Thursday, 28 June 2018

Artistic vampires, obsession and reality denying mechanisms in ‘The Oval Portrait’

This is the third and final part of a blog series by Alan D. D. exploring Edgar Alan Poe and the Gothic. You can read his first post discussing Poe's 'The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar' in relation to death and immortality here, and his second post examining the human mind in 'The Fall of the House of Usher' here.

('The "Thompson" Daguerreotype' by William A. Pratt)
Many have written about the effects of art on humankind. One could not even imagine what life would be with no creative objects to be appreciated, with no paintings, no music, no drawings, nothing at all. A person may not have the ability to create, but everyone appreciates a descent sensitive distraction depending on personal likes. Art is defined by the Oxford dictionary as ‘the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power’ (Oxford Dictionaries, 2018.). It is interesting to note that creativity, evidently, is linked with the words creator and creation, and one could even go further and assume it is also a connection to the concept of a Creator, be it a deity, a mysterious force behind life itself or a scientific event like the Big Bang, but the association couldn’t be more obvious.

However, it is also reasonable that the power to create also confirms the power to destroy. Is art, no matter its many forms and shapes, capable of destroying as much as it is capable of creating? Edgar Allan Poe seemed to think so, and I am a sceptic to the idea that this was just a coincidence to find such a proposal in one of his stories.

‘The Oval Portrait’ presents a rather unsetting plot: an anonymous traveler, who is also injured, finds refuge in an abandoned mansion in the Apennines, and in the night discovers a painting with a disturbing story, that of an artist that turned the soul of his wife, which was also the model, into a piece of art and so killing her: ‘the painter (who had high renown) took a fervid and burning pleasure in his task, and wrought day and night to depict her who so loved him, yet who grew daily more dispirited and weak.’ (Poe, 1845). The first thing I can think about is that this is clearly some form of obsession-leaded vampirism. It is not enough for this artist, this husband, to slowly steal his wife’s life in an attempt to immortalize her, so he needs and has to complete the painting, not even aware that he would widow right away, making an artist, which also means a creator, a destroyer of life as well (Meyers, 2000.).

('The Oval Portrait' by Jean Paul Laurens)
Vampires have also been linked with obsession by different psychological conditions. Medicine has a term for this mania to drink blood: Renfield Syndrome. This syndrome is named after a character in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and it is interesting to note that individuals who are part of vampire cults ‘may also demonstrate certain psychopathologies such as dissociation, obsessive thought, delusional thinking, and hallucinations’ (White & Omar, 2010: p. 192.). This becomes relevant when we discover that Poe’s first version of this tale, titled ‘Life in Death,’ published in Graham's Magazine in 1842, included details on how the narrator had been wounded and that opium was used to relieve the pain. However, the author eliminated this part of the narration for considering it made the story be seen as a hallucination (Sova, 2001.).

It doesn’t matter if the narrator is living this or only imagining it. Either way, it is clear that this characters has some kind of mental imbalance just like the artist, for it is stated that the narrator ‘thinking earnestly upon these points, I remained, for an hour perhaps, half sitting, half reclining, with my vision riveted upon the portrait’ and more explicitly that ‘in these paintings my incipient delirium, perhaps, had caused me to take deep interest’ (Poe, 1845.).Yet, I’m inclined to think that maybe there was something worse, something Poe tried to avoid and process, when he wrote this tale, if we consider that ‘horror stories are a means through which artists implicitly comment on the state of human affairs at a particular moment’ (George & Green, 2015: p. 2345.).

It was around this time, when ‘The Oval Portrait’ was written, that Poe’s wife, Virginia Eliza Clemm Poe, started a health decline that would end on her dead in 1847, (Silverman, 1991,) and which the writer himself stated made him ‘insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity’ (Poe, 1848.). This could suggest that Poe had an ambiguous, bittersweet relationship with his work: although it offered him a distraction from reality, an escape from the inevitable event that would cause him a severe depression, maybe he felt his art was somehow murdering his own wife. He didn’t need to be part of a vampire cult, for in his mind he was a vampire already.

These creatures have been linked with sexuality, sexual desire and liberation (Hughes, 2012,) but it is clear that obsession, death and life also play an important role on the figure of the vampire, which, apparently, is also capable of becoming an artist, ‘the creator of beautiful things,’ (Wilde, 2014,) given the impact and influence this tale had. Some may be familiar with a certain Mr. Gray, which story was inspired by this tale of Poe, and whose writer praised Poe’s work five years before Gray was born (Sova, 2001.).

