Sheffield Gothic Profile Blog: Hannah Moss

Next in Sheffield Gothic’s series of profile blog feature’s our own Hannah Moss (PhD researcher at the University of Sheffield). Read on to find out how Hannah became interested in the Gothic,

 what her favourite Gothic texts are, and who she would like to invite to dinner!

My name is Hannah Moss, and I’m a PhD candidate in the School of English at The University of Sheffield. Having completed my undergraduate degree in English Language and Literature at Sheffield, I returned in 2014 to study for an MA in Eighteenth-Century Studies – and that’s when I became involved with Sheffield Gothic. Students on Prof. Angela Wright’s fantastic Rise of the Gothic module were told about a reading group we’d be welcome to attend, and the rest is history. In the Gothic post-graduate community I’ve found an incredibly intelligent and supportive group of friends and colleagues, who encouraged me to present my first academic paper at Reimagining the Gothic: Monsters & Monstrosities.

What do you research?

My research is centred on the representation of women’s art in novels of the long eighteenth century (1760-1830). My aim is to reappraise the Romantic-era conception of the artist as a tortured male genius by exploring how women’s creativity extends beyond the idea of female accomplishment. The female artist is a familiar figure in the Gothic novel, with the arts often providing the heroine with agency and an avenue of self-expression to communicate what cannot be articulated. There’s a distinct Gothic thread to my research given the tendency for the boundary between representation and ‘reality’, the artist and her art, to become blurred. What’s more, the female artist depicted entering the male territory of a professional painter or sculptor is often transformed into a monstrous figure. Alongside the works of Ann Radcliffe, Charlotte Smith and Mary Shelley, I am keen to incorporate non-canonical works into my research. The Corvey Collection is a veritable treasure trove of Belles Lettres which I would recommend to anyone with an interest in the period 1790 – 1840 (but more on that later).

The library at Schloss Corvey, Germany

How did you become interested in the Gothic?
I think that I’ve always been drawn to the Gothic without really realising it. Looking back, childhood favourites always included witchcraft and wizardry, a creepy castle or an enchantment of some kind – I mean, Beauty and the Beast is very Gothic! I loved reading Jill Murphy’s The Worst Witch series and R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps books, whilst the TV show Are you Afraid of the Dark? never failed to give me the creeps (in a good way). It was only at university that I realised that most of the novels I enjoy tend to be Gothic novels: Northanger Abbey, The Mysteries of Udolpho, Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, and Frankenstein are all firm favourites.

Anyone who knows me will know that my favourite pastime is wandering around castles, abbeys and country houses, rich with layer upon layer of history. Derbyshire and South Yorkshire are home to so many places that have sparked my research interests over the years that I could write enough for a whole series of blog posts!

Arbella Stuart

Hardwick and Haddon, in particular, are said to have inspired Ann Radcliffe, and it’s easy to see why. I’m particularly drawn to the stories of the women who lived (or were imprisoned) in such places. Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-1587) was held under house arrest at numerous properties in the area, including Wingfield Manor (now an incredibly atmospheric ruin), whilst Arbella Stuart (1575-1615) lived a restricted life at Hardwick Hall as the ward of her Grandmother, Bess. Her proximity to the crown led many to believe Arbella would be Elizabeth I’s successor, but this placed her in a dangerous situation. Having secretly married William Seymour without royal consent, the couple concocted a daring escape plan, only for Arbella to be captured, ending her days in the Tower of London – this could easily form the plot for a Gothic novel! I came to eighteenth century gothic after a period reading lots of historical biographies, and sometimes the circulating library plots don’t seem quite so outlandish in comparison. Caroline of Brunswick (1768-1821) loved to devour horrid Gothic novels even though her own sister had mysteriously disappeared after fleeing from an abusive husband, possibly dying whilst giving birth to an illegitimate child. Caroline used the Gothic as a means of comparison to paint herself as a heroine and vocalize the plight she faced as the wronged wife of George IV (be warned, I can change any conversation to George IV’s wives and mistresses).

What Gothic texts (including shows, films, plays, music etc.) would you recommend and why?

I always seem to end up recommending Wuthering Heights, so I’ll take the opportunity to recommend a non-canonical woman writer, a kids’ book series, and some period dramas I’ve recently enjoyed.

