Archive for the 'Fiction' Category

28
Dec
14

Terror at Christmas: Commemorating The Castle of Otranto’s 250th Anniversary

Christmas – a time for one to celebrate with loved ones and friends, to celebrate the warmth of the ‘Christmas Spirit’. For those who work in the field of Gothic studies, Christmas Day is a special occasion. December 25th, 2014 marks the 250th year that Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto has been in print. His ‘Gothic Story’, published under a pseudonym of ‘William Marshall’ on Christmas Day in 1764, would become one of the most influential novels of the eighteenth century. As the ‘father’ of Gothic literature, The Castle Of Otranto is in this regard noteworthy for bringing into fashion a literary mode that exists in some form even today.

 

Horace Walpole and Strawberry Hill

Walpole, the son of Prime Minister Robert Walpole, was an antiquarian who had an obsession with artefacts and texts from the Middle Ages. At his behest, Walpole commissioned a Committee of Taste who worked on transforming his estate at Strawberry Hill in Twickenham into the likeness of a castle. The estate remains in the hands of a trust that keeps it maintained to this very day. In the warmer months, tours of the estate are made available for interested visitors.

An 18th Century impression of Strawberry Hill

An 18th Century impression of Strawberry Hill

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Strawberry Hill in 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 
  Creating a Gothic Story

Made to look like a castle, Strawberry Hill was one of Walpole’s eccentric creations. But Walpole’s fascination for the Middle Ages extended into his literary interests as well. His ‘Gothic’, or medieval story was set in the Middle Ages, and has several recognisable archetypes of Gothic fiction: a tyrannical villain, damsels in distress, and a brooding, melancholic hero. Embracing ideas that came to him in a dream, Walpole’s novel is an important pre-Romantic text that celebrates the power of the literary imagination over literary realism and verisimilitude.

 

The Ghost of Christmas Past: From A Gothic Story to the Horror Film

The Castle of Otranto’s popularity elicited a string of imitators and others who drew on supernaturalism and terror as inspiration for their works. Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) and Matthew Lewis’s infamous text The Monk (1796) followed in the Gothic tradition. Lewis would have interactions with Mary Shelley in 1816, two years before the eventual publication of Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, the Post Modern Prometheus in 1818. Considered to be a pioneering work of Gothic science fiction, Shelley’s Frankenstein would take the Gothic novel away from its often medieval and early modern settings. Subsequently, the Brontes’ Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights were both published in 1847. But of the Victorian Gothic novels published in the nineteenth century, it is perhaps Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case Of Jekyll and Hyde (1886) and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) that are etched firmly in a twentieth century popular consciousness thanks to the representation of their eponymous characters in film and popular culture, particular in the Hammer Films adaptations of Frankenstein and Dracula. The advent of cinema would be a fundamental game changer in the development of narratives of terror.

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Christopher Lee in his iconic role as Count Dracula

Film poster for The Mum

Film poster for The Mummy (1932)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Haunted House in the Twentieth Century

Just how different is Walpole’s haunted castle of Otranto from contemporary Gothic texts? Ridley Scott’s iconic Alien (1979) is in essence a haunted house narrative that takes place in space and in the future. The Overlook, the setting of Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 adaptation of Stephen King’s bestseller The Shining is a haunted hotel. In Gothic fiction, the idea of a castle as a structure used to shield and protect individuals is subverted. Castles become threatening spaces – Walpole’s novel features a female character fleeing from a tyrannical villain. This trope persists in slasher films such A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and Scream (1996). Despite changes in form, the DNA of contemporary Gothic texts and horror films have inherited the ‘spirit’ of Walpole’s novel in some way or another. Perhaps it is time for Hollywood to take up the challenge of adapting The Castle of Otranto for the big screen?

 

250 Years of Terror

On Christmas Day in 1764, when Horace Walpole published the first manuscript of The Castle of Otranto, he could hardly have guessed the impact that his novel would have on generations to come. Writing against a vein of Enlightenment rationalism, Walpole tapped into the essence of what makes us human – dreams and emotions – and delivered them in a tale of terror, a work that reverberates even till this day. We don’t even need to look to Walpole. Dickens’ Ghosts of Christmas reminds us that, while Christmas is traditionally filled with warmth and happiness, grief and sorrow are at the heart of the human condition. Our fears are what make us who we are, and it is this acknowledgement of this aspect of our humanity that Walpole was trying to present way back in the eighteenth century. While what made Walpole’s text ‘Gothic’ – his medievalist inclinations – is markedly absent from contemporary Gothic texts, his ‘principle engine’ of terror exists, in many shapes and forms, in all forms of culture today.

22
Oct
14

Announcement: Centre for the History of Emotions Workshop

Hi all! My work on emotions in early modern poetry brings me under the aegis of the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence. The CHE, as it is colloquially called, will be holding a prospective student event in December at the University of Melbourne. If you are a prospective postgraduate student, check it out to see what opportunities the Centre can provide!

http://www.historyofemotions.org.au/get-involved/future-students.aspx

10
Jul
14

How to tell you are reading a Gothic Novel, in Pictures!

