Sheffield Gothic’s penultimate instalment in our series of profile blogs features our co-organiser, Mary Going, PhD student at the University of Sheffield. Read on to explore what drew Mary to the Gothic, her favourite Gothic texts, and who she would invite to dinner.
Hi, I’m Mary Going and I’m a PhD candidate in the School of English at the University of Sheffield. An interloper from ‘down South,’ I first came to Sheffield to complete my undergraduate degree in English Literature, and somehow ended up staying on to study my Master’s degree in Nineteenth Century Literature, before starting my PhD which I am currently doing part-time. You can find me on twitter at @MazGoing
What do you research?
I have always been bewitched by the Gothic, but I am also fascinated with the portrayal of religion in fiction; from religious spaces, aesthetics, and identities to religious and biblical narratives, myths, and stories that are woven into so many texts. My current research explores the depiction of Jewish characters in late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth century fiction, with a particular focus on Gothic texts. I am especially interested in the development of the Wandering Jew myth, the character of Shylock, and the vampire during this period, as well as the representation of familial relationships and Jewish identity. More broadly, I am interested in the depiction of religion as it appears in Gothic and Horror of any period, and particularly anything that lets me research vampires. I also founded the Gothic Bible project
with Katie Edwards, Caroline Blyth, and Christopher Scott. Along with curating a dedicated blog series
and organising talks and special reading groups, this project hosted its inaugural conference last year on Halloween. You can keep up to date by following the project on twitter at @GothicBible
How did you become interested in the Gothic?
Looking back, it seems that I’ve always been drawn to texts that have darker, Gothic flavours. I can remember, as a child, being terrified but also entirely captivated by Josephine Lee’s Joy is Not Herself (1962), a children’s novel that tells the story of Melisande Joy Montgomery. Melisande is a witch, and following her increasingly ominous and evil behaviour (which includes causing a near fatal accident in which her neighbour Eleanor is thrown from a horse) Melisande is exorcised, and with evil expelled ‘Melisande’ becomes Joy.
|Cover for Charmed Life
Keeping with the Witch theme, I loved Jill Murphy’s Worst Witch series (who didn’t!) and while I was at primary school, I dressed up as Hermione Granger for World Book day; although, frankly, the less said about my childhood obsession with the Harry Potter series the better. Another childhood favourite was Dianna Wynn Jones’ brilliant Chrestomanciseries, set in a world parallel to ours where ‘magic is as common as music is with us’ and focusing on the eponymous Chrestomanci, an enchanter and government official. I especially enjoyed Charmed Life (1977), the first in the series and which introduces Christopher ‘Cat’ Chant and the Chrestomanci title (they are enchanters with nine lives) and Witch Week (1982) which is set in another parallel world, this time one without magic, drawing on the story of Guy Fawkes and featuring the adult Cat Chant as Chrestomanci.
Later, I was captivated by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Bram Stoker’s Dracula, both of which have stayed with me as two of my all-time favourites. During my undergrad I sought out as much Gothic that I could. I took Angela Wright and Helena Ifill’s fabulous second year module on the Gothic; got involved with the ‘Gothic Bites’ project (organised by Angela, Helena, and Kate Gadsby-Mace); and on hearing about the launch of a new Gothic reading group, I knew I had to attend. After the first meeting discussing Dominik Moll’s Le Moine or The Monk(2011), I haven’t looked back.
What Gothic texts (including shows, films, plays, music etc.) would you recommend and why?
Ok, if you haven’t read Frankenstein
yet, then what have you been doing? These are perhaps really obvious choices, but no matter how many other books I read, I always end up coming back to these two, and the legacies of Shelley’s Creature and Stoker’s Count are still very apparent today. You can read more of my thoughts on Frankenstein
, including why Danny Boyle’s 2011 stage adaptation is the best adaptation, here
|Cover for Paul Féval’s Vampire City
For any fans of vampire fiction, I would definitely recommend Florence Marryat’s The Blood of the Vampire
(which I have previously written about here
Published in the same year as Dracula
, this novel tells the story of Harriet Brandt, an orphan who also happens to be a psychic vampire. Marryat’s vampire is a perfect contrast to Stoker’s Dracula: Harriet traces her ancestry not to Transylvania but to Jamaica, and, rather than draining the blood of her victims, she drains their life force.
Another unique but fabulous vampire novel is Paul Féval’s 1867 La Ville Vampireor Vampire City (translated by Brian Stableford). The vampires in this novel are simple amazing, and I could not do them justice at all here so you will just have to read it for yourself (although I will mention that they may glow in the dark!). However, the premise of the novel should be enough to hook any good Gothicist: the narrative begins with Ann Radcliffe (yes, thatAnn Radcliffe) as she runs away with a band of vampire hunters on her wedding day to rescue her friends from the vampire lord Otto Goetzi. Yes, you read that right – this novel is essentially Ann Radcliffe fan fiction meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or, in other words, Ann Radcliffe the Vampire Slayer.
