By Dan J Broadley
The Humanities in Public Festival’s Gothic takeover of Manchester saw the International Anthony Burgess Foundation host the ‘Gothic Spaces/Gothic Places’ conference. Not being well-versed in Gothic themes, I was worried I’d have no idea what anyone was talking about. However, I was pleasantly surprised, as the speakers on all four panels made some fascinating observations in their papers and I saw the true intellectual heart of the Gothic Manchester Festival.
Early on in the conference I caught up with Dr Linnie Blake – Director for Manchester Centre for Gothic Studies and speaker on the third panel – who had this to say about Humanities in Public and their Gothic festival:
“It’s going absolutely fantastic. Last year was the year when we were really convincing both the Gothic academic community and interested community of Manchester that we were hear and existed and that we did more than just talk to each other in academic papers. We have a lot to offer the general public and we were very interested what people were doing in and around the Gothic.”
“We’ve built a community of interest – local and not so local – and it’s great to see people come to more than just the ‘fun’ events and take an interest in the academic side of the Gothic.”
Below are just some of the many speakers that made up the day.
The first panel began around ten, kicked off by Dr Dale Townshend, who is Senior Lecturer in Gothic and Romantic Literature at the University of Stirling. His paper discussed the journalistic work of John Carter, mainly from The Gentleman’s Magazine, and his passionate defence of Gothic architecture. Carter’s often humorous work offered an alternative historical view on Gothic architecture, which I found to be much more engaging than I anticipated.
Richard Gough Thomas is a full time PhD student writing a thesis on the novels of William Godwin in relation to eighteenth-century ideas of moral development. He argued that William Godwin was a godfather of the Gothic through his novels Caleb Williams, St. Leon and Fleetwood with themes of imprisonment and physiological torment, creating what he calls the ‘prison of the mind’. For example, how the character Caleb Williams is imprisoned both physically and mentally through psychological torment.
Another of the speakers was Sue Zlosnik, Emeritus Professor of Gothic Literature at Manchester Metropolitan University. Her talk speculated that the sublime, sheer blankness of the arctic was a perfect stage for the Gothic, the most famous example being Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. There was also discussion of how explorers being driven to extremes of cannibalism in for example, The Lost Arctic Voyages and the idea that the arctic could be ripe for apocalyptic scenarios.
At lunch time, I delved in to the buffet and also got a chance to talk to Anna Powell, a Research Fellow at MMU and another of the speakers, who talked about the “openness” to the Gothics now thanks to the modern world “through media, the internet and television,” which she said gave young people huge access to this culture.
Dr Linnie Blake was another of the speakers whose paper discussed the links between TV series In The Flesh and the real world, addressing issues of inequality. In the TV series, a group of cured undead people known as PDS sufferers are persecuted. The show raises questions about how we treat real world issues such as immigration, the NHS, the welfare system and media bias. There was a suggestion that in the eyes of government and corporations, some lives have value and some do not, depending on profit. Dr Blake also took a dig at the Tory government, which is always nice.
Sue Chaplin, Senior Lecturer in Romanticism and Gothic Studies at Leeds Metropolitan University, focused on the American TV series True Blood which saw a theme of fascination with violence and threatening chaos at the expense of others. The oppression of vampires in this TV series reflected the oppression of minorities in the real world, seen in how one sign read ‘God Hates Fangs’, referencing the fundamentalists hatred of homosexuals in America. Additionally, a substance known as ‘tru blood’ (a synthetic blood) to me seemed to reflect the real world drug trade or perhaps capitalist consumerism.
Jon Greenway’s paper discussed the psychological geography and mental spaces in American Gothic TV series American Horror Story and Hannibal. He talked about how American Horror Story was set in a traditionally Gothic haunted house in Rosenheim Mansion – which had previous use in the Gothic. Jon went on to discuss the similarities with Jane Eyre and the links to post Reagan capitalist America. Hannibal, however, had a lack of specific location and focused more on psychological torment and the mental landscape. To quote the series: “killing must feel good to God, he does it all the time.”
Intriguing talks from Catherine Spooner, Anna Powell, Julian Holloway, Emma Liggins and Claire Nally made up the rest of the day all of which addressed equally interesting topics on the Gothic theme.
Towards the end I caught up with Dr Sorcha Ni Fhlainn of MMU, who just so happened to be the person setting the questions for Sunday nights pub quiz at Fab Café.
“I’m extremely excited; it’s going to be great fun. The entire history of vampires covered over five rounds!”
She also told me there are going to be “three or four particularly crafted MMU cocktails for the event”, which got me hooked…
There’s no doubt that Humanities in Public have done a fantastic job at setting up the Manchester Gothic Festival, and Sunday (26th October) night’s Vampire Pub Quiz at the Fab Café was a fitting way to round it all off. Blood cocktails, vampire quiz and DJ and dancing till late. Why the hell not?
… Read Dan’s report from the Vampire Pub Quiz later today on Humanity Hallows.
Dan is an English and Creative Writing student at Manchester Metropolitan University. His interests include music, festivals, bass guitar, writing poetry, having ideas for novels and meditation. Follow him on Twitter @DanBroadley.