Is Gotham Goth-ic?

Emily Bird is a third year BA English and Creative Writing student at the University of Sunderland. Her interests are in contemporary media, geography and Gothic architecture.

In this article I’m going to look at the ever so brilliant and dark superhero: Batman, aka Bruce Wayne. Everyone loves a bit of a superhero – they’re fast, strong, and help those in desperate need. Batman does the same – right? Or is he more than just a superhero? He’s darker than Superman, riddled with deep emotion and has a different set of rules. So: does Batman, and his world of Gotham City, fit into the criteria of the Gothic genre?

Pictured: Screenshot from the game Arkham City

Pictured: Screenshot from the game Arkham City

Not to be obvious here, but there is certainly a similarity between the nouns “Goth-ic” and “Goth-am”. Looking at depictions of the city – portrayed by films, programs, and comic books – nearly all are set during the night time with tornadoes of steam rising from the dimly lit architecture; it’s all bleak and dismal. Nevertheless it is beautiful, captivating, and infested with crime.

First, we have to look at what the Gothic genre entails as we compare it to the DC Comics world. Let’s look at some basic rules:

  1. Setting in a castle. We may not have a castle in Gotham City, but we certainly have Wayne Manor. That too holds Gothic architecture with columns that stand proudly and the stone stairs enriching the gardens. The window panes are aged; encrusted with paint and decay. Not to mention the balconies that overlooks the vast greenery of the Wayne land. Even the trap doors hidden throughout the mansion lead down to his hidden cave of secrets. The twist of a statue here, the pull of a book there, even a particular melody on the piano opens a bookcase! However this is only one aspect, so let’s look on.
  2. Atmosphere of mystery and suspense. I think this runs throughout Batman pretty well. I’m going to focus specifically on The Dark Knight trilogy, directed by Christopher Nolan and starring Christian Bale. It definitely holds a particular atmosphere. Perhaps it’s the music that is composed by Hans Zimmer – I mean, come on, he is a genius composer. I’ve always found that music is a vital key to creating the atmosphere within films, and I believe that Hans does it fantastically. Does no one else feel their heart strings tugging when they hear the soundtrack? There are always moments in the film that make you want to grip the edge of your seat. Batman is constantly on the rescue missions, and we never really know if he’ll get there in time. We are questioning ourselves: ‘Will he make it? Are they alive? What is going to happen?’ Even by looking at the new Gotham series that has recently started, it holds that mystery – have you been watching? I definitely have! The series focuses on Gotham City when Bruce Wayne and all the other villains are younger, I think it is ingenious! And again, it gets you guessing who is who.
  3. An ancient prophecy. In other words, in the world of Batman: Wayne Enterprises. The company with a valuable reputation – one that has been passed through Wayne generations and eventually mounted on Bruce’s shoulders. It’s up to him to keep its value and reputation up. He struggles to hold it though, and this is a challenge that Bruce must face. His other identity though, the beautiful Batman, must face other political issues of Gotham City. Is anyone convinced yet?
  4. Omens, portents, and visions. We can look at this from two different angles here. There is the idea of visions – a drug that was used by Dr Jonathon Crane, aka Scarecrow, to create hallucinations within Gotham. It was a plot to send the city into chaos and violence. Batman was affected by this drug from inhaling it, causing his mind to produce visions that weren’t true. We can also look at this by focusing on Bruce as a character. He has nightmares throughout the trilogy, and even looking at his life events: the death of his parents, the burning of Wayne Manor in Batman Begins, and the death of Rachel Dawes, could these all be seen as omens that portray the pathway of his life?
  5. Supernatural or otherwise inexplicable events. If we look at the gadgets that Batman uses – it is rather “inexplicable” – what kind of person can fly through the air and leap over tall buildings? What kind of person can jump off a sky scraper and land at the bottom with little harm to them? When we compare Batman to another famous DC Comics superhero, such as Superman, he is only a man. He could be seen as the equivalent to the Marvel superhero Iron Man – both men in suits with a lot of money! However, I just don’t think that Iron Man can fit into the Gothic genre. Getting back to the comparison of Superman to Batman – when we see how the other superheroes have abilities that they acquired through genetics, radioactive disasters, coming from another planet… it makes Batman seem more supernatural as a superhero because he is human, like the rest of us; just someone that can survive 200ft drops and fly.
