My First Encounter with the Gothic: Krista Collier-Jarvis

My first encounter with the Gothic precedes my knowledge of the existence of Gothic itself. As such, it can be quite difficult to pinpoint exactly where that encounter manifested…

As a child, my memories of quality time with my mom were often in relation to horror films. On the weekends, we would curl up on the couch with snacks and watch the latest gorefest, such as the newest Halloween, a rerun of Pet Sematary, or a classic like Silver Bullet. It was not fear that I felt from these moments, but a kind of enjoyment within a safe space that shaped my understandings of “real-world” horrors versus how they are represented. 

My love of horror movies translated well in my English classes when we read short stories and novels that took up Gothic topics. I was drawn to the writings of Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Eudora Welty, and Edgar Allan Poe. My favorite Shakespeare play was Titus Andronicus (I couldn’t stop myself from researching the amount of blood used in the various adaptations). While not a Gothic text per se, Titus Andronicus felt like an Early Modern embodiment of the horror movies that shaped my childhood. I found myself drawn to reading and writing exclusively about the Gothic. I just didn’t know that what I encountered was Gothic.

The first time a professor named the genre as “Gothic” illuminated and reframed my relationship with those narratives.

When exploring options for my honours research, I initially met with Dr. Karen Macfarlane (MSVU). I was unsure what to focus on for a project of this length. She asked me what I thought I could talk about for a year, and I quickly responded with “The Walking Dead,” which I personally consider to be my first encounter with the Gothic. 

Discovering The Walking Dead

In high school, a close friend of mine was moving away. As a goodbye gift, he gave me my first comic books—the entire series of Lady Death: A Medieval Tale (2003). Yes, I resisted comic books during my childhood; I couldn’t possibly understand what the big deal was. I was immediately enthralled with the dark and beautiful artwork in Lady Death, with the representation of death as a powerful force, and with the serialisation of a story that kept me coming back for more. These stories were nuanced, complex reworkings of the very things I already adored in film and literature.

After completing the series, I felt hungry for more, so I visited the local comic book shop for the first time. I walked in the door and up to the first shelf and sitting front and center was the latest issue of the The Walking Dead; it was issue #9 (2004)—the one where Carl is accidentally shot by Otis. The cover made me uncomfortable with its peeling eye and oversized fly. I read through it so fast, enveloped by the story to the point where I didn’t even realise it was in black and white. I hunted down the first 8 back issues and thus my obsession began.

My honours research addressed the representation of pregnant women and newborns in The Walking Dead comics, and because the television adaptation was released partway through that year, I included some early scenes from the show. My Master’s thesis built upon this work; I looked at the little girl zombies in The Walking Dead as well as a host of other zombie narratives. I am now completing my PhD dissertation, and while I’ve turned away from The Walked Dead for the most part, I will most likely never be able to turn away from the Gothic. I’m hooked for life!

From trashy romance novellas to studying the uncanny: my first encounter with the Gothic

I’ve told this story before, I’m sure I have, but that’s the very nature of Gothic, isn’t it. It keeps coming back. My family background is an interesting mix of very down to earth farmers and people who cannot pass a bookshop without a purchase. There were always books in the house and I was always encouraged to read. To read for myself that is. For the longest time, I was quite upset that adults wouldn’t read to me until I fully understood reading myself also meant I was in control of what I read.

Nancy Schumann. Picture credit:

Full disclosure, I may not judge a book by its cover but I definitely pick books by their covers. It’s what happened when I had my first encounter with the Gothic. For some reason, my mother and grandmother went through a phase of reading romance novellas. You know the ones: women with great hair and bare-chested men on the cover, the content of the she meets him – he seems great – there’s an obstacle – there’s a happily ever after formula. In retrospect, this might have had something to do with the availability of books in the Easter Bloc. Those romance booklets could be brought across the Iron Curtain border without fear. Nobody was worried about them.

I didn’t go anywhere these booklets. Until, that is, I spotted one on my grandmother’s bedside table with a very dark cover: a ballerina in white watched by a cloaked man, almost hidden by a curtain. The title read: The Vampire and the Dancer. 

Well, I was having that one, thank you very much. Yes, it was a romance but it wasn’t Twilight-style. There was no happy ending, no ever after. There was a vampire, who like the Phantom of the Opera stalks the theatre where the ballerina dances. He has a whole lot of lived history to offer and the ballerina falls for him. They crash and burn for a fleeting moment in both their lives, walking away into lifelong yearning and an eternity of loneliness respectively. It was beautiful. Turns out what I need in a romance story is a tragic ending and we’re good. 

Vampires and their intrinsic potential to experience an eternity of lived history have been with me ever since, moving on to classics like Dracula and the amazing new takes on the myth like Sabella by Tanith Lee. So it was natural to continue my academic journey in the same direction and I made it my mission to shine a light as it were on vampiric women. 

I am forever fascinated by the subject that it continues to bring me joy. I watch with great delight as the vampiric works by women as well as female vampiric characters keep appearing and growing in works of fiction and there is so much more to explore. 