No, this blog is not dead. Yes, it is very much still alive!

Last year I co-coordinated a Digital Humanities reading group, and got to know more about visualisations and infographics. These are great ways to present information in a concise manner, often allowing one to notice patterns and trends. Here’s an interesting one that charts the plots of three movies – Nolan’s Inception, the W Brothers’ Matrix, and Star Wars

http://www.visualizing.org/visualizations/movie-plot-storylines

If you have been following the World Cup 2014, here is a collated list of more infographics:

http://www.visualizing.org/galleries/world-cup-2014

I wonder if these can tell us anything about the Final? 

But apart from visualisations, infographics are also a great way of presenting information in a simple, easy to read manner. This here has to be one of my all time favourite infographics. It pretty much sums up the Gothic novel in a nutshell for the uninitiated: 

http://www.theguardian.com/books/interactive/2014/may/09/reading-gothic-novel-pictures

The texts used in this infographic are, for the most from 18th and 19th century Gothic texts. The graphic proposes that the medium of film, rather than texts, produce the most memorable ‘monsters’. Perhaps a worthwhile project to undertake might be curating 20th century texts into a similar infographic? I for one would love to see one on science fiction Gothic – Lovecraft, et al… 

09
Oct
13

Opinion: ‘We Have Never Been Modern’ – Vampires, Zombies, and now….Homunculi?

Came across this trailer yesterday:

With recognisable set designs, blades, flying monsters and Bill Nighy (why, Bill why?), the film looks every bit like an Underworld clone. And Aaron Eckhart? He excels in roles where he plays smooth talkers (Thank You For Smoking, The Dark Knight), and as his performance in TDK shows, he is also capable of a lot more than exuding suave charm in a suit. But action/horror? Interestingly, I Frankenstein is actually based on a graphic novel from Darkstorm Comics, and the screenwriter is Kevin Grevioux, the bloke who played one of the werewolves in Underworld. Kevin’s actually written quite a few comic book titles of his own.

 

Seeing the trailer for the film, I can’t help but wonder if the filmmakers are trying to start a new ‘monster’ trend. The mid-noughties saw an explosion of vampire-themed films – the Underworld franchise (2003-2012), 30 Days of Night (2007),  Let The Right One In  (2008), Twilight (2008-2012), Daybreakers (2009), Abe Lincoln Vampire Hunter (2012). Neil Jordan’s Byzantium (2012) looks interesting, and can be added to the list too. From vampires, we then had a zombie renaissance: The Walking Dead TV series, I Am Legend (2007),  Quarantine (2008), Zombieland (2009), Para Norman (2012), Warm Bodies (2013), World War Z (2013), and Raimi’s Evil Dead remake (2013). Perhaps, with I Frankenstein – the creators of the film are attempting to make homunculi popular in the same way that vampire and zombies are/were?

 

I prefaced this post with a quote from philosopher Bruno Latour. In We Have Never Been Modern, Latour comments on the concept of modernity:

 

No one has ever been modern. Modernity has never begun. There has never been a modern world. The use of the past perfect tense is important here, for it is a matter of retrospective sentiment, of a rereading of our history. (p.47)

 

In thinking about shifting cultural trends such as the vampire and zombie film, I can’t help but meditate on this concept of ‘modernity’. The vampire flick might be a ‘modern’ product of the 21st century cultural industry, but in relation to the zombie film, can it still be considered ‘modern’? If we flip the coin and look at the zombie film, what if I, Frankenstein sets off a new trend? Should a ‘homunculi’ trend be kickstarted by this film, films like WWZ and Warm Bodies will undoubtedly be, as a consequence, seen as products of a particular zeitgeist, one that is dated. If we think of vampire and zombie films as repeated iterations of a singular theme, are these any different from the predictable plots of the eighteenth century Gothic novel?  A satirical poem from 1810 pokes fun at how predictable the plots of Gothic texts are, proposing that the ‘apparatus’ for a Gothic novel can be swapped with that of a sentimental novel:

 

Take the following, which may, like machinery in factories, accelerate the progress of the divine art. Where you find——

A castle……….put a house
A giant………..a father
A bloodstained dagger…………..a fan
Skeletons and skulls……………compliments and sentiments
A gliding ghost…………….a usurer or an attorney
A midnight murder……………a marriage

 

As is evident from this satirical poem, popular Gothic novels were awfully predictable. In this,the craze for Gothic novels in England in the eighteenth century mirrors the popularity of vampire and zombie films in the 21st century. Many popular Gothic novels of that period did not become literary classics in the way Shelley or Stoker’s novels did. The same goes for vampire and zombie films. Maybe there is something more to be said about universality, predictability and popular appeal.

 

But for me the real question, the biggest question of all is: If we have vampire/zombie films in the 21st century, and Gothic novels in the 18th/19th century, what about the time period before the ‘invention’ of the English novel? What were the ‘people’s monsters’, so to speak, of earlier cultures?

 

That is a question I hope to answer in time.