  6. High, even overwrought emotion. This speaks for itself. Batman is a deeply emotional character. He feels and expresses his anger, sorrow, love and terror terrifically. This is shown throughout the trilogy: when he can aggressively threaten and grip a criminal or enemy against the wall or when he isolates himself due to his river of emotion. A specific event is when he leaves America in Batman Begins to train as a criminal with Ra’s al Ghul, and when he realises that the League of Shadows is going to destroy Gotham; his moral attitude causes him to set the League’s temple on fire. This is because he is compassionate for his home and his emotions show that he does care – he cares enough to take such a risky and drastic action.
    “It’s not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me.” Come on, this is a brilliant line!
  7. Woman in distress. Everyone who has watched The Dark Knight trilogy will have seen Bruce Wayne’s love interest: Rachel Dawes. She was his childhood sweetheart and things could have worked out perfectly for them if Bruce’s twist in lifetime, the death of his parents, hadn’t occurred. Throughout the trilogy she has been that woman in distress – despite how she is fiercely independent and persistently curious – she has always needed Batman to rescue her. In Batman Begins, she was drugged by Scarecrow and Batman had to rescue her with an antidote. Again, in The Dark Knight, the Joker threatens her and pushes her out the window of a skyscraper and even goes so far as to kidnap her and set her within a trap for Batman. Is this not a woman in distress? Even Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises is in need of Batman’s help when she is surrounded by a cluster of criminals. This leads on to my next point:
  8. Woman threatened by a powerful, impulsive, tyrannical male. Does the Joker fit into that description? He might not quite fit that description of ‘tyrannical’, but he does rule over the criminals of Gotham City within the palm of his hand. He can manipulate them all how he wants the playing field to be and crush them when they have betrayed him. He threatens Rachel’s life and therefore threatens Batman’s emotions.
  9. Gloom and horror. This is painted across the DC Comics world of Batman; death of loved ones, the death of villains and innocents, and the gloomy dread that hangs over Gotham City. We have the madness that stirs – Arkham Asylum being the house for the criminally insane. There are both physical and psychological terrors that range from the empowering fights to the nightmares crawling from the hallucinations of Scarecrow. Not to mention that Gotham is smothered by leading villains – all sadistic and mad. They challenge Batman’s strengths and test his weaknesses: Penguin, the Joker, Two-Face, The Riddler, and Harley Quinn… all are important aspects of the Gothic genre. I have already talked about Scarecrow, so let’s look at the others. Two-Face (Harvey Dent) creates a physical terror with his appearance: half of his face being burned and scorched, from the incident in The Dark Knight, and creating a psychological terror with the change in his attitude; one minute he is happy as Larry and then within the next he is as terrifying as the devil. Who wouldn’t find that at least a little bit scary?

The Joker, who famously looks like a clown, is no joke at all. We all love his favourite catchphrase “Why so serious?” I love this villain; he certainly has a sadistic sense of humour! And what about Harley Quinn? She works closely with the Joker – she was originally a psychiatrist at Arkham Asylum treating the Joker and then fell in love with him. Her name is a play on the word ‘harlequin’ – a comical servant character. Also known to be a trickster and mischievous, which I think Harley Quinn does quite nicely.

Despite looking at a few of the villains, Batman is rather isolated and alone. The city sees him as a villain rather than a superhero – “Batman is the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs” which relates to a typical aching and suffering protagonist being of the Gothic genre.

So! We have looked at basic rules and compared them to Batman and Gotham City: we have a foreboding atmosphere, brooding weather, a prophecy of Wayne Enterprises, an emotional protagonist with a double identity, and villains that add to the decay of Gotham City. I’ll let you answer the earlier question: does Batman, and his world of Gotham City, fit into the criteria of the Gothic genre?

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To Whom Does Control Belong?

