Friday, 21 October 2016

Reimagining the Gothic 2017 - Gothic Spaces

Sheffield Gothic is pleased to announce its new 2017 symposium and showcase event: 

Reimagining Gothic: Gothic Spaces

What is dead may never die: Reimagining the Gothic is returning. Now in its third year, Reimagining the Gothic is ongoing project created and run by the Centre for the History of the Gothic’s postgraduate team- better known as Sheffield Gothic. Reimagining the Gothic is an ongoing project that seeks to explore how the Gothic can be re-read, re-analysed, and re-imagined through academic, interdisciplinary and creative methods. Rising once again, the focus for Reimagining the Gothic 2017 will be ‘Gothic Spaces’.

As ever, the theme is open to individual interpretation and interdisciplinary submissions are welcome. With Reimagining the Gothic: Gothic Spaces we hope to explore the use of Spaces within the Gothic: how space has developed over the decades (from architecture, urban, and eco spaces), the ways that space is used to reflect and explore key themes of the Gothic, and to what extent spaces are integral to the Gothic genre. As with previous years, we encourage both public interest and new academic avenues from students and scholars who wish to present on the Gothic using interdisciplinary and creative methods.

This year’s event will take place on the 12th and 13th of May, with some small changes to the format. We were honoured and overwhelmed with the interest and submissions for last year’s symposium and so for this year we’ve extended the event to all day Friday and Saturday morning, accommodate more speakers. Our showcase, which utilises creative methods and mediums to explore the theme, will take place on Saturday afternoon.

The nature of the event means that the criteria for submissions is extremely open, and we welcome papers from any discipline including, but not limited to:
  • · Film Studies and Media
  • · Science and the History of Science
  • · History and Archaeology
  • · Landscape
  • · Architecture
  • · Gender Studies
  • · Music
  • · Theology and Biblical Studies
  • · East Asian Studies

Reimagining the Gothic’s aim has always been to encourage and explore new avenues for Gothic study. In addition to traditional academic papers, this year we will also be inviting submissions for what we’re tentatively terming ‘creative’ papers: papers accompanied, interceded or centred on a creative piece such as a dramatic reading, artwork, an audio-visual presentation or music. Rather than the standard 20 minutes, to accommodate the creative or performative aspects, the time limit for these papers will be 30 to 40 minutes.

Have you a keen eye for ruins? Poetic musings on post-colonial Gothic? We once again seek those who fancy turning their hands and minds to a creative project, this year exploring Gothic Spaces. Projects will be displayed during the showcase, which will be open to the public. Examples of previous projects can be found residing on our website:

If you’d like to submit, then please see our CFP for further information. If you’d like to know more about the event, then email us at or, for details on last year, visit

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

But is it Gothic? - The Handmaid's Tale

This week we’ll be meeting to discuss The Handmaid’s Tale (1985) by Margaret Atwood, so now’s the time to grab a copy and start thinking about what makes this work of speculative fiction Gothic. The Handmaid’s Tale is one of those novels that I’ve found myself returning to time and time again through the course of my studies, but I never seem to get tired of it. This text definitely benefits from re-reading. I was first introduced to the novel during my A-Levels when it was sold to our class of wide-eyed 16 year-olds as Sci-Fi without the spaceships. Fast-forward to University and it was a set text for a module on dystopian fiction, but until now I’ve never stopped to consider Atwood’s vision of a nightmarish near-future in relation to the Gothic.

To give a synopsis without too many spoilers, Atwood presents a world where the Caucasian birth-rate has plummeted due to the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, pollution and the pro-choice movement. Following a terrorist attack in which the President of the United States is assassinated (supposedly by an Islamic extremist), a military regime founded on Christian ideology rises to power and sets about transforming swathes of North America into the Republic of Gilead. Women’s rights are gradually taken away as they begin to implement a society in which women are defined by their fertility. Handmaids, as the few remaining fertile women, are assigned to the households of high-ranking, married officials whose wives cannot conceive – a practice justified by the Bible story of Rachel and Leah. Through her first person narration, Offred, a Handmaid whose real name we never learn, drip-feeds the reader information so we can gradually piece together her history, learning that she lost her right to work and own property before her child was taken away following a failed escape attempt. 

