Sheffield Gothic’s next instalment in our series of profile blog features Carly Stevenson, PhD student at the University of Sheffield. Read on to find out what drew Carly to the Gothic, her favourite Gothic texts, and who she would invite to dinner!
My name is Carly Stevenson and I am a PhD student in the School of English at the University of Sheffield. Prior to embarking on the PhD programme, I completed my Masters and BA (Hons) in English at the University of Lincoln. I currently work as a sessional tutor for the Worker’s Education Association (WEA) and I have been a member of Sheffield Gothic since 2013.
What do you research?
My research examines the influence of Gothic Literature on John Keats. In particular, I am interested in the ways in which Keats’s engagement with the Gothic interacts with the language of medicine in his poetry. My first chapter explores uncanny images of severed, reanimated and dead hands in a selection of Keats’s poetry and letters. My second chapter focuses on the ‘femme fatale’ figures in Keats’s ‘vampire poems’: Lamia and ‘La belle dame sans merci’.
How did you become interested in the Gothic?
To an extent, the Gothic has always been a part of my identity. Like many children, I grew up reading the fairy tales / folk stories of Hans Christian Anderson and the Brothers Grimm, which set me off on my trajectory towards macabre interests. During my adolescence, I devoured Point Horror novels and subscribed to a magazine that printed abridged versions of classic Gothic tales, before progressing to more sophisticated works, such as Stephen King’s Misery, V. C. Andrews’ Flowers in the Attic and Bram Stoker’s Dracula. In my teens, I discovered John Carpenter’s Halloween and Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street, which cemented my love for horror cinema. Around the same time, I also went through a Buffy the Vampire Slayer phase and developed a mild obsession with Tim Burton’s films. My academic interest in the Gothic began when I opted to study a Gothic module in the second year of my undergraduate degree, though a previous module on Victorian literature had already sowed the seeds. During my Masters year, I completed a module on ghost stories and wrote my dissertation on Shakespeare’s Gothic inheritance in Keats’s poetry. From there, I decided to turn my interest in Keats’s relationship with the Gothic into a PhD proposal, which brought me to Sheffield.
|(Ben Whishaw as Keats in the biopic Bright Star, dir Jane Campion)|
What Gothic texts (including shows, films, plays, music etc.) would you recommend and why?
Aside from everything I’ve already mentioned, I’d recommend Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, which is a feminist and anti-colonial response to Jane Eyre set mostly in the West Indies. Wide Sargasso Sea is a great read because it addresses the darkest, unanswered questions that arise from Brontë’s novel and gives the liminal character of Antoinette ‘Bertha’ Mason a voice. The subversive centring of the ‘other’ in Rhys’ story prompts a reappraisal of Jane Eyre and its heroine, who is complicit in the imprisonment and dehumanisation of ‘the first Mrs Rochester’. Rhys is an excellent writer, whose sumptuous prose brings settings and characters vividly to life. Wide Sargasso Sea could be described as an example of Caribbean Gothic or Tropical Gothic, wherein the ruins and haunted castles of the European Gothic tradition are replaced with sultry forests filled with monstrous hothouse flowers. The landscape may be different, but patriarchal tyranny remains.
My film recommendation has to be Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive because it is such a gorgeous piece of cinema, not least of all because it stars Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton. Adam and Eve are a worldly, artistic vampire couple who live half the world apart from each other, in Detroit and Tangier respectively. Adam is a reclusive musician who, depressed by modern life, considers suicide, prompting Eve to take an impromptu night flight to his dilapidated, Victorian home in an attempt to restore his faith in humanity. Only Lovers Left Alive portrays its vampires as addicts who are dependent on local suppliers due to the fear of contamination and exposure. Adam’s source is the local blood bank, while back in Tangier, Eve gets her O negative from Christopher Marlowe – yes, the Christopher Marlowe – who is not only a vampire, but the unacknowledged writer of Shakespeare’s body of work. Jarmusch is clearly aware, as we all are, that the vampire-as-junkie trope has been done before, which is why he injects a healthy dose of humour into these morose dealings. When Adam visits the hospital for his fix, he sports name badges reading Dr Faustus and Dr Polidori. Only Lovers Left Alive is a languid, elegiac mood piece that packs in an impressive amount of literary references and has a great soundtrack to boot.
If you could invite any Gothic writer, artist, musician or character to dinner, who would you choose and why?
This is an easy one. I’d invite everyone who attended the infamous ghost story competition at the Villa Diodati in the summer of 1816, plus Keats. I think Keats and Polidori would bond over their experiences in the medical profession.