Jenah Colledge is a third year BA English and Creative Writing student at the University of Sunderland. Her interests include supernaturalism, fairy tales and romance. See more of her work in the student profiles.

The vampire; what is it about the blood thirsty immortal that lures us in?

Of course immortality may seem desirable, but in some cases maybe not. Maybe it boils down to the woman, and to how we ourselves desire the reigns of control. The female species time after time are attracted, like a magnet, to a man in need of fixing; the bad boy with a heart that just needs taming.

Dating back to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, where we were presented with a more hideous like creature, the attraction lay within the body of the beast, much like Disney’s similar fairy tale. The woman, controlled by a powerful connection, identified with the human like characteristics in the hope of saving the man behind the mask.

However over time, as the undead gracefully transformed into mouth-watering sex symbols – and let’s be honest, it’s hard to resist such a being anyway – bonds were also made in which the woman sought her own power by trapping it into tapping into the remnants of what humanity remained within the beast, taming the God like creature, rather than saving it. Current evidence is supplied in the literature and screenings of The Vampire Diaries and The Twilight Saga. It seems the female generation cling to the idea of hope and happiness, in the pursuit of segregating their men from the wild savage states that overpower them. Yet, regardless of the sexual enhancements for social significance, the monstrous generic traits still lie within the vampire, leaving us to question again, the attraction towards the horror of the creature. In Bella Swan’s case, danger emulating her world is something she can’t live without, throwing caution to the wind as to the meaning behind that and whether or not the woman is always looking for something more, in the form of danger.

So, although the fearsome objects are either beastly on the surface or within, the female species like to knar at the danger in a fight to act out their natural instinctive behaviour, such as maternal nurturing or over-thinking and talking out a situation. Whether it is either, in most cases, it would appear that women are more comfortable when in control of men. Psychologically, it would appear that this has always been the case according to Freud, who believed women hanker after leadership.

What do you believe? Is it possible to tame the beast? Are you biased by your answer because you are female? Or, are humans merely drawn to a vampire’s sense of power and offer of forever? If that be the case, then is it the same for the male reader? As men, do you wish to be controlled or be the controller? Maybe it is the woman, who fulfilled with being seduced, finds a thrill of power being the seducer. It could even just be the simplicity and symbolism of romance and how it never dies.

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The Art of Gothic: Britain’s Midnight Hour

As part of our Monthly Reviews, Katie Watson did a review of The Art of Gothic. Katie is a third year English and Drama student.

Over recent weeks the BBC have released a series which attempts to explain the Gothic genre to an entire nation. Fortunately, we are in trustworthy hands with the shows presenter: Andrew Graham-Dixon with his Double First in English Language and Literature from Oxford University as well as his established and awarded career as an art critic. Graham-Dixon’s broad knowledge of the genre is condensed into three, one hour episodes that don’t leave you feeling as though you have missed anything. The show spans a remarkably large period of history from the Gothic themes in Shakespeare’s Macbeth (1623) to the art of Francis Bacon.

The show maintains theatricality and comedy throughout, with Graham-Dixon’s exuberant gestures, at one point mimicking the flight of a bird and at another mocking Thomas Chatterton’s schoolboy attempts at tea-staining, jesting, “now you’re an old document”. The presenter is almost a caricature of the eccentric Gothic revivalists he is describing such as William Beckford or Augustus Pugin, and the episodes always conclude with his theatricality. The first ends with Graham-Dixon behind a bonfire in the dead of night as if he were an old witch reciting an incantation. The second ends with him turning from the camera, convulsing, and turning round to leap toward the camera, sporting some 99p vampire teeth as his way of telling us that Dracula will be discussed in the final episode.

Aside from all this theatricality, however, the show doesn’t lose any of the educational element. The shows embodies both entertainment and education in a fantastic duality. In fact, the show itself almost becomes a piece of Gothic work, using techniques such as symbolism when discussing Vathek (1786). The description of the plot is read over the image of a snake slithering over an abundance of Middle Eastern sheets. Vathek, the title character, becomes involved in a pact with the Devil which allows him to act out all his sexual fantasies with women. The snake is placed there to emphasise the Eastern implications but also to represent the Devil in the novel as this is the form the Devil takes in the Garden of Eden. To indulge on a further level, these Edenic images portrays Vathek as being in a sexual paradise that will inevitably crumble, just as it did for Adam and Eve.