When she is taken to the Rachel and Leah Re-education Centre to be assimilated into the regime as a Handmaid every aspect of her life is controlled – from the nun-like red habit she has to wear, to the food she consumes – even the formulaic call and response form of language she uses is prescribed. Reading and writing is forbidden, thus turning something as innocuous as a game of Scrabble into a clandestine act of rebellion. The novel delights in word play and dual meanings - just take ‘spell’ as an example. When this word can refer to the spelling of a word, or a charm cast by witches it perfectly illustrates the power of language and the fear of women using it for their own ends.

The familiar trappings of the Gothic may be absent - there are no monsters, vampires, or zombies; no crumbling castles or ruined abbeys - but we do have an incarcerated heroine trying to escape tyranny. Offred is continually haunted by the past in her claustrophobic, mechanical existence, and references to ‘the time before’ abound throughout the course of her stream of conscious narrative. Reminders of her previous existence, or ‘echoes of the past’, survive in spite of the regime’s attempt to destroy all traces. The scent of flowers, the taste of cigarette smoke, or the sight of repurposed university buildings all have the power to trigger memories, and what makes The Handmaid’s Tale scary is how quickly the familiar becomes unfamiliar: ‘in a gradually heating bathtub you’d be boiled to death before you knew it.’[1]

You don’t have to suspend your disbelief to imagine how easily it all could happen; many aspects of the novel have happened at one time, or are happening right now. Atwood emphasised this very point during an interview about another one of her works of speculative fiction, Oryx and Crake (2003), in which she said: ‘As with The Handmaid's Tale, I didn't put in anything that we haven't already done, we're not already doing, we're seriously trying to do, coupled with trends that are already in progress.’[2] The fact that Atwood collected newspaper cuttings whilst planning the novel to get a sense of the contemporary climate of anxiety is clear for all to see… depletion of fishing stocks, disposal of nuclear waste, religious extremism, sexually transmitted diseases, reproduction and the role of women in society are just some of the issues highlighted that are still as relevant today as they were in 1985. The humiliating victim-shaming Ofwarren faces for having been raped as a teenager also stands out when factors including what the woman was wearing are so frequently reported in media coverage of rape cases.

As a work of speculative fiction, The Handmaid’s Tale tends to be discussed alongside texts including George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932) and P.D. James’ Children of Men (1992) as opposed to a Gothic novel such as Matthew Lewis’ The Monk (1796) for example, but a focus on prevalent cultural anxieties is more often than not what defines, and unites, seemingly disparate texts as Gothic. 

That’s not to say that The Handmaid’s Tale has nothing else in common with early Gothic novels. The dangers of pseudo-religious enthusiasm really come to the fore in Atwood’s description of the ‘Particicution’, and the way in which the collective anger of the Handmaids is built up before they are let loose to tear apart a man accused of rape recalls the pulverisation of the Abbess at the hands of the rampaging mob in The Monk. Even the form of The Handmaid’s Tale makes a nod to origins of the Gothic novel, with the found manuscript having been associated with the genre ever since Horace Walpole infamously tried to pass off The Castle of Otranto (1764) as the work of an Italian monk. Atwood takes this trope and subverts it by shifting the metatextual content from the preface to the afterword. 

[Ed's Note: Oh, Atwood, you beautiful meta woman you]
Destabilising everything we as readers thought we knew about Offred, the Historical Notes appended to the end of the text reveal that academics have pieced together the narrative from a collection of audio cassette tapes found hidden in a New England attic. Whilst this suggests that Offred escaped Gilead using the underground femaleroad, it also raises the possibility that the recordings have at worst been faked, or at best embellished with various names changed to protect the identities of those involved. The very idea of identity is unstable with a patronymic system whereby names are constantly being formed and exchanged by combining the possessive preposition ‘of’ with the name of a specific Commander.

