- The ‘Design of Romance’: Rookwood, Scott and the Gothic
This is a previously unpublished paper originally presented at the Legacies of Walpole: The Gothic after Otranto, International Gothic Association Conference, St. Mary’s University College, Strawberry Hill, in July, 1997. The title is taken from Ainsworth’s preface to the 1849 edition of Rookwood, in which he recalls the creative process behind his first novel in 1834, and comments critically on the development of the English novel, placing his own work in the European romantic tradition. This paper offers a comparative reading of Rookwood and Scott’s novel St. Ronan’s Well (1832), which is notionally similar in terms of basic plot and premise. I conclude by arguing that although Ainsworth and Scott represent two very oppositional versions of the Gothic Romance, Scott’s poetry, written before the Waverley novels, may well provide a critically overlooked correlative with Ainsworth’s fiction, using Scott’s ‘Glenfinlas’ (1802) and Marmion (1808) as representative examples. The full entry on Ainsworth from Scott’s private journal is also appended. (9000 words)
- The Book of Stone: Ainsworth’s Gothic History of England
This is a previously unpublished paper originally presented at the Victorian Gothic Colloquium, University of East Anglia, Norwich, April, 1998. This is essentially a close reading of Ainsworth’s Tower of London (1840), offering quite a Manichean interpretation that I rather like, but for some reason did not include in the book. (This was before I developed the ‘Prophecy, passivity and tragedy’ thesis.) The title refers to a line from Hugo’s Notre Dame de Paris (1831), and I’m using it here to refer to the meticulous historical research behind Ainsworth’s text and Cruikshank’s illustrations, as well as Ainsworth’s controlling metaphor of the Tower as a physical representation of the history of the English monarchy. (5000 words)
- ‘The Enchanter of the North’: A Profile of Sir Walter Scott (1771 – 1832)
A shorter version of this piece appeared in the Routledge Encyclopedia of the Romantic Era edited by Chris Murray (2003). I am always absurdly flattered when I get asked to contribute to literary encyclopedias (there’s usually a fee too), and I have also contributed several extended entries on Victorian popular literature to The Literary Encyclopedia, and more recently a series of pieces on horror film and fiction to the Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of the Gothic. This entry was significantly trimmed but I’ve always rather liked the long version. (Entries that made the cut were: Charles Maturin; A.W.N. Pugin; The European Gothic Revival; Drugs and Addiction; Waverley.) This is a biographical profile of Scott as a poet, novelist and critic, offering a detailed close reading of Waverley (1814), and a Formalist analysis of Scott’s historical fiction. There is also a full bibliography of Scott’s literary works. The convention back then was to not reference encyclopedia entries, so apologies for the lack of citations – if I can track down all the sources again I will rectify this omission as soon as possible. (3700 words)
- ‘My work and I have been fitted to each other’: A Brief Profile of Harriet Martineau (1802 – 1876)
This piece was also commissioned for the Encyclopedia of the Romantic Era but alas did not make the final edit. It’s a short entry, but as Miss Martineau was, like me, Norwich born and raised, I have decided to reproduce it here. This is a basic biographical sketch, covering Martineau’s major fiction and non-fiction, and her political significance in the nineteenth century and the history of feminism. I also touch upon the probable influence of her novel Deerbrook (1839) on George Eliot’s Middlemarch (1872). This piece concludes with a full Martineau bibliography. (1300 words)
- William Harrison Ainsworth: The Life and Adventures of the Lancashire Novelist
Originally published in Fukui Daigaku Kyoiku Chiiki Kagakubu no Kenkyu Kiyou vol I, 59 (Japan 2003), a peer reviewed academic journal of literature and linguistics published by the University of Fukui. As a member of the English faculty I was expected to give some sort of statement of my research each year so wrote this profile of Ainsworth, which was essentially a compressed version of my book, The Life and Works of the Lancashire Novelist (Mellen 2003). The essay offers a detailed biography of Ainsworth, and a critical overview of his major novels, including Victorian and contemporary responses to his work and literary reputation. The essay comprises the following sections: Introduction: The Victorian Critical Heritage; I. New English Gothic (Sir John Chiverton and Rookwood); II. The Newgate Controversy (Jack Sheppard); III. History and Tragedy (The Tower of London, Guy Fawkes, Old St. Paul’s); IV. The Lancashire Witches (The Lancashire Witches); V. The Lancashire Novels (Mervyn Clitheroe, The Manchester Rebels, Preston Fight, The Leaguer of Lathom); Conclusion: The Contemporary Critical Heritage. There is also a full Ainsworth bibliography. (10,000 words.)
