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By Jacqueline Grima
The 2016 Gothic Manchester Festival continued over the weekend with guests gathering at Manchester Metropolitan University for the annual Gothic Symposium.
The theme of this year’s festival is the Gothic North and the event was convened by Head of the Manchester Centre for Gothic Studies Linnie Blake. Dr Blake said, “In keeping with our reputation for Gothic excellence in the fast-beating heart of the North, we are proud to present the fourth annual conference of the Gothic Manchester Festival, an event that explores the contribution made to the Gothic mode by places, people and things northern.”
A line-up of academics from all over the country, and beyond, came to Manchester to speak at the event, with a vast array of Gothic subjects explored during the panel sessions.
One presentation, focussing on the area of Pendle, Lancashire, saw Manchester Met Research Fellow Dr Anna Powell take to the stage with a talk entitled ‘Wild and Strange: Locating Sorcery in the Lancashire Witches’. Dr Powell looked at the work of Gothic writer Harrison Ainsworth, showing the audience images of the landscape in Pendle, location of the infamous Pendle Witch Trials of 1612. She also went on to talk about the humour in Ainsworth’s writing and how it didn’t override the author’s sense of the gothic: “This is a proper gothic novel despite the humour, knockabout slapstick in places.”
Dr Catherine Spooner, from Lancaster University, is President of the International Gothic Association and her presentation focussed on the concept album 1612 Undeture, produced by The Eccentronic Research Council to coincide with the 400th anniversary of the Pendle Witch Trials. The talk focussed on the concept of so-called Gothic Tourism, looking at how Pendle attracts a vast amount of visitors who are interested in the area because of the witches. Indeed, the topic is heavily promoted on the Visit Lancashire website with projects such as poetry-inscribed way markers used to entice tourists. Dr Spooner said, “Travellers are invited to take a ‘bewitching’ short break. The website repeatedly attempts to diffuse the negative associations with the landscape.”
Dr Carys Crossen, from the University of Manchester, looked at how the Pendle Witch Trials are portrayed in fiction, focussing in particular on Robert Neil’s 1951 novel Mist Over Pendle and Jeanette Winterson’s 2012 The Daylight Gate. Dr Crossen said, “Despite their sensationalist nature, very few authors have depicted the trials in fiction.” Both novels feature the same characters but portray them in different ways.
Dr Crossen also looked at how a witch was defined at the time of the trials, the women who were singled out mostly being, “Poor, ignorant and bitter about the harsh treatment life has meted out to them.” She added, “They are, above all, female. Women are considered to be naturally more susceptible to evil than men.”
Other presentations on the day focussed on gender and sexuality with Dr Amy C Chambers, from Newcastle University, and PhD student Hannah J Elizabeth, from the University of Manchester, exploring the concept of the Gothic North in BBC3’s In The Flesh. In the programme, Kieron Walker, played by Luke Newberry, returns from the dead as a zombie and is reintegrated into his rural Lancashire community, Hannah describing the series as “a domestication of the obscene.” The programme also explores the issue of isolation and homosexuality. Hannah said, “In The Flesh is a nightmarish version of the British history of homosexuality.”
Also looking at the Gothic North on screen was Evan Hayles Gledhill, from the University of Reading, who compared the 2009 Channel 4 Red Riding Trilogy, starring Andrew Garfield, with the 2014 US drama True Detective, starring Matthew McConnaughey. They said, “These two series are inherently and inescapably gothic.” Evan went on to explore the links between the British North and the American South and their similar portrayals of class structure, patriarchy and masculinity.
Dr Samantha George, Director of the Open Graves Open Minds Research Centre at the University of Hertfordshire, looked at the strange case of the so-called Hull Werewolf, otherwise known as ‘Old Stinker’. Stories of werewolves date back to the 13th century, with people such as Peter Stumpf in 1859, being put to death on suspicion of lycanthropy. The most recent sighting of Old Stinker, as reported in the Hull Daily Mail, was in August 2016. Dr George said, “Wolves have long been the archetypal enemy of human company.”
Other speakers at the event included Dr Bill Hughes, who looked at the bleak and wintery landscape of northern Europe, particularly as portrayed in the fiction of CS Lewis’ and Hans Anderson, and French PhD student Marine Galiné who explored the representation of the North in the 2008 Swedish vampire film Let The Right One In. Other topics explored on the day were Doom Metal, Gothic subcultures and West Yorkshire dark, satanic mills
For more information about Gothic Manchester, visit Manchester Centre for Gothic Studies website.