Reading the Gothic Ninth Session: Set Text (Advance Warning!)

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Having chatted with Matt, we thought we would go for Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse by Chris Riddell for Week Nine. It’s not hugely long and as it is aimed at children it should be relatively easy to read. It might be interesting to see what children make of it – perhaps we could see if we can get any reviews from kids that we know. I realise that this might not be easy unless you have kids of your own or younger siblings – who are not in their 20s like mine! But if we can get any feedback we can see how children interact with the Gothic.

Now, I have done some research and the University of Hertfordshire library is in the process of ordering in a copy of this book. So, hopefully, it should arrive before the session. I have also looked at the online catalogue for Hertfordshire Libraries and it is available at a number of libraries. It’s probably available at your local library as well. However, it is very popular so you might want to reserve it sooner rather than later – which is where the advance warning comes in.

In regards to the texts for next week, in a sweep of serendipity, a post appeared on my Facebook feed regarding ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’. (It will not surprise you to know that I follow a number of feminist pages). I hope the link works and takes you to the right page – it contains interesting information which contextualises the story. It also follows on rather nicely from our discussion of female voices within the media last week and we can further this discussion in light of the Gothic. How does the Gothic promote gender stereotypes? Or can it be used to show the how rigid and clichéd these have become? Does the Gothic have a specific feminine versus masculine voice? Is the Gothic a ‘safe’ space for women to explore their imagination? 

Whilst I haven’t read it in full, Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar’s Madwoman in the Attic might be of interest here. Or Helene Cixous’s ideas regarding ecriture feminine. And, if you’re feeling really into it, you could have a quick peruse of Mary Wollstonecraft’s ‘A Vindication of the Right of Woman’ which is from the right time period for early Gothic texts. (Excerpts from all of these are in The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, which I bought as an undergrad and is now covered in my sprawlings, and I just found a random ruler and some paperclips in it!)

Happy reading!

Seriously Staked Conference

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Honestly, I am a real eager beaver today with my posts. (This is not because I am procrastinating, not at all.)

I am going to the Seriously Staked Conference on Saturday 8th March. If anyone is interested, the information about it is here:

http://www.assap.ac.uk/SeriouslyStaked/index.html

I believe it is free for full-time students. Hope it is of interest.

 

On Vampires and Werewolves

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I should start this post with a confession: my brain is a little fuzzy today and the details of last week’s session are hazy. I am pretty certain we didn’t consume copious amounts of alcohol but my memory suggests we did – it was that or my recent reliance on Lemsip Max Strength to get me through the day. Regardless, I fear we also went off topic to discuss the occurrence of female voices in popular culture for longer than was perhaps prudent. Although this did tie in with the fact that both our texts were concerning ‘evil’ woman/ femme fatales.

Marriott Watson’s ‘The Stone Chamber’ is not one of the better known late-Victorian vampire texts – although it contains all the essentials: beautiful countryside, storms, crypts, fainting women, ruined chapels, oppressive rooms, vampire bats, and a wonderful play between light and dark throughout the descriptions. The quality of the vampire is both that of the traditional blood-sucking but also a psychological haunting. In fact the text mingles Gothic haunting with the trope of the vampire.

The vampire in question is a foreign woman who brings ruin to two brothers whose jealousy leads to the destruction of all three. She appears in the form of a vampire bat in order to attacks her victims leaving the traditional red mark on the throat – this text was published after Dracula which mentions both that the vampire can transform into a bat, but also the existence of the species, the vampire bat. The narrator does not question the fact that there is a vampire bat living in a British home: whilst this could be a side-effect of bad research on behalf of the author (oh, Wikipedia, what would we do without you?), it also suggests an unconscious absorption of foreign myth and monsters into British culture. The vampire is increasingly given a British passport for the pages of Victorian fiction.

Whilst it is not clear whether the vampire is already turned once she arrives on British soil, or whether she is only becomes a revenant after her death, she is certainly described as being sordid from the beginning. Her proclivities are deliciously swept aside under the banner of being “too terrible to speak of” – the unspeakable quality of the Gothic being a recurring theme. It was noted that this calls to mind The Accursed, as Joyce Carol Oates repeatedly used the ‘unspeakable’ within her Gothic tome. In “The Stone Chamber”, both the activities of the female vampire, and the attempted rape of a serving girl and the protagonist’s virginal fiancée are elided in their unspeakable quality. This suggests that female sexuality in all its forms was to be hidden from view: either to protect the female body from society, or society from the female body. The attraction of the fiancée according to the narrator, once he has been bitten by the vampire, is her delicate fragility. The more she shies away and grows faint, the more his predatory instincts are inflamed. The passivity of the female character is both ‘proper’ and to be admired, but also leaves them open to masculine domination. This dichotomous relationship between the male/ female in heteronormative texts recurs throughout vampire texts.

In contrast, the attraction between Sweyn, the archetypal masculine ideal, and White Fell in Housman’s “The Werewolf” is based on Sweyn’s belief that he has found his equal in female form. White Fell is described as having masculine traits, certainly in her strength and her clothing – which we later discover allows her to uncover her legs to run faster. She proclaims not to be afraid of man or beast, though both are afraid of her. In an inversion of the maternal instinct, or the role of ‘the angel by the hearth’, White Fell does not nurture the weakest in the group but feeds on them reminiscent of the very animal into which she can transform: the wolf. She is accepted as a female ‘victim’ and ushered into the feasting hall where she can use her position to seek out her victims. She offers both the young boy and the old lady a kiss. The meaning of this is unclear: is she marking them? Or does their willingness to be taken in by her beauty, mean that they are marking themselves? Certainly, her next victim is Sweyn who is entirely consumed by his attraction to her.

