OGOM Company of Wolves CFP – Beyond excited to announce this!

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Excellent, fabulous news. Send in your abstracts – I can’t wait to start reading them.

Open Graves, Open Minds

Conference, University of Hertfordshire, Sept 3rd-5th 2015: Call for Papers and Panels

OGOM: ‘The Company of Wolves’: Sociality, Animality, and Subjectivity in Literary and Cultural Narratives—Werewolves, Shapeshifters, and Feral Humans

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Wolves have long been the archetypal enemy of human company, preying on the unguarded boundaries of civilisation, threatening the pastoral of ideal sociality and figuring as sexual predators. Yet, in their way, with their complex pack interactions, they have served as a model for society. Lately, this ancient enemy has been rehabilitated and reappraised, and rewilding projects have attempted to admit them more closely into our lives. Our company with wolves has inspired fiction from Ovid, through Perrault and the Grimms’ narrators, to Bram Stoker and Kipling; and, more recently, to Angela Carter, Neil Jordan, Anne Rice, Marcus Sedgwick and Glen Duncan.

The Open Graves, Open Minds Project was initiated in 2010 with the Vampires and the Undead in Modern…

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Reading the Gothic on hiatus

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Following on from a rather quiet semester, and in no way reflective of my coming deadlines, Reading the Gothic will be going on a hiatus until the New Year.

This will mean that it will return in time to tie in with the ‘Generation Dead: Young Adult Fiction and the Gothic’ and ‘The Dark Side: Gothic and Dark Romanticism’ modules. Ideally we can choose texts that complement the set readings for these and also offer a relaxed space to discuss any issues that arise when studying for courses.

Looking forward to seeing you in 2015!

Female Werewolves and Boobs

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Suzy McKee Charnas’ ‘Boobs’ is a short story that I’ve only recently read but has cropped up multiple times during my research in regards to the relatively rare female werewolf. There is a recurring trope within recent werewolf literature that female werewolves are incredibly rare and often sought out by an entire pack as a mate or are infertile. (Examples of this include Kelley Armstrong’s Bitten series and Leah Clearwater in the Twilight series).

This idea reflects the historical lack of female werewolves. The reasons for this lack are varied. For some the very word ‘werewolf’ denies the possibility of female werewolves since the root of the ‘were’ is the Old English word ‘wer’ meaning man. Thus werewolves have generally been male in mythology, folklore, movies, and literature.

Alternatively, it has been argued that as werewolves are clearly representative of bestial masculinity, or the Beast Within werewolf narrative, female werewolves don’t make sense as women are not innately aggressive or violent. Ahem. (It should be noted that the agreement on the Beast Within narrative comes into play post-Freud and Jung, and with the added delights of evolutionary psychology. So whilst it is possible to place Beast Within narratives on many werewolf stories, this is a rather broad-strokes interpretation which universalises the figure of the werewolf). As a quick introduction to the gendered representation of the werewolf in popular culture and essentialising gender difference, I recommend perusing Heather Schell’s ‘The Big Bad Wolf: Masculinity and Genetics in Popular Culture’ or Rosalind Sibielski’s ‘Gendering the Monster Within: Biological Essentialism, Sexual Difference, and Changing Symbolic Functions of the Monster in Popular Werewolf Texts’, in Monster Culture in the 21st Century: A Reader.

Whilst, it is true that werewolves are a rare breed, this does seem to be changing in recent times. And ‘Boobs’ is an excellent example of a female werewolf who revels in her violent tendencies. McKee Charnas locates the transformation in the heroine starting her periods. (It’s been noted that the lycanthropic transformation follows a lunar cycle like the menstrual cycle. Though this is a relatively recent trope that is cemented in the advent of the filmic werewolf). Rather than bleed she becomes a wolf which she does not see this as a curse. Instead, it’s an opportunity to exact revenge on the boy at school who has been teasing her about her breasts.

