Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Sheffield Gothic Profile Blog - Ellen Bulford Welch

The next instalment in Sheffield Gothic's profile blog series focuses on Ellen Bulford Welch from the University of Sheffield. Read on to find out what drew Ellen to the Gothic, her favourite Gothic texts, and who she would invite to dinner!



Introduction:
My name is Ellen Bulford Welch and I am a second year PhD student in English Literature. Before coming to Sheffield I did my BA in English Language and Literature at the University of Oxford and an MPhil in American Literature at the University of Cambridge. 

What do you research?
My current research focuses on the figure of the Gothic author in nineteenth-century America. My thesis works from the premise that pejorative Gothic identities were routinely attributed to practitioners of the Gothic in the literary criticism of the period. In other words, Gothic texts were assumed to be an extension of the dark realities inhabited by their authors. I argue that critics frequently upheld this paradigm by imagining Gothic authors in the roles of traditional Gothic villains, such as witches, ghosts and demons (unsurprisingly, there are many colourful examples of this Gothicisation surrounding writers like Edgar Allan Poe and the infamous 'Monk' Lewis). My thesis also examines the impact of this discourse upon the practice of Gothic authorship, from the adoption of Gothic subgenres designed to provide all of the sensational trappings of the genre whilst simultaneously denouncing or parodying it, to anonymous or pseudonymous publication. 

How did you become interested in the Gothic?
It's hard to pinpoint the exact moment when my interest in the Gothic started. When I think about it, I have always been drawn to fiction and poetry with a Gothic aesthetic. When I was growing up I loved books like Jill Murphy's The Worst Witch series and was a big fan of TV shows like Ghost Hunter and Mona the Vampire. I went through the obligatory Twilight phase as a teenager and am still a sucker (pun intended) for paranormal American dramas from Buffy to True Blood. I've always been interested in the darkness that seems to lie at the heart of a lot of fairytales and folklore and I was delighted when doing an A Level Module in the Gothic to discover Angela Carter's evocation of these undertones in The Bloody Chamber. As well as her adaptation of traditional fairytales, I also loved the decadent Gothicism of her imagery, an aesthetic that I have since enjoyed in works like Baudelaire's poetry and Guillermo del Toro's Crimson Peak

(Grant Wood's 'American Gothic')
My specific interest in the American Gothic dates back to writing my undergraduate dissertation on Charles Brockden Brown. I find it fascinating just how at home the Gothic always seems on American soil. So much of the nation's history has been imagined through a Gothic lens and the Gothic dominates America's literary canon to a greater degree than most modes of writing. 

What Gothic texts (including shows, films, plays, music etc.) would you recommend and why?
Like most keen Gothicists I would definitely recommend reading many of the classics of the genre: Wuthering Heights, The Turn of the Screw, Dracula, The Scarlet Letter and stories by Poe, Le Fanu, Lovecraft and Arthur Machen (especially the extremely chilling The Great God Pan). I could go on ... 

I think it's always really interesting to read the Gothic works of authors who are not habitually associated with the genre. Edith Wharton, Elizabeth Gaskell and Louisa May Alcott all wrote significant bodies of Gothic fiction that are both a far cry from and bear intriguing similarities to their more well-known, non Gothic corpuses. My next aim is to read the Gothic tales of E. Nesbitt. 

On a more contemporary note, I recently devoured Dan Simmons' The Terror, a fictional interpretation of the fate of the much mythologized Franklin expedition. I don't want to give away any spoilers, but the novel provided an amazingly powerful, not to mention terrifying, evocation the Gothicism of the arctic landscape. 

In terms of television, earlier this year I really enjoyed watching the BBC's supernatural thriller, Requiem. The show did a really spooky job of weaving a Gothic mythology around the attempts of the Tudor occult philosopher and general polymath, John Dee, to communicate with divine beings. 

If you could invite any Gothic writer, artist, musician or character to dinner, who would you choose and why?
There's a long list, but if I had to narrow it down then I would definitely invite the contentious and little-known early-nineteenth-century author, John Neal. His prefaces are some of the most cantankerous and audacious that I have ever encountered and I would love to see if his personality was as larger-than-life in reality as it is on the page! The fictional character at the top of my shortlist would undoubtedly be Buffy's Rupert Giles. As far as I'm concerned no one could be cooler than a librarian with an encyclopaedic knowledge of the occult.


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