In the Open Graves, Open Minds Project, we unearthed depictions of the vampire and the undead in literature, art, and other media, before embracing shapeshifters and other supernatural beings and their worlds. OGOM opens up questions concerning genre, gender, hybridity, cultural change, and other realms. The Project extends to all narratives of the fantastic, the folkloric, the fabulous, and the magical.
We are pleased to announce an extension to the CFP for our ‘”Ill met by moonlight”: Gothic encounters with enchantment and the Faerie realm in literature and culture’ Conference. You can now submit proposals up till to 31 January 2021. We hope this will allow people to participate who were concerned about travel restrictions. Anyone who is researching the interplay between fairies (in the widest sense; we are very interested in the global equivalents of these creatures) and the Gothic is welcome to submit a proposal, but please hurry! Please see the web page for full details of how to apply.
We have also extended the conference by one day so that it now runs from 8-11 April 2021. We will be adding further plenaries and activities.
Due to the current pandemic, we have now decided to hold this as an online conference using Zoom. It’s disappointing that we’re unable to meet in person but it does mean we can have a much more global and diverse event. Further details of the programme will be announced in the future; please keep an eye on the website.
This sounds fabulous: a podcast from one of OGOM’s favourite collaborators, the award-winning novelist Marcus Sedgwick. Marcus writes:
On December 30th I’ll be a guest on The Folklore Podcast, kicking off an evening of talks in an event titled Rural Gothic Christmas Ghosts. Since I now live in the French Alps, I thought it might be fun to take a snowy walk through the landscape of these mysterious mountains, and chat about half a dozen or so of the stories I’ve come across since moving here. Tickets for the event can be ordered here.
I’ve always had an interest in folklore of all kinds. But I’m not an academic, I’m a writer. This means two things. The first is this: although, ever since I started writing, I had a strong desire to work with folklore, there were, and remain, very few opportunities to publish retellings of traditional stories. When I set out, it seemed there was a small club of two or three people who got to do all this work, and I felt I wasn’t going to be able to break my way in. Instead, therefore, I began to find ways to work folklore into original fiction, and so I did in various books, such as The Dark Horse, The Book of Dead Days, My Swordhand Is Singing, and Midwinterblood, to name a few. The second result of my not being an academic is this; I adapt freely. Since I’m not publishing academic studies of folklore, I have the freedom (and in fact am frequently obliged) to change the details of the stories I come across, in order to make them work successfully in a modern narrative. That being said, I always try to remain faithful to the feeling of the tale I am working with.
So on December 30th, I’ll be offering a small smorgasbord of weird tales, and a glass of Génépi, from the high and snowy land known as the Alps. The first point to note is that many of the tropes and characters to be found here are strangely familiar to anyone with even a passing interest in folklore. There are, of course, the accustomed witches and werewolves, fairies and spirits that we see in British and other European folklore, and yet all have their particularly Alpine twist. For example, exorcisms may be common enough throughout the world, but where else would you come across the exorcism of a glacier? A practice, incidentally, that is recorded to have happened as recently as 1818.
So there’ll be stories of wolves, werewolves, wild hunts and beasts. There’ll be a green man and a ghost, a sinister straw doll coming to life, and a séance in a sanatorium. And in a disappointingly un-alliterative saga, I’m going to talk about the Possessed Children of Morzine. Morzine is best known today as one of the main resorts of the Portes-du-Soleil ski area, and if all the Alps brings to mind is ski-mask suntans and Heidi, this story alone should be enough to display the dark side of this mountainous landscape. Many readers will be familiar with the most infamous French case of possession, that of Loudon, in the early 17th century, the story that gave rise to Huxley’s book, The Devils of Loudon, and later Ken Russell’s best film, The Devils. According to French historians, the possession in Morzine ranks only second behind this, and relates to a series of supposed possessions that lasted for at least 13 years.