CFP: Anthropocene Gothic

Around three hundred years ago, the Industrial Revolution increased the print left by human activity on planet Earth. In 2000, Paul J. Crutzen and Eugene F. Stoermer, the well-known atmospheric scientists, coined the term “Anthropocene” as a geological designation associated with the perceived and quantifiable impact of humankind on the ecological functioning of the planet’s atmosphere.

Although the scientific community has not yet approved of an official re-naming of existing geological periods, the Anthropocene nomination has attained significant assent in ecocriticism, as well as in the specific trend within it which we now call EcoGothic which, according to Elizabeth Parker, is “a flavoured mode through which we can examine our darker, more complicated cultural representations of the nonhuman world ‒‒which are all the more relevant in times of ecological crisis” (Forest and EcoGothic).

Humankind has taken part in an insurmountable transformation of the planet that results from the ways we have used technology to mould Nature to our needs without considering a non-human perspective. However, when pandemics, earthquakes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters strike, we are forced to seclude our feeble bodies and witness our barricades and artificial strongholds collapse or barely keep us safe. During the last three centuries, Gothic narratives have reminded us that we are not in control when natural processes collide with our claim of superiority over the planet. 

For the present edited collection, with the provisional title Anthropocene Gothic, we invite contributors to submit articles that explore Anthropocenic perspectives and their multifarious presence in Gothic texts. Possible topics to explore might include, but are not limited to:

  • EcoGothic: Romantic vs Gothic approaches to the representations of the natural world
  • EcoHorror and the exploration of climate crisis anxieties
  • Plant horror: The monstrous vegetal in art
  • EcoGothic and Animal Studies
  • Donna Haraway’s concept of “companion species” and Anthropocene Gothic 
  • Horror of Contagion
  • Pandemics and its aftermath in Gothic literature and art. 
  • A dark ecology of the forest in Anthropocene Gothic.
  • Nautical Gothic and its relation to environmental concerns
  • Monsters and a blurring of the distinction between human and other-than-human in Gothic aesthetics 
  • Eco-disaster cinema
  • The Anthropocene perspective in Gothic: A dialogue with postcolonial and neocolonial studies 
  • The transformative potential of Anthropocene Gothic.

Please send a proposal of about 500 words, for chapters of 6000-7000 words, and a short biography to Aurora Piñeiro and Tony Alcala by 30 November 2023.

Contributors can expect to be selected and notified by 15 December 2023. The deadline for submission of full articles will be 29 February 2024.

Gothic Travel through Haunted Landscapes: Climates of Fear

When we set out to write this book, we had in mind more than the preoccupation with travel that has marked the Gothic from its earliest moments. What caught our eye or, perhaps, our ear was the eerie footfall generated by Gothic journeys, as well as the power they possess to lead us into unfamiliar territory and to follow us home, dogging our steps wherever we go.

For fictional travellers, and for armchair tourists wishing they were ‘there’, Gothic landscapes have always generated turbulent imaginative atmospheres. As Devendra Varma claimed, the temper of the Gothic ‘spirit’ is that of fierce winds and storm clouds. Yet, from the later eighteenth century to the present moment, Gothic fiction has also captured physical geographies —awe-inspiring wilderness or unhomely local terrain – in vivid detail, conveying the challenges presented by topographical extremity and the elemental forces of more-than-human nature. 

Having spent perhaps too long in haunted houses, we wanted to venture outdoors into the open air, sharing the sensory and imaginative experience of walking through predominantly rural Gothic landscapes. Our book ventures far and wide: to both poles, Himalayan peaks, railway tracks in the Hudson valley, German forests and the Danube, as well to the wetlands and uplands, coastal fringes and secluded byways of the British and Irish Isles. Along the way, we trace uncanny stopping points, resting places, distractions and diversions that detain or disorientate Gothic travellers. Sometimes situating us at the edge geographically, these landscapes always place us on edge. The journeys we trace take different forms (recreational excursions, epic voyages, secular pilgrimages) and serve different purposes (escape, curiosity, self-improvement or transformative discovery), but whatever the motivation for those who travel, pleasure inescapably turns to fear. 

What we are thinking about here is encapsulated by the alliterative trio footfall, friction and frisson. In the narratives we survey, the physical impact of the human foot upon the ground triggers an echo, or activates an uncanny presence, that in turn generates a sensory response, a chill down the spine. Typically, such footfall is also peregrinatory, prone to wandering astray, at once immersed and adrift in estranging surroundings. These walkers become haunters and haunted, with Gothic travel representing a journey into error and terror. 

Of course, the most urgent footfall that haunts us is that of the Anthropocene, and our own damaging footprint. From the outset, Gothic has laid bare the human appetite for plunder and dramatized our vulnerability to the power of more-than-human nature. This awareness has often been expressed as muted but insidious anxiety about how we recklessly transform landscapes and devastate ecologies, but this concern tended to be moved offshore to far-flung or ‘peripheral’ places. Now, that distant dread is gradually creeping closer, stalking familiar routes. None of us can be vicarious travellers across this landscape, or tread too lightly. We have to look at the marks we leave, track the way we have come, contemplate where we are headed, and change the path we follow.

Gothic Travel through Haunted Landscapes: Climates of Fear, by Lucie Armitt & Scott Brewster. Published by Anthem Studies in Gothic Literature