Sova, D. B. (2001). Edgar Allan Poe A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Life and Work. New York: Facts on File.
Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Letters - E. A. Poe to G. W. Eveleth (January 4, 1848). (2018). Retrieved from
George, D. R., & Green, M. J. (2015). Lessons Learned From Comics Produced by Medical Students: Art of Darkness. Jama, 314 (22), 2345-2346.
Hughes, W. (2012). Fictional Vampires in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. In D. Punter, A New Companion to The Gothic (pp. 197-210). New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons.
Meyers, J. (2000). Edgar Allan Poe: His Life and Legacy. New York: Cooper Square Press.
Oxford Dictionaries. (2018). Retrieved from
Poe, E. A. (1845). The Oval Portrait. Alex Catalogue.
Silverman, K. (1991). Edgar A. Poe: Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance. New York: Harper Perennial.
White, M., & Omar, H. A. (2010). Vampirism, vampire cults and the teenager of today. International journal of adolescent medicine and health, 22(2), 189.
Wilde, O. (2014). The Picture of Dorian Gray. Urbana, Illinois: Project Gutenberg. Retrieved June 13, 2018 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.

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Sheffield Gothic Profile Blog: Andrew Smith

The next instalment in Sheffield Gothic's series of profile blogs focuses on Andrew Smith, co-director of the Centre for the History of the Gothic at the University of Sheffield, and he explores his interest in the Gothic, his favourite Gothic text, and who hewould like to invite to dinner!

Andrew Smith is Professor of Nineteenth-Century English Literature at the University of Sheffield where he co-directs the Centre for the History of the Gothic. His 20 published books include Gothic Death 1740-1914: A Literary History (Manchester University Press 2016); The Ghost Story 1840-1920: A Cultural History (Manchester University Press 2010) and Victorian Demons: Medicine, Masculinity and the Gothic at the fin-de-siècle (Manchester University Press 2004). His best-selling Gothic Literature (Edinburgh University Press 2007), was revised and republished in 2013. He co-directs four books series, ‘Gothic Literary Studies’ and ‘Gothic Authors: Critical Revisions’ for the University of Wales Press, ‘The Edinburgh Companions to the Gothic’ for Edinburgh University Press and ‘Interventions: Rethinking the Nineteenth Century’ for Manchester University Press. There have been 48 titles published across the series. He is currently writing Gothic Fiction and the Writing of Trauma, 1914-1934: The Ghosts of World War One for Edinburgh University Press. He is a past President of the International Gothic Association.

What do you research?
I have published on Gothic literature from the eighteenth century to the present day although my main focus has been on Gothic texts published in the nineteenth century. I’m currently writing a book about ghosts stories and World War One as my two previous monographs (on the history of the ghost story, and on death) stopped before the war, so it felt like a period I was avoiding although I was conscious that it needed a book to itself to do it justice.  I am interested in how the Gothic uses certain tropes to capture historically specific forms of anxiety – so, for example, how it is that the disembodied form of the ghost embodies concerns about money (in the nineteenth century) and the problem of the returning soldier (in and after World War One).

How did you become interested in the Gothic?
As a child growing up in the early 1970s my parents allowed us to watch 1930s horror films on the TV on the grounds that they were so daft that they couldn’t be frightening. Not so. I found werewolf films particularly harrowing because so often the ostensible hero became, under lunar influence, transformed into the villain. In a child-like pursuit of moral clarity I would close eyes and pretend that they were separate beings which, of course, then made the plot-lines utterly unintelligible. In my early teenage years I discovered Herbert Van Thal’s Pan Book of Horror series and was hooked. As an undergraduate and as a postgraduate I became interested in the type of provocative cultural work undertaken in the Gothic and wrote my PhD on how a Gothic tradition from the 18thc to the late 19thc critically interrogated an Idealist tradition from Kant to Freud, which in turn became my first monograph, Gothic Radicalism (Macmillan 2000).

What Gothic texts (including shows, films, plays, music etc.) would you recommend and why?
Almost anything by Poe. Poe is both horrifying and funny (although funny peculiar perhaps), by turns and I find that an interesting blend. You can also see it in M.R. James’s ghost stories which I’m working on at the moment. I’ve also enjoyed more recent publications such as Andrew Michael Hurley’s The Loney (2014) and his Devil’s Day (2017). I don’t tend to watch much horror on film – my wife’s not at all keen so we don’t go to the cinema to see such films, although she has been known to sit through the occasional Hammer House.  I still think that The Exorcist (1973) is amazing, especially how it builds tension. I saw Aronofsky’s Mother! (2017) on a plane recently, which was genuinely shocking even if a little predictable as a Biblical allegory, but an interesting and serious horror film.