The story starts in 1857. On 14 March, a young girl called Péronne, upon leaving church, hears cries nearby. The church stands right beside the river that cuts through the lower quarter of the town, and Péronne apparently witnesses and assists in the rescue of a friend, a girl of similar age, who has fallen in the river and is half-drowned. At first nothing seems amiss, but later, at school, Péronne falls into some kind of trance. Later, in May, while watching the flocks in the pastures, she and a friend, Marie, again fall into a somnolent state, and are found clinging to each other, rigid. Their character begins to change, and they become prone to outbreaks of violence and bursts of obscenities. Finally they admit that they have been ‘touched’ by an old woman in the neighbouring village of Les Gets, today another chichi ski resort. As we recognise so often in such stories, this moment of accusation is the spark that fires a whole series of allegations and further cases of possession. Very soon, all the girls in the convent school are possessed, and are obliged to cross themselves almost continually. On August 15th, during High Mass, the devils seem to pass into a number of young women as well, who let out a tremendous wailing and crying during the service. A doctor is called from Thonon, who arrives and declares the girls are afflicted by demonomania, a diagnosis at first supported by local priest, who multiplies the numbers of exorcisms he’s been making. Years pass. It’s 1860. By now, Morzine, along with the rest of the Savoy, has become French. The demons continue, unabated, but by now the priest has changed his tune. He tells his flock that he made a mistake, and that the sufferers are victims of natural disease. His parishioners are not impressed, however, rush the pulpit, and would have seemingly torn him limb from limb were it not for the invention the clerical staff present. Enraged, a group of villagers now identify a former priest of the town as the culprit, and decide he is to blame for all their woes. One night, they descend from the mountains towards Lake Geneva, where the priest is now retired, falling upon a ruined chapel once built by this Abbot. Not finding the priest, but his black dog instead, they fall upon the animal, slashing it to pieces with sabres, and burying its liver in the churchyard. They return to Morzine, claiming victory, and yet the story rumbles on for another ten years, possibly more…
Lots has been written about the possessed of Morzine, and all the usual culprits (e.g. ergot poisoning) and prejudices (e.g. mass hysteria) arise. As so often however, the truth seems lost to the mists that frequently cap the mountains. For more detail on that story, and all the others, please join me on 30 December.
OGOM’s recent ‘The Black Vampyre and Other Creations: Gothic Visions of New Worlds’ event, which took place as part of the nationwide Being Human festival, was a huge success. ‘The Black Vampyre’ (1819) itself is a rather odd and ambivalent text that is nevertheless of great interest since it features what is likely to be the first Black vampire in fiction against a background of slavery and the Haitian Revolution (through which Haiti was the first nation to abolish slavery).
Our event prompted a fertile discussion and one issue that emerged was the scarcity of Black scholars in Gothic studies. The University of Hertfordshire is now offering a BAME PhD studentship in English Literature, English Language, Creative Writing, or Film Studies. This could be a great opportunity to help redress that imbalance by facilitating a PhD in literature (and possibly film), supervised by Dr Sam George, on a Gothic-related topic (though the award is not restricted to Gothic studies). Dr George is Associate Professor of Research and co-convenor of the OGOM Project. You can read more about Sam’s OGOM PhD studies here, and about the associated BA Young Adult Gothic and MA Reading the Vampire modules.
The deadline is unfortunately quite close: 7 December 2020. Details can be found here:
Here are some suggested topics for research; these may also inspire other topics:
The relationship of Black Romanticism to Gothic
Race and representations of Otherness in the Gothic
Slavery and eighteenth-century Gothic
Afrofuturism and kindred movements
BAME authors such as Octavia Butler, Nalo Hopkinson, Helen Oyeyemi
Young Adult Gothic by BAME authors
OGOM’s future strands of research will also be aiming for greater diversity. Our forthcoming work towards an Ethical Gothic has these concerns built into its structure. We are planning an online symposium on this theme and more details will be announced soon.
It’s with great pleasure that we announce the winners of the Gothic New Worlds flash fiction competition and their winning entries. We hope you find them as delectable as we did.
First Place: Barbara Brownie
The Hardy Tree
What are these beasts above ground? Breath, and voices, and blood pumping. They make territorial claims to a narrow slice of enchanted soil, and a stone crown. But this is not their land to claim. I am here. My roots own this soil. I grow Ash from their ashes.
Second Place: Eva Bradshaw
We are not dead. We may lie in the packed earth, our fingernails black and lips pulling from our teeth, but we are not dead. The dead are at the back. Beneath brambles and ivy, their tombs sink into the soil. They are the forgotten. They are the dead.
Third Place: Toothpickings
It wasn’t the piercing of her skin that hurt, it was the lazy irony. Preparing for a vampire symposium had been draining, but this was a little on the nose, she thought. Vampires just aren’t original anymore, thought Dr. George, as she sank into eye-rolling oblivion.
Barbara will be receiving a limited edition of OGOM’s first book Open Graves, Open Minds: Representations of Vampires and the Undead from the Enlightenment to the Present Day.
We were incredibly excited to read all the submissions and were delighted with the range and quality of them all – a wonderful reflection of the event itself.
It is over ten years since Sophie Lancaster and Robert Maltby were attacked in Stubbylee Park, in Lancashire, reputedly for being ‘goths’. Rob, who was punched unconscious and put in a coma by his assailants, eventually recovered (though he suffered memory loss) but Sophie died from her injuries (she was repeatedly kicked in the head whilst shielding Rob). The attack was so brutal that her body bore the imprints of the attacker’s boot marks after they repeatedly stamped on her face and doctors had to try to reattach pieces of her scalp, where her braids had been torn out by the roots. She was 20, a quiet girl, who had adopted an alternative lifestyle; she had a place to study literature at university. Both Sophie and Robert self identified as ‘goths’.