Basically, the more I think about The Handmaid’s Tale, the more Gothic it seems – but what do you think? Two questions we’ll be addressing during Wednesday’s meeting are:

How does Atwood use religious language and imagery to create a dystopian setting?

How do the Historical Notes change the way we think about Offred’s narrative?

No doubt we’ll also end up discussing the forth-coming 10 part TV series with Elizabeth Moss taking on the role of Offred and Joseph Fiennes as the Commander (personally I’ve always pictured someone more like Jonathan Pryce). Remember if you can’t make it in person, you can always tweet us @SheffieldGothic to join in the discussion.

[1] Margaret Atwood (2016). The Handmaid’s Tale, (London: Random House), pg. 89.
[2] Gruss, Susanne (2004). ""People confuse interpersonal relations with legal structures." An Interview with Margaret Atwood". Gender Forum: Gender Queries, 8.

Hannah 'Nolite te Bastardes Carborundum' Moss is a PhD researcher on perceptions of architecture in the 18th Century Gothic novel at the University of Sheffield and is a vital component of Sheffield Gothic. She has been known to scratch rebellious warnings into cupboards in pig latin. 

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

But is it Gothic? - Macbeth (2015) dir. Justin Kurzel

On Wednesday, Sheffield Gothic Reading Group gathered to watch and discuss Justin Kurzel’s 2015 film adaptation of Macbeth. 

Brace yourself for gratuitous Fassbendery
This brutal, stripped-back take on the Scottish play is emotionally demanding from start to finish; the film opens with the harrowing image of the Macbeths grieving at their infant’s funeral –something that is only inferred in Shakespeare’s text – before the viewer is transported to the stark, blood-drenched battlefield where Macbeth first meets the 'weird sisters'. Their 'hubble bubble' speech is abandoned in favor of soft-spoken incantations pronouncing Macbeth's rise to power. They are accompanied by children – presumably specters of other lost descendants in the frustrated line of inheritance – and their eerie stillness is heightened by the sublime Highlands that loom in the background of this purgatorial space.

Fassbender’s Thane is intense and carnal, while Lady Macbeth seems to inhabit the otherworldly, marginal realm of the ‘weird sisters’, most obviously when she delivers the ‘will these hands ne’er be clean?’ soliloquy (sans courtiers) to the ghost of her infant – a psychological manifestation of the grief she carries inside of her in place of an heir. This sequence wins no awards for subtlety, and yet it is effective in its simplicity. The absence of blood on her hands is, perhaps, more eloquent. The hushed tension that accompanies Marion Cotillard's careful, controlled delivery of Lady Macbeth final lines (which are bitterly, ironically pregnant in meaning) is possibly the most memorable moment of this production.

Notable in this scene is the lack of blood on her hands, though we do see it
on the face of the child she speaks to. 
The question at the heart of this particular GRG semester is: but is it gothic? In the case of Kurzel's Macbeth, this is difficult to answer definitively. His adaptation certainly contains elements of the Gothic, and yet, Kurzel shys away from portraying the witches as grotesque agents of evil, choosing instead to keep their dialogue minimal, their appearance muted and their intent ambiguous: their function is to deliver the prophecy, which they passively observe as the foretold events unfold and Macbeth's sanity unravels. 

The real horror of this film lies in Macbeth's brutal, ritualistic burning of Macduff's family, while Lady Macbeth looks on, silently traumatized by the escalation of her husband's ambition. It is this event that humanizes her, disrupts the power play and ultimately kills her off.

