Tales of Terror: Conference Reviews

Conference Reviews courtesy of our IGA Bursary Recipients

You can read the full conference report here.

Tracy Hayes

Hardy and Poe Scholar

This was only the second Gothic-themed conference that I have attended, and it was a genuinely fantastic experience. Dr Jen Baker put together an excellent programme which literally had something to offer for everyone, regardless of which stage each delegate was at in their studies or academic career. Both keynotes – Dr Melissa Edmundson on women writers and the Colonial Gothic, and Professor Roger Luckhurst on the versatility of punctuation for effect/affect in Gothic texts – were fascinating and informative in their very different themes and how they were treated. Dr Edmundson brought to our attention authors many of us had never heard of before but now very much wish to discover for ourselves, and Professor Luckhurst provided extremely entertaining examples of author verbosity versus author effect. Another very enjoyable feature of the conference was the roundtable discussion on publishing houses, preservation and translation. The challenges faced by small independent publishers to resurrect forgotten works and authors of the nineteenth century, the decision-making process involved in how an obscure or little-known story is chosen for collection in an anthology, and the multiple problems involved in the translation of tales not just written in a second language, but in a very time-specific language, while retaining the original nuances and colour were all discussed to great effect and proved a very insightful experience for all delegates. The sheer diversity of the panel presentations was a delight, with platforms provided for queer Gothic, colonial Gothic, regional Gothic and Eastern European Gothic. Aurality, the Weird, and re-evaluations of prominent author’s works provided new and interesting considerations of how the Gothic may be read, including what actually makes a Gothic story Gothic! A particular highlight for me was a session devoted to televisual, short film and game adaptations of the works of Poe. I had never previously seen a Jan Svankmajer production in its entirety, and it was one of the most surreal experiences I have ever had! And the sheer complexity and brilliance of Adam Whybray’s gameplay creation Evermore was mindblowing!

My own research focusses on Gothic masculinity in the short stories of Poe, Hardy, and M.R. James, and it was an absolute pleasure to hear numerous papers on both Poe and James, all providing me with food for thought. I was given many new insights into the creative processes of these two authors and the various ways their stories may be interpreted, and privileged to be able to participate in discussions and conversations afterwards with like-minded students and academics. Constructive criticism abounded, all opinions were voiced and heard, and nobody was judged, I’ve never met so many wonderfully open-minded and friendly people at a conference before. My paper was very positively received, and I was fully encouraged to further develop ideas which at this stage are in their infancy. This conference was an astonishing achievement, single-handedly providing a monumental experience for a very diverse community of scholars!

Daria Denisova

Student of the Weird, Shevchenko Institute of Literature, National Academy of Science of Ukraine

On March 21-22, Warwick University welcomed a bunch of brilliant people bound together by an interest in Gothic, Horror, and Weird Short Fiction. @TerrorTalesof burst out in hundreds of tweets to set the wonders of the conference in incorporeal computer code – a ghost of the many Tales of Terror. True to the nature of its subject, akin to a Chinese puzzle (James Machin), “Tales of Terror” assembled and examined the many pieces that shape gothic, horror, and weird short fiction.

The papers touched upon various salient issues of the genre: the enlightening potential of craving for knowledge and sensation (Sarah Sharp, Manon Labrande, Camilla Schroeder), modern anxieties (Daria Denisova), liminal stages (Daniel Pieterson), ecocritical concerns (Antonio Alcalá González, Gry Ulstein), worldview projections (Oliver Rendle), and regional variations of the tales (Martha McGill, Joan Passey, Helena Bacon and Adam Whybray, Agnieszka Łowczanin).

Loud and clear came out the questions of sexuality and gender as a Gothic concern in the papers of Evan Hayles Gledhill, Kevin Corstorphine, Sandra Mills, Robert Lloyd, Maria Giakaniki. Dr Edmundson’s research and presentation mediated the voices of the women writers of the colonial gothic short stories (Margery H. Lawrence, Alice Perrin, Mary Fortune) who were eclipsed by the celebrated male authors of the time.

Although the primary focus was literary texts, the conference also explored the multimodal dimensions of gothic, horror, and weird short fiction in its relation to theatre (Simon Maeder, Dominic Allen), film and gaming (Adam Whybray, Caitlin Jauncey), art (Neil Weaving), dancing and music (Tracy Hayes), and sounds as affects (Maria Parrino, Jimmy Packham).