- ‘A Wrappage of Traditions’: Scott, Ainsworth and Nineteenth Century Narratives of British National Identity
Paper originally presented at the Language and Nationhood International Conference, Universiti Kebangsaan, Malaysia, December, 2003, which was subsequently published in Ganakumaran Subramaniam, Ismaznizam J. Azyze, Shahizah Ismail Hamdan, & Ruzy Suliza Hashim eds Nationhood and Literature: Expressions of Realities (Selangor: PPB & Linguistik, 2005). This paper explores what Hugh Trevor-Roper called ‘the invention of tradition’ through Scott’s Waverley novels, Ainsworth’s creation of the legend of Dick Turpin’s ‘Ride to York,’ and his rehabilitation of the then dilapidated Tower of London through his historical novel of the same name. The paper considers myths of national identity, and uses the legend of King Arthur as a frame. The tile is taken from a quotation from Thomas Carlyle’s On Heroes, Hero-Worship and the Heroic in History (1841). (8500 words)
- Life in London from Egan to Dickens: Regency Innocence versus Victorian Experience
Originally published in Fukui Daigaku Kyoiku Chiiki Kagakubu no Kenkyu Kiyou vol I, 60 (Japan 2004). An essay on London writing and Regency and early-Victorian social investigation, contrasting the moral values of both eras by comparing Pierce Egan’s Life in London (1821) with the early writing of Charles Dickens – Sketches by ‘Boz’ (1836), The Pickwick Papers (1837), and Oliver Twist (1838). The paper argues that the comic Life in London had a considerable influence on The Pickwick Papers, while noting the stark, political realism already beginning to emerge in Dickens’ first novel in, for example, the Fleet Prison episode, and culminating in the anti-Newgate novel Oliver Twist. The paper also includes a biographical sketch of Egan. (10,000 words)
- ‘Beaks, buzgloaks, and knucks in quod’: Romance, Realism, and the Language of the Nineteenth Century Underworld
A previously unpublished paper originally presented at the Victorian Criminalities conference, University of Exeter, April 2005. A paper about ‘Flash,’ the slang anti-language of the nineteenth century criminal underworld, and its fashionable application in popular literature, particularly Pierce Egan’s Life in London (1821), and Ainsworth’s early novels Rookwood (1834) and Jack Sheppard (1839). The paper examines the popular craze for Flash songs among the Victorian working and middle classes, the critical backlash against Egan and, later, Ainsworth, and Dickens’ efforts to distance himself from any association with Newgate novels and novelists, stated in his preface to the 1841 edition of Oliver Twist. In this preface, Dickens attacks the romanticism of the criminal underclass, and objects to and rejects the use of Flash dialogue in fiction, arguing instead for a new form of literary social realism. The paper includes two appendices offering examples and translations of Flash slang from Life in London and Ainsworth’s song ‘Nix My Dolly Pals’ from Rookwood. The title of this paper is taken from Ainsworth’s song and means ‘magistrates, pickpockets and thieves in prison.’ (6500 words)
- ‘The Phantom Steed’: The Outlaw Narrative of Rookwood
The last of the Ainsworth papers, previously unpublished and presented as part of a series of guest lectures on regional history at the University of Central Lancashire, March 2006. This is a paper about the romanticism of outlaws in fact and fiction, focusing upon the life of Dick Turpin, and applying Eric Hobsbawn’s theory of ‘social banditry.’ The paper uses Ainsworth’s Rookwood (1834) as its frame, which is compared to Bulwer-Lytton’s Godwinian Newgate novel Paul Clifford (1832). William Empson’s reading of MacHeath from The Beggar’s Opera by John Gay (1728) is also applied (Some Versions of Pastoral, 1966). Ainsworth’s Dick Turpin is also compared to the original, and the relationship between English highwaymen and the outlaws of the American west is also considered. The title is taken from a chapter in Rookwood from the ‘Ride to York’ section (Book IV). (7000 words)
- Weird Tales from the Vault of Fear: The EC Comics Controversy and its Legacy