04
Oct
13

Treehouse of Horror XXIV Couch Gag

Just came across this on the interwebs. Had to re-post! This opening to The Simpsons references so many horror/gothic/pop culture texts that reads as a great homage to the genre. Embedded are references to Del Toro’s films such as Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy, Mimic, Blade II, and a blink-and-you’ll miss reference to Pacific Rim. There are also explicit nods to authors such as Poe, Stephen King, and Hitchcock. Great Cthulhu also makes a cameo appearance.

About time someone got together an edited volume on del Toro and the Gothic! Any takers?

26
Jun
13

Hiatus

It’s been too long

I’ve had to deal with the repercussions of a change in supervisory arrangements. While for the better, it has necessitated a focus on thesis work. 

Thankfully, I’ve picked things up and hopefully things will pan out as they should from this point onwards. 

I’ll be undertaking a much-anticipated research trip to the UK in the next couple of months. As a quasi-academic trip, this blog will naturally be updated more frequently. 

29
Dec
12

History in Film

I had the pleasure of catching two great films over the past week, both of which incorporate a slice of nineteenth century history. It’s uncanny too, that both films are big-screen adaptations of texts that have been in the popular consciousness for quite some time. The first was the film adaptation of Nobuhiro Watsuki’s manga/anime series Ruroni Kenshin:

A scene from the anime adaptation.

Ruroni Kenshin is set in the years following Japan’s transition from being governed primarily by a shogunate (millitary rule) to that of a government under an emperor. This post-1868 period, known as the Meiji period, also marked the beginning for modernisation in Japan as well as the opening up of Japan’s economy. Watsuki’s Kenshin is a wandering swordsman whose deadly prowess earns him the title of Manslayer (Hitokiri Battousai). After assisting with the downfall of the shogunate, and scarred (literally and mentally) from the experience of war, Kenshin “retires”, leading the life of a wanderer. The film/manga/anime chronicle his exploits in the years that follow, during the Meiji period.

The set-pieces used in the film are impressive.  From settings, to clothes, and even food, no expense is spared in the recreation of nineteenth-century Japan.  The juxtaposition between “antiquity” and “modernity” is one that is brought out nicely in the film – this is a period where swords begin to be traded for guns, and the question is – what place does a swordsman have in this age of presumed “modernity”? It’s been a good decade since I watched the anime, but I did not feel that I needed that background to enjoy the film. Those who are not familiar with the plot of Kenshin will be able to enjoy the film nonetheless. It is also a rather violent film, but apart from the occasional gratuitous display of violence, the action scenes are well crafted, and will be a treat for action movie buffs. The actor that plays Kenshin, Takeru Sato, nails Kenshin’s characterisation down to a T. From ruthless killer to goofball, Sato is perfect in his portrayal of Kenshin.

From nineteenth century Japan, I was transported to nineteenth century France in the screen adaptation of Les Miserables. Like the political turmoil depicted in Kenshin, Les Miserables is set in the years preceding, and during the French student revolution of 1832. An adaptation of the stage production, the film is in turn an adaptation of Victor Hugo’s novel:

Having seen the stage production nearly two decades ago, I was rather impressed by Hooper’s adaptation of the musical. Many of the songs are cut short for obvious time constraints, but like Kenshin, Hooper’s attention to detail in creating a compelling fictional world is remarkable. The film’s set pieces are remarkable, and it brings to the production a dimension that cannot be replicated on a theatre stage. Jackman’s performance as Jean Valjean is spot on, and so is Anne Hathaway’s portrayal of Fantine. I’ve always been a sucker for the grittier characters in Les Mis, so Daniel Huttlestone, who plays the street urchin Gavroche, gets a mention in my book too. What I was really looking forward to was Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter’s roles as the Thenardiers. This has always been my favourite song in the musical:

For me, Barry James’ portrayal of Thernardier hits the spot

The character of Thernadier has always struck me as more of a villain than a comic relief, thus in his casting of Baron-Cohen it is obvious that Hooper was aiming for a more comic angle.

Youtube comment: “Would you patronise an inn run by Borat and Bellatrix Lestrange?………”

Baron-Cohen’s Thernadier is more sloppy and comic than Barry James’ depiction of the character, and most of Thernadier’s menace is somewhat diminished in the film adaptation. Still, Baron-Cohen is in his element during the comic sequences, and Bonham-Carter adds just that needed touch of derangement to the character of Mrs Thernadier. I was however, disappointed by Russell Crowe’s portrayal of Javert. Because of the fact that this is a screen adaptation of a musical, almost all of the film is narrated in song, and Crowe’s singing pales alongside the talents of Hathaway and Jackman. This sequence is one of the most tense scenes in the entire production, and Crowe’s rendition of Javert in this part is somehow lacking in menace.

If anything, what struck me about both films was the attention to detail made by both directors in re-creating each text’s fictional historical environments. Adapting texts such as an anime series and a full length musical brings up the typical challenge of being able to compress each text’s narrative into the space of three hours or less, but I think that both have done this reasonably well.




'horror': Middle English: via Old French from Latin horror, from horrere ‘tremble, shudder’.

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