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Stephen Copley Research Report: Lauren Christie on Gothic Literature

Lauren Christie (University of Dundee) has completed the following report on her time in Manchester this summer carrying out research on the Gothic and attending the Gothic festival and the International Gothic Association’s (IGA) biennial conference.

Research report: Gothic literature, children’s literature and the Gothic Manchester Festival/the IGA conference

The very nature and beauty of eighteenth-century Gothic is its fluidity. Originating with Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1764) many established Gothic tropes are still present in aspects of contemporary culture: for example, fashion, architecture, and literature. We are witnessing new developments that reflect different audiences, such as Gothic gaming and post-apocalyptic fiction. Gothic remains such a prominent fibre of the twenty-first century through its inherent ability to adapt and modify for new generations. Due to the diverse scope and nature of my research (ranging from children’s to Gothic and horror literature) there are so many texts that are vital for me, from the eighteenth century to the present day. The Stephen Copley Research Award from BARS enabled me to visit the library and special collections archive at Manchester Metropolitan University in order to examine specialised texts spanning this vast time period. I combined this research trip with an offer to present at the International Gothic Association’s biennial conference. The organising committee for the IGA arranged additional events through the ‘Gothic Manchester Festival: Gothic Hybridities’ series. Exploring the hybridity of the genre from its origins to the present led me to consider and observe the popularity and diverse nature of this topic.

With assistance from Dr Xavier Aldana Reyes (Senior Lecturer) and Rachel Fell (subject librarian for English at MMU), I gained access to MMU’s departmental collection that exclusively focuses on Romantic and Gothic literary criticism of the twentieth- and twenty-first centuries. Prominent texts included: Coats, McGillis and Jackson’s The Gothic in Children’s Literature: Haunting the Borders (2008), Crawford’s The Twilight of the Gothic? Vampire Fiction and the Rise of the Paranormal Romance (2014), Tropp’s Images of Fear: How Horror Stories Helped Shape Modern Culture (1990) and Townshend’s Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination (2014). I also encountered contemporary children’s literary criticism such as: Lenz’s Alternative Worlds in Fantasy Fiction (2001), Lewis’s Reading Contemporary Picturebooks (2001) and Coats’s Looking Glasses and Neverlands: Lacan, Desire, and Subjectivity in Children’s Literature (2004).

MMU houses a unique archival collection of children’s literature. This dates back to 1764, and consists of children’s annuals, fiction, picturebooks and pop-up books, to name but a few examples. Immersed in this collection, I came across an extraordinary Gothic children’s pop-up book entitled Thomson and Hartas’s Ghoul School (2001), and a bibliotherapeutic picturebook for young children: Michael Rosen’s Sad Book (2004). I also looked at several children’s Gothic texts that promote imagination such as Thompson’s How to Live Forever (1995) and Turner’s The Tree Witches (1983). There were also Gothic transitional books for education such as Waddell and Wright’s Little Dracula Goes to School (1987). One particular text that I found incredibly dark and poignant was a contemporary one: Neil Gaiman’s The Wolves in the Walls (2003). This novel emphasises the power of the imagination and questions the figure of the monster (and whether we mean wolves or humans).

Alongside my research, I was honoured to be able to attend the Manchester Gothic Festival and present at the IGA conference. This year saw the society’s biggest ever conference, hosting over 300 experts from all over the world. I attended several vibrant panels such as: Gothic Houses and Gothic selves, Gothic Monsters in children’s and Young Adult (YA) fiction, Gothic Fairy Tales, Outsiders in YA Gothic, Haunted Scotland, and Reading the Gothic in Popular Children’s Fiction. I also attended wider festival events, including Scoring Fear: An Evening of Classical Music and Gothic Horror Film Scores (BBC Philharmonic and BBC Radio 3), and a reception at the Manchester Art Gallery. In addition, the IGA Postgraduate community had organised a round table event on Gothic-studies careers in academia. This was incredibly supportive as we were able to seek advice from several experts in the field.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the British Association for Romantic Studies for awarding me the Stephen Copley Research Award, without which this trip would not have been possible. I would also like to thank Dr Xavier Aldana Reyes and Rachel Fell for their help in organising my individual research trip to the library and archives, Dr Linnie Blake and the staff at the Manchester Centre for Gothic Studies, and the IGA organising committee for creating such a diverse and exciting conference and festival. The combination of all of the above events during my week in Manchester has helped further my research, thereby developing ideas for my thesis and publications.