As I mentioned earlier, I spend a lot of time searching through the digitized Corvey Collection (Which I like to imagine is a lot like the library in Beauty and the Beast in real life). I’ve recently been reading Caroline Horwood’s novels The Castle of Vivaldi, or The Mysterious Injunction (1810) and St. Ostberg, or The Carmelite Monk (1811). Heavily influenced by Ann Radcliffe, but without the inset poetry and prolonged landscape description, the pages are crammed with everything you’d expect from an early Gothic novel – there’s incest, illegitimacy, bigamy, adultery, abduction, animated statues, mysterious warnings, forged manuscripts. She’s a new favourite!

Not just for kids, Chris Riddell’s Goth Girl series is packed with in-jokes anyone with knowledge of early Gothic literature and Regency history will absolutely love, plus there’s a healthy dose of pop culture thrown in for good measure. I frequently have to explain to my niece why I’m giggling at the introduction of characters such as Mary Shellfish, the bestselling author of The Monster, or, Prometheus Misbehaves, or Dr Jensen, the cleverest man in England, who arrives with his biographer in tow. Also, the hardback editions are beautiful objects in themselves with gilded page edges, really detailed illustrations, and plenty of footnotes to train the next generation of Gothicists.

As I’m still waiting for an Ann Radcliffe adaptation, my film pick will have to be Crimson Peak (2015). The plot won’t be a surprise to anyone who has read a lot of Gothic romance, but watch it as a Guillermo Del Toro take on the genre and revel in the aesthetic as he interprets the tropes. Can we start a campaign to get Tom Hiddleston to read the audio book of Udolpho?

I love a period drama, and there has been a few good Gothic offerings from the BBC over the past couple of years.

The Living and the Dead: I reviewed this series for the Sheffield Gothic blog back in 2016 (you can read that post here) – and it’s basically a Thomas Hardy adaptation with a supernatural twist. The central premise is that a rural community is haunted as technological advancement unearths all sorts of ghosts. Without giving too much away, it’s really interesting how the series plays with time, so you question who is actually haunting who.

Taboo: Tom Hardy in a series set in 1814, need I say more? That’s all I require from my TV viewing. Ok, well Ridley Scott has described it as a ‘dark, dirty brute of a drama’ so if that doesn’t sell it to you I don’t know what will. When James Delaney returns from Africa to claim his inheritance it gets him into serious trouble – and Mark Gatiss is a truly grotesque George IV. It was a slow burner, but built to a (quite literally) explosive conclusion. I’m very happy to hear that series two has just been given the green light by the Beeb. 

(Tom Hardy)
The Woman in White: I enjoyed seeing Wilkie Collins’ sensation novel adapted even if Count Fosco had shed more than a few pounds and lost the pet mice. Watching this reminded me just how many echoes of Collins’ work are to be identified in Sarah Waters’ Fingersmith, which we recently covered as a Reading Group text. This semester we’ve also watched the ITV adaptations of Wuthering Heights (2009) and Northanger Abbey (2007) – both of which are brilliant.

Theatre: I thought Nick Dear’s adaptation of Frankenstein (2011), directed by Danny Boyle, was so great that I went to see it twice as a National Theatre Live broadcast. Both times I saw Benedict Cumberbatch as the Creature and Jonny Lee Miller as Victor, so I still need to see the reverse casting next time there is a rerun.

As for music, well a cheesy Halloween playlist is guaranteed to make me smile at any time of year. The IGA Goth disco is the highlight of every Gothicist’s calendar and Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights and Billy Idol’s White Wedding will always take me back to Mexico.

As the resident art specialist, I’m going to add some art suggestions to the mix: James Gillray’s Tales of Wonder (1802) is a great satire on the craze for Gothic novels at the turn of the century; Henry Fuseli’s The Nightmare (1781) is one of those pieces of art that you see referenced everywhere, whether reimagined as a satirical print or recreated as a tableau in film, whilst any Claude landscape feels like looking into an Ann Radcliffe novel. 

(Claude Lorrain, Ideal View of Tivoli, 1644)
Who would you invite for dinner?
Erm, let me think about that one for a second… Mr Tilney! He lives in an abbey, he reads Ann Radcliffe novels, and boy does he know his muslin. All that pretty much makes him the perfect dinner companion in my book.