Previously unpublished paper originally presented at the Watching the Media; Censorship, Limits, and Control in Creative Practice Symposium, Edge Hill University, Liverpool, April, 2011. A paper about horror and censorship, centring on the influence of EC horror comics, and starting with the moral panic of 1954 that led to the hastily imposed and ultra-conservative Code of the Comics Magazine Association of America. This paper argues that the visual and narrative codes of EC migrated to mainstream and independent cinema in the 1960s (Hitchcock and George A. Romero), initiating a repeating cycle of transgression and controversy that continues to inform the genre, from the radical ‘American Nightmares’ of pre-Hollywood Tobe Hooper to the recent hyper-real pastiches of Eli Roth and Rob Zombie. A textual doubling is suggested, in which EC-style horror is either selectively assimilated by popular media (for example the Dexter and Walking Dead franchises), or publicly and politically denounced (like the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre before it got old enough to be ‘art’). The attendant moral panic in each case is essentially the same, with effects theory-driven calls for censorship versus the more complex discourse of creative freedom and cultural critique. The title is an in-joke, combining key words from the EC comics Weird Science, Tales from the Crypt, The Vault of Horror, and The Haunt of Fear – this is also the tile of my irregular series of horror stories published by the Cascando and Starwheel Presses between 1993 and 2011, soon to be re-released online. The design layout of the visual presentation is by Gracie Carver. (3400 words)
- ‘Of Magic and Terror, and Mysterious Symbols’: Batman and the Discourse of the Literary Gothic
Previously unpublished paper originally presented at the American Image/Text Conference, University of East Anglia, Norwich, June, 2011. A narratological and semiotic study in context and intertext. This paper argues that, in addition to the familiar gothic archetype of the ‘divided self’ implicit within the continuing, multimedia mythology of the Batman (seen, for example, in Alan Moore’s exploration of ‘Rorschach’ in Watchmen, 1986), the concept and character can be read visually/textually as much more multi-layered gothic intertexts. The paper focuses on three key texts and areas by way of illustration, the first being the Theosophical origins of Batman, most recently re-told in Christopher Nolan’s movie Batman Begins (2005), with Bruce Wayne, like Madame Blavatsky, studying in Tibet under the immortal master Ra’s Al Ghul, in an esoteric occult frame the origins of which can be traced to Bulwer-Lytton’s gothic romances Zanoni (1842) and A Strange Story (1862). I also look at the Jungian Arkham Asylum by Grant Morrison and Dave McKean (1989) as a deconstruction of the American gothic from Poe to Vincent Price, and conclude by considering Pat Mills’ 50th anniversary parody of Batman in Marshall Law: Kingdom of the Blind (1989) in which a middle-aged millionaire vigilante, ‘The Private Eye,’ uses the rhetoric of the superhero to protect his own wealth and to prey, vampire-like, upon the urban underclass that he despises. The framing quotation is taken from Arkham Asylum. The design layout of the visual presentation is again by Gracie Carver. This and the EC paper (above) were very short presentations – about 20 minutes I think – so please excuse the brevity. I will try to edit and post the longer versions later if anyone’s interested. (3600 words)
- The Man who wasn’t Dickens: A profile of George William MacArthur Reynolds (1818 – 1879)
Previously unpublished paper, originally entitled ‘Working Class Heroes,’ presented at the G.W.M. Reynolds: Popular Culture, Literature & Radicalism in the Nineteenth Century Conference, held at the University of Birmingham in July 2000. Some of this material subsequently found its way into a biographical entry on Reynolds published in The Literary Encyclopedia in 2004 – General Editor Dr. Robert Clark www.LiteraryDictionary.com (My other entries were: Newgate Prison; Pierce Egan; W.H. Ainsworth; Rookwood; Jack Sheppard; The Tower of London; The Lancashire Witches.)
