BARS Digital Event: Gothic Monstrosity and Romanticism

Thursday, April 11 · 5 – 6:30pm GMT+1

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To what extent are Romanticism and monstrosity intertwined? In Romanticism and the Gothic, Michael Gamer points out that “the late-eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century writers we now associate with ‘romanticism’ exploited the vogues for gothic fiction and drama in vexed and complex ways” (2). Gamer’s research has pointed to the fallacy of dividing the Gothic mode and the Romantic movement. Just as Romantic frameworks can be found in texts published after the mid-nineteenth century, so too can the Gothic. Both carry a new appreciation of space, selfhood, and sublimity. Gamer’s choice of language here, of the “vexed” and “complex” relationship between Romantic poetics and Gothic fiction, speaks to the theme of this panel on monstrosity.

Although the role of terror in aesthetic experiences is a commonplace in Romantic criticism, the problematic nature of monstrosity itself beyond narratives of anxiety remains to be explored systematically. This panel considers the intersections between the emergence of monster literature proper – through figures such as Lord Ruthven in John Polidori’s ‘The Vampyre’ (1819) and the creature in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) – and the ways in which monstrous constructions inform the Romantic Gothic. Moving beyond the premise that the monsters of the early Gothic are Romantic figures, this panel seeks to interrogate how Romantic monstrosity translates into depictions of space – and what this means for negotiations of agency. While the sublime is linked to human experience and hence to an anthropocentric vision, this panel seeks to locate monstrosity as a mechanism by which the non-human undermines the human. Surveying a range of texts by Ann Radcliffe, Anne Bannerman, Mary Robinson, Mary Shelley, and John Polidori, the panel explores the depiction and performance of monstrosity in the Romantic Gothic with a view to highlighting its centrality and its distinction from sublime terror. Finally, looking forward, through an analysis of Yorgos Lanthimos’ Poor Things (2023), which draws on Shelley’s Frankenstein, we suggest a genealogy of constructions of monstrosity rooted in Romanticism, considering what this means for contemporary narratives of liminality.


Madeline Potter, PhD: Madeline is an early career teaching and research fellow in the long 19th century (Romanticism and Victorianism) at the University of Edinburgh. Her work explores the intersections of Gothic literature and theology, with a focus on monstrosity. Her first academic monograph, Theological Monsters: Religion and Irish Gothic, is forthcoming with University of Wales Press.

Rachael Eleanor Murray, MLitt: Rachael is a Carnegie PhD Scholar at the University of Glasgow with an interest in all things dark, deathly, and disconcertingly liminal. Her thesis project, ‘Dead Water: The Aqueous “Beyond” in Romantic and Victorian Gothic’, focusses on watery imagery in articulations of death across 18th and 19th-century women’s Gothic writing, and was awarded the Robertson Medal for Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences by the Carnegie Trust in 2022. Her EcoGothic reading of Eliza Cook’s poetry is forthcoming in Litteraria Pragensia in 2024.

Cecilia Fabaro, MA: Cecilia studied Comparative Literature at the University of Torino, Italy, and is currently a PhD candidate in English Literature at Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz. Her research focuses on British short story collections published between 1880 and 1910. Her research interests include short fiction, fin-de-siècle and Modernist literature, media studies, narratology, and stylistics.

Roslyn Joy Irving, PhD: Roslyn completed her PhD with the University of Liverpool and Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University in 2023 and works as a researcher and lecturer at the Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz. She specialises in 18th-century literature, the Gothic, and Romanticism. Her recent and upcoming publications can be found in Litteraria Pragensia, and the Polish Journal of English Studies.

1 thought on “BARS Digital Event: Gothic Monstrosity and Romanticism

  1. Gioia Angeletti

    Looking forward to the talk on Poor Things! The novel by Gray, not only the film, which, however great, misses the Scottishness of the hypotext almost totally.

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