Because Sophie was denied a voice and Rob could remember little of what happened, others have come forward to tell their story. My research interrogates such representations, in particular, Black Roses(2012), the poetic sequence written by Simon Armitage in the voice of Sophie, which started life as a docu-drama for Radio 4 (2011); and Nick Leather’s BBC3 drama Murdered for Being Different which aired six years later in 2017 and tells Robert’s story. Armitage gothicised Lancashire as ‘a place where shadows waited, where wolves ran wild’. These marauding wolves, the feral youths who had attacked Sophie, were symbols of ‘Broken Britain’ for the right-wing media in 2007. I aim to raise questions about such representations and ask how hate crime against subcultures is viewed a decade later in ‘Brexit’ Britain, and if Goth culture still feels a kinship with Sophie.
Maltby recently broke his ten-year silence on the attack when he remarked that ‘The Goth Thing was an Oversimplification’ (The Guardian, 15 June, 2017). He argued that the emphasis should be on the killers and not their Goth victim. To Maltby, the media focus on the couple’s appearance in the aftermath of the crime felt like a form of victim-blaming:
‘the goth thing was also an oversimplification of a much broader social issue,’ he explains. ‘Life hasn’t progressed in these poor areas. There is still that dissatisfaction, that stagnation. These areas are still forgotten … I’ve never tried to demonise the attackers and, in many ways, they were victims.’ It is a complex issue and there is a need to bring in counter arguments (has the ‘otherness’ of Goth been minimised in accounts which only seek to demonise the gangs?). A deep-rooted sense of difference is noticeable in the language of the attackers: ‘There’s two moshers nearly dead up Bacup park; you wanna see them – they’re a right mess’, they boasted to friends that night. In the language of the courtrooms and newspapers in which the crime would reverberate for years, the attackers were ‘feral thugs’ who had ‘degraded humanity’. After a trial in March 2008, Herbert and Harris received life sentences. Brothers Joseph and Danny Hulme (aged 17 and 16), and Daniel Mallett (17), also from Bacup, were convicted of grievous bodily harm and have since been released from prison. The judge told the young men that their behaviour ‘degrades humanity itself … it raises serious questions about the sort of society which exists in this country.’ Coverage of the crimes and the campaigns they inspired focused variously on knives, binge drinking, antisocial behaviour and troubled families. The Sun launched its ‘Broken Britain’ campaign in January 2008. At the centre of this were teenagers ‘with nothing to lose, whose ignorance or violent behaviour is rampaging unchecked and creating a moral vacuum’, the newspaper wrote. Within days, David Cameron backed the campaign, accelerating his own crusade to mend ‘our broken society’, a phrase he repeated throughout his Conservative party leadership. There are questions which need to be raised around representation and appropriation in the reporting of the crime and in the dramatisations that followed.
Armitage’s elegy sees Sophie’s own writings interspersed with real-life testimonies from her mother. Simon as author is voicing both. Some readers may see this as problematising the work somehow, but it remains enormously powerful and its tragic dénouement, ‘now let me go, now carry me home, now make this known’, resonates more clearly in Brexit Britain. Hate crime has risen 57% since Brexit was announced! Several police forces now treat crimes against Goths, punks and other alternative subcultures in the same way they do racist or homophobic attacks. Black Roses anticipates such change. In 2013, Greater Manchester police made the decision to record attacks on Goths, emos, and punks as hate crimes, meaning that victims had access to support mechanisms. Other forces have since followed suit due to the work of the Sophie Lancaster foundation and spokespeople such as Simon.
In its many manifestations and retellings, Sophie and Rob’s story becomes an example of what we understand by the contemporary Gothic (there’s an irony here, of course, in that it is a true story of Gothdom). Contemporary Gothic is defined by Catherine Spooner as that which addresses:
the legacies of the past and its burdens on the present, the radically provisional or divided nature of the self, the construction of peoples or individuals as monstrous or ‘other’, the preoccupation with bodies that are modified, grotesque or diseased.
Catherine Spooner, Contemporary Gothic, p. 8.
She also observes that:
Gothic as a genre is profoundly concerned with its own past, self-referentially dependent on traces of other stories, familiar images and narrative structures, intertextual allusions [. . .] Gothic has a greater degree of self-consciousness about its nature, cannibalistically consuming the dead body of its own tradition.
Spooner, Contemporary Gothic, p. 10.
I would argue, following this, that Rob and Sophie, who self identify as Goths, have become the Gothic protagonists in their own young adult story. In the new teen Gothics,
the outsider takes on a new and different role, […] a recurrent feature is sympathy for the monster: those conventionally represented as the ‘other’ are placed at the centre of the narrative and made a point of identification for the reader or viewer [in the new teen Gothic] the freaks and geeks are no longer pushed to the edges of the narrative but become the protagonists.