The show takes us through Gothic from the eighteenth century revival up to the twentieth century, explaining how it never lost momentum, from anxieties about the French Revolution as in Matthew Lewis’ The Monk (1795), to fears about industrialisation, to the “Gothic optimists” who wanted to go back to the past and finally relating it to modern days. The show interestingly describes the way that film allows us to communicate with apparitions, with people, such as Bela Lugosi who have died but are immortalised in film. It cleverly relates art to architecture to literature; everything is interlinked in the Gothic.

Unfortunately, the critique of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey (1817) is rather limited, mentioning only that it “poked fun at the genre”, but not how she, in fact, adheres to it to emphasise the tyranny of General Tilney and the fear of spies at the time in England. However, this is the only point at which the show seems to fail.

Andrew Graham-Dixon inspires one to believe that the Gothic will never die. It is not only immortalised in its supernatural characters, but also, there will always be causes for anxiety and stress that need the Gothic. We “yearn to be haunted” now, and so it seems Britain’s midnight hour will never end.

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Our Monsters, Ourselves: A Review of Dr Alison Younger’s Talk

Dr Alison Younger, senior lecturer at the University of Sunderland, gave a talk at Newcastle’s Café Culture on Monday 1st December. Speaking volumes of Dr Younger’s talent and reputation, the usual café arrangement of the venue was set out for a more formal talk to accommodate for the interest in Dr Younger’s research.

The talk was entitled Our Monsters, Ourselves, and it was at its core an exploration of how monsters are made and why we need them to be made. The entire transcript can be heard here, thanks to the Café Culture podcast.

Dr Alison Younger, centre-stage at Newcastle's Café Culture

Dr Alison Younger, centre-stage at Newcastle’s Café Culture

Dr Younger made reference to some of the most enduring staples in Gothic characters: vampires, werewolves and Mr Hyde to name a few, but countless others to illustrate her points. She outlined some ancient and folkloric beliefs in what makes a monster—in most cases it seems it was simply a case of bad seed—and fascinated the audience with historical tidbits. For example, did you know that a medieval belief was that a child conceived by a menstruating woman would either be a redhead with poisonous fumes coming from their eyes, or else be a werewolf? Or that the first recorded English vampire was from Bedlington in Northumberland?

Another interesting point made was how we have tamed our monsters in to something more desirable and less horrific. A shining and glittering example is that of the alluring-to-some Edward Cullen. Edward Cullen is a vampire, but he sparkles and abstains from drinking human blood. Dr Younger talks briefly about the censorship for the sake of religious propaganda, but reminds us that the Cullens are not isolated incidents. Bram Stoker’s Dracula creates a romantic Dracula to seduce the English women; Isaac Marion’s Warm Bodies has tamed the zombie in to a love interest with a cloying message of a love that makes us feel alive; the Byronic Hero has existed in many mediums and forms, and these paranormal and supernatural revivals are nothing unexpected.

Points of debate were raised. Who is the real monster: Victor Frankenstein or the Creature? Perhaps more controversially, who is the real monster between Edward Cullen and Isabella Swan? If you have a response, leave a comment!

The monster has been there since the beginning of our histories—both our personal history and our societal history. They are fearful, they are obscene and we cannot codify them despite how we want to. Despite this Monster Theory, a relatively new field of study headed by Jeffery Jerome Cohen, attempts just that. Dr Younger evaluates this with a critical eye and concludes that Monster Theory is not only interesting, but it is vital to our understanding of the monster.

