31 October 2023 - 31 October 2023
9:45AM - 5:00PM
Join us for this free online event exploring the theme of 'Monsters' through a nineteenth century lens. Please note all times are Central European Time (CET).
Credit: Witches: five silhouetted figures. Aquatint by M. Dubourg after B.A. Townshend, 1815.
Monsters in the Nineteenth Century
With the publication of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818), Richard Marsh’s The Beetle (1897), and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897), monsters became a staple of nineteenth-century literature. But their hold on the nineteenth-century imagination runs far deeper. Gargoyles and grotesques adorn the exteriors of neo-Gothic churches; experiments with blood transfusion elicit fears of monstrous hybrids; in 1885, Punch publishes a cartoon satirising Ireland’s desire for Home Rule through the image of a vampire. From literature to architecture, and from the visual arts to medical and political discourse, monsters emerge as useful vehicles for articulating cultural anxieties, but also for making sense of a rapidly changing world. This online workshop, co-hosted by CNCSI and the Dark Arts Research Group at the University of Copenhagen, will feature a series of talks exploring the role played by monsters in the nineteenth century, investigating how their uncanny corporeality subverts dominant discourses and how therefore we might understand the monster as a valuable tool in uncovering hidden epistemologies in the study of the nineteenth century and its legacies.
9:45-10:00 (CET): WELCOME ADDRESS
Speaker: Efram Sera-Shriar, University of Copenhagen
10:00-10:45 (CET): SESSION 1
Speaker: Gina Wisker, University of Bath
Monsters Down Under: Australian and New Zealand Women’s Gothic Horror: Rosa Praed’s “The Bunyip” (1891) Dulcie Deamer “Hallowe’en” (1909).
There is relatively little critical work on the supernatural or Gothic stories of late nineteenth, and early twentieth century women writers from Australia and New Zealand. However, this dearth of criticism belies the quality of that small, rich strain of writing, some of which appeared only in newspapers or in UK Penny Dreadfuls. Both Rosa Praed and Dulcie Deamer engaged in spiritualism, the occult and Praed evoke the inexplicable cultural otherness of a land still felt as strange, inexplicable dangerous.
The Bunyip (1891): Australian Rosa Praed’s “The Bunyip” (1891) is a fine example of a Gothic, supernatural tale dramatising the layering in of the unknown into the known. normalised in British and European ghost stories relying on the trustworthiness of another. The bunyip has been seen by someone else which shifting of verification beyond the narrator while insisting on its plausibility, produces a mixed sense of security and a gap of vagueness. The bunyip is a particularly Australian creature of forest, swamp and waterhole, the “one respectable flesh-curdling horror of which Australia can boast”. European Gothic and supernatural tales have their fairies, ogres, goblins, dangerous creatures of lakes and swamps alongside the deceptively alluring, seductive sidhe, lorelei and so on but this very Australian creature is nothing to tempt an errant knight, described in Aboriginal tales as a pig, or sea-snake from a waterhole rather than the sea. It resembles a crocodile in its method of dragging its prey under the water and rolling it over to drown it. The bunyip’s deceptive cry, significantly (for Praed’s tale), triggers instinctive human responses to bring it to a safe place, with destructive outcomes.