Spooner, Contemporary Gothic, p. 103.
We can see how the narrative of Rob and Sophie both mirrors and may have anticipated this shift. As a narrative, it is concerned with alterity, otherness and difference.
Alterity is the property of otherness, which often means the condition of being the inferior member of a hierarchical opposition. The phrase ‘radical alterity’ for example, conveys the sense that otherness is ungraspable or unrepresentable (it is related to the term ‘Other’). Otherness is defined by Mark Currie as: ‘The missing or significant opposite of a sign, a person or a collective identity’. To clarify this, ‘The Other comes in two forms’: “other” (with a small “o”) is ‘the illusion of otherness that is a mere projection of the ego’ (i.e. making someone the other). Whereas ‘“Other” [capitalised] refers to a condition of alterity that is genuinely alien, impossible to understand’ (such as vampirism) (Mark Currie, Difference, p. 133).
In Black Roses, Sophie states ‘The difference between us is what they can’t stand’, referring to the condition of otherness that rendered Sophie and Rob ‘moshers, weirdos and freaks’ in their own community. Armitage has expressed his affinity with Sophie’s difference:
It seemed to me that Sophie had been killed because she was different [. . .] I probably felt some underlying kinship with her, having grown up in a small northern community not unlike Bacup where to be different was to risk ridicule or aggression. Also, in images and photographs that begin to circulate, Sophie seemed so innocent, beautiful and vulnerable, yet she met with terrifying and almost unimaginable violence. . . . I wanted to give Sophie her voice back, allow her to speak again, and to celebrate her attitudes and character as well as commemorate her.
The piece provoked an unprecedented response when it premiered on Radio 4 and became an acclaimed stage play. The poem has a ten stanza structure and is multi-voiced. The narrative is framed by Sophie’s relationship to her mother which adds to the poem’s emotional intensity. Many degrees of outsiderness are alluded to in this text. Sophie is ‘November’s child’, born in a Twilight month, under a vampire moon, as a teen she is aware of her own difference (this is Sophie’s voice, written by Simon from material in her diaries):
I didn’t do sport. I didn’t do meat. Don’t ask me to wear that dress: I shan’t. Why ask me to toe the line, I can’t. I was slight or small but never petite, and nobody’s fool; no Barbie doll; no girlie girl. I was lean and sharp, not an ounce of fat on my thoughts or limbs. In my difficult teens I was strange, odd, – aren’t we all – there was something different down at the core. Boy bands and pop tarts left me cold; let’s say that I marched to the beat of a different drum, sang another tune
Armitage, Black Roses, IV
You can see how the poem moves in and out of direct speech, from the first person to a narrator without you realising it. As it develops, there are a number of cultural references which are a recognisable part of Goth culture at the time, together with descriptions of Sophie’s appearance (the snow-white flesh, the ripped jeans and unpicked seams, the ripped fishnets, the banshee makeup and the hurricane hair) and her love of Marilyn Manson:
I wore studded dog leads around my wrists, and was pleased as punch in the pit, at the gig, to be singled out by a shooting star of saliva from Marilyn Manson’s lips. [she is at his gig]
Armitage, Black Roses, IV.
Sophie celebrates diversity herself:
the movers and shakers, the candlestick makers . . . all the pissheads and potheads and veggies and vegans and coppers and preachers and posties and traders, the night-hawks and the dawn-treaders, the speed-freaks and the metal-merchants, the skrimpers and savers, the beggars and trail-blazers, all the chancers and mystics and givers and takers
Armitage, Black Roses, VI.
But Lancashire ‘was a place where shadows waited, where wolves ran wild, where alcohol poisoned the watering hole’ (you can see the gothicness of Sophie spreading to the landscape until figures materialise out of the dark (and for Sophie ) ‘a group was a gang was a mob was a pack’ and till nothing I scream for can make it end’ (Black Roses, v, l. ii). The black roses of the title are bitter bruises of self defence that bloom on Sophie’s arms and legs in the aftermath of the attack. We again hear Sophie’s voice as she lingers between life and death for thirteen days before finally slipping away. ‘I am traumatised. I am compromised. I am deeply distressed. I am sorely defaced’ (Black Roses, v, l. iii). As the voice suggests, this is Sophie’s story and it is interesting to compare it to one which is reputedly Rob’s.
Maltby worked closely with the producers of Murdered for Being Different, which claims to be a factual drama about the crime and the police investigation. There is a great deal of ambiguity here as Rob suffered memory loss following his coma and struggles to remember anything of the attack.
