A Dream that Leads Me to Become a Gothic Studies Researcher: My Encounter with Gothic

One of my favourite quotes about Gothic is by David Punter’s legend, from the Literature of Terror. “Gothic was chaotic … ornate and convoluted; where the classics offered a set of cultural models to be followed, Gothic represented excess and exaggeration, the product of the wild and the uncivilised”. What he implies here is what most of us might agree with. What he meant with this quote is that it (Gothic) embraces chaos, complexity, excess, and elements considered wild and uncivilised. This implies that most of our wild and uncivilised dreams lead to encounters with the gothic.

As a child, I was fascinated by ghost stories. While no one else in my family liked my weird obsession with ghosts and horror stories, this always gave me the opportunity to explore the world of the undead through my imagination. It was just a different to be in; while others were most into adventure stories and something with moral lessons, I always crave a different angle– the angle of terror and fear. The world of witches, vampires, and monsters was my stomping ground well they still are; I have not left that world. 

Now, what was one dream which led me to become a gothic researcher?

 Well, to be honest, I do not remember how old I was, but that is not the focus. One night, I had a nightmare which shuffled my life. Imagine that you are three or maybe six years old and get chased by a creepy-looking monster who wants to gobble you down raw. You are running and running in an open field filled with overgrown grass blocking your vision (but you can still see your surroundings) and suddenly you fall, and the creepy-looking monster has caught up with you, and by the time you stand, you are eaten alive by the monster. Then, you suddenly woke up, realising that I was just a dream, but no. You look to your left and see the same monster standing right next to you, and you scream the hell out of yourself, breaking the dream within a dream and making your family worry about you for something which can end life.

For years, I have thought about that dream, and why my obsession with terror and fear made me had a nightmare about something which I love the most. Well, that dream or nightmare was my encounter with the gothic which now has opened up many possibilities in my life and led me to think about gothic and studies surrounded by the genre of gothic studies. This dream has led to questions about vampires, witches, monsters, and Dracula.

The first novel I read in Gothic studies that introduced me to the entire cult of gothic fiction is Frankenstein by Mary Shelly during my ‘The Romantic Age’ course in the second semester of my undergrad degree in English Literature (2018). After that, I read the classic Dr. Faustus by Christopher Marlow which made me Gothic have several concepts one can deal with. The entire point of ‘selling your soul’ to the devil is one of my main areas of interest, as well as the research question I want to answer. Mathew Lewis’s The Monk: A Gothic Romance which also deals with the same question has also opened a lot of interesting things about Gothic. Not only novels, however, but films also have something which has made to investigate the entire question of the nature of the gothic, especially films which deal with the concept of exorcism, and the plot is entirely gothic or deals with horror. 

My obsession with the gothic has led me to question it, but also to do research on it, and that dream led me to write a dissertation during my Master’s programme. Now I look back at that dream, the only thing I can say is ‘I am glad that I had that dream’ because now I am a gothic researcher. My Master of Arts in English Literature (2021-2023) gave me the option to write a dissertation and, in the beginning, my dissertation topic was Existential Phenomenology; later on, my supervisor made me explore the world of gothic studies and I did my dissertation on a lesser-known gothic novella which in fact made Stocker write his famous novel Dracula. I am talking about Sheridan Le Fanu’s gothic novella Carmilla which, in my opinion, is not known to many researchers or students in the world. My master’s dissertation, Dualism and Repression in Le Fanu’s Gothic Vampire Novella Carmilla (1872), made me discover the notion of Repression and Dualism in a female lesbian Vampire story, but also questioned the ‘trope of Lesbianism’. Now, I am working toward my MPhil and PhD proposal which is in the field of gothic studies and dark academia. 

This rollercoaster journey has made me realise that sometimes dreams or nightmares are for your good and who knows that they can make you a gothic researcher.

By Aditya Kaushal