One point raised which the admin particularly enjoyed was the role of the female monster. Dr Younger illustrates with the idea of the werewolf. A male werewolf is a poor, wretched soul who is cursed to endure indescribable pain. He is reluctant and sympathetic, a la The Camp of the Dog or Remus Lupin. The female werewolf is a PMT joke and nowhere near as sympathetic, like White Fell or Ginger Snaps. Dr Younger attributes the popularity of the femme fatale figure in Victorian Gothic literature to the societal anxieties of the shifting roles of the woman.

There is plenty more to say about the talk. It was tragically short at 35 minutes and the audience was demonstrably infatuated with what Dr Younger had to say. The Q&A session that ran after the talk, which was regrettable not recorded, included questions of domesticated monsters, Irish horrors and the ending of Carrie. Everyone was desperate to learn more.

Society loves our monsters. This is fact. And the audience loved Dr Younger’s take on them. This, too, is fact.

To read the response of a student in the audience, see this post over at Writing North East. And please do listen to the podcast. It is both educational and entertaining, delivered with a flair that only Dr Younger has. To see more of her lectures, please see the Media Gallery on the navigation bar.

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Visionaries in London: The Terror and Wonder Exhibition

Recent MA English graduate Sophie Raine tells us about Spectral Visions’ trip to the British Library for the Terror and Wonder exhibition.

Pictured: Colin Younger, Dr Alison Younger and two of our students

Pictured: Colin Younger, Dr Alison Younger and two of our students

When the exhibition ‘Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination’ came to London this October, we knew that this was not an opportunity to be missed! The exhibition boasted of over 200 rare objects traced back to 250 years of Gothic history so it was decided that in the last week of November we should all go and marvel at their monstrous wares.

We arrived to find that it most certainly did not disappoint and in fact reaffirmed everything that we love about the Gothic and excited that morbid curiosity that exists within all us all. It would be fair to say that we were like excitable children in a sweetshop but instead of children we were adults and instead of sweets there were… well, vampires, dopplegangers and a whole consort of monsters.

What was particularly special about this exhibiton is that it has something for everyone, no matter what your specialist interest is within Gothic as, with its vast time span, it caters to everyone. If we take the vampire for example, it covers every stage of the metamorphosis of the vampire that has occurred over centuries from the monstrous degenerate Dracula to more sexualised vampires once we move into sensation fiction.

It was interesting to see original copies of the texts including The Monk by Matthew Lewis, which included the writer’s own editing from when he was instructed to remove passages from the text that readers would find upsetting with his notes attached. This seemed to really bring everything to life in the way that we can see a reflection of the society through their use of censorship. Interestingly enough, this copy of The Monk was near some propaganda pamphlets cautioning impressionable women from reading these sexual and scandalous tales.

And now, onto my favourite section… sensation fiction! Here, I rekindled my love of all that is so terribly bad. The plethora of penny dreadfuls, shilling shockers and bad vampire tumblr_mqyk05kiz51sbt66go1_500rip-offs is enough to make any Gothicist weak at the knees. I perhaps got a bit too carried away when I squealed at Dr Alison Younger upon seeing a copy of A String of Pearls, only to get scolded by a man at the exhibition. We initially thought he was a member of staff, but it turned out he was just a fun vampire, sucking all of the joy of true Gothic passion.

Alison, in true Alison style, defended me with a glare which was (as another gentleman put it) ‘the most Gothic thing seen all day’. Said gentleman later explained to us that he had been following us around the exhibition, as he’d been learning so much from our micro-lectures at regular intervals. With our honourary Visionary in tow and feeling validated by my excitement, we continued on with the same amount of enthusiasm as we had done previously.

Sensation fiction was definitely the pinnacle of this exhibition in my opinion, as it gave such an insight as to the people that consumed these penny dreadfuls and how they were marketed to please their audiences. Amongst this wondrous collection we found a copy of Varney the Vampire and Spring-heeled Jack with different covers that alternated depending on the current trend in Gothic.

So whatever it is you’re currently doing, whatever plans you have made I urge you to drop everything and go see this exhibition whilst it is still here! Where else will you see original advertisements for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, a script for the Dracula play or a vampire-slaying kit? With a collection that is as exciting as it is informative, it is clear the amount of effort and passion that has gone into putting together the exhibit that has covered so much of Gothic Literary history. I would recommend taking the entire afternoon to get around the exhibition due to the sheer quantity of items on display.