What is noticeable from the beginning is the heightened, dreamlike style in which the couple’s meeting, their intensely affectionate relationship and love of art, literature and difference, is dramatised or made meaningful in contrast to the gritty reconstruction of the night of the attack. But given the widely known background and tragedy of the case, the graphic violence depicted in Murdered for Being Different seems unnecessary at best, and voyeuristic at worst. I am troubled too by the dramatic device Leather uses to enable us to witness the incident, the viewpoint of an imagined witness, Michael Gorman (played by Reiss Jarvis). Some reviewers argued that this expanded the film’s scope out into the wider community, allowing for an exploration of personal responsibility and justice, and the almost insurmountable walls of silence and intimidation that the police regularly come up against when investigating such crimes. I’m unsure, but, Murdered for Being Different is a thought-provoking piece of television. Despite its title, however it lays the blame for Sophie’s murder not on her difference, but on the ignorance and bigotry of her attackers. A point that is only emphasised by the film’s stark closing statistic: the UK’s highest ever number of reported hate crime incidents, a staggering 70,000, was recorded only last year.
What is remarkable is that Sophie’s murder in 2007 reversed things in the media. Catherine Spooner has argued that the Columbine Highschool massacre of 1999 in the US led to Goth culture being identified as a source of violence, but in Britain in 2007, Goth was recast as peaceful and creative. In this instance the forces of darkness were not represented by the Goth girl herself; they were instead associated with her killers.
Goths were usually the ones persecuted in high school [. . .] the Columbine murders had reversed the pattern of the usual high school narrative, where the ‘popular’ students persecute the ‘geeks’ [these crimes] caught the public imagination at least partly because they reproduced the outsider’s revenge against the wholesome American world [. . .] of cheerleaders that had been routinely fictionalised in Hollywood cinema for decades.
Spooner, Contemporary Gothic, pp.110-11.
Teenagers (whether geeks or freaks) are generally othered by adults in society; as Alison Waller has argued ‘Adolescence is always “other” to the more mature phase of adulthood, always perceived as liminal, in transition, and in constant growth towards the ultimate goal of maturity’ (Alison Waller, Constructing Adolescence, p. 1). Liminality, which is so essential to gothic modes, refers primarily to the concept of the threshold, the area between two spaces. And is also easily applied to the teenager because it is predominately associated with provisionality, instability, intermediate forms; what lies between the known and unknown. Both the Goths and the feral kids that attacked them are subject to a process of othering merely because they are adolescents.
This discussion of difference and otherness has all been leading to the question of how we make this known; how do we properly commemorate or remember Sophie? It is worth noting that hate crime has risen 57% since Brexit!The BBC recently published an article ‘Are young people still scared to be goths?’ Sadly, it revealed they are still subject to brutal attacks on a daily basis in the UK.
I want to conclude with Simon Armitage’s reimagining of the voice of Sophie as her life support is switched off. It is interesting to note how few words he uses to evoke this depth of emotion. Sophie can’t speak but Simon has given her back a voice. The poem’s tragic denouement resonates more clearly in Brexit Britain:
They have scanned and searched for vital signs but I’m hardly a pulse, barely a breath,
The line on the screen goes long and flat.
Pull the curtains round. Call the angels down.
Now let me go.
Now carry me home.
Now make this known.
Armitage, Black Roses, x.
Dr Sam George is Associate Professor of Research at the University of Hertfordshire. This is extracted from a transcript of a talk given at the Manchester Gothic Festival, MMU, 2010, to mark the ten-year anniversary of Sophie’s death. It has been published here to mark our new research strand on ethical gothic.
The first two decades of the twenty-first century have seen a surge in interest in the strange and disturbing worlds created by Shirley Jackson. [. . .] What, then, has happened to invite new interest in Jackson’s work? Alice Vincent has referred to our current ‘strange and fractured’ times as possessing a certain ‘Shirley Jackson energy’. There is also a growing body of academic criticism of Jackson’s work.
The objective of “Theorizing Zombiism 2: Undead again” is to promote interdisciplinary scholarship on one of the most prevalent, yet critically understudied cultural metaphors in contemporary popular culture, namely zombies and zombiism.
The Victorian Popular Fiction Association is dedicated to fostering interest in understudied popular writers, literary genres and other cultural forms, and to facilitating the production of publishable research and academic collaborations amongst scholars of the popular.
We invite a broad, imaginative and interdisciplinary interpretation on the topic of ‘Victorian Inclusion and Exclusion’ and its relation to any aspect of Victorian popular literature and culture that addresses literal or metaphorical representations of the theme. Inter- and multidisciplinary approaches are welcome, as are papers that address poetry, drama, global literature, non-fiction, visual arts, journalism, historical and social contexts. Papers addressing works from the ‘long Victorian period’ (i.e. before 1837 and after 1901) and on neo-Victorian texts/media are also welcome.