Hallowe’en’ (1909): ‘Queen of Behemia’ New Zealander/Australian Dulcie Deamer’s Gothic ‘Hallowe’en’ ( 1909 ) is a werewolf tale in which Hevar the wife and she-wolf is seen as domestic, neighbourly and a victim to violence born of male terror. Some werewolf tales grow from the fin de siècle representations of women’s “physical or libidinal energies as unnatural to the point of being dangerously demonic”. (McCormick) As Bram Djikstra’s Idols of Perversity illustrates , they were often visually represented as languorously animalistic, predatory creatures, snakelike, vampiric, seductively then violently predatory and carnal, figments of the heated terrified imagination of the men who variously lusted after, idolised , or kept them in their domestic roles and enforced delicate state both physical and mental. On this special night, there are more disturbances and activities for some than others and for Hevar there is an unavoidable call. Her instinctive reactions to the midnight, when “it is time” the call of the wild, the “long, long howl” of something far away. Her preparations: rubbing herself with poisonous rue, foxgloves, hemlock and monks head and donning the girdle of a black wolf, feed her muffled sense of “sinking, sinking to a place that is at the bottom of all bottomless things –between heaven and hell, sending the story towards a moment of seeing demonic figures moving round and in the fire, bearing an inverted cross. As she rises her eyelids, she has changed and “Hevar the she-wolf stepped from the circle from a dropped night-shift” . Now the outside world is Gothic, sensual, witchy with “fat, velvet backed spiders” , death-watch beetles and “a black impet with its forked tail over its shoulder’. On this Hallowe’en Hevar responds to the wild call, and death and disorder result.
This paper introduces these two fine women writers from Australia/New Zealand and their Gothic/monster tales.
11:00-11:45 (CET): SESSION 2
Speaker: Madeline Potter, University of York
Gothic Epistemologies: Unearthing Vampire Fictions in the Nineteenth Century
Stemming from nineteenth-century literature, vampires such as Dracula, Carmilla, and to a certain extent, Lord Ruthven and Varney, continue to shape our popular imagination. But numerous vampire fictions, now largely forgotten, proliferated at the time, and such texts are valuable historiographical tools in the study of nineteenth-century material theological thought. It is a time when the figure of the vampire establishes itself at the core of a system of signification which breaks apart binaries between life and death, as well as materiality and spirituality. Against this background, the aim of this paper is to uncover some of the lesser-known vampire fictions of the nineteenth century, and challenge critical narratives of Gothic anxiety attributed to the genre. Instead, I look to the epistemologies made manifest in vampiric corporeality, and propose that vampiric bodies double as imaginative spaces where theological possibilities can be explored independently of denominational constraints. I endeavour to situate the literary vampire centrally in what can be described as a material turn in Victorian religious thought, defined by variously seeking to locate spiritual realities physically. I therefore use these hitherto overlooked texts to showcase how literary vampires draw together elements of occultism, magic, and sacramentality to probe theological ideas beyond the scope of broad Protestantism by making metaphysical realities materially manifest.
12:00-12:45 (CET): SESSION 3
Speaker: Richard Fallon, University of Birmingham
Creation, Clairvoyance, and the Art of Envisioning Prehistoric Monsters
Across the nineteenth century, palaeontologists, science writers, novelists, and artists built up a vivid visual and literary language for envisioning strange prehistoric monsters. Sometimes, however, the urge to ‘envision’ these lost beings could become quite literal. From the middle of the century, prominent evangelicals promulgated the notion that the creation story in the Book of Genesis evinced signs that its author, perhaps Moses, had gazed through time and seen ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs (misleadingly labelled ‘great whales’ in English translations). Meanwhile, radical occultists employed clairvoyant powers to look through time themselves, carrying out research on otherwise tricky topics like the evolution of reptiles into birds. Scholars of literature and science and historians of the earth sciences have so far paid little concerted attention to the writings of these visionaries. As this paper demonstrates, they were inspired by and, contributed to, the literary and visual genres of palaeontology, from engravings of duelling saurians to virtual tours of Jurassic swamps. This paper begins by examining two texts by Christian authors, Cuthbert Collingwood’s epic poem A Vision of Creation (1872) and Samuel Kinns’s miscellany Moses and Geology (1882), before turning to the occult world of Elizabeth, William, and Sherman Denton’s psychometric series The Soul of Things (1863–74). Building upon techniques from fiction and popular science in their accounts of purportedly genuine visions, these authors glanced in the rear-view mirror of life’s stately progress. In so doing, they attempted to convince readers that human eyes could gaze upon extinct monsters.
