Sheffield Gothic’s final instalment in our profile blog series features our co-organiser, Lauren Nixon, PhD student at the University of Sheffield. Read on as she explores her interest in the Gothic, her favourite Gothic texts, and who she would invite to dinner!
Hi! I’m Lauren Nixon, a PhD researcher at the University of Sheffield. Those of you familiar with this blog and the general goings on at Sheffield Gothic might already know me: I’ve been co-organiser of Sheffield Gothic since 2014, subsequently the Reimagining the Gothic project and, our recent endeavour, Gaming the Gothic. I did my undergraduate at Bath Spa University and came to Sheffield to begin my PhD part-time in 2013, though I’m based in my home town of Nottingham. You can find me on Twitter @literaryla.
What do you research?
My thesis research focuses on the way in which Gothic novels between 1764 and 1826 represented masculinity and national identity in the figure of the soldier. My thesis, ‘Conflicting Masculinities: the figure of the soldier in Gothic fiction, 1764 – 1826’, explores the way in which the soldiers’ identity in Britain shifted and changed from the period following the Seven Years War, through the American Revolutionary War and into the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of gender, and the way in which social perception of gender is affected and altered by national identity, but my original research was far more focused on women in the Gothic. About a year into my PhD, I mentioned to my supervisors (Profs. Angela Wright and Andrew Smith, whose profile blogs you can find here and here) that I thought it was interesting how often the heroes of the early Gothic novels were knights, chevaliers and soldiers. I kept returning to the idea, and eventually Angela and Andy suggested that I make it my focus. My thesis looks particularly at the works of Ann Radcliffe, but also the ‘Northanger Novel’s’ and, of course, Jane Austen as well as Mary Shelley’s Valperga and The Last Man.
My interest in gender and the Gothic stretches well beyond the long eighteenth century, however, and recently I’ve worked on the representation of the soldier and trauma in contemporary texts such as True Blood and Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
How did you become interested in the Gothic?
Anyone who has followed the Sheffield Gothic blog for some time is probably well aware that I am a notoriously easy scare: my poor nerves can’t handle even the slightest jump scare, and I’ve never been much one for Horror. In fact, when I first came to the Gothic as undergraduate I was pretty certain I didn’t like it: I only took the module because it had my beloved Northanger Abbey on the reading list. But it was there that I discovered not only my love for the Gothic (even if I did think The Mysteries of Udolpho was boring the first time I read it…) but that, really, I’d always been in love with the it. I just didn’t really know what the Gothic actually was. As a kid, I was obsessed with myths, legends and fairytales (shout out to my local library for helping me find and read any and every text that related to King Arthur one particularly drizzly six weeks holiday) as well as texts like Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials and the Sally Lockheart series, Tove Janssons’s The Moomins and all things Alice in Wonderland. Once I began studying the Gothic, looking at everything from Le Fanu’s Carmilla to Blade Runner, I couldn’t stop – after all, the answer to ‘but is it Gothic?’ is always yes.
What Gothic texts (including shows, films, plays, music etc.) would you recommend and why?
|So, the downside of going last is that my fellow Sheffield Goth’s have stolen away the best recommendations. However, there are few texts that are very close to my heart!
The Gormenghast series – Mervyn Peake
I absolutely adore these books: if I could only read one series for the rest of my life, it would be Gormenghast. (‘Yes, we know, you talk about it constantly!’ I hear you cry.) It’s hard to describe Gormenghast succinctly – the first time I read it, I had to constantly reread pages because I couldn’t quite work out what was happening. But in a good way, promise. Peake’s prose is so enchanting and unique: the way he paints both scenes and characters is easy to loose yourself in, and his exploration of the ways in which place, legacy and ritual shapes identity was part of what drew me to academia.
Over the Garden Wall – Cartoon Network, 2014
Okay, yes, I know: I’ve also talked about this one before. But Over the Garden Wall is a must watch for anyone interested in Gothic storytelling. This ten part animation tells the story of Greg and Wirt, two brothers who find themselves lost in a strange place called The Unknown. The series draws on a number of American Gothic motifs and conventions, playing with what the viewer expects to create a story that is both entertaining and unsettling. Each episode is only around ten minutes long, which makes it a perfect binge watch for an Autumn evening.
The Romance of the Forest – Ann Radcliffe
I couldn’t not recommend a Radcliffe novel, could I? It was a hard choice between The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne and The Romance of the Forest¸ but ultimately it’s Radcliffe’s third text that really won me to her. Though not as complex or as masterfully written as her later works, for me The Romance of the Forest is everything you could want from a Gothic romance: suspense, mystery, adventure and more. Also, I was a big fan of Disney’s Sleeping Beauty as a child and I am convinced someone working on that film must have read this novel. The scene where Aurora and Philip meet and dance to ‘Once Upon a Dream’ is almost identical to the first meeting of Adeline and Theodore. Including the friendly woodland creatures.
Dragon Age – Bioware
I was hesitant to recommend this video game series, not because I don’t think its Gothic but because playing them nearly ruined my PhD. The first in the series, Dragon Age: Origins captured my attention almost straight away with its Dungeons and Dragons inspired levelling system and in-depth worldbuilding. All three game employ Gothic aesthetics and conventions, but the second in the series (Dragon Age 2) for me was particularly consciously Gothic. I spoke briefly at this year’s IGA conference about the way in which the play experience is used in the series to convey and create emotional responses. Each game you play as a new hero, but your choices and decisions in the previous game directly affect the state of the world in the next.
|I’m someone who consumes media constantly, and on a large scale. The dawn of platforms like Twitch (my beloved DnD livestream show Critical Role nearly made it to this list, and though I do highly recommend it for anyone interested in joint storytelling or fantasy gaming, it is a lot of hours of content) and Youtube have brought some wonderful shows to life. Buzzfeed Unsolved, which is now in its fourth season, is a must watch for anyone who enjoys mystery and the unexplained. The show is split into two: True Crime and Supernatural. Each week hosts, Ryan Bergara (who does believe in the supernatural) and Shane Madej (who most certainly does not) either discuss an unsolved mystery or visit a location that is supposedly haunted. It’s a fun and informative show, whether you believe or not (#Shaniac).
Each year when we decide the schedule for our reading group, we try to include a variety of mediums – which, as someone who can’t handle a scare, can be difficult sometimes when it comes to film. However Gaslight has always been at the top of my must see list when it comes to Gothic cinema: based on the play by Peter Hamilton and starring Ingrid Bergman, this film is truly a masterpiece in Gothic storytelling. The pacing, the score and the superb acting all create undeniable tension and sense of dread in the viewer that, for me, few films have ever achieved.
There are certainly more texts that I could recommend (I chose not to mention Austen’s Northanger Abbey, because everyone knows I love that book), but these are certainly the ones that I am fondest of. Lately I’ve been interested in the way in which pop culture uses Gothic aesthetics to frame masculinity, and what it is that makes it so appealing to a young female audience. I’ll be discussing the Marvel Universe’s beloved trickster Loki, but also the music videos of the hugely popular Korean boy band EXO. For a taster, check out the video to their 2016 single ‘Monster’:
If you could invite any Gothic writer, artist, musician or character to dinner, who would you choose and why?
Shocking I’m sure no one, I’d invite Jane Austen and Ann Radcliffe: to listen to them discuss books would be a dream come true. Plus that made up meeting in Becoming Jane did them both a huge disservice – I refuse to accept a meeting between the two would have been that dull. I’d invite Mervyn Peake and his wife Maeve, just to listen to their stories and peharps Sheridan Le Fanu, so we can have a frank conversation about how disturbing (but excellent) his short story Green Tea is.