Angela Carter, one of the twentieth-century’s most acclaimed novelists, came of age as a writer in 1960s Clifton, where she experienced life in post-war Bristol, looking at a horizon bombed-out and derelict, but also booming with reconstruction schemes. On this tour through Clifton and Hotwells, we will revisit the places and counterculture that inspired her writing, in a society undergoing transformation and renewal so profound, that she declared: “Truly, it felt like Year One.”
‘The Death of Marie Emily ‘Netta’ Fornario in 1929′
Marie Emily ‘Netta’ Fornario was born in 1897 in Cairo to an Italian doctor and English mother. Her mother died while she was still an infant so her maternal grandparents raised her in England. In 1922, despite spending her youth in Italy, she struggled to put down roots and eventually returned to Britain. She lived in the town of Bishop Stortford in Hertfordshire, which was a known occultist hangout at the time. Bishop Stortford was home of ‘The Grange’, an institute run by the prominent occultist and freemason, Theodore Moriarty. Netta was also said to have been initiated into the secretive order, ‘Alpha et Omega Temple’, which was a branch of the Order of the Golden Dawn. Members of the order were devoted to Hermetic magical study and traditions and even boasted famous members such as W.B. Yeats and Aleister Crowley.
In 1929 Netta planned a trip to the Scottish Island of Iona as she was drawn by its mystical past and she believed she had lived there in a past life. Her aim was to contact the island’s fairies/ancient spirits. Once she arrived in Iona, she stayed with Mrs Macrae in the village of Traymore. During her stay they would have long talks about mystical phenomenon and Netta would share her knowledge of the occult in exchange for tales of Hebridean folklore. Netta was known to fall into trances that would last a week at a time and became increasingly obsessed with contacting the spirits. Netta was believed to have an ability to connect with supernatural energies and had an advanced knowledge of Greey Ray Elementals (a type of fairy) and she was also told to be sensitive to other dimensions using her third eye. She would often go missing for long periods while walking the beaches and moors in her attempts to channel the island’s energy and reach out to the other side. Soon, she began to speak of visions and messages from the beyond and her host and fellow travellers became concerned about her.
On the fateful morning of the 17th of November 1929 Netta seemed out of sorts and frantic. She urgently wanted to return to London, muttering that she was being disturbed telepathically. She talked of a boat sailing across the sky and messages from another dimension. Unfortunately, she was unable to leave the island that day as there were no ferries returning to the mainland, so she was forced to stay the night. She was mysteriously missing the next morning, however, on the 18th of November 1929.
As more time passed, a search party was sent out to look for any sign of Netta on the island. After two days and no luck, they searched Sithean Mor, or Fairy Hill, near The Machair. This was an area of interest to Netta, and she had spent time there trying to contact the spirits. She was found strewn across the top of the grassy mound wearing only a large black cloak and completely lifeless. Her only belongings at the time of her death was a blackened silver cross worn around her neck and a small silver dagger. Carved into the grass turf under her body was a large cross shape which seemed to have been made in a desperate hurry. Her body was also covered with scratches; the soles of her feet were damaged and bloody as though she had been running barefoot for her life. These mysterious elements about her death are coupled with the location of The Fairy Hill where she lay, which was thought to be a gateway linking the magic dimension to the human realm. It is thought that Netta believed her life was in danger and she was frantically trying to defend herself from this imaginary assailant in her final moments. Her face was distorted with terror and she was, in fact, scared to death. Her cause of death was documented as ‘exposure to the elements’ and she was later buried on the island at St Oran’s Chapel Cemetery.
Was Netta a victim of her own paranoid delusions? Did her obsession with black magic and the occult prove fatal? Or did she succeed in reaching out and travelling to another dimension?
In April of 1819, a London periodical, the New Monthly Magazine, published The Vampyre: A Tale by Lord Byron. Notice of its publication quickly appeared in papers in the United States.
Byron was at the time enjoying remarkable popularity and this new tale, supposedly by the famous poet, caused a sensation as did its reprintings in Boston’s Atheneum (15 June) and Baltimore’s Robinson’s Magazine (26 June).
The Vampyre did away with the East European peasant vampire of old. It took this monster out of the forests, gave him an aristocratic lineage and placed him into the drawing rooms of Romantic-era England. It was the first sustained fictional treatment of the vampire and completely recast the folklore and mythology on which it drew.
By July, Byron’s denial of authorship was being reported and by August the true author was discovered, John Polidori.
In the meantime, an American response, The Black Vampyre: A Legend of St. Domingo, by one Uriah Derick D’Arcy, appeared. D’Arcy explicitly parodies The Vampyre and even suggests that Lord Ruthven, Polidori’s British vampire aristocrat, had his origins in the Carribean. A later reprinting in 1845 attributed The Black Vampyre to a Robert C Sands; however, many believe the author was more likely a Richard Varick Dey (1801–1837), a near anagram of the named author.
