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!

Introduction:
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-si├Ęcle (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.

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