Gothic study day

Poster containing Gothic themes for the play 'Manhood', performed at the Elephant and Castle Theatre in July 1890.

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A day of presentations by specialists for those who wish to take their interest in the gothic to a deeper level

A day of presentations by specialists for those who wish to take their interest in the gothic to a deeper level. Chaired by Dale Townshend, University of Stirling

The ticket price includes refreshments, but not lunch or entry to the exhibition.

Speakers and presentations on the day

  • Terror, Wonder and Sprigged Muslin: Jane Austen and the “Horrid” Novelists

Emma Clery is Professor of English at the University of Southampton

  • Gothic Thresholds; or, The Passages that Lead to Nothing

Fiona Robertson, Horace Walpole Professor of English Literature at St Mary’s University, Twickenham

  • ‘Sir Walter Scott Disease’: From ‘Girly-girly Romance’ to the ‘Southern School of Degeneracy.

Fred Botting, Professor of English Literature and Creative Writing at Kingston University, London

  • Everywhere and Nowhere: Gothic, Tourism and Travel

Scott Brewster, Reader in English, and Lucie Armitt, Professor of Contemporary English Literature, at the University of Lincoln

  • Music, Absinth, Lace: Goth Club Culture

Isabella van Elferen, Professor in the School of Performance and Screen Studies at Kingston University, London

  • Inhabiting a Gothic Future: Nightmares of Modernity

David Punter, Professor of English at the University of Bristol

The day will conclude with the launch of the new edition of The Castle of Otranto, edited by Nick Groom with a glass of wine provided by Oxford University Press.


‘Terror, Wonder and Sprigged Muslin: Jane Austen and the “Horrid” Novelists’
Emma Clery, University of Southampton

Critical opinion on Austen’s relationship to the Gothic has undergone an almost complete reversal. Once it was universally accepted that Northanger Abbey was a straightforward burlesque of Gothic romance, and a complete repudiation of the absurdities of the genre in favour of an alternative aesthetic of realism and probability. Today, some have gone so far as to label Austen a Gothic novelist herself. This talk will focus on one central aspect of the Gothic – terror – and suggest that Austen draws attention to its profoundly ambivalent emergence as a feature of the modern culture industry. On the one hand, terror has the capacity to provoke wonder at the arrangements which are generally accepted as normality. It is now recognised that Northanger Abbey contains a buried narrative of domestic ‘atrocities’ that ironically undercuts Henry Tilney’s question, ‘Do our laws connive at them?’ In this respect, Austen’s practice is very similar to that of the leading Gothic writer of the day, Ann Radcliffe, who, in spite of her choice of archaic settings, lit up aspects of present-day legal oppression as if by sudden flashes of lightning. On the other hand, terror has been commodified, and the famous list of formulaic ‘horrid’ novels trotted out by the heroine’s fashion-conscious friend in Austen’s fiction bears witness to this fact. In our own Gothic-saturated world, do images of terror retain any connection with wonder and social critique?


Gothic Thresholds; or, The Passages that Lead to Nothing

Fiona Robertson, St Mary’s University

This paper connects the architectural preoccupations of Gothic writers, and the wealth of architectural detail within Gothic novels and poems, to Gothic’s distinctive and evolving techniques of storytelling. It looks at works by Horace Walpole, Ann Radcliffe, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Walter Scott, Thomas De Quincey, and Edgar Allan Poe, drawing attention to the links between architecture and narrative and focussing in particular on ‘in-between’ places and states - thresholds on which authors, characters, and readers hesitate between the natural and supernatural, historical and magical. It also addresses the question of endings and explanations in Gothic writing, recalling the complaint of one early-nineteenth century critic, John Dunlop, in The History of Fiction (1814), that Ann Radcliffe’s novels abound ‘in passages that lead to nothing’. Dunlop’s play on dead-end narratives makes us think about what the secret passageways and mysterious stories of Gothic writing actually lead to – to fragments of ancestral writing, to corpses real and imagined, to living bodies, and to strange mixtures of liberation and constraint. The paper aims to bring architectural structures alive not just as setting and context for Gothic writing but also as the key to its style of storytelling.

Extracts from the following works will be provided to inform discussion: Walpole, The Castle of Otranto; Radcliffe, The Romance of the Forest and The Mysteries of Udolpho; Coleridge, ‘Christabel’; Scott, The Bride of Lammermoor; De Quincey, The Confessions of an English Opium Eater and ‘The English Mail-Coach’; Poe, ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’.


‘“Sir Walter Scott Disease’: From ‘Girly-girly Romance’ to the ‘Southern School of Degeneracy’”

Fred Botting, Kingston University

This talk – an imaginary critical dialogue between several writers –  situates the fiction of William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, Carson McCullers between two historically distinct yet strikingly polarised accounts of the South. Mark Twain’s assessment of the ‘Southern character’ takes a rational, modern – and properly anti-gothic –  perspective in its criticism of customs, architecture and affectations seen to have originated in an over-identification with the fabricated world of Walter Scott’s romances. In contrast, Ellen Glasgow, herself a popular romantic novelist over-invested in all the ostentatious trappings of her native and beloved South, decries the writing of her Southern contemporaries as too Northern, industrial, modernist and degenerate in tone and form.