This werewolf kills humans and dogs alike but feels no remorse. The story does not follow the traditional amnesia post-transformation rule: the heroine is fully conscious throughout the experience and is aware of what she is doing. In fact she even sets up the situation so she can kill and eat her bully. Unlike many werewolves, there is no desire to commit suicide or tortured introspection. Instead, you have a darkly humorous piece. (There’s a hilarious scene where the werewolf’s stepmother thinks that the blood on her sheets is menstrual blood when it’s actually from her victim). This dark humour recurs in Ginger Snaps (2000) which also plays on the idea of menstruation and lycanthropy.

McKee Charnas contrasts the heroines distaste at her ‘boobs’ of the title with her pleasure at becoming wolf. She prefers her strong, fast wolfish body to her human body which seems to be betraying her and forcing her to be an object of male desire and female reprobation. Strangely, the text reminded me of two striking representations of menstruation. The first is Darlene’s response to starting her periods in Roseanne (1988-1997) which she thinks means she has to stop being a tomboy. (It’s interesting to note that starting your period is associated with being more developed in general, ie, Roseanne has D-cups when she was 11 and started to menstruate). The second is Always ‘Run Like a Girl’ advert which suggests that menstruation is the process by which girls become female and being like a girl becomes a negative. (I realise adverts made by multinational companies to sell women sanitary products might not be the most unbiased place to get ideas about the representation of periods, but still).

‘Boobs’ seems to be a response to these ideas. The heroine becomes more dangerous and threatening through her monthly cycle. Arguably, cannibalising the school bully is probably not the most moral of messages, but this is a cathartic read. It’s refreshing to find a werewolf story which does not end with the werewolf being killed and instead celebrates the powerful potential of this monster.

Vampire Slaying Kits and the Twilight of the Gothic

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20141029_142004[1]So if you missed this session you missed a genuine vampire-slaying kit. (I’m pretty sure that as vampires don’t exist I can call this a ‘genuine’ kit even if it is made by a company who provide props for theatre and films). The kit belongs to and was smuggle into the library by Bev. Not only did it arouse some interesting looks from our fellow library users but it lead to an interesting discussion on weapons in the library – do stakes and a hammer count?

Following a significant time ooh-ing and aah-ing over the kit we got to talking about what we were expecting from the talk ‘Twilight of the Gothic’ by Dr Joseph Crawford. Given that any discussion of the Twilight series in the context of Gothic, or vampire, studies has become the byword for cynicism and bemoaning the state of 21st Century Gothic, I was hoping for something rather different.

And, it turned out, I was in luck. The talk was lively, engaging and, most importantly, tried to answer the question of why Twilight was so successful and what it offered readers. For the answer to why Twilight is so appealing, I suggest reading Sam George’s review of the talk on the Open Graves, Open Minds blog. She picks out a really pertinent quotation from Dr Crawford’s book, Twilight of the Gothic. However, what struck me from his paper was the importance of contextualising zeitgeistsRather than looking at the Twilight series as an aberration, the talk considered the books and films within the literary culture of paranormal romance. The catalyst for this research was the dismissive attitude of many academics to the novels – academics who would happily engage with other genre fiction and consider it to be worthy of interest. The disavowal of the series spoke to wider concerns regarding female-fandom and chic-lit which often falls under the heading of romance. (Something of particular interest given the recent Twitter furore over Gamer Gate and the presence of women in gaming culture).

Romance is a genre that has the biggest gap between its real-world popularity versus critical/ academic acclaim. This opposition of what we should be reading as opposed to what we are reading underlies the creation of the literary canon. The connection between romance and the Gothic is not new – early Gothic novels were known as Gothic romance. What is interesting though is that recent Gothic studies have tried to distance themselves from modern incarnations of paranormal romance such as Christine Feehan’s Dark Series featuring the Carpathians, or my preferred series Katie MacAlister’s Dark Ones. By doing so Gothic studies seem to be presenting themselves as more academic, literary, and rooted in a historical tradition. (A recent article on Ann Radcliffe’s 250th birthday seems to suggest that classic female Gothic writers are still being overlooked – although given the comments below the article it would appear that the author of the article is misinformed).