Who would you invite to dinner?
I’ve always been intrigued by the recipes that you find at the beginning of Dracula, so perhaps eating through some of those with Bram Stoker would be appropriate. Poe would, I fear, be a nightmare dinner guest but M.R. James would be charming, I think. I’d invite Ann Radcliffe but I’d probably be too nosey about her life and she’d make a quick exit.

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Sheffield Gothic Profile Blog: Kathleen Hudson

The next instalment in Sheffield Gothic's series of profile blog focuses on Kathleen Hudson (Anne Arundel Community College), one of the founding members of Sheffield Gothic and eternally our Goth Queen. Read on to find out Kathleen's interest in the Gothic, her favourite Gothic text, and who she would like to invite to dinner! 


Greetings, goths! My name is Dr. Kathleen Hudson, and I’m a researcher studying Early Gothic Literature. I earned my undergraduate degree at the University of Scranton and my Masters and PhD degrees at the University of Sheffield. In addition to working as a web developer for the International Gothic Association and the Centre for the History of the Gothic, I have also been a member of the Sheffield Gothic Reading Group for several years and was one of the founding members of the Re-imagining the Gothic Project. I currently work as an adjunct faculty member at Anne Arundel Community College and my first book, entitled Servants and the Gothic: 1764-1831, A half-told tale, is scheduled to be published by University of Wales Press in January 2019. 

What do you research?

My main focus is on servant narratives in early Gothic novels, plays, and chapbook adaptations. Servant characters are frequently included in these works, and my research specifically looks at instances where Gothic servants tell stories or gossip to other characters. Such tales are often compact in-set Gothic narratives and offer fascinating insights into the way the Gothic mode is structured and into the gender and class identities that shape them. While my work mostly focuses on the early Gothic mode, it also has implications for books, TV shows, and movies up to the present day.

How did you become interested in the Gothic?

I actually became interested in the Gothic as a research area in a very roundabout way. I was never overly interested in scary or creepy things as a child, and it wasn’t until I went to university that I started looking seriously at Gothic and horror works. One of the first things I invested in as a new college student was a Netflix subscription. This was back in the days when the streaming service was still very limited, but many of the movies that you could watch whenever you wanted seemed to be cheesy, gory horror films from the 1970s and 80s. I watched Evil Dead, Reanimator, Dead Alive, The Thing, Alien, and all these great classic movies and was utterly fascinated by them. Curiosity about how the filmmakers managed to scare and shock turned into an interest in the reoccurring engagements with psychological issues and human fears and the way those elements were then represented visually in film. 

My interest in Gothic horror remained in the background of my academic life until I took the “Rise of the Gothic” course at the University of Sheffield while getting my Masters Degree in Nineteenth Century Studies. In that class I started to see where many of the elements of horror and humor I so appreciated in my favorite films came from. I learned about the literary origins of haunted houses and villainous parents and thoughtful heroines and developed a new appreciation for the mode as an evolving examination of the very basic building blocks of the human psyche. 

Servant characters and their narratives then emerged as an extension of this interest – they embody many of the elements that intrigued me and were key to understanding how fear and grief and family were reflected through narrative self-expression. I started to focus on why these characters kept popping up and how specific servants were similar or different from others, and that lead me to my fascination with Gothic servant narratives as a whole.

What Gothic texts (including shows, films, plays, music etc.) would you recommend and why?
The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe 

This is a classic text and it will probably surprise no one when I include it, but in all honesty, it is one of those books that I finish reading and then immediately want to reread again. Radcliffe’s work is an amazing collection of individual vignettes, complex set-pieces, and individual studies of people. She creates an amazing fictional world that is at once fantastic and very recognizable and personal, and this is absolutely my favorite novel of hers. 

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley 

This is another one that feels a bit cliched to include, but in terms of classic Gothic must-reads this is one of the essentials. Shelley’s work is just a profound study of humanity and it never ceases to blow me away. You think you know the story but it’s a tricky text with complex psychological implications – and watch out for the subtle political jabs and the undercurrent of feminist angst. 