What is so remarkable about this story is that it is an anti-slavery narrative from the early 1800s which also contains America’s first vampire who is Black. It is also perhaps the first short story to advocate the emancipation of slaves, released 14 years before Lydia Child published An Appeal in Favor of That Class of Americans Called Africans, which is widely considered the first anti-slavery book.
Surprisingly, this ground-breaking text is relatively unknown, even in Gothic circles. It appears in none of the seminal histories of the vampire, for example, and is not included in any of the classic and recent collections of vampire short fiction. There is one online edition, a labour of love, excellently prepared, to enable the teaching of the text by the Americans, Ed White and Duncan Faherty.
A mixed union
The Black Vampyre also explores the idea of mixed marriage at a time when interracial love was deemed taboo.
Darcy’s narrative begins with a slave-owner Mr Personne, in what is now Haiti repeatedly trying to kill a 10-year-old slave. As much as he tries though the corpse keeps reviving. Personne orders the child to be burned but the boy moves with supernatural speed and miraculously causes the slave-owner to be flung into the fire instead. Before Mr Personne dies, his wife informs him that the cradle of their unbaptised son is empty apart from his skin, bones, and nails.
Some years later we return to Personne’s widow, Euphemia, who is in mourning for her third husband. She is visited by two strangers, an extremely handsome Black man, dressed as a Moorish prince, accompanied by a pale European boy. He charms her with his elegance and beauty and rapidly wins her hand in marriage, which takes place that evening. That same night he reveals that he is a vampire and converts Euphemia to his bloodthirsty set.
Monsters aside, Published in 1819, an interracial marriage would have made for shocking reading – not to mention between a former slave and his one-time mistress.
Married to a monster and now a monster herself (in the eyes of society too), Euphemia learns that the prince’s pale young companion is her vanished son – now also a vampire. The prince gives the boy named Zemba back to Euphemia along with her first husband’s money so they can escape to Europe.
On their way, they find themselves in a cavern with a group of noble-looking vampires and a crowd of slaves. The prince addresses the crowd in the language of revolutionary Enlightenment:
Our fetters discarded, and our chains dissolved, we shall stand liberated, – redeemed, – emancipated, – and disenthralled by the irresistible genius of UNIVERSAL EMANCIPATION!!
This draws on the then recent Haitian Revolution (1791–1804), which ended slavery and French control of the colony. The vampires, like the slaves, are forced to exist on the fringes of society and so are rebelling against their lot in life. However, unlike Haiti’s, the rebellion is thwarted by a group of soldiers and the vampires are staked to death.
Luckily Euphemia and Zemba escape, sipping a potion that can restore a vampire to the human state. They go on to lead a happy family life, Zemba is finally baptised as Barabbas and life goes on. That is until Euphemia gives birth to a mixed-race son (presumably the prince’s) with “vampirish propensities”. This is the first instance of a mixed-race vampire ever recorded in literature.
Important for being the first American vampire text and for depicting the first Black vampire in literature, The Black Vampyre has a contemporary resonance. The racism cultivated by slavery lives on; the struggle against it and the dreams of universal humanity expressed in the Haitian Revolution continues. The links The Black Vampyre makes between racial oppression and a vampiric society, though ambivalent, make its resurrection worthwhile. The crude goriness and spookiness of Gothic vampire narratives can still have an ethical force.
We’re excited to invite you to our forthcoming event to explore Gothic dreams of new worlds and the creatures that inhabit them, notably Mary Shelley’s plague world, John Polidori’s vampyre, the Black Vampyre, and the ghosts of World War 1.
Visit Polidori’s uncanny resting place in a virtual tour of St Pancras Old Church, in the same graveyard where Mary and Percy Shelley’s courtship found life, and contemplate Gothic new worlds via presentations and performances:
‘The Stories Are Begun’ with Marcus Sedgwick (novelist) ‘Gothic Afterworlds’ with Dr Karl Bell (historian) ‘The Romantic vampire and its Progeny’ with Dr Sam George (vampire expert) ‘Enlightenment and its Shadows’ with Dr Bill Hughes (Gothic scholar)
Discover the first black vampire in literature, inspired by Polidori, and pay homage to the famous story-writing contest at the Villa Diodati, writing Gothic flash-fiction in a workshop led by Dr Kaja Franck (literary werewolves) and Daisy Butcher (botanical gothic).
The event is free and online but you need to register and places are selling out fast. To book, please visit our Gothic Dreams of New Worlds page where you will also find resources as background to the event and an inspiration to the stories and flash fiction writing!!
