I attended Gothic Manchester Festival, organised by Manchester Metropolitan University’s Centre for Gothic Studies, from 23-25 October and was, by turns, overwhelmed, star-struck, fascinated and inspired! It was great to mix with PhD students and established academics in the field, and I returned with at least three promising areas to focus on for my own research. What struck me most perhaps, was the sheer breadth and depth of Gothic on display and under discussion, which I hope to demonstrate in this brief review, featuring some personal highlights.
Dale Townshend’s talk on Ann Radcliffe’s engagement with Gothic architecture and the posthumously published Gaston de Blondville might have come a little too early for me, as I have only recently started reading Radcliffe (shocking, I know). However, I was intrigued by the ambivalences of the term ‘Gothic’, the notion of a ‘white Gothic’ and how heavily encoded Radcliffe’s radicalism is in her work.
Next came David Annwn Jones on the Phantasmagoria, a 1799 magic lantern horror show delivered in a disused convent, fresh from the terrors of the French Revolution. This was an immensely entertaining and informative presentation, featuring drunk patrons and some who even drew their swords at the ghostly apparitions conjured up in the original show, the legacy of which can be traced in the later Gothic of Mary Shelley, Le Fanu and Stoker.
The ‘Twisted Tales of Austerity’ event included readings by the co-editor (Tom Johnstone) of, and two authors (Laura Mauro and Rosanne Rabinowitz) contributing to, the anthology Horror Uncut: Tales of Social Insecurity and Economic Unease. These were genuinely haunting and provocative reflections on recent austerity and anti-immigration politics, and manipulation of the masses via the media.
‘What is this Thing Called Steampunk?’ took place at the Museum of Science and Industry and some attended in absolutely fabulous costumes. We witnessed first-hand the size and power of Industrial Revolution steam engines in the Power Hall, and learned about Gothic dimensions attached to this technology, such as boiler explosions and smoke blackening the urban landscape. Afterward, among other items, there was a display of beautiful Steampunk gadgets that ornament modern technology, such as the iPhone and e-cigarettes, while retaining their functionality, a talk on and display of Bartitsu, the martial art of Sherlock Holmes and the suffragettes, Steampunk in the graphic novel, and “God in the Steam”, a spiritual, Christian take on Steampunk!
The evening’s ‘Memento Moriatas’ event brought such delights as the music, wonderful voice and arresting stage-presence of Kirsten Morrison, who engaged beautifully with the work of Byron, Coleridge, Shakespeare and others, my personal favourite being her rendition of Macbeth‘s witches. Lloyd Shepherd’s presentation about mass burial grounds for the poor, Covent Garden ladies of the night and Hell-Fire Club orgies made me very keen to read his Regency novels on such subjects.
The Festival Conference, entitled ‘Gothic Spaces/Gothic Places’, tackled subjects as diverse and thought-provoking as Godwin as founder of the psychological novel and father of the Gothic, the Lancashire witch trials in fiction, the ‘Green Gothic’ of Buchan and Blackwood, zombies as untreated patients in In the Flesh, the American Gothic of True Blood, American Horror Story and Hannibal, a talking mongoose, and Steampunk burlesque!