Vampire City by Paul Féval 

This one is cheesy and camp and wonderful, and despite some truly goofy moments it is also surprising creepy. It takes all of the more extreme elements of the Gothic and embeds them in an off-the-wall work of what is essentially nineteenth century fan fiction, and the results are a profoundly unsettling re-imaging of the mode. This book also includes my favorite depictions of vampires (which is saying a lot) – they depart from almost every recognizable trope and in some ways are very silly and outlandish, but they also violate and reshape their victims in terrifying ways that really speak to the spirit of the vampire myth. 

House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski 

Profoundly beautifully and profoundly unsettling re-imagining of the Gothic haunted house and the boundaries of space, time, and narrative. It’s one of the few books I’ve read that genuinely scared me, but it also makes you think. I reread it every year or so and I always find something new in it to chew on. 

Slade House by David Mitchell 

Part anthology, part vampire story, and part revision of the classic haunted house trop, this book gave me massive existential dread. 

The Evil Dead Trilogy directed by Sam Raimi 

As some of the first films that really inspired my love of horror and the Gothic, these three movies – Evil Dead, Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn, and Army of Darkness – will always hold a very special place in my heart. They cross horror and gore and “The Three Stooges”-style comedy, but they also don’t shy away from exploring the fragile boundaries between humor and horror and the impact the absurd has on the unstable ‘self’. 

Who would you invite to dinner?
I’d probably invite Annette and Ludovico from The Mysteries of Udolpho and Theodore from The Monk to dinner – they’re all chatty servants and I imagine dinner would devolve into one big Gothic storytelling competition before too long.

Sheffield Gothic Profile Blog: Maisha Wester

Sheffield Gothic are thrilled to announce our series of profile blogs, where you can get to know the members and friends of Sheffield Gothic and find out the answers to questions you have always wanted to asked us like what drew us to the Gothic and what's our favourite Gothic text! Today we have honorary Sheffield Goth and visiting Fullbright scholar at the University of Sheffield, Maisha Wester. 

I'm Dr. Maisha Wester, a visiting Fulbright Scholar for the 2017-2018 academic year. I'm an Associate Professor at Indiana University specializing in race in Gothic literature and Horror film. I am joint-appointed in American Studies, and in African American and African Diaspora Studies.

What do you research:
I received my Ph.D in English from University of Florida during a period when the department was wonderfully interdisciplinary. I studied and continue to use a variety of literary and cultural studies methods, such as psychoanalysis, Lacanian semiotics, postcolonial theory, feminist analysis, and critical race theory. My research specifically investigates the depictions of racial, sexual and gender difference in Gothic literature and Horror films. Furthermore, I also interrogate mobilizations of Gothic tropes and discourses in socio-political discussions of race and immigration. Equally important, I write on Black Diasporic Gothic literature as it responds to oppressive racial ideologies and expresses the peculiar horrors of navigating societies which construct racial minorities as abject and/ or phobogenic objects.

How did you become interested in the Gothic?
I grew up a fan of horror films and Gothic literature, preferring Stephen King and Alfred Hitchcock to tween romances. I remember reading Edgar Allan Poe when I was 8 years old, particularly the poem 'The Raven' and the story 'The Tell Tale Heart.' Given I grew up in Miami where violent crime was nothing unusual and where we were taught the horrors of Chernobyl knowing nuclear plants were all around the U.S., I think as a child it was easier to process the terror of reality through monsters and fiendish villains—at least there was a clear way to defeat Freddy Kruger (wake up or seize control of your dream), avoid Jason (don’t go camping), and escape Michael Myers (run out of the house, not upstairs). Further, the villains in Gothic texts always made more sense than the villains in real life, and had a habit of explaining themselves/ their motives. Gothic villains were also far more interesting than your average Disney hero(ine).