A quick post to draw your attention to the following free online event at the university. Hope to see some of you there. The School of Humanities at the University of Hertfordshire’s Creative Conversations continues with a special guest, historian and … Continue reading →
We are beyond excited to announce that we have two more very special plenary speakers for OGOM’s online Gothic Fairies conference, ‘Ill met by moonlight’: Gothic encounters with enchantment and the Faerie realm in literature and culture, on 8-11 April … Continue reading →
Despite the pandemic isolation, scholars in Gothic and allied fields are finding creative ways to keep literary and cultural dialogue flourishing with on-line events. here are a few we’ve noticed: 1. BARS Digital Event: ‘The Late Mary Shelley’, 18 February … Continue reading →
We have various calls for articles, creative writing, and reviews coming up: 1. Call for Submissions: Articles, creative writing, reviews and visual art relating to fairy tales, fantasy and speculative fiction, Gramarye.Deadline: 21 March 2021 The Chichester Centre for Fairy … Continue reading →
Some excitng CFPs for conferences here–the deadline for ‘Dark Econimies’ is very soon, so hurry! 1. ‘Dark Economies: Anxious Futures, Fearful Pasts‘, Falmouth University, UK, 7-9 July 2021. A face-to-face conference! Deadline: 1 February 2021. The present is dark. With … Continue reading →
Virginia Woolf’s (whose birthday is today) short story ‘A Haunted House’ is a superb modernist reworking of the classic Gothic haunted house tale. In its tenderness, it might be a fine example of what Catherine Spooner calls ‘happy Gothic’. A … Continue reading →
As it’s Burns Night, here’s a link to Robert Burns’s delightfully Gothic poem Tam O ‘Shanter (1791), in which, after a heavy bout of drinking, Tam narrowly escapes the clutches of a horde of witches. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/43815/tam-o-shanter
Zoom symposium, the Department of English, Tübingen University From John Gower’s account of Robert Grosseteste’s construction of a talking head to George Herbert’s depiction of the heart as a place for divine encounters; from Ben Jonson’s pride in his literary … Continue reading →
‘CoronaGothic’, Critical Quarterly 62.4 (2020), ed. by Prof William Hughes and Prof Nick Groom from the University of Macau, arrived in this morning’s post. Thank you to all who contributed to this ground-breaking discussion from a symposium organised by @UMGothic … Continue reading →
OGOM are pleased to announce the publication on line of our Educational Packs. If you teach Literature (or related subjects)to sixth-formers or A Level students (or their equivalent internationally), please take a look by following the links below. We really … Continue reading →
We are pleased to announce an extension to the CFP for our ‘”Ill met by moonlight”: Gothic encounters with enchantment and the Faerie realm in literature and culture’ Conference. You can now submit proposals up till to 31 January 2021. … Continue reading →
This sounds fabulous: a podcast from one of OGOM’s favourite collaborators, the award-winning novelist Marcus Sedgwick. Marcus writes: On December 30th I’ll be a guest on The Folklore Podcast, kicking off an evening of talks in an event titled Rural … Continue reading →
OGOM’s recent ‘The Black Vampyre and Other Creations: Gothic Visions of New Worlds’ event, which took place as part of the nationwide Being Human festival, was a huge success. ‘The Black Vampyre’ (1819) itself is a rather odd and ambivalent … Continue reading →
It’s with great pleasure that we announce the winners of the Gothic New Worlds flash fiction competition and their winning entries. We hope you find them as delectable as we did. First Place: Barbara Brownie The Hardy Tree What are … Continue reading →
It is over ten years since Sophie Lancaster and Robert Maltby were attacked in Stubbylee Park, in Lancashire, reputedly for being ‘goths’. Rob, who was punched unconscious and put in a coma by his assailants, eventually recovered (though he suffered … Continue reading →
Academic and cultural life is still persisting, thankfully. The Gothic creative spirit is resisting Gothic times! So, some announcements here on events, conferences, and edited collections. 1. CFP for an edited collection, Dark Tales: Re-evaluating the Short Fiction of Shirley … Continue reading →
A short article by Daisy Butcher ‘The Death of Marie Emily ‘Netta’ Fornario in 1929′ Marie Emily ‘Netta’ Fornario was born in 1897 in Cairo to an Italian doctor and English mother. Her mother died while she was still an … Continue reading →
Article by Sam George, University of Hertfordshire The Black Vampyre is an early literary example of an argument for emancipation of slaves. Thomas Nast/Harper’s Weekly/The Met In April of 1819, a London periodical, the New Monthly Magazine, published The Vampyre: … Continue reading →
We’re excited to invite you to our forthcoming event to explore Gothic dreams of new worlds and the creatures that inhabit them, notably Mary Shelley’s plague world, John Polidori’s vampyre, the Black Vampyre, and the ghosts of World War 1. … Continue reading →