This exhibition truly reaffirms all that is worth being excited about in Gothic Literature and how this love of all that is dark and deadly has resurfaced and been reborn into every era, adapting to every taste and trend over the past 200 years. Yes, ‘Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination’ confirms that the monster will always return.

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An Interview with Dr Bill Hughes

The blog admin interviewed Dr Bill Hughes. Dr Hughes is one of the founders of the Open Graves, Open Minds research project. His research areas are paranormal romance, the Byronic hero and the undead. His latest publication is Open Graves, Open Minds: Representations of Vampires and the Undead from the Enlightenment to the Present. You can follow his blog here.

1925161_10152999077586754_3028684449132586069_nQ: Can you give us a two sentence summary of what Open Graves, Open Minds (OGOM) is?
A: The Open Graves, Open Minds: Vampires and the Undead in Modern Culture Research Project is led by Dr Sam George at the University of Hertfordshire, in collaboration with Dr Bill Hughes. The Open Graves, Open Minds project relates the undead in literature, art, and other media to questions concerning gender, technology, consumption, and social change, and was initiated by a prominent and exciting conference in April 2010.

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Q: Next year OGOM is hosting a conference on werewolves and shape-shifters. These are obviously not Undead creatures. Why are they linked to the Undead so often?
A: Pure opportunism in a way on our part! It gave us a chance to explore long-held interests in feral children and in eighteenth-century ideas of origins, of language and society. And two of Sam’s PhD students are researching the werewolf. But also, like the Undead, shapeshifters exhibit that crossing over between animal and human, culture and nature, and they too have become part of that rehabilitation of the monster in paranormal romance. Simply, as monsters, these creatures, whether feared or loved, can play the same part in representing difference (racial, sexual, etc.) as the Undead do. However, in East European folklore, the vampire and the werewolf are not clearly distinguished in any case. And that moment in our cultural history when Universal Studios brought the Undead to the cinema screens also brought werewolves, so they have become closely linked ever since.

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Q:Last month you gave a talk at the University of Sunderland about paranormal romance and the undead lover. Why do you think there’s been such a surge in paranormal romances in recent years?
A: The dangerous, demonic lover has a long history and has been attractive for—well, centuries. But I think that the way that the politics of difference has become—largely—accepted into the mainstream is a significant force behind the particular way in which the genre of paranormal romance has emerged. Outsiders were once represented as destructive, alien, threatening monsters; now, they can become potential lovers, their otherness tamed and assimilated.

There is also the way that different genres have combined to generate this new species of text. Genres represent different ways of looking at the world; often, the clash of genres involved in this very hybridised form may be a way of setting off contrasting perspectives on the world in an age that has lost many of its certainties.

There are also specific issues involved in the two branches of the genre, which are aimed respectively at young adults (mainly female) and older women. I’m venturing into dangerously presumptive psychology here, but the adult subgenre, with its independent women who love dominant and dangerous males, may be a way of acting out female desires and anxieties in an era where many feminist values have been accepted. Likewise, young adult paranormal romance confronts similar anxieties about growing up and inviting those strange monsters—boys—into one’s life. I’m simplifying grossly, of course.

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Q: Why is it the vampire that is so often turned in to the love interest with these kinds of texts? Are there any creatures of the night who have remained safe?
A: Since their resurrection from folklore into a literary figure, their amorphous nature has made them extremely flexible as an image for all sorts of concerns. Their otherness, as I’ve said above, when tamed and humanised coincides with the (incomplete) assimilation of others into mainstream society, though often it is the simple otherness and danger of the opposite sex that is explored. Their darkness, their nocturnal aspect, their tragic compulsions all enable them to be configured as the Byronic hero (and often now, the female counterpart of this). The orality of the central biting motif and the exchange of blood has obvious erotic connotations (the best vampire paranormal romances always have a powerful biting scene between lovers!). And then there is the utopian promise of superhuman strength and speed, enhanced sensory experience (particularly in love), and eternal life—all these attractions play a part.