All in all, it is an appropriately bold and bloody reimagining of Shakespeare's play with the theme of childlessness at its core. Adam Arkapaw's cinematography is stunning and the use of color, particularly the palpable red haze in the final 'act', is strikingly memorable. Lighting is also significant – notice in the final sequence how golden sunlight spills into the castle, where before it had been increasingly dark and dismal. There are no bubbling cauldrons in sight, yet Kurzel manages to tap into the gothic elements of Shakespeare's play even as he downplays the supernatural excess.

*Sniff* We're not crying!
It's just raining on our faces

Carly 'wyrd sister' Stevenson is a PhD researcher at the University of Sheffield, researching Gothic and Romantic conceptualisations of mortality. She is a huge fan of Keats' bloody hand and Hiddleston in general. 

Friday, 30 September 2016

Some thoughts on assembling a creature: editing The Cambridge Companion to Frankenstein

This blog is a cross-post of an original article from the Cambridge University website: Here, reproduced. 

Assembling The Cambridge Companion to Frankenstein raised some interesting questions at the developmental stage about the type of coverage that students would find helpful. Frankenstein is a novel that is taught in a variety of contexts and courses, including modules on Romanticism, the Gothic, science fiction and gender studies, amongst many others. It is also a novel which has been adapted for stage, television and film and exists in many graphic novel incarnations. It was felt that the volume should embrace the diverse ways in which the novel is studied and that this should be reflected in the very diverse range of topics that contributors could explore. To that end I solicited contributions which would fall into three sections, the first on the historical and literary contexts of the novel includes chapters on the publication history of the 1818, 1823, and 1831 versions, the novel’s literary contexts, its engagement with Romanticism, the political climate of the time, and scientific developments. The second section, on theories and forms, examined how different types of literary theory might be productively applied to Frankenstein. To that end contributors variously explored how ecocriticism, queer theory, models of race, gender and accounts of the posthuman might be applied to the novel. In acknowledgement of the novel’s continuing cultural significance a final section on adaptations explored Frankenstein’s afterlives including nineteenth century stage productions, film, literary rewritings, graphic novels and adaptations aimed at young readers (including Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich [2006]). Taken as a whole, the Companion gives an overview of scholarship on the novel, but also seeks to advance our understanding of the complexities of Frankenstein which should extend the pedagogic reach of the novel as well as interpretations of it.

I was fortunate enough to attract a stellar team of contributors to the volume who were a genuine delight to work with. The chapters reflect their expertise and each of them has thoughtfully reached out to guide what may be new readers to the novel through the complexities involved in reading it and its cultural progeny. Sadly one of the contributors, Diane Long Hoeveler, passed away before the book was published. Diane was a very well respected scholar and much loved person, and it is to her memory that the book is dedicated.

It is somewhat fortuitous that the book should be published in 2016, the bicentenary year of the ghost story competition at the Villa Diodati which inspired Mary Shelley to write Frankenstein. 200 years on and, as this Companion demonstrates, the novel still speaks to us.

Dr. Andrew Smith is Reader in Nineteenth-Century English Literature at the University of Sheffield. His 19 books include the forthcoming Gothic Death 1740-1914: A Literary History, The Ghost Story 1840-1920: A Cultural History (2010), Gothic Literature (2007, Revised edition 2013), Victorian Demons (2004) and Gothic Radicalism (2000). He edits, with Benjamin Fisher, the award-winning series Gothic Literary Study and Gothic Authors: Critical Revisions. He also edits, with William Hughes, The Edinburgh Companions to the Gothic series. He is a past President of the International Gothic Association. 

The Cambridge Companion to Frankenstein is available for purchase right now from here. 

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Is The Living and the Dead "Thomas Hardy with Ghosts"?

Proving that ghost stories aren’t just for Christmas, the BBC deviated from the broadcasting mantra that spine-chilling shows are best served up on a cold winter’s night by including The Living and the Dead in the summer schedule for 2016.

