31st July 2018, and is being hosted on the website

(Mary Shelley's Frankenstein)

What is a jam? 
The idea of a jam like this is to create something (e.g. game, music, art) over a set period of time focused on a particular theme. Read on for more context about our own particular Gothic Novel Jam. 

Why We Chose the Gothic Novel theme 

2018 is the 200th anniversary of the publication of Frankenstein and the birth of Emily Bronte, writer of Wuthering Heights. Both novels are key works in the Gothic novel genre. So it’s a perfect opportunity to run a Gothic novel themed challenge this year. 

How to participate 
To get involved in Gothic Novel Jam participants need to make something creative inspired by the Gothic novel genre. Then by the 31st July upload or share it on the Gothic Novel Jam site, which is being used to host the online event. 

To participate you will need to create an online account on the website. Entries can include stories, poetry, art, games, music, films, pictures, soundscapes, or any other type of creative media response – it’s only limited by your imagination. All work produced by participants will remain their copyright. Both individuals and teams can get involved. 

As part of the jam we also want you to use at least one of the out of copyright images on the British Library Flickr account as inspiration for your submission. They’re freely available for anyone to use. We’ve listed sets of British Library Flickr albums on the Gothic Novel Jam page which you might find particularly inspiring, including ghoulish scenes, crumbling castles, and stormy landscapes; as well as an atmospheric set of British Library sound files. 

Though the Gothic novel is the main theme, we’ll also be announcing a sub-theme at the launch of the jam on 1st July. 

If you’re on social media you can also follow the #GothNovJam hashtag to see what others are creating for the jam. 

In summary 

  • Produce something creative inspired by the Gothic novel genre & the sub-theme.
  • Use at least one copyright free image from the British Library Flickr account as inspiration. 
  • Upload or share your entry on the Gothic Novel Jam page by 31st July 2018. 

We look forward to seeing your Gothic themed creations at the end of July. 

Visit the Gothic Novel Jam page for further details and updates ( 

Gary Green (Surrey Libraries)

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Places influencing human mind in ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’

This is part two of a blog series by Alan D. D. exploring Edgar Alan Poe and the Gothic. You can read the first post discussing Poe's 'The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar' in relation to death and immortality here

We humans are such a fragile thing: it takes only one second to end our existence or to change it, either on purpose or by accident. If we see it under a different lens, all that is human is easy to destroy. Yet, we tend to think about ourselves as all mighty, almost divine, eternal, when it is our own breed our worst enemy, even more when one has the ability to influence human mind. 

Edgar Allan Poe

However, there is also a chance for places to have the same effect on someone if the conditions favour it. When this happens, we’re speaking about psychogeography: ‘the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, whether consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals.’ (Bauder & Engel-Di Mauro, 2008: p. 25) The concept was defined for the first time in 1955 by Guy Debord, but Edgar Allan Poe proposes something very similar on his tale ‘The Fall of the House of Usher,’ published in 1839. 

As a brief example of this, we could say that the beloved author was considerably ahead of his time as he states that, ‘beyond doubt, there are combinations of very simple natural objects which have the power of thus affecting us’ (Poe, 1839), which is a pretty similar way to explain the same idea Debord would ‘discover’ after more than a century. In this tale, an unnamed narrator arrives to the house of his friend, Roderick Usher, a building that serves as a presentation for the theme of the crumbling, haunted castle. The castle is an important feature in The Castle of Otranto, a novel by Horace Walpole published in 1764 and considered the start of the Gothic genre. In Walpole’s novel, the castle is also a symbol of a disintegrating human body, a prominent element in the later work of Poe, (Hutchisson, 2005) and an element we will see further in this article. 

Usher himself is presented as a character suffering a severe form of anxiety, one that grants him the condition of hypochondriac (Butler, 1993) due to his obsession with death and the tragedies present on the history of his family. His own house, plagued with these memories and ideas, serves as a reminder of what Usher expects to happen to him: ‘victim to the terrors he had anticipated’ (Poe, 1839). It also becomes clear that this friend of Usher, the unnamed narrator, experiences fear when he sees the house for the first time, asking himself ‘what was it that so unnerved me in the contemplation of the House of Usher?’ (Poe, 1839). This becomes significant because it is implied that this character has either not been on said house for several years, or is watching it for the very first time, and therefore does not expect it to have such an effect on him, which could be compared to the more prominent influence it has become to his friend Usher. 