What Gothic texts (including shows, films, plays, music etc.) would you recommend and why?
This could get long but I’ll try to keep it brief-ish:
In no particular order….
  1. The Monk: just too fabulous for words; the text is a grand, bloody soap opera
  2. Historical Survey of the French Colony in the Island of St Domingo: By Bryan Edwards, this first-hand account reads like Gothic fiction and is far better horror than most of the stuff Stephen King has written.
  3. Wuthering Heights: this novel is not only beautifully written but, in Heathcliff, creates an anti-hero that becomes the reference point for so many of today’s dark, brooding, invariably screwed-up lovers. More importantly, reading it at different points in my life reveals different things about myself: as a teen, I thought Heathcliff’s passion was amazing and dreamed of such a romance; as an adult, I realized that Catherine is a manipulative wench and Heathcliff is the model of an abuser. But the novel never pretends that they are anything different—indeed, no one is really likable in that novel if you look closely enough. But Bronte left it to the reader to look or not look.
  4. Hawthorne’s short fiction, especially 'Young Goodman Brown,' and 'The Birthmark': his short stories really exemplify the racial angst and quandary early Americans attempted to repress.
  5. 'Benito Cereno': This novella (which Melville considered a short story!!) wonderfully depicts the social and racial dynamics produced by the Haitian Revolution and critiques America’s position in the event. Equally important, it reveals the complexity of abolitionists (they weren’t utterly virtuous/ progressive in their racial ideals)
  6. The short stories of Flannery O’Connor: She is amazing at representing the grotesque beauty of the South but her plots and endings leave your perplexed, and ill at ease…which is what a great Gothic work does.
  7. Invisible Man: funny, horrifying and splendidly musical (not lyrical, Ellison wrote jazz and blues structures into this novel), I could easily spend a month teaching this novel and look to teach it again the next year. There is so much depth and richness to this text; more disturbingly, it remains relevant to the current moment.
  8. Cane: Jean Toomer’s 'novel' is a collection of short fiction and poetry punctuated by a concluding section which is as much novella as it is play. But all of these pieces fit seamlessly together to depict the haunting beauty of the South, the alienating hope of the North and the terror of dislocation. This book is a complex puzzle.
  9. Mama Day: This novel straddles the line between Gothic and Magical realism. It is lovely and heart-breaking every time you read it. The first time I taught this novel, it was in a class where a zoology student, who declared her hatred or reading, finished the book in one night (I had to beg her not to skip ahead in discussion for those who hadn’t finished, she was so excited to discuss what came next).
  10. 'The Child Who Favored Daughter': my Ph.D adviser recommended this Alice Walker story as one which would haunt me…she was right. It is poetic and understanding in its depiction of the father’s monstrosity.
  11. Octavia Butler's Kindred: though Butler is largely identified as a writer of Afro-futurist speculative fiction, this novel captures the horror of history for African Americans and, more importantly, of trying to come to grips with that history and your consequent origins. The novel posits the assaults on bodily and psychic integration from grappling with the knowledge that you may be the descendant of enslaved people, rape victims and rapists; and worse, without the horrible institution of slavery, the modern black subject wouldn't exist in America--that is truly grotesque and horrifying to acknowledge...       11a. Damian Duffey's and John Jenning's graphic adaptation of Kindred: absolutely beautiful artwork which really captures the text's horror and beauty.
  12. House of Leaves: A postmodern novel which experiments with structure and yet still terrified me; the monster never appears but Danielewski creates such an atmosphere of lurking terror that the novel’s play with structure is hardly noticeable at points. Don’t read this one alone in the dark
  13. I Walked with a Zombie: This beautiful film has been termed Jane Eyre in the Caribbean. It’s cinematography is stunning, its use of sound profound, and its narrative of white colonialism and black rebellion subtle but striking; it is, indeed, radical in its messaging.
  14. Cat People: Simply beautiful
  15. Night of the Living Dead: we wouldn’t have the modern zombie without this film (which actually terms its monsters ghouls, not zombies)
  16. IT pt 1 (the tv version, not the recent film): Tim Curry’s performance as Pennywise was so terrifying I had nightmares for weeks and started sleeping with a nightlight, though I was a teen when the tv movie came out.
  17. Michael Jackson's Thriller: this video was the first of its kind and left a definite mark on the cultural landscape (everyone can at least recognize the zombie dance from this video) 
  18.  Little Shop of Horrors: A giant, singing venus fly trap with the baritone voice of Levi Stubbs (one of the Four Tops) and Steve Martin as the sadistic, rocker dentist are just a couple of the marvelous treats in this classic musical horror (which has some amazingly infectious songs).
  19. Sweeney Todd: absolutely beautiful cinematography. And while Burton provides the backstory which makes Todd a sympathetic antihero, he doesn't try to humanize him, as most productions do. Todd is a monster and remains so throughout the film; but so too is the rest of London society. Lastly, I love the way the stage makeup depicts Todd and Lovett as vampires, in juxtaposition to the rest of cannibal society. 
  20. Rocky Horror Picture Show: Need I say anything, really....
I could definitely go on but I should probably stop at some point.....