This is a biographical sketch of Reynolds, beginning with his early life at Sandhurst, his time in Paris, and his first journalistic experience (on The London and Paris Courier). The paper also covers the animosity between Reynolds and Dickens, which had grown out of their political differences, and its origins in Reynolds’ plagiarisms of Dickens in the 1830s and 40s. Reynolds’ politics are covered in detail, in particular his involvement with Chartism, and there is also an analysis of The Mysteries of London (1844 – 1856), focusing upon the first two volumes and Reynolds’ apparent empowerment of working class men and women in parallel with a sensational gothic narrative. The piece concludes that Reynolds’s contribution to Victorian literature, in particular London writing, is as significant as that of Dickens and Henry Mayhew.
- ‘The Wrongs and Crimes of the Poor’: the Urban Underworld of The Mysteries of London in Context
From: Louis James and Anne Humphreys, eds, G.W.M. Reynolds and Nineteenth-Century British Society: Politics, Fiction and the Press (London: Ashgate Press, 2008).
Reproduced by permission of the editors and publisher.
This project grew out of a paper entitled ‘Working-class heroes: Jack Sheppard, Henry Holford & The Literature of Costermongers’ presented at the G.W.M. Reynolds: Popular Culture, Literature & Radicalism in the Nineteenth Century Conference, at the University of Birmingham in July 2000. This essay places Reynolds’ epic serial The Mysteries of London (1844 – 1856) within the inter-related contexts of social investigation, Chartism, Newgate fiction, and the Victorian literary novel, comparing and contrasting Reynolds’ masterpiece with Eugene Sue’s Les Mystères de Paris (1843), and depictions of the London criminal underworld by Egan, Ainsworth, Dickens and Mayhew. Reynolds’ unorthodox treatment of fallen women is considered (he doesn’t kill them off like Sue’s La Goualeuse or as Dickens does ‘The Hospital Patient’ and Nancy), as well as his views on capital punishment, and his device of allowing underworld characters to annex the text in order to tell their own stories is read as a political gesture. The paper also explores the development of the ‘mysteries novel’ as an expression of the urbanisation of industrial Britain, and the contemporary critical debate surrounding Reynolds’ politics, seeking an answer to the question of whether or not he was truly radical or merely opportunist. I argue that the chaos of the new urban environment is reflected in the structure of Reynolds’ text, in which competing narrative codes mirror the incoherent experience of the city, anticipating the postmodern novel and allowing Reynolds’ genuine political commentary to co-exist within a gothic and sensational frame that he equally exploits, satirises and subverts.
- ‘Addicted to the Supernatural’: Spiritualism and Self-Satire in Le Fanu’s All in the Dark
From: G.W. Crawford, Jim Rockhill, and Brian J. Showers eds, Reflections in a Glass Darkly: Essays on J. Sheridan Le Fanu (New York: Hippocampus, 2011), which was short-listed for the 2011 Bram Stoker Award for Non-Fiction (losing out to Stephen King: A Literary Companion by Rocky Wood).
Reproduced by permission of the editors and publisher.
This is a close reading of Le Fanu’s neglected comic novel All in the Dark (1866), which is read in the context of the Spiritualist craze of the 1850s and 60s. The essay uses the rise of Spiritualism in America and Europe as a frame, focusing upon the famous mediums the Fox sisters and D.D. Home, and the attendant Victorian debate regarding the possibility of communicating with the dead. All in the Dark is therefore read as a sophisticated satire of Spiritualism, and the Victorian craze for ghost stories as a whole. The paper challenges conventional biographical readings of All in the Dark as a failed attempt at ‘bourgeois realism,’ arguing instead that Le Fanu is satirising the supernatural (his own writing included), and using the narrative codes against themselves, just as the discourses of science, religion, fantasy and realism are colliding in the public arena. I conclude that All in the Dark perfectly catches the epistemological crisis of mid-Victorian Britain, and is as much a part of Le Fanu’s elegant gothic project as The Purcell Papers and In a Glass Darkly.