While Glasgow seems appalled by a modern eschewal of southern romanticism among her peers (her horror occluding the more appalling cultural and historical underside of her tropes of gallantry and honour) she does acknowledge – in line with O’Connor’s subsequent observations on Southern writing – the disturbing and defining intimacy of opposing polarities: Southerners, it seems, have romance and horror, heroism and monstrosity, good and evil, threaded through every bone. For all that, Glasgow remains recalcitrantly idealistic when it comes to the South: for her, Walter Scott could never be acknowledged as the name of any disease, let alone her disease.In Faulkner’s fiction, however, the disease Twain identified decades before enters a necrotic state. A ‘pre-posterior’ reading of ‘A Rose for Emily’ draws out the extent of the necrosis, equating its spinster Southern Lady with the position advocated by Glasgow. Horrifyingly critical of southern attitudes and the delusional persistence of the nostalgia underpinning them, the subtleties of Faulkner’s turn apparently outmoded niceties into something much more perverse and revolting: a necrophilia of cultural as well as individual proportions…


Everywhere and nowhere: Gothic, Tourism and Travel

Lucie Armitt and Scott Brewster, University of Lincoln

This presentation will explore the central importance of tourism and travel in the Gothic tradition, from its original fascination with ruins and haunted landscapes, to the contemporary fascination with ghost walks and the exploitation of Gothic by the leisure and entertainment industries.  Early Gothic indulged in imaginative tourism, locating itself in castles and abbeys and travelling across wild landscapes. The vicarious excitement and danger of these journeys into the unknown, or encounters with terror and wonder that take place somewhere ‘else’, could also be enjoyed closer to home, such as the theatrical visitor experience offered by Horace Walpole’s Strawberry Hill or the public spectacle of the Cock Lane ghost. Thus, from the outset, Gothic has proved to be a successful commercial proposition, fostering and feeding an insatiable appetite to consume, and be consumed by, terror.

In our present age, the growing array of Gothic-inspired leisure attractions, the popularity of ghost walks, or the vampire trail that can be followed from the Carpathians to Whitby, suggest that Gothic (as text, tour or live experience) serves to contain and control contemporary fears. Once a marginal, threatening presence, Gothic now seems a staple of mainstream entertainment, a passport to places we can visit safely. Yet, by considering examples of travel and tourism in a range of texts from Bram Stoker to Angela Carter and Kate Mosse, this presentation suggests that Gothic remains a crossing-point or letter or transit between the familiar and the strange. It is a place to see others, and oneself, differently.


Music, Absinth, Lace: Goth Club Culture

Isabella van Elferen, Kingston University

Goth festivals and parties are unlike any other type of nightlife. At the Whitby Gothic Weekend or Gala Nocturna, Goths dress up in the most elaborate outfits, they listen to poetry, watch Gothic films, witness cabaret or fetish performances, drink absinthe, smoke clove cigarettes, dance to Goth music. With their lush settings and Victorian figures dancing in slow-motion to darkly romantic music, Goth nightlife offers a world outside the day-to-day, a twilight zone in which gender, history and sexual normativity are not boundaries but possibilities. All of this is accompanied by the sounds of carefully construed soundtracks, which typically start off with old school Goth evoking past times, then change to the drones of electronic body music (EBM), and end with the martial stomp of Cybergoth music. Goth clubbers dance the night away, and with it go the here and now. Only when the night is over they feel their feet, and the bleak lights outside the club return them to 21st century reality.

Through analyses of Goth music, lyrics, and social practices, this paper explores the ways in which music contributes to the alternate realities established at Goth parties. Because of the immense range of Goth substyles, such realities may vary greatly in style and sound: some parties aim to recreate the atmosphere of London’s 1980s Batcave club, others thematise the rituals of pagan pasts, and yet others celebrate futuristic aesthetics. Despite their differences, though, all these types of Goth music present a timeless memory space inspired by romantic nostalgia and dark fantasy.


Inhabiting a Gothic Future: Nightmares of Modernity

David Punter, University of Bristol

Gothic has always been assumed to be about the past; and it is. It is about haunted castles, charnel houses, reliquaries, the graveyard. But it is also about the future, and in this respect it might be seen as even more dangerous. What if the future itself were haunted? What if we cannot break free from the ghosts and nightmares of the past and escape into an ‘enlightened’, daytime future? What if the monsters we hope to have banished, forgotten, left behind, follow us there too?

This seems to be the substance of contemporary Gothic, especially in the form of the zombie. Twenty years ago, zombies appeared to be dead (as it were); now, they are all around us again, swarming up the sides of buses, lurching down Main Street. Or to put it another way, the revitalised notion of an apocalypse is all around us; the zombie – now far from his/her original Caribbean abode – is the mutated survivor of whatever end-of-the-world terror frightens us most.Historically, modernity has been that movement, that sign, that hope that we can banish the past, free ourselves from its cobwebby, dusty grip, but the modern, we might say, has always had a problem with its own erasure. Just as we see with the Enlightenment and the emergence of an opposition based in irrationality and the enduring empire of the imagination, so the constant attempt to impose order on a chaotic world breeds its own nightmares; we still call them Gothic.


Name: Gothic study day
Where: Conference Centre
The British Library
96 Euston Road
Show Map      How to get to the Library
Price: Senior 60+: £16.00
Student: £14.00
Registered Unemployed: £14.00
Full Price: £20.00
Friend of the BL: £14.00
Enquiries: +44 (0)1937 546546