Who would you invite to dinner:
  1. Montressor from Poe's story "The Cask of Amontillado" because I want a definitive explanation of what Fortunado did that warranted living burial.
  2. The unnamed protagonist of Invisible Man because I want to know a) how he managed to steal electricity from NY for so long so well, b) if he really understands his grandfather's dying words, and c) if he actually left his hole (and, if so, did he go find Bledsloe and make him eat chitlins). 
  3. Hannah Crafts, author of The Bondswoman's Narrative, just to settle the argument of her identity and the nature of the text (Gates says she was an escaped enslaved woman but the text is so intertextual--rewriting The Castle of Otranto in its first chapters--that it seems a bit difficult to accept the text as a slave narrative).
  4. Neil Gaiman because he is cool, well-researched, and brilliant--I just want to be his buddy (even if I found Anansi Boys problematic, but no friend is perfect). 

Thursday, 14 June 2018

Sheffield Gothic Profile Blog: Angela Wright

The next instalment in Sheffield Gothic's series of profile blogs focuses on Angela Wright, co-director of the Centre for the History of the Gothic at the University of Sheffield, as she explores her interest in the Gothic, her favourite Gothic text, and who she would like to invite to dinner!

Angela Wright, Professor of Romantic Literature in the School of English at the University of Sheffield, former Co-President of the IGA (2013-17) specialising in Gothic poetry and prose of the Romantic period.

Major publications include: Britain, France and the Gothic, 1764-1820: The Import of Terror (Cambridge University Press, 2013) which was shortlisted for the Allan Lloyd Smith memorial prize; with Dale Townshend, Ann Radcliffe, Romanticism and the Gothic (Cambridge University Press, 2014), with Dale Townshend, Romantic Gothic: An Edinburgh Companion (EUP, 2015); Mary Shelley (University of Wales Press, 2018). I am currently working with Catherine Spooner and Dale Townshend upon a major 3 volume Cambridge History of the Gothic, to be published by Cambridge University Press in 2020, upon an edition of the works of Ann Radcliffe with Michael Gamer, and a further monograph 'Fostering Romanticism'. 

What do you Research:
I specialise in Gothic literature of the Romantic period, and write upon both canonical and non-canonical authors of that period. So, for example, I have written books, chapters and essays upon well-recognised authors of the Gothic, such as Horace Walpole, Ann Radcliffe, Matthew Lewis and Mary Shelley, but I have also written upon less well-celebrated works, such as the 'Northanger Novels' that Jane Austen's Catherine Moreland read so excitedly in her Northanger Abbey, particularly those by Regina Maria Roche and Eleanor Sleath, the early Gothic novels of Percy Bysshe Shelley, and lesser-known Gothic works upon the Catholic Inquisition for an essay in a collection called Spain and British Romanticism, eds. Ian Haywood and Diego Saglia. There are hundreds of Gothic works during the Romantic period that we don't talk about or read, and not all of them are merely 'poor imitations' of the works of Radcliffe and Lewis. So I think that there is still a huge amount of excavation and research work to be carried out in this period.

How did you become interested in the Gothic?
I became interested in the Gothic as an early teenager. I'd scare myself by reading too many ghost stories and walking home past the local graveyard. From these early fears and frissons, I looked for ways in which to account for my fears, and that led me to the Gothic genre. I took my first degree in English and French at the University of Stirling, and studied a great module with David Punter called 'Ghosts and Terrors', and then a PhD upon the Gothic novel and drama in Britain and France at the University of Aberdeen. My dual interest in the literatures of Britain and France led to the 2013 book 'The Import of Terror', which examined the issues of translation and imitation in the Gothic traditions in both Britain and France, and how these forms of reciprocity undercut and belied the military hostilities between the two nations in the long eighteenth century. With its testing of the borders between subject and object, self and other, the Gothic became the perfect vehicle by which authors could work against the cultural hostilities evinced by their nations. This is still working today! 

What Gothic texts (including shows, films, plays, music etc.) would you recommend and why?
I have a confession to make: I cannot watch Gothic horror movies which involve blood and gore without passing out, and so do not venture much into contemporary Gothic horror films. But of course I would recommend reading anything by Ann Radcliffe, particularly The Romance of the Forest, The Mysteries of Udolpho and The Italian, Matthew Lewis's The Monk, anything at all by Mary Shelley (and definitely not just Frankenstein). For more contemporary iterations of the Gothic, I love the films of Guillermo del Toro, particularly Crimson Peak and The Shape of Water; Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian and the fiction of Patrick McGrath. 

