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.