The Literary Lycanthrope, or, How I Came to Love the Wolf

This post is written with the modest aim of introducing myself and what I study. So, hello, I am Kaja. As the introductory post says I am one of two PhD research students who are funded by the University of Hertfordshire via OGOM.

My research is on the literary lycanthrope and my thesis is entitled ‘The Development of the Literary Werewolf: language, subjectivity and animal/human boundaries’. In a nutshell then (and please bear in mind that it is almost impossible for any PhD student to summarise their research in fewer than 60,000-80,000 words) I discuss how the introduction and representation of the werewolf in English Literature is influenced by the mythologising of the wolf in folklore, science and fairytales. My aim is to show how the ‘Gothicising’ of nature – and wolves are exemplars of this – has maintained boundaries between humans and animals based on ideas regarding language and subjectivity. I open with discussions regarding the tropes of Victorian werewolf stories and then use Dracula as a way of cementing my argument on the creation of a Gothic nature by reading Count Dracula as werewolf.

Following the emergence of the ecological movements of the late twentieth century, the idea of animal rights began to move from the benign paternalism of its Victorian roots to questioning whether animals could be subjects in their own right, problematising subject/object-based boundaries between humans and animals. My later chapters show how this shift has affected the representation of wolves, and thus werewolves, and how this is explored in lycanthropic literature in the twenty-first century. My primary texts for this section are the Shiver series by Maggie Stiefvater; The Last Werewolf series by Glen Duncan; and The Wolf Gift series by Anne Rice. (For those who might be concerned, I will not be omitting discussion of Angela Carter’s work on fairytales and werewolves because anyone who misses the opportunity to discuss Carter is a dunderhead, in my humble opinion).

Werewolves are a new field for me as I was previously a vampire-girl (Go Team Edward!) inculcated into their dark delights when, as a child, I stayed up one night to watch Interview with the Vampire. My introduction to the OGOM project came when I was writing my MA thesis, Consuming the Vampire: Commodity Culture and the Twilight Phenomenon’, at the University of Sheffield which looked at the Twilight novels in the context of early Gothic literature and the female reader. Given that I was writing this in 2010, and the first Twilight novel came out in 2005, there was a dearth of information on the subject. Whilst this can be a blessing (hey, how can you help but be original if no-one else is writing on a subject?), it can also mean that you have no framework to start from and your research becomes nebulous. Thus the OGOM Conference (2010) came as a rare gift: there is nothing more liberating and refreshing than finding yourself in a room of like-minded academics. It may seem strange to say this given the current popularity of the Gothic and vampires but there was a time when I felt that I must forever be apologising for my subject choice.

And now I study werewolves, in the words of Emily Gerard the hirsute ‘First-cousin to the vampire’. Though as I regularly point out not actual werewolves – they don’t exist, even I know this. At the moment I am coming to the end of my first year meaning that my enthusiasm remains high but I tend to growl at anyone who tells me that I ‘don’t really do anything’. I am also starting to become too attached my research and am now strangely protective of wolves. My favourite discovery so far has been that a colloquial French phrase for losing your virginity is ‘seeing the wolf’. As part of my studies I run the ‘Reading the Gothic’ group with Matt Beresford. We are just about to re-emerge for this academic year with the first session being posted shortly.

When I am not studying, I am working as a tour guide, reading YA novels, cycling around London, or trying to perfect the fish-finger sandwich. I plan to post about werewolves in popular culture and the odd insight into the life of a PhD student (not sure how many ways I can say ‘Read, Write, Sleep, Repeat’).

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0 Responses to The Literary Lycanthrope, or, How I Came to Love the Wolf

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  2. Hi Kaja,
    Do you want to post about your conference experiences here too and link back to your research? Might be useful for research students to see how ideas come about….

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