Who Would you invite to dinner?
Dead? Ann Radcliffe and Matthew Lewis, to see if they could resolve their aesthetic differences. Alive? Guillermo del Toro. 
Addendum: I'd also invite John Polidori, Mary Shelley and Robert Smith to dinner. I want Polidori and Mary to clear up disagreements on what was and was not read at the Villa Diodati in 1816. Robert Smith from The Cure would sing divinely.

Thursday, 7 June 2018

Sheffield Gothic Profile Blog: Hannah Moss

Next in Sheffield Gothic's series of profile blog feature's our own Hannah Moss (PhD researcher at the University of Sheffield). Read on to find out how Hannah became interested in the Gothic,
 what her favourite Gothic texts are, and who she would like to invite to dinner!

My name is Hannah Moss, and I’m a PhD candidate in the School of English at The University of Sheffield. Having completed my undergraduate degree in English Language and Literature at Sheffield, I returned in 2014 to study for an MA in Eighteenth-Century Studies – and that’s when I became involved with Sheffield Gothic. Students on Prof. Angela Wright’s fantastic Rise of the Gothic module were told about a reading group we’d be welcome to attend, and the rest is history. In the Gothic post-graduate community I’ve found an incredibly intelligent and supportive group of friends and colleagues, who encouraged me to present my first academic paper at Reimagining the Gothic: Monsters & Monstrosities.

What do you research?
My research is centred on the representation of women’s art in novels of the long eighteenth century (1760-1830). My aim is to reappraise the Romantic-era conception of the artist as a tortured male genius by exploring how women’s creativity extends beyond the idea of female accomplishment. The female artist is a familiar figure in the Gothic novel, with the arts often providing the heroine with agency and an avenue of self-expression to communicate what cannot be articulated. There’s a distinct Gothic thread to my research given the tendency for the boundary between representation and ‘reality’, the artist and her art, to become blurred. What’s more, the female artist depicted entering the male territory of a professional painter or sculptor is often transformed into a monstrous figure. Alongside the works of Ann Radcliffe, Charlotte Smith and Mary Shelley, I am keen to incorporate non-canonical works into my research. The Corvey Collection is a veritable treasure trove of Belles Lettres which I would recommend to anyone with an interest in the period 1790 – 1840 (but more on that later).

The library at Schloss Corvey, Germany

How did you become interested in the Gothic?
I think that I’ve always been drawn to the Gothic without really realising it. Looking back, childhood favourites always included witchcraft and wizardry, a creepy castle or an enchantment of some kind – I mean, Beauty and the Beast is very Gothic! I loved reading Jill Murphy’s The Worst Witch series and R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps books, whilst the TV show Are you Afraid of the Dark? never failed to give me the creeps (in a good way). It was only at university that I realised that most of the novels I enjoy tend to be Gothic novels: Northanger Abbey, The Mysteries of Udolpho, Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, and Frankenstein are all firm favourites.

Anyone who knows me will know that my favourite pastime is wandering around castles, abbeys and country houses, rich with layer upon layer of history. Derbyshire and South Yorkshire are home to so many places that have sparked my research interests over the years that I could write enough for a whole series of blog posts!

Arbella Stuart
Hardwick and Haddon, in particular, are said to have inspired Ann Radcliffe, and it’s easy to see why. I’m particularly drawn to the stories of the women who lived (or were imprisoned) in such places. Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-1587) was held under house arrest at numerous properties in the area, including Wingfield Manor (now an incredibly atmospheric ruin), whilst Arbella Stuart (1575-1615) lived a restricted life at Hardwick Hall as the ward of her Grandmother, Bess. Her proximity to the crown led many to believe Arbella would be Elizabeth I’s successor, but this placed her in a dangerous situation. Having secretly married William Seymour without royal consent, the couple concocted a daring escape plan, only for Arbella to be captured, ending her days in the Tower of London - this could easily form the plot for a Gothic novel! I came to eighteenth century gothic after a period reading lots of historical biographies, and sometimes the circulating library plots don’t seem quite so outlandish in comparison. Caroline of Brunswick (1768-1821) loved to devour horrid Gothic novels even though her own sister had mysteriously disappeared after fleeing from an abusive husband, possibly dying whilst giving birth to an illegitimate child. Caroline used the Gothic as a means of comparison to paint herself as a heroine and vocalize the plight she faced as the wronged wife of George IV (be warned, I can change any conversation to George IV’s wives and mistresses).