The talk also suggested that the sympathetic vampire started not with Louis and Lestat in Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire (1976) but with the Gothic soap-opera Dark Shadows (1966-1971) which featured a vampire called Barnabas Collins. The story goes that with the number of viewers flagging the produce,r on the advice of his daughter, decided to include a vampire as a character. However, he had a problem: all vampire stories end with the death of the vampire something which would give a limited run to Barnabas’ story arc. So, the producers and the writers decided to make him sympathetic and no longer monstrous so that they didn’t have to kill him off. Barnabas Collins became a house-wife’s favourite and the sympathetic, series-long vampire was born! This account appealed to me because once again it returns to the importance of female fandom in creating Gothic trends.

By the time, Meyer was writing there was a 15 year old literary vampire romance tradition although much of it appears under the radar and to little fanfare. To dismiss Twilight as vapid, bad literature which is unsuitable for women is to recycle the arguments made against Gothic romance centuries ago. And, a few years after the boom years of Twilight there does not seem to be a generation of women who want an abusive, controlling boyfriend who force them to choose marriage over university – which was the scare story regarding the Twilight readership. What is more interesting is to ask as Dr Crawford does: Why vampires? Why now? Why Twilight? These were the suggestions given by the talk:

Why vampires?

Since John Polidori modelled his vampire on Lord Byron himself, the vampire has been synonymous with the Byronic hero. Paranormal romance takes the Byronic vampire and exaggerates these features taking the Ur-plot of romances to a hyperbolic level. The vampire of romance is: wounded, damaged, strong, powerful, rich, cold, hard, and handsome. He has Old World values combined with the animalistic desire for blood and his tortured soul literalises emotional ‘living death’.

Why now?

The different humans rights movements of the late 20th century prioritised the idea of equality (in the sense that we can all live like white, straight, middle-class, cis-gendered, men) but also the right to be different. As we move closer to the realisation of the equal rights (?), paranormal romances offer a way of exploring how to live differently.

In terms of feminism, the idea of liberated female sexuality is only tolerated in a private sphere and so long as it does not ask for social change on a public level. Paranormal romance offers a space to explore female fantasies without engaging with the wider political arguments.

The presentation of the teenager has often been related to low-level alienation which is something that has been capitalised on in YA literature. Combine this with the new ways of mass distribution in the publishing world which came with the success of the Harry Potter franchise, and you can give young adults easy and quick access to the books that reflect this feelings. Twilight was published at just the right time to make the most of this atmosphere.

Why Twilight?

Meyer always stated that she was not interested in Gothic horror and vampire stories. Thus her works seem peculiarly naive and often invert certain vampire tropes, ie, that vampires get stronger as they get older and cannot go out in the sunlight without dying. (Although, let’s just remember that Count Dracula could walk in the sun). This gave the text an appealing sincerity. The big selling point of Twilight though was that it was wish-fulfilment par excellence – the equivalent of James Bond for the guys. (Although, I appreciate that people of both genders enjoy Twilight and James Bond equally and the there is not sex chromosome for fandom). The internet meant that consumers of the novels and films had somewhere to share their interest allowing it to flourish beyond its limited first release.

Hopefully, this gives an adequate overview of what was discussed. Certainly, I will be buying the book and perusing it at my leisure. This was a refreshing discussion of the power of the Gothic and its many incarnations – even the sparkly ones.

I Wonder: BBC Timeline of Gothic fiction

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As ever the BBC fulfils its aim of entertaining and educating (“edutainment”) and this timeline is a really good way of consolidating all the different phases of Gothic fiction. Thereby making essay writing and revision significantly easier!

Open Graves, Open Minds

Useful Timeline of Gothic Fiction with some pleasing visuals. Just in time for Halloween (Dr Catherine Spooner, contributor to OGOM, was the BBC’s consultant)

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