Why Study the Gothic?

Posted by Stephanie Bryant on August 20, 2014 in Blog, Steph Bryant tagged with

GetAttachment On the 24th of July I graduated from Manchester Metropolitan University with a MA in English Studies, specializing in the Gothic. The first half of that title is greeted with a half “congratulations” hovering on the well wishers lips; the latter half is met with a quizzical raising of the eyebrows and the inevitable questions, “ oh, Like Dracula and wearing black?” and so being, in their eyes, defined. The irony of this defined status is that the gothic as a mode is a malleable term that eludes a definitive definition, as most students of the gothic are aware. Whilst studying the Gothic at MMU I became aware of the permeability of the mode in everything I began to watch and read. I felt, as Angela Carter states, that I was ‘living in gothic times.’ The gothic has proliferated in mainstream TV, as highlighted by Catherine Spooner in her work on TV gothic, which has discussed the makeover paradigm, and utilized examples from The Mighty Boosh, to highlight the infiltration of the Gothic in unimaginable places. Discussions about this with non- gothic enthusiasts is met with scepticism as I point out the gothic tropes that are identifiable (to me), but it has created some lively debates and further interest. Suddenly, the colleague at work who studies the gothic is more than a ‘weirdo’ or ‘vampire wannabe,’ and the gothic is seen to have a more enlightened side than the darker one most seem acquainted with.   A conversation with a friend about the new Sky TV series Penny Dreadful was particularly interesting as, unaware to her; the characters of Dorian, Victor and Van Helsing were examples of second wave Gothic, which I studied as part of my Gothic and Modernity module at university. I offered to lend her copies of Dracula, The Picture of Dorian Gray and Frankenstein so that she could fully appreciate the references made and to understand why, at certain points, I chuckled at the subtle references and inversions of these intertwined storylines that were being played out on screen. My own MA dissertation touched upon such topics as postfeminism, neoliberalism, gender, The Child in horror and identity]. My final piece was nothing close to how I had conceived my dissertation to be at the beginning of the course, but it was nurtured and debated with my wonderful supervisor, Dr. Linnie Blake and other lecturers at MMU whose modules on postcolonial gothic and Border Fictions informed my research. My mind became opened to wonderful areas of research which transcended into the realms of the political, social and cultural, both educating and informing me in ways I never thought imaginable by studying the gothic. Although my final piece was primarily on contemporary horror, I still have a soft spot (yes, us Goths can be pink and fluffy on the inside) for first wave Gothic texts including The Monk, The Mysteries of Udolpho, and The Castle of Otranto,with bloody nuns, forsaken wretches, and sublime and decorative language. There is an innocent tingle down the spine at considering what lies behind a casement or what family secret will be revealed. The Gothic, therefore, has become a mode that transcends a variety of disciplines from psychogeogrpahy and microbiology, and which was showcased at last year’s fabulous Manchester Gothic festival (yes there is another one planned for this year so check out Gothic MMU regularly). The recent Gothic networking day also saw an eclectic group of people convene in the same room, from school teachers, postgrad students and early career researchers; no one walking into that auditorium would guess what had brought all those people together in that auditorium and it is for this reason that I love the Gothic. The Gothic has the ability to transcend boundaries and infiltrate everything from the social, political and cultural, as a mode to teach the younger generation on the current English syllabus and a mode in which to comprehend and articulate the world around us. For me, studying for a MA in the Gothic was the best decision I ever made. As well as the people I have met, it has given me opportunities in terms of career options, as well as on a fundamental level the skills, knowledge and information necessary to research and critically evaluate material to a sophisticated level. As the child in the sixth sense utters, ‘I see dead people.’ Since my research and study at MMU, I see the Gothic everywhere.

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