The human protagonists of paranormal romance have lately embraced shapeshifters, demons, succubi, angels, djinn, dark fairies, pixies, merfolk, trolls, and even the hardly tangible ghost. Revenants have returned to their loved ones, healed of their wounds and beautiful, but it seemed impossible that the grotesque, shambling zombie could become a lover. Yet Daniel Waters, in his powerful Generation Dead series, and Isaac Marion in Warm Bodies have managed to create convincing romances with zombies. I don’t know about mummies, though, and I think ghouls have no chance. Though that tempts me to write a smouldering ghoul-human love story myself.

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Q: Are there any tropes or story lines that you consider essential or unique to the paranormal romance?
A: Genres are fluid things, and the history of genre theory shows the mistake of trying to define them in terms of fixed essences. But a paranormal romance must at least have a love affair between a human being and a monster (or, occasionally, two monsters, but humanised in a way that the reader can identify with them). I think, too, that it is crucial that the Gothic mode and the genre of romantic fiction are in symbiosis. I would also hesitate to include texts that are high fantasy; these books are distinguished by their contemporary, usually urban, settings, where either the marvellous intrudes into our world or the characters enter into another world and return transformed. It must be remembered, too, that the label ‘paranormal romance’ (and associated near-synonyms such as ’dark romance’, dark fantasy, and ‘Gothic romance’) comes from marketing departments rather than literary theorists. As such, they certainly signal and identify certain expectations of readers, but more work needs to be done in clarifying these issues. There are certainly certain images and tropes that recur, too—often to the point of cliché—but they’re not necessarily unique to the genre.

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Q: You also talked about the Byronic Hero as a lasting trope in Gothic. Why has this trope lasted when so many others have become dated? Are there any good examples of contemporary Byronic heroes?
A: I’ve talked above about the contemporary twist to the appeal of the dangerous lover, but the excitement that mysterious men with immense vitality offer to women—especially when their own prospects for adventure are constrained—has apparently lasted for three centuries at least. And the Byronic hero (who has roots in Milton’s Satan and Samuel Richardson’s Lovelace) also invites sympathy. But I can only be very tentative and speculative about this longevity. Joss Whedon’s brooding Angel is my favourite contemporary Byronic hero.

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Q: Do you prefer Lord Ruthven or Edward Cullen?
A: I’m not actually keen on either—they’re both somewhat colourless. Ruthven is at least interestingly dangerous, yet I almost prefer Edward’s humanity.

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Q: What’s your favourite Gothic text?
A: If I can have a Gothic(ish) novel that transcends the genre considerably, it would be Wuthering Heights. If you’re being more strict, then The Mysteries of Udolpho. From contemporary paranormal romance, I would pick works by Daniel Waters, Holly Black, or Maggie Stiefvater. And there are Marcus Sedgwick’s powerful YA Gothic novels (though these have little in the way of romance plot).

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Q: Jekyll or Hyde?
A: Am I Jekyll or Hyde, or which do I prefer? Like most people, I’m a mixture of both, though I’m not in the habit of trampling small children. My preference would be for the two as intermingling traits (and they are the same person anyway!).

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Q: Vampires or Werewolves?
A: Vampires, definitely; they’re sexier (despite being dead and despite the libidinous animality of weres). And they have more of the transcendent about them. Although, as representatives of the parasitic nature of capitalism, I should hate them. But werewolves are too tied to their biology, which makes were fiction suspiciously reactionary at times, portraying human beings as bound to instinct and hierarchical structures (apart from the wonderful Shiver series by Maggie Stiefvater, which challenges that ideology brilliantly). And I’m not a dog person; maybe werecats at a pinch.

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Our Monsters, Ourselves – Dr Alison Younger at Café Culture

Our Monsters, Ourselves – Dr Alison Younger [1/12/14]

On Monday 1st December, Dr Alison Younger gave a talk on monsters and monster theory at Newcastle’s Café Culture. Discussing vampires, werewolves and child monsters, she explores some of the most famous creatures in Gothic literature.

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