Georgic Gothic: EcoGothic, Antipastoral and Global Horror

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Essay collection proposed for International Gothic Series, Manchester University Press.

In their most recent overview of ecoGothic research, William Hughes and Andrew Smith note the prevalence of  ‘intersecting and fruitful links between animals, plants, and food’ and that ‘Gothic engagements with food have become a significant area of investigation’ in recent studies. Agriculture is also filled with risk, personal and existential. Tales of horror arise from fear of nonhuman nature overpowering the human. These fears collide at the agricultural interface – the field, the wood, the cow. 

EcoGothic can provide ways of questioning assumptions about human actions and lifestyles, even when they appear positive, and this interrogation can help to change the relationships between human, nonhuman, or more than human Others. Climate breakdown increases pressure on farmers, especially those striving for some alleviation through agriculture itself. 

Environmental studies have recently come to revisit the georgic mode, by which agriculture and its labour can be depicted. In Virgil’s long poem, the Georgics, there is an insistent recognition that farm labour is ‘relentless’, often with meagre reward, and that both practice and politics of land ownership can be dangerous. However, Virgil also detailed the intimate, reciprocal relationship with nonhuman, and how hope was an ever present impulse to further endeavour. Novels, paintings and now films and digital media add to earlier poetic genres, offering new perspectives on ancient combinations of hope and misery. Unease permeates agricultural writing: farming hurts – there are well known examples such as Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles (1891) – hard labour alongside brutal machinery. 

EcoGothic offers a way of way of examining the balance between hope and experience, Virgil’s ‘Fate’, ally and enemy in one. ‘Staying with the trouble’, as Donna Haraway has explored, can be a way of working through disaster. At the beginning of her text, Haraway includes the georgic impulse to recreate through the earth: ‘we require each other in unexpected collaborations and combinations, in hot compost piles’. Compost – decay – renews the earth.

This essay collection seeks contributions that investigate the connections between gothic and georgic which are not limited to the downsides of darkness, but explore how the mysterious, uncanny and disruptive provoke responses in their ability to influence minds and behaviours in order to improve multispecies engagement. Contributors can source material from any nation or period: fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, film and digital. Of particular interest is farming beyond the UK, for example in Ireland and Australia, Africa and Asia, places that nourish their own ecoGothic elements.

Please direct enquiries and send abstracts as Word docs (400 words plus short bio) to Sue Edney (sue.edney@bristol.ac.uk) by 31st May 2024. If accepted, you will be invited to submit a draft chapter of up to 7000 words by 6th December 2024.         

Themes can include and are not limited to:

  • Extreme weather – drought and flood
  • Encroaching vegetation – ‘invasive species’
  • Animal diseases and mutations affecting human interaction
  • Spirit presences on farms, witchcraft, good and bad
  • ‘Unnatural’ behaviours of animals and crops
  • Psychological disturbance of farmers 
  • Disturbance through innovation – GM crops
  • Machinery and danger
  • Animals and danger
  • Killer bees and other invertebrates
  • Fungi and the uncanny
  • Chemical poison and aerial pollution
  • Industrial farming
  • Folk horror – ‘The Wicker Man’ and rurality
  • Film, gothic-georgic examples: Lamb (2021, dir. Valdimar Jóhannsson), The Levelling (2016, dir. Hope Dickson Leach), First Cow (2019, dir. Kelly Reichardt)