- Writing the Underworld: Ainsworth’s Jack Sheppard and the Newgate Controversy
This is an extract from my book The Life and Works of the Lancashire Novelist William Harrison Ainsworth 1805 – 1882 (New York: Edwin Mellen, 2003), Vol. 75 of EMP’s ‘Studies in British Literature’ series. This is a critical biography chronicling the rise and fall of the English novelist William Harrison Ainsworth, a prolific and successful popular novelist in the era of Dickens and Thackeray (both of whom he knew well) whose life and works are now largely as obscure as they were once famous. The book is a substantially expanded version of my doctoral thesis ‘Abnormal Literature: The Early Fiction of William Harrison Ainsworth, 1821-1848’ (University of East Anglia, 1999), which I’ve just noticed is also listed on Amazon – if anyone knows why then please let me know. Cheers. I’m aware that EMP are getting a battering in the blogs these days, but all I can say is that when I signed the contract I was committing to a highly recommended scholarly press with very exacting academic standards, and that I take my work very seriously. The Readers on this project were Professors William Hughes (who also wrote the preface) and David Punter. Professor Victor Sage supervised the original Ph.D, which was examined by Professors Roger Sales (Internal) and Chris Baldick (External). The original project was fully funded by the Arts and Humanities Council of Great Britain.
Ainsworth’s desire to re-invent the gothic novel in an English setting is read as a literary hybrid, a radical re-write of Scott’s model of the historical romance and an antecedent of the contemporary urban gothic of Dickens and G.W.M. Reynolds. The book begins with a consideration of the critical heritage, such as it is, then examines Ainsworth’s early life and juvenilia – December Tales (1823) and Sir John Chiverton (1826) – his move from Manchester to London under the guidance of Charles Lamb, and his marriage to Fanny Ebers. Chapters Two and Three explore the massive influence of his gothic/Newgate romance of 1834, Rookwood, and his fall from literary grace during the Newgate controversy of 1839/40 (a moral panic engendered by the supposedly pernicious effects of cheap, theatrical adaptations of Ainsworth’s underworld romance Jack Sheppard). The second half of the book considers Ainsworth’s post-Newgate historical novels. The Tower of London (1840), Guy Fawkes (1841), and Old St. Paul’s (1841) are presented as a representative examples of Ainsworth’s historical romances, and read as epic tragedy rather than as a simply bad books that did not understand Scott according to the Formalist model of historical fiction. The final section explores Ainsworth’s later life and regional fiction, in particular The Lancashire Witches (1848) and his subsequent series of ‘Lancashire Novels,’ concluding with his adoption by his native Mancunians as ‘The Lancashire Novelist,’ and the mayoral banquet held in his honour shortly before his death.
Ainsworth’s singular vision of the outlaw, British history and religious intolerance is re-examined as politically at odds with the new Victorian value system, particularly with regard to Catholics and the urban poor. I argue that these features suggest a possible explanation for his critical rejection by the literary establishment, a process begun in his lifetime and largely unchallenged by twentieth century critics. The book also incorporates original biographical research, including extracts from Ainsworth’s correspondence and journalism, detailing his close relationships with, among others, Lamb, Lockhart, Mary Shelley, Leigh Hunt, Scott, Dickens, John Forster, Thackeray, Cruikshank, Bulwer-Lytton, and G.P.R. James. The book also contains a complete bibliography of Ainsworth’s fiction and non-fiction. As far as I know, this is one of only three books devoted entirely to Ainsworth, the others being S.M. Ellis’ biography of 1911, William Harrison Ainsworth and His Friends, and George J. Worth’s monograph for the Twayne ‘English Authors’ series, William Harrison Ainsworth (1972).