Nathan Appleby, played by Colin Morgan.
Set in 1894, the series centres around troubled psychologist, Nathan Appleby, whose interest in the paranormal stems from the untimely death of his first wife and their young son. Episode one opens with Appleby returning to his ancestral home of Shepzoy in Somerset to visit his ailing mother. When she dies Nathan and his new wife Charlotte decide to leave London behind for good to start a new life running the estate they have inherited. 

Filmed on location at Horton Court in Gloucestershire, the 16th Century National Trust property provides a suitably eerie setting for a ghost story with its dimly lit corridors and creaking floorboards. So far, so Gothic. However, scenes filmed out in the bright summer sunlight can be every bit as unsettling for the viewer. Cue lingering shots of crows circling the expansive corn fields.

The series definitely has a filmic quality to it and the cinematography of The Living and the Dead combines elements of the typically Gothic setting Misha Kavka outlines in her study ‘The Gothic on Film’ (2002), such as ‘heavy built wooden doors that close without human aid’ and ‘high, arched or leaded windows that cast lingering shadows’, with the extremes of light and dark and unusual camera angles which she also identifies as Gothic. [1]

Shepzoy Manor, Horton Court in Gloucestershire
The Living and the Dead draws heavily on local history, folk tales, rural traditions and superstitions, and the village preparations for a Midsummer’s Eve bonfire bring The Wickerman (1973) to mind. True to form, the young couple haven’t been in Shepzoy long before supernatural events disrupt the rural idyll – starting with the possession of the vicar’s daughter by the spirit of an evil man who died without being baptised. Appleby is duly drawn in to investigate, but this is not a series where the supernatural is explained by his psychological insight. Acting against claims that the girl is mentally disturbed, hormonal, or merely staging an elaborate hoax, he treats her demon as a ‘real’ entity who wants something – in this case, a baptism.

The show’s writer, Ashley Pharoah has billed the series as “Thomas Hardy with ghosts”[2] and the debt to Hardy is not only evident in the rural landscape and focus on country life, but also in the female lead. The character of Charlotte Appleby has clearly been inspired by Bathsheba Everdeen in the way in which she is determined to make a success of the estate, and she tackles the typically male role of farm manager with the same vivacity as Hardy’s heroine in Far from the Madding Crowd (1874). As a professional photographer by trade, Charlotte represents modernity in the face of tradition and is instrumental in bringing about technological advancement in an isolated community which the Industrial Revolution has passed by.

However, the farm machinery she purchases to increase efficiency is not embraced by her workers, and is later sabotaged. Plans to bring a railway line to Shepzoy, which would enable their goods to reach market faster, are also thwarted. The age-old rhythms of country life are disrupted by new technology, and disturbing land when you don’t know what lies beneath is never a good idea! The Gothic trope of the past resurfacing is repeatedly called upon, perhaps most literally when a young boy is haunted by the ghosts of five orphans when tests on the land unwittingly disturb an old tin mine where they had been left to suffocate years before.

Thomas Hardy is not someone who automatically springs to mind when discussing the Gothic, and despite him having penned stories such as ‘The Withered Arm’ (1888) his links to the genre have not generated a huge amount of critical attention. The idea of adding ghosts to the Hardy aesthetic for The Living and the Dead raises the question of how Gothic is Pharoah’s source material? Hardy certainly knows how to make a heroine suffer without recourse for ghouls or ghosts, and then there are his thematic concerns with origins, ancestry, illegitimacy and fate to consider. To pose Sheffield Gothic’s favourite question (and theme of our meetings this semester), but is it Gothic? 

A Laodicean; or, The Castle of the De Stanceys (1880-1) is an example of a Hardy novel heavily influenced by the conventions of the Gothic Romance. David W. Jarrett identifies the work as ‘a deliberate and comprehensive reworking of the Gothic romance’ and notes how it ‘attempts to bring the machinery of the old romance into the world of Victorian scientific “progress.”’[3] In respect of technological advancement, A Laodicean has much in common with The Living and the Dead.