“Tales of Terror” concluded with Prof Luckhurst’s dash–ing keynote on incompleteness as the hallmark of the Gothic genre and its use of fragments, ellipsis, and dashes.

Despite the disturbing subject matter, the overall atmosphere of the conference could not have been more cheerful, enthusiastic, and welcoming. The Zeeman building vibrated with the buzz of genuine conversations, the flutter of the almost tangible ideas, laughter, and the tantalizing rustle of pages at the book stalls (@BL_Publishing, @HicDragones).

On top of the stimulating presentations and discussions, everyone’s creative juices were set flowing by the mini-gothic-story competition, eventually won by Daniel Pietersen (@pitersender) for the 50-word mini-saga and Dominic Allen (@ProvidenceCult) for the 6-word story.

Except for the isolated case of the malevolent non-human intervention (a gang of thug geese trapping Prof Luckhurst (@TheProfRog) on Warwick campus on the day of his key-note speech), the conference enjoyed a smooth flow due to the efforts of Dr Jen Baker, the assisting @EnglishWarwick MAEL students, and all the participants.

“Tales of Terror” has become a number-one event and an infinite source of inspiration for me. I would like to thank the International Gothic Association (IGA) for supporting my participation in the conference with a bursary to cover part of my travelling expenses and the conference fee. Thank you to Dr Jen Baker, the IGA, Warwick’s Humanities Research Centre, the Department of English and Comparative Studies, and everyone who dared to study the gothic and weird, cared to participate, and shared their insights at “Tales of Terror.”

I will be looking back on those terrific two days with great fondness and pride at being part of this fantastic event.

Maria Giakaniki

Co-Founder and Editor or Ars Nocturna

I had both the pleasure and the honor to participate in Tales of Terror:Gothic, Horror and Weird Short Fiction. From the very beginning, I considered this a very special initiative, since it was one of the very few conferences/symposiums in the world of the Gothic (to my knowledge at least) that engaged exclusively with the short form, which, as I tend to believe, is a bit neglected in comparison with other areas of gothic scholarship.

I am glad to say that these were two very inspirational and fruitful days, with a great variety of authors, themes and perspectives presented in detail; E. A. Poe, M.R. James and H.P Lovecraft were, naturally, the writers mostly discussed by the speakers in general; also the  tales of Algernon Blackwood, Arthur Machen and Charles Dickens had their fair share in the presentations, while stories by contemporary authors like Ramsey Campbell and China Mieville were also included in the conference. However, I’d like to lay particular emphasis on the papers that referred to women’s uncanny and weird short stories: First of all, Melissa Edmundson’s keynote introduced gothic colonial tales by mainly forgotten and neglected female writers of the 19th and early 20th century and the way that these stories dealt with such social issues as female oppression; the discussion that followed was very lively, focusing on how many worthy female writers of the gothic and the ghost story have not been republished and how ghost story aficionados of such tales, but especially anthologists and scholars, have to resort to old editions in order to unearth long-lost literary terror gems by women writers.

Other speakers also presented and discussed tales by female authors such as ‘The Cold Embrace‘ by Mary E. Braddon which was part of Shona Evoy’s delightful paper on Disembodied Female Hands and the Victorian Ghost Story  which dealt with male guilt and female spectrality in eerie tales of the Victorian period; another paper which focused on a 19th century woman author of uncanny tales was Louise Benson James’s Hysterical Bodies and the Corporeal Grotesque in Rhoda Broughton’s Ghost Stories, arguing that Broughton’s tales depart from the stereotypical ghostly tales of other women authors of the same era by featuring not disembodied but rather material female characters. Other women authors included in the conference were the queen of gothic fairy tales Angela Carter with Chantal Chien-hui Hsu’s paper onWolfish Affinity and Female Sexuality and the contemporary polish author Olga Tokarczuk with her uniquely bizarre stories which were introduced by Agnieszka Lowczanin; furthermore, there was a special panel on American author Shirley Jackson where Robert Lloyd and myself focused on her short stories regarding female ‘invisibility’ and marginalization and the combination of the mundane with the bizarre, both key elements in Jackson’s works.   