This extract is taken from Chapter Three, ‘Writing the Underworld,’ which is largely concerned with the novel Jack Sheppard (1839). It is best read after the two Rookwood papers (also reproduced on this blog), ‘The Design of Romance: Rookwood, Scott and the Gothic’ and ‘The Phantom Steed: The Outlaw Narrative of Rookwood.’ This extract of the book is provided in accordance with the conditions of ‘fair usage,’ and is reproduced without profit for marketing and educational purposes only, with the understanding that copyright resides with the publisher.
The extract is divided into three sections:
PART ONE: ‘A sort of Hogarthian novel’ concerns the composition of Jack Sheppard, the relationship the author intended with the art of William Hogarth, in particular Industry and Idleness (1747), the success of the novel, the initial critical reception, comparisons (positive and negative) with Dickens’ early novels, and Dickens’ repudiation of the Newgate novel in his preface to the 1841 edition of Oliver Twist. This section also looks at Dickens and melodrama, Ainsworth’s treatment of fallen women, and his depiction of London as a gothic space. The title is a quotation from one of Ainsworth’s letters to his best friend, the Manchester lawyer James Crossley, in which he outlines his intention to write a new novel about Newgate in the eighteenth century.
PART TWO: ‘Vagabondiana: Jack Sheppard and Social Exploration’ analyses the novel in the context of literary and para-literary representations of the criminal underworld in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, in particular the contrast between Regency and Victorian, although Hogarth, Fielding and John Gay are also considered. This section reads Jack Sheppard as a bridge between Egan’s Life in London (1821) and Dickens’ Oliver Twist (1838), while also looking at the relationship between literary accounts of the London underworld and non-fiction narratives of social investigation, in particular (but not limited to) Henry Mayhew’s epic series of articles for the Morning Chronicle, London Labour and the London Poor (1851). The title comes from J.T. Smith’s book Vagabondiana, or The Anecdotes of Mendicant Wanderers through the Streets of London (1817).
PART THREE: ‘The Storm: The Newgate Controversy’ offers a history of the moral panic of 1839/40 that killed off the Newgate novel and Ainsworth’s career as a serious literary novelist, applying the ‘Effects Theory’ of popular culture to the media campaign waged against him. This section details the theatrical adaptations of Jack Sheppard, and the growing concern about the effects of criminal romance of young working class males expressed in the literary press by John Forster, W.M. Thackeray and Charles Wentworth Dilke, and their attacks on Ainsworth in the Examiner, the Athenaeum, Punch, and Fraser’s Magazine. Thackeray’s satires of Ainsworth and Dickens in Catherine, ‘Going to see a man hanged’ (1840), and Vanity Fair (1848) are considered in detail, as is Mayhew’s anxiety over ‘Penny Gaffs’ (working class theatres) in London Labour. The Courvoisier murder case (1840) and the supposed influence of Jack Sheppard is taken to be the tipping point, and the section concludes with Ainsworth’s decision to abandon Newgate fiction in favour of historical romance.
For ease of reference, hopefully, the works cited, notes and appendix are posted separately.
- Gothic Film: A Brief History
From: Professors William Hughes, David Punter & Andrew Smith eds, The Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of the Gothic vols. 1 & 2 (London: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012). Other entries by this author: David Cronenberg; Hammer Films; W.H. Ainsworth; Thomas De Quincey; John Polidori; Regency Tales of Terror; Monster Movies; Richard Matheson.
Reproduced by permission of the editors. http://www.literatureencyclopedia.com/public/gothic_about
This is an historical overview of the form from early European and American silent adaptations of Gothic novels and Victorian theatre to the hyper-real twenty-first century Hollywood product, via Expressionism, Universal Studios, Hammer Films, Mario Bava, and Roger Corman’s ‘Poe Cycle’ for American International. The paper includes close readings of Robert Weine’s influential and often imitated Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (1920), F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (1922), and James Whale’s Bride of Frankenstein (1935). I also consider period revivals such as Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein by Kenneth Branagh (1994), as well as more contemporary Gothic film, in particular the current trend for franchised vampires. I conclude that the synergy of the literary gothic, stage melodrama, and Expressionism that characterises Gothic film now finds its purest form in the films of Tim Burton and Guillermo del Toro. A brief coda has been added explaining the difference between ‘Horror’ and ‘Gothic’ narratives.