In the novel Paula Power inherits the castle purchased by her industrialist father from the De Stancey family. Paula is torn between tradition and modernity and the clash between the new world and the old is dramatized in her confusion regarding whether she is more attracted to George Somerset, the architect she has employed to modernise the crumbling castle, or Captain De Stancey, the impoverished scion of the estate who presents Paula with a romanticised vision of aristocratic lineage.

Photography plays a pivotal role in the plot as William Dare, an amateur photographer who is the illegitimate son of De Stancey, manipulates an image of Somerset so that he appears as a dissolute drunkard. The aim, of course, is to promote his father in Paula’s affections with the hope that the De Stanceys will regain the family estate. In The Living and the Dead photography is also important, but not because of its potential to mislead. In this case photographs can reveal truths not perceived by the human eye. Thus Charlotte, the voice of rationality and scientific progress, is forced to re-evaluate her beliefs when she captures an image of Nathan’s dead son on camera.

Charlotte Appleby, played by Charlotte Spencer.
Whilst The Living and the Dead is not the kind of series to give you sleepless nights (that is unless you are of a very nervous disposition), there are a few jump scares as the camera cuts and you spot a face in a mirror or a figure looking in through a window. Where the series is particularly successful is the way in which it questions the nature of ghosts and hauntings by subverting the idea that they are traces or echoes of the past. Pharoah has basically taken the traditional Gothic tropes that we’re all familiar with and then added an unexpected twist.

Without wanting to give too much away, the series raises the possibility that you can be haunted by the future as well as the past. Is that haunting or time travel? You decide. To use a Hardy coinage, the final episode ends on a cliffhanger, but the BBC have said that they do not intend to commission another series – then again, they said that about Ripper Street and that’s still going.

[1] Misha Kavka, (2002). ‘The Gothic on Screen’ in J.E. Hogel (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Gothic Fiction, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), pp. 209-229.

[2] Ashley Pharoah quoted by Neil Armstrong in The Telegraph [28/06/16]: article

[3] David W. Jarrett, (1974), ‘Hawthorne and Hardy as Modern Romancers’, Nineteenth-Century Fiction, Vol. 28, No. 4, pp. 458-471. 

Hannah 'Malingering' Moss is a PhD researcher on perceptions of architecture in the 18th Century Gothic novel at the University of Sheffield and is the giddy madness at the core of Sheffield Gothic. She enjoys long walks beneath circling crows, disrupting tin mines and checking her photos for children's ghosts. Rebel.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Gothic Reading Group Schedule, Autumn/Winter 2016

Sheffield Gothic presents:

Gothic Reading Group Schedule for 
Autumn/Winter 2016: 
‘But is it Gothic?’

We’ve done the classics, we’ve done performance, we've done themes- what next for the Gothic Reading Group? This semester we’ve decided to take our favourite question to heart. We’ll be looking at a series of texts that may not always be identified as Gothic, but contain familiar elements (or flavours)and conventions.

October 5th: Macbeth (2015)

We’re kicking off the new semester with a screening of Justin Kurzel’s 2015 film adaptation of the Scottish Play, starring Sheffield Gothic favourite Michael Fassbender in the titular role. Drawing on our previous focus on 17th century texts, such as Dr Faustus and The Revengers Tragedy, as ‘proto Gothic’ we’ll be discussing both the text itself and the films stylistic choices.


October 19th: The Handmaids Tale, Margaret Atwood

What more can there be to say about Atwood’s 1985 classic of speculative fiction, The Handmaids Tale? Well, lots hopefully. Perhaps more relevant than ever, (with a 10-part series on the way), we’ll be discussing the novel with particular focus on Atwood’s use of imagery and language as well its dystopian setting.