Sweyn’s brother, Christian, is the only character, other than the old dog Tyr, not to be taken in by the appearance of White Fell. However, his message is not taken seriously. Sweyn mocks his interest in old wive’s tales  – calling to mind the Enlightenment’s rejection of superstition which coincided with the rise of the Gothic. Christian is not as strong, or masculine as Sweyn and his interest in myth and legend is feminised whereas Sweyn’s reason and logic are shown to be masculine ideals. This is undercut with the end of the text when Christian is shown to be correct and Sweyn must live with his guilt embodied in the symbolism of him having to carry the body of Christian, frozen in the shape of the cross, back to his community. (The religious allegory is not subtle).

There was also discussion about whether “The Werewolf” could be called a Gothic text. When contrasted to “The Stone Chamber”, it certainly seemed to lack the central qualities, instead reading as a pseudo-Anglo Saxon/ Scandinavian tale. The setting was non-specific in time and place though it felt medieval. Was the appearance of a werewolf enough to make it a Gothic text? Yet, early Gothic texts were often set in the past as well as inforeign countries, in part to make the superstitious/ supernatural qualities seem more believable. It romanticised the narrative – this temporal and geographical space slowly gets eroded during the 1800s until the monster is in our living room. You could argue that this is still the case – certainly with the recent accusations of the domestication of the Gothic.

These two texts held up archetypes of both monstrous femininity as well as the difference between the vampire and the werewolf. The vampire is quicker to be domesticated and become a regular member of the Gothic family, where the werewolf stays out in the wilds of myth and legend for longer.

 

 

Is Pharrell Williams a vampire?

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Fresh from his Brit Awards performance, Pharrell Williams is looking mighty good for someone in his early 40s – and the public have noticed!

Google his name and you will get the above question in your top answers….so, is Pharrell a vampire?

“Is Pharrell Williams a vampire?” http://ti.me/1jHN3Ud  via @TIMENewsfeed

Surely a discussion for next session?!

Ideas for Texts: Classic and New

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So, my twitter feed has been catching my eye due to a marked increase in interesting book reviews. Since I tend to forget my ideas unless I immediately write them down, I am using the medium of this blog to make a list of potential texts. I have also linked to reviews of the texts so you can make a judgement call. Here goes:

Classic

The Sandman by ETA Hoffman

YA 

Department Nineteen by Will Hill

Children’s

Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse by Chris Riddell.

The Sandman is quoted in Freud’s ‘The Uncanny’ so they could be read concurrently or one after another dependent on what we feel about the size.

Department Nineteen is the first book in a series but has had good reviews and it may be interesting to see what he has done with classic texts. He appears to have effectively combined the Gothic and sci-fi/ action without losing the integrity of any of those genres. Quite a skill! In the same vein (ha!), I also want to mention Anno Dracula by Kim Newman. Both of them seem to have a fanfic vibe to them albeit of the highest quality.

And, frankly, I am going to read Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse regardless. Her father, Lord Goth, is ‘mad, bad, and dangerous to gnomes’. I am sold on that alone. 

Session Six: a brief overview

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Having spent a few days out on fieldwork, I am now back in from the mud and rain, but am still not quite convinced that I’ve recovered! So, I’m keeping the write-up short – I do not have Kaja’s linguistic staying power – so more a sprint than a marathon this time.

We looked at two short stories – The Bloody Chamber & J. Habakuk Jephson’s Statement – last time, and I think most edged towards The Bloody Chamber in terms of preferences.

What we thought as a group about Angela Carter’s story mostly related to the manner in which she wrote, or perhaps more poignantly ‘set the scene’ in direct relevance to what we are trying to explore about ‘Gothicness’. Having stressed this point, it is also fair to say our discussion also centred quite heavily on the levels of sexuality within the story, but I think many of us still had The Accursed in the back of our minds, and especially the portrayal of ‘gender roles’ within the two texts.

I remembered reading a nice quote from an article in a national newspaper a few years back, and after spending a good deal of internet searching, I found the quote I was looking for. It describes the Bloody Chamber as being “a multifaceted glittering diamond reflecting and refracting a variety of portraits of desire and sexuality”.

Later on, the article spoke of how “Fairy tales have been usefully described as the science fiction of the past; certainly Carter regarded them in this light, using them as a way of exploring ideas of how things might be different”. I think I would agree. Weaving the familiar with the unfamiliar – or to coin The Accursed’s phrase the speakable with the unspeakable – creates a Gothic story that we can relate to, yet at the same time explore and question and try to dissect what it is about us that fascinates us.

J. Habakuk Jephson’s Statement, on the other hand, seemed at first glance less Gothic, perhaps because it explained too much. I like it though (but then it was my choice!) and like the way it blends the old with the new (new being late 19th century of course). It was a novel idea, yet much of it did not make sense to some members of our group – not in terms of what was going on, but why it was going on. Yes, it has clear tones of racism, and a bizarre plotline towards the end, but the thing that ‘bothered’ us most was the need to take something unexplainable (ie. the Marie Celeste) and explain it (ie. the story itself), but then feel the need to explain what was explained (ie. have the main character tell us what had happened when we already guessed this). There’s complexity, then there’s being complex.

The one thing we did really like was its similarity to the Demeter scene in Dracula (portrayed brilliantly in the film Nosferatu) – but the beauty of Stoker is that he does not tell us too much – often the best horror is what is thought, not what is known.

 

Anyway, a brief account of our discussion, but we are hoping to ‘engage’ more with people on here, so let’s see what others thought – come on, get posting people!!