On March 16th, San Diego, California did its best to welcome the First Annual Studies in Gothic Fiction Conference by veiling its sunny skies and warm temperatures with dark clouds, a chill wind, and heavy rain. Despite frequent wistful glances towards the outdoor pool, I think we all felt quite at home.
The weekend began with a keynote address given by Katherine D. Harris: “A New Intensity of Feeling: Secretly Enjoying Ghosts, Banshees, and Derelict Lovers in Gothic Short Stories of British Literary Annuals.” She combined her background in digital humanities with a keen appreciation and analysis of the material and medium of the British Literary Annual: the purposes of such books, the Gothic aspects of their content, and the aesthetic of the collections themselves, seductively bound with silk covers. Her talk set a common interest for many of the papers with the very methods of her research and data collection: sifting works of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries through the technologies and narratives of more contemporary works, adding a new level of understanding and a whole new set of questions to both types of text. Harris’s talk about the fascinating short stories within these annuals, primarily found in private collections today, also reminds us yet again of the wealth of Gothic literature that has not yet been made readily available.
With the exception of a few panels here and there that focused on a single author or single subject, most showed a similar mixing of time periods, geographies, and mediums as well as different academic strategies and methods of scholarship. This makes it difficult to sum up a predominant theme beyond that of “hybridity,” a concept for which the Gothic, it seems, has always been criticized and celebrated. Scholarship in the Gothic seems to be following a similar model, putting texts in conversation with one another rather than in a regimented timeline that isolates them from one another. My own paper discussed certain aspects of Frankenstein in order to understand fragmentation in Chuck Palahniuk’s Haunted, and another paper on my panel did a fascinating study of the feminine, the community, and the mob in both The Monk and Shirley Jackson’s We have Always Lived in the Castle. Not only did many presentations provide new readings by combining aspects of several seemingly-disparate texts, but many also traced the ways in which texts traveled and became adopted and adapted by other countries to fit their own cultural needs while retaining a distinctly Gothic quality from their origins: Latin American stories that echo the techniques of Edgar Allen Poe and Brazilian Gothic with recognizable American and British plots and structures, for example. Among these, technology can similarly be considered its own space in which the Gothic narrative is written through media and online blogging.
The conference was sponsored by National University and run by Colin Marlaire and Franz Potter, editor of Studies in Gothic fiction. True to the nature of hybridity, it brought together a community of academics from different parts around the world, from first-year graduate students to published scholars. Though its numbers were small, the high attendance at every panel (including an impromptu panel right at the end) and the eagerness with which speakers and audience members questioned and conversed speaks to the importance of this conference as a rare opportunity for American scholars to present their work in their own country. It seems to be extremely rare for a conference specifically focused on the Gothic or aspects of the Gothic to be held in the United States, and (I’m hoping) the existence of this much-needed conference speaks to a growing consideration there of the Gothic as a serious branch of study. I think all who attended appreciated this new development in Academics in the US and share the desire for the First Annual Studies in Gothic Fiction Conference to have a second.
Photo by Tracy Fahey
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