Apart from ladies’ ghostly and weird tales, I found rather pleasing and enlightening the papers of the Regional Horrors panel and in particular Joan Passey’s paper onThe Cornish Ghost Story in the Long C19th which considered at length the romanticization and the preservation of Cornwall’s historical past in ghostly tales; as well asThe Lies of the Land: The Alluvial Formalities of Gothic East Anglia by Helena Bacon (co-written with Adam Whybray), exploring the uncanny topography and spookiness of this particular area of England which has inspired the classic stories of M.R. James. Another panel I particularly enjoyed, where the audience also had the opportunity to relax and laugh, was the “Sounds of Terror”; the papers of this panel, presented by Tracy Hayes, Maria Parrino, and Jimmy Packham, focused on the elements of dance and laughter in horror tales by Poe, Thomas Hardy and M. R. James in a rather vivid and entertaining manner.    

One of the highlights of the conference was the round table of the first day, where the audience had the opportunity to come to direct contact with the world of publication of gothic and weird short stories. Jonny Davidson from the British Library recommended their exciting series Tales of the Weird which is comprised by thematic anthologies and short story collections; Hannah Kate from Hic-Dragones talked extensively about her experience as a publisher of rare penny dreadfuls; and I had the pleasure to discuss the difficulties of translating 19th century uncanny fiction into the Greek language.

Overall, this was a very appealing event, an academic conference both informative and enjoyable. The atmosphere was very friendly from the very start and the participants had lively and intriguing discussions during the intervals between the presentations, while as familiarity increased with the end of the conference, we decided to discuss all things gothic and horror with a pint of beer. Cheers!

Chantal Chien-hui Hsu

Independent Scholar, Taiwan

This two-day conference was a gripping and delightful academic experience. What particularly enthralled me was the panel on “The Sounds of Terror”—bringing together visual sensations and auditory effects: In particular, Dr. Tracy Hayes’s paper examined the use of danse macabre in the works of Poe, Hardy and M. R. James. She drew upon sources such as “The Masque of the Red Death”, which she deems danse macabre par excellence, and the audio effect in “The Tell-Tale Heart” to illustrate the connectivity between the Poesque perverseness and diabolic music. The discussions of musicality in tales of macabre is certainly an eye-opening perspective for me, not to mention the subsequent lively discussions which interrogate the supposed borderline between humanity and animality and debates that center upon the liminality of laughter and tears (as one participant acutely observes, the former can sometimes be reactions to confusions).  

Equally illuminating was the paper of my fellow presenter Silvia Storti on our panel “Monstrous Fairytales”, which teased out the socio-cultural construction of “The Sleeping Beauty” motif, its perennial appeal to the heterosexual male audience, and its potentially misogynist implications. As a longtime admirer of Edgar Allan Poe’s works, I couldn’t resist associating such an archetype in fairy tales with the lifeless, pale women in those narratives of bereavement, not to mention his “notorious” remark that “the death of a beautiful woman is unquestionably the most poetical topic in the world”. More crucially, Storti underscored that the Sleeping Beauties and Snow Whites in our history have been put on pedestal, while their realities and agency are often ironically invisible. The paper raises significant questions still pertinent and urgent in our times: as much as we are aware of the horror of feminine beauty standards, why are we as readers/viewers still fascinated by the image of the flawless, passive, and submissive Angel in the House (along with all its modern variants and reincarnations, of course)? What also comes under scrutiny is the social milieu that dictates “to be beautiful is to be inhuman” and the reasons why female desire and sexuality almost always receives negative portrayal in the convention of fairy tales.

Another highlight was the roundtable on the dilemmas faced by independent publishers, those who specialize in niche genres (be it the weird, the Gothic, the dark, or the strange) in particular. Specifically, Maria Giakaniki offered an insightful perspective that echoes the predicaments encountered by those who struggle to find qualified translators in other countries. For instance, Victorian archaic verbiage has more than often been misinterpreted at the hands of less experienced translators. Occasionally, a loss of ambience can also be incurred by unfamiliarity with gothic aesthetics. This resonates with the conditions in my country, as academic publications have encountered a deadlock in terms of matching works with appropriate translators. In this respect, this roundtable offered invaluable suggestions regarding how we can work collaboratively to improve the publishing career and engender substantial change.

Gothic- and horror-themed conferences or symposiums are very scarce in Taiwan, which is why I was really honoured and thrilled to be a part of this international event. Massive thanks go to Dr. Baker for doing a masterful job assembling like-minded people whose presentations investigate an extensive array of topics, and for providing a forum for all the amazing participants who take “unserious literature” more than seriously. My gratitude also goes to the people whose positive engagement and heartening feedback help sharpen the thesis of my paper.