If anyone’s interested, I might post a couple of the shorter entries as well so please keep a weather eye out. Please note that, as ever, illustrations are used here for educational purposes only, and that copyright resides with the owners. Cheers.
- “He wants to be just like Vincent Price”: Influence & Intertext in the Gothic Films of Tim Burton
I wrote this essay for my wife. We got married because of Tim Burton and Vincent Price. I was lecturing at an old fashioned Art School (now long since rebranded as a ‘university’), when I first met Gracie, a graphic designer who had just joined the college and moved into the area. We met professionally a couple of times, and soon nervously arranged to have a coffee, notionally to discuss working in Japan. I was teaching a film class before lunch that day, and I suggested we meet in the classroom. Gracie was working on a magazine spread on Tim Burton (Sweeney Todd had just come out), and when she showed me her portfolio we fell to talking about gothic movies instead of career. Her other heroes were Edgar Allan Poe and Vincent Price, and I was proud to tell her that the primary exteriors for Roger Corman’s Tomb of Ligeia (which I’d been using in my class) were filmed locally, at Castle Acre Priory. As this was a film studies space there was a large screen projector, so I ran the start of the movie and we sat side by side on a desk and watched it together shyly, lunch and Japan forgotten. Our first major date was a visit to the Priory, where we ran around like kids taking pictures of each other and shouting, ‘Vincent Price stood here!’ We were married within the year, and our son, born as couple of years later, was, of course, named Vincent.
This essay concluded a long, productive, and exhausting stint of academic writing, which had begun with a dozen original lectures on narratology and creative writing, immediately followed by the Le Fanu piece, then two conference papers, and finally nine entries for the Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of the Gothic. I was trying to create the space to write a novel, and had just become a father, so was not keen to do anything else for a while, but I heard from the editor of the Burton project, Professor Jeffrey Weinstock, through our mutual friend Professor Bill Hughes, and Gracie talked me into getting onboard because of the subject. I dedicated the essay to her and do so again here.
The idea was to write a narratological and semiotic study in context and intertext. This essay takes as its starting point a quotation from Burton’s early short film Vincent (1982, a gothic verse-story in the manner of Dr. Seuss, narrated by Price himself); and this pseudo-autobiographical desire to be a gothic icon, expressed by a creative and alienated child, is applied as a metaphor for the contextualisation of Burton’s esoteric work within the genre of gothic film and the wider discourse of the literary gothic.
I felt that it was harder than it might appear to contain Burton’s films within a particular set of cultural and narrative codes, and that many of those that had done so had tended to arrive at quite reductive conclusions. My thesis was that Burton had returned to the marriage of melodrama and Expressionism that epitomised early gothic cinema, and that gothic film as a cultural process could be seen to turn full circle in his work. I also wished to argue, however, that Burton moved beyond this dynamic, and was (and remains) the quintessential postmodern ‘Goth,’ gleefully quoting from art and popular culture to create the dark, original and influential aesthetic that has become his signature style.
Rather than offering a close reading of a particular period or set of films, my intention was to explore a wider cultural context that would enable Burton’s films to be viewed as part of a coherent and progressive project in which Vincent, for example, Ed Wood, and The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy could all be viewed as part of the same narratological and semiotic structure, turning and turning again as Johnny Depp inevitably became Barnabas Collins in Dark Shadows, which was in post-production at time of writing.
The Works of Tim Burton: Margins to Mainstream edited by Jeffrey Weinstock was published by Palgrave MacMillan in November 2013, and has just been nominated for a Horror Writer’s Association Bram Stoker Award for Non-fiction. This essay is reproduced, with thanks, by permission of the editor and publisher – please respect their copyright if citing. This is my last academic essay to date, but I have now written the novel.