Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Sheffield Gothic Profile Blog - Celine Frohn

Sheffield Gothic's next instalment in our series of profile blogs sees Celine Frohn, PhD researcher at the University of Sheffield, explore her interest in the Gothic, some of her favourite Gothic texts, and who she would invite to dinner!



Introduction:
My name is Celine Frohn, and I’m a PhD candidate in English Literature at the University of Sheffield. I was born in the Netherlands, where I completed my BA in Cultural Studies at Tilburg University, and an MA in Cultural History at Utrecht University.

What do you research?
My research is on a relatively little-known genre of stories from the mid-nineteenth century, called penny bloods (or penny dreadfuls). These cheap periodicals from the 1840s were read almost exclusively by a working-class audience. Their sensational and melodramatic nature made them unappealing for the respectable middle class. I’m interested not only in delineating the genre boundaries of the penny blood, but also in describing how these blood-thirsty yet entertaining stories combine the macabre and humour. How, and why, are these stories funny, and who is laughing? An avenue I’m looking into is how the Gothic and laughter in penny bloods are connected, working together to give rise to a wide range of emotions in the reader. I am currently working on the first story featuring Sweeney Todd, called A String of Pearls.

How did you become interested in the Gothic?
The Netherlands, my country of birth and the place I spent the first twenty-or-so years of my life, doesn’t have a tradition of the Gothic in the way the United Kingdom has. While there were plenty of 'scary' books in the children’s section of the library (called griezelboeken), there was no equivalent as I grew older. Within the Dutch literary field, there is little room for tales of terror, stories that push against the limits of the real and the imaginary. Perhaps this is why I have been drawn more to Anglophone books, reading abridged versions of Frankenstein and Dracula at a young age. It was mainly supernatural creatures, or humans transgressing the boundaries of our world, that fascinated me: vampires, werewolves, and especially witches. My scholarly interest followed when I started studying cultural history, and I discovered how Gothic texts digest and react to societal anxieties.

What Gothic texts (including shows, films, plays, music etc.) would you recommend and why?
Music: 
  • Ghost – This band revels in satanistic imagery, and turns every gig (called rituals) into a Gothic carnival. For Ghost, everything is about theatre and staging. The band members are masked 'ghouls,' and the front man is replaced every album. After Papa Emeritus III’s failure to conquer the planet, Cardinal Copia is now charged to spread the dark gospel.
  • Emilie Autumn – Incorporating a neo-Victorian aesthetic and referring to traditionally Gothic places like asylums and prisons, Emilie Autumn blurs genre boundaries. Her songs often carry feminist lyrics and promote sisterhood.
  • Zeal & Ardor – Formerly a solo project, Zeal & Ardor is now a full band. Their music combines black metal with spirituals and slave song harmonics. Their songs are unsettling and aggressive, occasionally mixed with electronic influences.

TV/Film: 

  • What We Do in the Shadows (2014) – Directed by Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi, What We Do in the Shadows is the best (okay, maybe the only) mockumentary about a group of New Zealand vampire housemates. Who cleans the carpet after bringing home a human to suck dry? Immortality only means that one can pile up the dishes even longer.
  • Penny Dreadful (2014-2016) – This TV show actually introduced me to the term 'penny dreadful' and ultimately led me to my current research subject. Penny Dreadful is a mashup of nineteenth-century Gothic fictions, featuring Dorian Gray, characters from Dracula, and Frankenstein and his monster. Eva Green plays Vanessa Ives in one of my favourite acting performances.
  • Hemlock Grove (2013-2015) – The first season of Hemlock Grove revolves around a series of unexplained killings. The main characters include vampires and werewolves, but in a gritty and gory version. The first season is wonderfully oppressive and engaging. I pretend the third (and last) season never happened.

Books:
  • Dead Witch Walking (2004) by Kim Harrison – The main character, Rachel, is probably my favourite witch of all time. The Hollows series is set in a mild post-apocalyptic contemporary setting that brought supernaturals into the open, and the stories are a great combination of each book resolving a certain contained mystery while at the same time slowly revealing more about the world itself, and Rachel’s place in it.
  • The String of Pearls (2007) by James Malcolm Rymer (edited by Dick Collins) – Penny bloods as a whole can be drawn-out beyond the patience of a modern reader, but the original 1846-7 version of The String of Pearls is pretty snappy, melodramatic, and wonderful.
Games:
  • Alice: Madness Returns (2011) – This adaptation of the Alice in Wonderland story is the sequel to a 2000 video game, American McGee’s Alice. In this game, Alice works through a traumatic past in increasingly threatening and psychedelic game levels. The game has an interesting commentary on trauma and memory.
  • Bioshock (2007) – In this shooter, something in a 1960s underwater man-made utopia has gone horribly wrong. Bioshock is probably one of the most imaginative and immersive shooters I’ve played; and the sequel Bioshock: Infinite is equally good.
  • Super Meat Boy (2010) – In this 2D platformer you are Meat Boy, a red hunk of meat, that faces giant saw blades that will shred him apart when touched. Since this game is very difficult, playing it feels like a metaphor: we are all just gristle for the machines, and if you fail, it’s pretty much your own fault.



If you could invite any Gothic writer, artist, musician or character to dinner, who would you choose and why?
I can’t choose! Instead of a dinner, can we just have a party with all of the authors and their creations, while Ghost perform in the background? Although, how do we prevent the monsters from making us into their dinner? I guess it might overall be a slightly unsettling experience anyway…

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