November 2nd: The ‘Cartoon Cartoons’ era

Anyone who was blessed with satellite or cable television in the 90’s may remember the days of Cartoon Cartoons: from the ‘upsetting when you think about it too much as an adult’ shows like The Powerpuff Girls and Dexter’s Laboratory to the ‘definitely traumatised me as a child’ likes of Cow and Chicken and I am Weasel. In a reliving of our childhoods that we’ll likely regret, we’ll be looking at a selection of cartoons from the 90’s and early 00’s through a Gothic lens.

Look into the cold unnatural whites of their eyes and feel fear!

November 16th: Adventure Time

Since its appearance in 2010, Pendleton Ward’s Adventure Time has steadily become a global sensation. As the series’ has progressed it’s delved deeper into the workings of the weird and wonderful Land of Ooo and its origins as a - spoiler alert - post-apocalyptic wasteland. Whilst some elements are obviously Gothic- such as the show's main antagonist of The Lich and Marceline the Vampire Queen, daughter of a demon king- the shows exploration of morality, environmentalism, mental health and spirituality also tread arguably Gothic ground.

November 30th: The Blood of the Vampire, Florence Marryat

Okay, so we’ll admit: this one is definitely Gothic. We’ve been trying to sneak in this tale of a young woman of ‘unusual’ parentage, complete with voodoo and psychic vampirism, for some time. Marryat’s The Blood of the Vampire appeared the same year as Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) but takes a rather different route. The focus this session will be less ‘but it is it Gothic?’ and more ‘how is it Gothic?’

December 14th: Spirited Away (2001) 

For our final meeting of the semester, we’ll be screening Studio Ghibli’s Oscar award winning animated film Spirited Away. We’ll be asking ourselves about the relationship between the Gothic and the supernatural, but also the films engagement with the notion of greed. As we stuff our faces with cake, of course.

Pictured: typical Gothic Reading Group session

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

The Problem of Appropriation - “But is it Gothic?”

One of the common catchphrases of the Gothic Reading group here at Sheffield U is the question “but is it Gothic?” and it’s something that often sparks off serious debate.

(Nerd Alert: incoming heavy geekery and/or hard fanboying. You have been warned).

One would be forgiven for thinking that a TV show that includes ghosts, vampires, technology of the past erupting into the present, possession, frankensteinien creations, sublime monsters, and zombies would slip comfortably into the Gothic genre. Yet who would call The Transformers 1984 anime, the show which includes all these elements, Gothic? A show about giant fighting robots that turn into vehicles hardly smacks of Poe influences or dark terror, but an argument could be conceivably created to argue just that. And therein lies the problem of appropriation that I want to talk about today.

Octane, pursued by Cyclonus, Scourge and his Sweeps,
finds the ghost of Starscream floating in his crypt.
But is it Gothic?

The nature of Gothic is that it is pervasive: it lingers like an infection in society, occasionally resurfacing (as it has recently) into the mainstream consciousness. It’s a nice symmetry with the nature of the genre itself, which deals in pasts long thought buried which return to haunt the present (much like the transformers buried for aeons in a ship under the eart- Okay, I'll stop now). The problem is in over-identification, or rather, the appropriation of texts for the great and growing Gothic canon. The example which always comes to mind here, is that of Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut. While I love the text as one of my favourite books of all time, I have never considered it as Gothic. Yet Maria Beville in Gothic-postmodernism: Voicing the Terrors of Postmodernity makes a convincing argument that this text, in its exploration of trauma, can be defined as Gothic. Beville argues that we do not need the paraphernalia of the Gothic, that postmodernist literature touched on contemporary terrors, positing this as Gothic’s supreme purpose.

While I can see this point of view, and the argument is both well made and interesting, I believe that sometimes this kind of textual appropriation can become all too common- Does terror in a text make it Gothic? What about that terrifying section of The Land Before Time VIII with the albertosaurus? Does that make it Gothic? Such thinking perhaps blurs the boundaries of the genre, which is not necessarily a bad thing. I can’t exactly claim innocence of this crime, though. All too easily I see myself identifying certain elements within TV shows, books, films, anything, and attempting to press them into service for the Gothicist in me. But is it Gothic? 