(House of Usher 1960, dir. Roger Corman)

Such is the effect of said house on its inhabitant that, despite the fact that he’s presented as a man terrified with the idea of his death, there is also a chance that Roderick Usher created a comfort zone around the thought of his life ending in tragedy, and so he causes his own destruction because he does expects it to happen one way or the other. This is the same reason for him to bury his sister alive: he expects to do so. (Butler, 1993). The fact that Poe included his poem 'The Haunted Palace’ in the story as if written by Usher reinforces both this idea of him ‘anticipating’ these happenings, since it proposes that: ‘evil things, in robes of sorrow, / Assailed the monarch's high estate’ (Poe, 1839). This leads the reader to consider that Usher finds a kind of joy within his own obsession and depression by thinking of himself as a martyr king. The poem could also be a sign that Usher has already seen his future, writing being a form of divination in the story: ‘travellers, now, within that valley, / Through the red-litten windows see/ Vast forms, that move fantastically / To a discordant melody,’ (Poe, 1893). These lines clearly resemble the last scenes of the tale. 

('The Fall of the House of Usher' by Harry Clarke)
I would also like to point to the similarity between the beginning of the story and the lines of the poem, where Poe, in the voice of Usher, says that: ‘Wanderers in that happy valley, / Through two luminous windows, saw / Spirits moving musically,’ (Poe, 1893). This implies once again that Usher knows about the first thoughts of his friend, which compares the windows of house with eyes when he first saw them. This leads us to conclude that this ability of divination is the result of Usher’s obsession, the house itself and the bond between its inhabitant and the visitor. The process fits the description of what is understood as a Possession Trance, in which a ‘spirit entity or force is believed to have entered or taken over the body of the human host’ (Stephen and Suryani, 2000, p. 9, as cited in Woods, 2009, p. 24), and that allows the individual to experiment ‘visions, hearing voices (pawisik), finding objects that possess special powers (paica), divination, meditation, and dreams’ (Stephen & Suryani, 2000, p. 9, as cited in Woods, 2009, p. 24-25). It is because of this, and Roderick’s hyperesthesia, which is a sensation of pain caused by non-noxious stimulus, (Noordenbos, 1959) that I’m inclined to conclude that he’s been possessed by the house. 

Some would think that it is impossible to be possessed by a place, but, given the subject, it would be interesting to examine ‘Sister of Darkness: The Chronicles of a Modern Exorcist’ by R. H. Stavis and Sarah Durand, in which Stavis, who is the exorcist referenced in the title, explains that there is a type of spirit classified as a ‘collector’ who in fact possesses buildings under certain conditions, and causes similar effects on those who interact with said place. Everything seems to point out that it is more than possible for places to produce such devastation in the human mind, although I prefer to remain in the safe margin of the theoretical aspects concerning this subject and not check the practice of it on my own. 


Bauder, H., & Engel-Di Mauro, S. (Ed.). (2008). Critical Geographies: a collection of readings. Praxis ePress.
Hutchisson, J. M. (2005). Poe, Jackson, Mississippi: University of Mississippi Press.
In Budd, L. J., & Cady, E. H. (Eds.), On Poe: The Best from American Literature. Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press.
Noordenbos, W. (1959). Pain. Problems pertaining to the transmission of nerve impulses which give rise to pain. Amsterdam: Elsevier
Poe, E. A. (1839). The Fall of the House of Usher. Alex Catalogue.
Poe, E. A. (1839). The Haunted Castle. Alex Catalogue.
Stavis, R., & Durand, S. (2018). Sister of darkness. New York: Dey Street Books.
Woods, A. (2009). The use and function of altered states of consciousness within dance/movement therapy. (Master’s thesis). Retrieved from

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 trying to get his first novel in English published and searching for a 24/7 chocolate supplier.

Monday, 14 May 2018

Reimagining the Gothic: Aesthetics and Archetypes CFP and Keynote Announcements

Attention all ghosts, ghouls and Goths - the Call for Papers is for Reimagining the Gothic 2018 is alive! Reimagining the Gothic: Aesthetics and Archetypes will be held at The University of Sheffield from Friday 26th to Sunday the 28th of October. 

Taking a temporary break from its May time slot, this years Reimagining the Gothic will be three days devoted to reimagining, rethinking and reconsidering Gothic aesthetics and archetypes. We're inviting papers from academics of all disciplines and stages of study (including Undergraduates and Independent scholars) to submit abstracts for 20 minute papers that approach the theme from any and all angles. 

So, what does that mean? For the most part, anything you'd like it to: interested in the way Gothic architecture is used in gaming? Intrigued by the varying presentations of vampire in young adult fiction? Inspired by Gothic fashion? Send us an abstract! Reimagining the Gothic is an interdisciplinary and multi-media project that aims to encourage new avenues of study, collaborations and approaches in Gothic Studies. As such we welcome submissions for joint papers, multimedia presentations and more.

