Notes on ‘The Return of the Repressed: Gothic Studies Past and Present at UEA An International Symposium’, 26th and 27th June 2015


The University of East Anglia has historically been intimately involved with investigations into Gothic Literature and Media. Not only did David Punter publish The Literature of Terror: A History of Gothic Fictions from 1765 to the Present Day (Longman) while lecturing at the University of East Anglia, but also Rosemary Jackson’s Fantasy: The Literature of Subversion (Routledge), and Victor Sage’s Horror Fiction in the Protestant Tradition (Macmillan), to name a few, were also produced at the UEA.  Similarly, writers including Angela Carter, Ian McEwan, and Rebecca Stott have created highly-influential Gothic and post-Gothic fictions while associated with the university.

Seeking to recognise and honour the crucial work of this generation of teachers, writers and critics thirty years after their seminal publications, Mark Jancovich, Peter Kitson, and Tim Snelson organised a conference dedicated to revisiting these past connections.  However, rather than  being simply a ‘return’, as the conference title suggests, new theoretical, critical and creative relationships were equally explored, and speculations about the future of Gothic studies in the ever expanding global culture of the twenty-first century addressed.

Key note speakers included Rebecca Stott, Thomas Elsaesser, Helen Wheatley, David Punter, and Peter Hutchings, all of whom are connected to the UEA, either as teaching staff or former students.  Rebecca Stott discussed a new course developed by the department of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing, that will seek to hone the abilities of the highly gifted undergraduate student writer engaged in a creative critical approach to the study of Literature.  She noted that a new wave of feminism was beginning to appear, and that the Gothic could be a way of engaging with these new female students as they became more artistically and politically aware and articulate.

Wheat Gothic

Helen Wheatley’s keynote on horror television.

Thomas Elsaesser gave a personal and intimate talk on his own experience with the ‘return of the repressed’ focussing on his connections with the university, and one friend and fellow lecturer in particular, W. G. Sebald.  Helen Wheatley revisited her research into television horror in light of recent additions to this body of work appearing after the completion of her monograph, Horror Television (Manchester University Press).  David Punter discussed articulations and representations of the witch in film and television, and finally, Peter Hutchings addressed an assertion that he made in his book, Hammer and Beyond:  The British Horror Film (Palgrave/ Macmillan) that the British Horror film was dead, challenging this notion by suggesting that current work both in the cinema and on the television provides a signpost toward the rebirth of this genre popularised in the United Kingdom by Hammer Horror Productions and its contemporaries sixty years previously.

Hutch Gothic

Peter Hutching’s keynote asking ‘what happened to British horror?’

In addition to these illustrious speakers, a collection of panels hosted by the organisers and featuring past and present UEA doctoral candidates, explored current work being done in the field by emerging academics.  An intimate gathering of roughly forty participants and attendees all invested in the topic made for a welcome change to the large and impersonal international conferences sponsored by MECCSA and SCMS, and allowed for debate and lively discussion from a vast multi-disciplinary approach.  Indeed, the event made one aware of the scope of the Gothic, its continued power and impact and the connectivity to contemporary thought that it continues to wield.

By Linda McCarthy

Linda is a Doctoral Candidate in the Department of Film Television and Media currently working on American and British Horror texts of the 1970s involving representations of ‘alternative religion’.

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