What Gothic texts (including shows, films, plays, music etc.) would you recommend and why?
I always seem to end up recommending Wuthering Heights, so I’ll take the opportunity to recommend a non-canonical woman writer, a kids’ book series, and some period dramas I’ve recently enjoyed.

As I mentioned earlier, I spend a lot of time searching through the digitized Corvey Collection (Which I like to imagine is a lot like the library in Beauty and the Beast in real life). I’ve recently been reading Caroline Horwood’s novels The Castle of Vivaldi, or The Mysterious Injunction (1810) and St. Ostberg, or The Carmelite Monk (1811). Heavily influenced by Ann Radcliffe, but without the inset poetry and prolonged landscape description, the pages are crammed with everything you’d expect from an early Gothic novel – there’s incest, illegitimacy, bigamy, adultery, abduction, animated statues, mysterious warnings, forged manuscripts. She’s a new favourite!

Not just for kids, Chris Riddell’s Goth Girl series is packed with in-jokes anyone with knowledge of early Gothic literature and Regency history will absolutely love, plus there’s a healthy dose of pop culture thrown in for good measure. I frequently have to explain to my niece why I’m giggling at the introduction of characters such as Mary Shellfish, the bestselling author of The Monster, or, Prometheus Misbehaves, or Dr Jensen, the cleverest man in England, who arrives with his biographer in tow. Also, the hardback editions are beautiful objects in themselves with gilded page edges, really detailed illustrations, and plenty of footnotes to train the next generation of Gothicists.

As I’m still waiting for an Ann Radcliffe adaptation, my film pick will have to be Crimson Peak (2015). The plot won’t be a surprise to anyone who has read a lot of Gothic romance, but watch it as a Guillermo Del Toro take on the genre and revel in the aesthetic as he interprets the tropes. Can we start a campaign to get Tom Hiddleston to read the audio book of Udolpho?

I love a period drama, and there has been a few good Gothic offerings from the BBC over the past couple of years.

The Living and the Dead: I reviewed this series for the Sheffield Gothic blog back in 2016 (you can read that post here) – and it’s basically a Thomas Hardy adaptation with a supernatural twist. The central premise is that a rural community is haunted as technological advancement unearths all sorts of ghosts. Without giving too much away, it’s really interesting how the series plays with time, so you question who is actually haunting who.

Taboo: Tom Hardy in a series set in 1814, need I say more? That’s all I require from my TV viewing. Ok, well Ridley Scott has described it as a ‘dark, dirty brute of a drama’ so if that doesn’t sell it to you I don’t know what will. When James Delaney returns from Africa to claim his inheritance it gets him into serious trouble - and Mark Gatiss is a truly grotesque George IV. It was a slow burner, but built to a (quite literally) explosive conclusion. I’m very happy to hear that series two has just been given the green light by the Beeb. 

(Tom Hardy)
The Woman in White: I enjoyed seeing Wilkie Collins’ sensation novel adapted even if Count Fosco had shed more than a few pounds and lost the pet mice. Watching this reminded me just how many echoes of Collins’ work are to be identified in Sarah Waters’ Fingersmith, which we recently covered as a Reading Group text. This semester we’ve also watched the ITV adaptations of Wuthering Heights (2009) and Northanger Abbey (2007) – both of which are brilliant.

Theatre: I thought Nick Dear’s adaptation of Frankenstein (2011), directed by Danny Boyle, was so great that I went to see it twice as a National Theatre Live broadcast. Both times I saw Benedict Cumberbatch as the Creature and Jonny Lee Miller as Victor, so I still need to see the reverse casting next time there is a rerun.

As for music, well a cheesy Halloween playlist is guaranteed to make me smile at any time of year. The IGA Goth disco is the highlight of every Gothicist’s calendar and Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights and Billy Idol’s White Wedding will always take me back to Mexico.

As the resident art specialist, I’m going to add some art suggestions to the mix: James Gillray’s Tales of Wonder (1802) is a great satire on the craze for Gothic novels at the turn of the century; Henry Fuseli’s The Nightmare (1781) is one of those pieces of art that you see referenced everywhere, whether reimagined as a satirical print or recreated as a tableau in film, whilst any Claude landscape feels like looking into an Ann Radcliffe novel. 

(Claude Lorrain, Ideal View of Tivoli, 1644)
Who would you invite for dinner?
Erm, let me think about that one for a second… Mr Tilney! He lives in an abbey, he reads Ann Radcliffe novels, and boy does he know his muslin. All that pretty much makes him the perfect dinner companion in my book.