The deadline for submissions is Monday 13th of August. Abstracts (to be of no more than 300 words) should outline the texts or topics to be covered in the paper and the proposed critical engagement. Got any questions, or want to ask us about doing something a little different? Email us at

To celebrate our first three day event, we're excited to announce that we will have two very special keynotes: Professor Catherine Spooner (Lancaster University) on Friday 26th and Kieron Gillen (Image Comic/Marvel Comics) on Saturday 27th.

Professor Catherine Spooner's particular research interests incorporate Gothic literature, film, and popular culture, and fashion and costume in literature and film, within the broader spectrum of Victorian and contemporary literature and culture. Her latest book Post-Millennial Gothic: Comedy, Romance and the Rise of Happy Gothic, was published by Bloomsbury in February 2017. The book was the outcome of a 9-month AHRC Research Fellowship and explores such phenomena as the perennial revival of Gothic style on the high street, the advent of the sparkly vampire, and Gothic tourism in Whitby, in relation to developments in twenty-first century subcultures.Catherine is currently working on a cultural history of the white dress in Gothic literature and film, and on the cultural afterlife of the Lancashire witches.

Sheffield Gothic are great fans of Professor Spooner's work and we are honoured to welcome her to this years Reimagining the Gothic. 

Kieron Gillen is a comic book writer, perhaps best known for his creator-owned series Phonogram and The Wicked + The Divine (both co-created with artist, Jamie McKelvie.) Kieron has also written for Marvel Comics, with runs on X-Men and his acclaimed turns on Young Avengers and Journey Into Mystery as well as the recent Darth Vader, Doctor Aphra and ongoing Star Wars comic.

Elements of the Gothic literary tradition, aesthetic style and music permeate much of Kieron's work, and as the creator of the infamous #NoneMoreGoth hashtag we're delighted to have him join us as our creative keynote. 

If you'd like to be a part of Reimagining the Gothic: Aesthetics and Archetypes then have a look at the CFP or get in touch!

Reimagining the Gothic: Aesthetics and Archetypes is generously sponsored by the University of Sheffield's Arts and Humanities Postgraduate Forum

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Review: The Dolocher by Caroline Barry

A review of The Dolocher written by Celine Frohn

Better board up the windows and doors... Or the Dolocher might catch you

Merriment is an unconventional woman. Not only did she live at sea for years, she has taken to wearing trousers and makes herself useful as an apothecary now she has relocated to Dublin. Her new boarder, Solomon, writes broadsheets for a living and has plenty of secrets. They live in a time of tumult - a terrifying demon stalks the streets of Dublin, and its inhabitants are turning against each other. Is the Dolocher truly supernatural, as Solomon intuits, or is there a rational explanation, which Merriment reasons there has to be?

There is plenty of good in The Dolocher. This rather meaty book is exceptionally researched, on two counts. Not only is the amount of detail impressive, Ms Barry also captures the historical mindset very well. On one hand the Dolocher gives rise to terror and fear, while on the other it sparks pranks and humour. These two emotions go hand in hand, and this duality underpins the novel.

The choice of main characters is interesting, and I enjoyed Janey, a street-wise orphan girl that is far from shy. She was lovely, and her development alongside Merriment and Solomon is heart-warming. As is to be expected there is a romantic sub-plot between our adult main characters. The tension between them peters out over repetitive problems and the resolution felt like a non-event. I do like the unconventional pairing, but their overcoming of their problems wasn't as satisfying as I would have hoped.

The Dolocher is a very long book - my edition just about touches 500 pages in smallish print. The novel is incredibly detailed, and that turned out to be its downfall. Where the descriptiveness adds to the atmosphere in the first half, the repetitiveness bogs down the later section. We know how Dublin looks at this point, we know the smells and the bustling and the unkemptness of its inhabitants. It does not need to be told anew because if an image is well-presented, it will stick inside the reader's mind. A minor recall would have sufficed. The plot too could have used some culling - often the characters are merely walking around and talking to people. There is a whole slew of colourful minor characters that I did enjoy, however, and the dialogues were well done. 

(Michael's Lane Dublin)

Although it starts off strong, The Dolocher loses steam half-way because of over-descriptiveness and an occasionally meandering plot. It is, however, also well-researched and thoughtful. It displays the kindness of people, and is more about its characters and the city in the eighteenth century than it is about the killings and violence.

Celine Frohn is a PhD student at the University of Sheffield where she studies penny bloods, the Gothic, and dark humour. Loving all speculative fiction, she occasionally blogs at Nyx Book Reviews and spends too much time on Twitter at @CelineNyx. She freaked her parents out at age nine by writing gruesome vampire decapitation scenes and things have not improved since then.