"A-Are we Gothic, Ducky? why am I
suddenly filled with existential dread!"
Let’s take 2002’s Blade 2 as an example. Here we have a film with vampires, the drinking of blood, labyrinthine sewers, warped familial legacies, and the sins of the father damning the future of the son. A big swing on the Goth-O-Meter towards “Gothic”. But the film does seem rejects its Gothicity (is that a word?), performing as an action blockbuster where the hero fights against all odds to defeat the cursed villain with explosions and guile.

The scenes push for a more action-line than horror, though those elements are there. You could, if you were so inclined, make an argument that it is Gothic in some ways, but the film is quintessentially Action, rather than Gothic in genre. Mary Going, a fellow PhD researcher at Sheffield coined an interesting term to resolve this, stating that such texts have ‘Gothic flavours’, and it is a phrase that I think should definitely find some traction, evoking perhaps the taste of blood, of decay and bonemeal, or dusty tombs. And Gothic flavours pervade a lot of artistic output, especially in the contemporary environment.

Sunglasses indoors are still cool, Gothic or not.
Texts like Steven Hall’s The Raw Shark Text and E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars, for example, evoke a sense of the Gothic while not explicitly adhering to the genre. While I believe I could make a somewhat convincing argument for the Gothicity (I’m going to make it happen) of such texts, perhaps I shouldn’t. While it’s interesting to analyse the Gothic flavours of such texts, which can prove valuable in terms of the new ways in which these Gothic tropes are employed, to label these texts as Gothic does them a disservice. It foregrounds issues of terror, death and potential mental illness, which may or may not be main focus of such texts, but merely part of larger themes and subsequently may obfuscate, or worse colour, other readings of the text.

The same retroactive appropriation of texts often occurs in my main research area, that of metafiction. Metafiction, dealing with self-conscious fiction, is often attributed to the earliest of novels- Tristram Shandy is often cited, along with Shamela and even The Canterbury Tales for their elements which make clear their fictitious natures. Linda Hutcheon, in Narcissistic Narrative addresses this issue, arguing that while Metafiction is a relatively recent classification (coined in 1970 by William H. Gass), there have still been metafictitious elements for as long as there have been novels. The aforementioned texts, while displaying the motifs we now catagorise as metafiction, should not be claimed by metafiction, but rather seen as precursors, as containing, if I may, metafictional flavours. On a side note, I imagine that metafictional flavours would probably taste of tongue, or the taste of a tongue that has been rubbed on a book, or of smells. Tasty.

Pictured: Gothic Flavours. 
I think that appropriation is unstoppable in our academic works, as Gothicists, as we are often so enamoured with our lovely little Gothic, our slice of terror, our wonderful everliving genre, that we see it everywhere. And while it is certainly interesting, and often enlightening, to cast our beady vulture eye over other texts and pluck from them the decaying veins of the Gothic, perhaps, in answer to that time old question “but is it Gothic?” we should perhaps be suggesting that it has Gothic flavours. Or, alternatively, is Beville right in asserting that the age of Gothic as defined by a specific set of paraphernalia is over? But... is it Gothic?

"I was sparkling before Vampires made it cool, Octane!"
This question, as luck would have it, is the next theme for this term’s Gothic Reading Group! How fortuitious! Sheffield Gothic will be meeting to discuss texts that we think might be Gothic in flavour, if not in nature, bringing to light a few hidden gems that we think deserve a bit more attention. Stay tuned for the upcoming schedule and please do get in touch if you’d like to come down one day and join us by contacting:

Danny ‘Decepticon’ Southward is a PhD researcher in contemporary Gothic and post-postmodernism at the university of Sheffield. His work focuses on metamodernism, metafiction and creative writing (and also apparently Transformers). He’s not obsessed with Transformers. Honest. No, really. Maybe a little. Okay, quite a lot. FIRRIB, amiright?