The Black Vampyre and Other Creations 2020

‘The Black Vampyre and Other Creations: Gothic Visions of New Worlds’, 14th November, 2020

The Hardy Tree, St Pancras Old Church

We are delighted to announce that Open Graves, Open Minds will host a new event as part of The Being Human Festival #BeingHuman2020 #GothicNewWorlds

Being Human is the UK’s only national festival of the humanities. A celebration of humanities research through public engagement, it is led by the School of Advanced Study at the University of London, the UK’s national centre for the pursuit, support and promotion of research in the humanities, in partnership with the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the British Academy.

Time and date Saturday, 14 November 2020, 12.00-15.00 GMT

Location This is an online event that is inspired by the Gothic landscape of St Pancras Old Church. It will take place via Zoom (with built-in breaks).

Format Talks, Virtual Graveyard Tour, Gothic Flash Fiction Writing Competition

Description This event is centred upon a group of visionary writers who have strong links with St Pancras Old Church—Mary Wollstonecraft, William Godwin, Mary and Percy Shelley, and John Polidori. We will explore Gothic dreams of new worlds and the creatures that inhabit them, notably Mary Shelley’s plague world, John Polidori’s vampire, and the ghosts of World War 1. We’ll also discover the first black vampire in literature, the first vampire story by an American writer and the first vampire anti-slavery narrative, directly inspired by Polidori. Attendees will visit the scene of Mary and Percy Shelley’s courtship and Polidori’s resting place, and contemplate Gothic worlds via presentations and performances by Marcus Sedgwick (novelist), Dr Karl Bell (historian), Dr Sam George (vampire expert), and Dr Bill Hughes (researcher of paranormal romance). Dr Kaja Franck (specialist in werewolf fiction) and Daisy Butcher (editor of Evil Roots) will then guide you through a Gothic flash fiction session.

Booking: Tickets are available from Eventbrite. Please note that this is a free event but you will need to obtain a ticket to attend.

Resources: We have set up a page with links to the texts we are talking about and some supplementary material. We urge you to have a look at these–they give some background to the talks and may inspire you for the flash fiction contest!

St Pancras Old Church has withstood the Industrial Revolution, Victorian improvements, wartime damage and an attack by Satanists in 1985. Mary Wollstonecraft and John William Polidori are buried in the graveyard; the former’s tomb was the scene of Mary and Percy Shelley’s courtship. Polidori’s headstone is part of the graveyard’s famous Hardy Tree. The Gothic fusion of living tree and gravestones will provide inspiration for our writing workshop and the Church’s work for social justice links it to our discussion of emancipated new worlds and ethical Gothic. Its motto, ‘I am here in a place beyond desire or fear’, is an inspiration for our story-writing contest and suggests the transcending of death through visions of new worlds.

We’ll be demonstrating how humanities research into Gothic narratives engages with the aspirations and dreams of people, especially when facing crises—such as plague, war, racial oppression, and mortality. Gothic writing has always explored these concerns and we’ll be celebrating the diversity of the Gothic and its audiences, engaging with young adults (and featuring a prize winning writer & YA novelist), and black and minority ethnic groups through fictions of revolt against slavery and imperialism in the Haitian narrative The Black Vampyre.


12.00–12.10 Welcome – The Being Human Festival and Gothic New Worlds

12.10–12.25 Marcus Sedgwick, ‘“The stories are begun”: Writing, sanity, illness, and John Polidori’. Marcus Sedgwick is an award-winning writer for young adults who explores Gothic themes of illness and mortality.

12.25–12.40 Karl Bell, ‘Gothic Afterworlds: The Spirit World and the First World War’. Dr Karl Bell is Reader in Cultural and Social History and the Director of the popular Supernatural Cities Project at the University of Portsmouth, an interdisciplinary network of humanities and social-science research into urban environments.

12.40-12.55 Q & A

12.55–13.15 Virtual Graveyard Tour

‘And I am here in a place beyond desire or fear ‘

We’ll be indulging in a spot of virtual Gothic tourism in St Pancras Old Church Graveyard, visiting the grave of Mary Wollstonecraft, mother of Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein. It is rumoured that the poet Shelley was drawn to the teenage Mary due to her melancholy habit of reading on her mother’s grave. The tour will also take us to the resting place of John Polidori, the author of ‘The Vampyre’. Polidori’s grave was moved to make way for the railways and today is one of many unsettled headstones marked by the uncanny Hardy Tree. When the borough of St Pancras undertook the moving of headstones in the late 1860s, a young Thomas Hardy assisted in the removal of remains. The Gothic fusing of the living tree and the stacked gravestones has fascinated writers down the years and will be an inspiration for our gothic flash fiction writing, later in the day.

Mary Wollstonecraft’s grave, St Pancras Old Church

13.15–13.30 Tea Break

13.30–13.45 Bill Hughes, ‘Enlightenment and its shadows: Mary Wollstonecraft, The Black Vampyre, and The Last Man’. Dr Bill Hughes is a literary scholar and co-convenor of the Open Graves, Open Minds Project.

13.45–14.00 Sam George, ‘Polidori, the Romantic vampire and its progeny: From Lord Ruthven to the Black Vampyre’. Dr Sam George is Associate Professor of Research at the University of Hertfordshire and the Convener of the Open Graves, Open Minds Project.

14.00-14.15 Q & A

14.15–14.30 Tea Break

14.30-15.00 Gothic Flash Fiction Writing (40-50 words)

We will pay homage to the famous story-writing contest at the Villa Diodati in 1816 where Mary Shelley was inspired by her vision of Frankenstein and where Byron wrote the fragment which Polidori transformed into The Vampyre. Attendees will write Gothic flash-fiction inspired by our theme of Gothic New Worlds and the St Pancras Old Church motto ‘I am here in a place beyond desire or fear’.

15.00–15.15 Responses and summing up

Mary Shelley reading on her mother Mary Wollstonecraft’s grave (2017 film)