Review: Gothic Tourism (Palgrave Gothic Series)

Posted by Donna Mitchell on February 21, 2016 in Blog, Donna Mitchell, Reviews tagged with , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Gothic Tourism

Emma McEvoy

Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016.

ISBN: 978-1-137-39128-5

Reviewed by Donna Mitchell

Emma McEvoy’s study of Gothic tourism opens with a personal account of her experience of a scare attraction in the form of Alton Towers’ ‘The Sanctuary’. Noting the narrative structure of the tour as well as the many visual, kinetic, and auditory effects, she presents it as an example of Gothic tourism, which according to her interpretation, is ‘the act of visiting, for the purposes of leisure, a location that is presented in terms of the Gothic’ (McEvoy 2016, 3). It is a form of tourism that is connected to the Gothic narrative and its ‘associated tropes, discourses and conventions’ (McEvoy 2016, 5). Focusing specifically on Gothic tourism within England, she introduces the nature of her study and discusses how it can be so intrinsically linked to people’s perception of their past and surroundings as well as to the construction of their identities.

Horace Walpole’s revision of Strawberry Hill during the eighteenth century and its subsequent status as a piece of performed architecture that attracted a new kind of tourist is the focus of the first chapter. McEvoy recounts how Strawberry Hill became a different house by means of, and because of its connection to The Castle of Otranto. She explains the history of how Walpole was inspired to transform it into a Gothic castle that quickly became a popular tourist destination. His merging of Gothic and chinoisiere in the interior design and his ability to create an intermedial aesthetic that, for example, invites the visitor to not only see paintings but also invites them to walk into paintings, created an atmosphere rich in transcendence and encouraged interesting dialogues amongst its guests. She also pays particular attention to Alexander Pope’s influence on Walpole’s vision and considers how the spaces of Strawberry Hill soon became the spaces of Otranto.

The Chamber of Horrors in the London branch of Madame Tussaud’s is the topic of the next chapter, which details the pre-history of the Tussaud family as well as the evolution of their waxworks’ subject matter and creation process. McEvoy considers the many complexities of the relationship between waxwork and spectator and also examines the psychology behind the Chamber’s display of real murder relics and how their presence ensures that visitors can envision themselves as the victim. This threatened exchange of identities demonstrates how the Chamber of Horrors has been instrumental in cementing an association between waxworks and the Gothic genre.

Contemporary Gothic tourism in London is the subject of the third chapter as McEvoy relates how contemporary locations such as Dennis Severs’ House in Spitalfields, Drury Lane Theatre in the West End, the Clink in Bankside, London Dungeon, and the Necrobus relate to the past. Defining Severs’ house as another piece of performed architecture, she notes the medley of time periods in its rooms and explains how this is a deliberate tactic which allows the visitor to witness various periods of the house’s history and also to experience the rise and fall of the fictional Jervis family. The construction of Drury Lane as a series of Gothic narratives and its interactive theatre tour, ‘Through the Stage Door’, is recounted before moving onto the history of imprisonment in the form of the Clink and London Dungeon. Describing the Clink as a progeny of Tussaud’s on account of its catalogue of prison relics and torture instruments, McEvoy notes its signature encouragement of tourist tomfoolery. A dissection of London Dungeon is then performed in order to examine how its theatrical actors, special effects, monologues, and shadow theatre create a Gothic experience for its many visitors. Finally, the Necrobus is discussed in relation to its status as a theatrical sightseeing tour and piece of comedy horror theatre set within a classic framed Gothic narrative.

Ghost walks in the South West of England, specifically in Bath, Exeter, Weymouth, and Dorchester are then considered in relation to their logistics as well as their ability to offer knowledge on the history and identity of their locations. McEvoy’s discussion centres on the nature of these walks and relates to the contemporary folklore which is rehearsed and produced during the experience. She also notes the importance of performance in terms of the participation of the guide, the place and the tourists. Returning to castles for Chapter Five, she focuses on the Gothic history and heritage of Berry Pomeroy in order to focus on its various representations over the last 230 years. She constructs her study using extracts from travel writing, guidebooks, photographs, prints, as well as various pieces of fiction and poetry which contribute to its reputation as one of the most haunted castles in England. A detailed account of the identity and tragic (literary) history of Pomeroy’s ghosts, namely the White Lady and the Blue Lady, and the many reported sightings of them, secures its status as both a haunted site and popular location for Gothic tourism.

Gothic and Heritage management is considered in relation to Warwick Castle, Alnwick Castle, and Berry Pomeroy Castle and the different visitor experiences they offer. Merlin’s management of Warwick Castle presents a variety of themed activities such as the Princess Tower, the Mound, the Merlin Tower, and the Castle Dungeon, which are analysed in relation to their target audiences as well as their transformations at Halloween. Alnwick’s identity as the grounds of Hogwarts and the castle of the Percys is examined in relation to its ancestry as well as its aesthetic beauty in the form of its magnificent art collection and landscape garden. McEvoy pays particular attention to The Poison Garden, which she describes as a Gothicized take on a landscape garden and a carefully controlled family experience. Her account of Elizabeth Percy’s ‘Gothick’ is, in my opinion, the most fascinating section of the book. She offers an incredibly comprehensive history of Percy’s personal history within Alnwick and defines her ‘Gothick’ as ‘a means of reimagining an ancient title, the house and the domains, in a way that was appropriate for its renaissance’ (McEvoy 2015, 171). McEvoy details how her style of refashioning was especially evident in her creation of a personal ‘Musaeum’ that is still a commercial success with today’s tourists. English heritage’s management of Berry Pomeroy is experienced by means of an audio tour which documents its history and uses various Gothic features such as ghost stories and sound effects in its production.

The final chapter relates to family friendly Gothic content at the Norfolk and Norwich arts festival, municipal Gothic at Showzam! and Gothic consumption and redemption at Glastonbury. The inclusion of Gothic content under the ‘Family’ listings at the Norfolk and Norwich festival relate to walkabouts, outdoor showings of horror films, sleepovers and ghost stories, whereas the Gothic component of Blackpool’s Shazam! is evident in its sideshow performances including Circus of Horrors and Spookshow. McEvoy contrasts these Gothic elements with Glastonbury Gothic, which is an after-hours experience that relies on theatrical performance and knowledge of twentieth-century horror films that she describes as an example of Gothic experience without the traditional Gothic affect.

McEvoy concludes her study by recapping the various defining characteristics of Gothic tourism and notes how it is so often associated with Gothic fictions. She recaps its history as a mode of tourism since the mid-eighteenth century and explores how the Gothic aesthetic pioneered a new approach to architecture which quickly saw Gothic tourism begin to flourish. She summarises her definition of contemporary Gothic tourism as a performance industry and notes once again the importance of tourists’ willingness to participate in the experience. On a final note, she recognises the ‘different type of hit’ (McEvoy 2015, 203) that Gothic tourist sites offer and reiterates how this affect is the inimitable lure of the Gothic genre.

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