Speaking of Buffy
, you may have noticed that I’m a bit obsessed with this show…enough to curate a dedicated Buffy the Vampire Slayer blog series
in honour of the show’s twentieth anniversary in 2017. Although there are definitely conversations to be had about some aspects of the show which haven’t aged well (for example: Xander; the show’s portrayal of rape and rape culture; and of course, its creator), I still think Buffy
is important in its premise: to empower the girl who, in Horror narratives, is typically killed off. Rather than being killed, or needing to be rescued, Buffy (and the Scoobies) fights back, and the show has never lost its cult status or appeal. With the recent announcement of a Buffy
reboot (or is that a sequel?) along with reboots of Charmed
and Sabrina the Teenage Witch
coming soon as well, it’s clear that there is still a desire for female-fronted shows like Buffy
– and what better time to watch (or re-watch) the original?
There are so many vampire texts that I could recommend, so I’ll finish with my favourite vampire film: Jason Krawczyk’s 2015 Horror-comedy, He Never Died
. This is also a must-watch for any Henry Rollins fans, who portrays Jack, or rather, Cain (‘I’m in the Bible’), a weary vampire who has been wandering and murdering for centuries whilst being unable to die himself. Expect a lot of blood, but also a lot of humour.
I also really love Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series: a beautiful trilogy that is, in part, a retelling of John Milton’s Paradise Lost (whic you should also read, if only for its fantastic depiction of Satan and Hell) and the biblical story of Adam and Eve. This series follows young adults Lyra Belacqua and Will Parry as they journey through various parallel universes; and in one of these worlds, Lyra’s, every human is paired with their own daemon. Another YA series that I would recommend is Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series which tells the story of a group of young nephilim or shadowhunters – Clary, Jace, Isabelle, and Alec – who protect the world of ‘mundanes’ from demons, and who draw their powers from marking, or scarring, their bodies with specific marks. Of course, one of my favourite characters in this series is Clary’s best friend, Simon, who is not a shadowhunter, but an ordinary, ‘mundane,’ Jewish teenager who somewho becomes a vampire, then a daylighter (a vampire who can walk in the Sun), and then is marked with the First Mark, or the Mark of Cain. And this makes Simon a very interesting example of a Jewish vampire!
Speaking of Cain, I have to quickly mention one of my favourite bands, Avenged Sevenfold. Taking their name from Genesis chapter four (that’s the story of Cain and Abel), this heavy metal band often blends religious narratives and Gothic or Horror aethetics into their songs, while at the centre of their artwork are skulls and bats. Their song ‘Chapter Four’ retells the Genesis story of Cain killing his brother Abel (‘From the soil his blood cries out to me’) and has become the unofficial soundtrack of my current research.
|Illustration from The Monk
In terms of religious Gothic, the texts I would recommend include Matthew Lewis’s The Monk
(1796), Ann Radcliffe’s The Italian
(1797), and James Hogg’s Confessions of a Justified Sinner
(1824). The Monk
is a scandalous Gothic novel that verges on being pornographic; it was debated in Parliament, and then later bowdlerized by Lewis for being blasphemous, and features a fantastic cameo from the Wandering Jew who bears a revised version of the mark of Cain on his forehead in the form of a burning cross. Ann Radcliffe’s later novel functions as a corrective to Lewis’s, but is equally as enjoyable with its own immoral monk and type-scenes of the Inquisition. Hogg’s novel is of a different cast, and perhaps too complicated to describe in this post (you can read more about it here
), but I will just say that it may or may not feature the devil – and it’s up to you the reader to decide.
Finally, I have to recommend Syd Moore’s fabulous Essex Witch Museum Mysteries. I posted a blog
about Moore’s novel earlier this week, but if witches, Essex Girls, and unapologetic feminism are your thing you should definitely read this series!
If you could invite any Gothic writer, artist, musician or character to dinner, who would you choose and why?
I would invite Mary Shelley’s Creature and Bram Stoker’s Dracula to dinner because I think it would be fun to show them their numerous reincarnations and hear their thoughts on the versions of themselves. I would also invite Buffy and the Scoobies (although maybe not Xander…) because, let’s face it, of course I would! Not only do I think they would be excellent dinner guests, with the fabulous Giles (everyone’s favourite librarian) keeping everything in check, but the gang would be able to make sure that Dracula (Stoker’s Dracula, not the version from ‘Buffy Versus Dracula’, Buffy S5E01!) was well-behaved.