13:00-14:00 (CET): LUNCH BREAK
14:00-14:45 (CET): SESSION 4
Speaker: Kaja Franck, University of Herefordshire
Dracula: A Werewolf in Vampire’s Clothing
Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) is regarded as the definitive anglophone vampire text. This paper argues that Stoker’s Count is as much werewolf as vampire. To do so, I will consider how folklore regarding werewolves, vampires and Transylvania were (mis)appropriated in a manner consistent with the colonial and imperialist endeavours of Victorian Britain. Both Emily Gerard and Sabine Baring-Gould were used by Bram Stoker in researching the character of Count Dracula and aspects of both the werewolf and the vampire were included in his representation of the Count. Dracula performs a masquerade of authenticity with meta-textual references to real travelogues, yet he is a Victorian monster. Stephen Arata’s reading of the novel through the framework reverse colonisation suggests that Count Dracula is monstrous as he symbolises Victorian fears of racial otherness. Reading the novel through an eco-gothic methodology, Dracula’s ‘invasion’ can also be read as the return of the wolf to the British Isles. The narrative is indicative of the fear of the animal ‘other’ and the possibility of the nation degenerating into a wilderness state. By contextualising the novel within late-Victorian attitudes towards the wilderness, and non-British landscapes, the destruction of Dracula can be read as an attempt to subdue and control the wilderness, embodied in the (were)wolf.
15:00-15:45 (CET): SESSION 5
Speaker: Will Pooley, University of Bristol
Who Were the Witches? France 1790-1940
At the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789, witchcraft had been decriminalized in France for more than a century. Yet, from the Revolution to the Second World War, the French courts continued to deal with the criminal consequences of concerns about living people who used supernatural powers to harm. This paper draws on my database of more than 1000 trials and investigations into frauds, vigilante attacks, murders, and other crimes, to address two related questions: who was suspected of witchcraft in this period? Did any of these ‘witches’ choose this identity? Some of the answers to these questions are unsurprising in the context of the early modern European precedents. Most suspected witches in cases that led to criminal investigations were middle-aged or even older. Many were close neighbours or distant kin to their accusers. Marginal community members, such as beggars, shepherds, and priests feature prominently. As in the early modern witch trials, those accused of witchcraft often had generally bad reputations, and were described as bitter, angry, and envious. But there are surprises and changes to note, too. More accused witches were men than women, although this national picture needs to be qualified with a regional analysis. Regions such as Normandy are notable as areas where male witches outnumbered women in the early modern trials, a pattern than continued into the twentieth century, and distorts the overall picture across France. The most obvious change was in the clustering of accusations: where early modern trials had often had a domino effect of contagious accusations, many of the modern cases identified individual witches, or sometimes families. They rarely evoked cabals of many witches.In the twentieth century, anthropologists generally agreed that accusations of harmful magic were imagined by the accusers and that in reality, there were no ‘witches’. The cases from the long nineteenth century are a bit more ambiguous. The paper finishes with some thoughts on those individuals who embraced the identity of dangerous witches, and who sometimes paid for this identification with their lives.
16:00-16:45 (CET): SESSION 6
Speaker: Diane Purkiss, University of Oxford
Reclaiming the Hag: Witches and Queer Old Age
In this paper, I explore the way in which the body of the postmenopausal woman was understood as monstrous because it could no longer perform its primary functions of reproduction or sexual desirability; how, then, could it exist except as an anomaly? For patriarchy, and heteronormativity, the answer was something close to extermination, but within folklore, and alternative tradition registered both the terrifying power of the hag and her ability to enable younger women to access her kind of power, a physical power over death itself. I will be looking at comparative myths of Valkyries, Baba Yaga, Perchta, and the Cailleach in an attempt to use the monstrous body of the hag to create solidarity between younger queer people and older forms of queerness, breaking down the current patriarchy-induced divisions between generations.