Literature and Theatre

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Dream manifestation in the Gothic short story
Nicola Bowring

Gothic has, since its inception, been concerned with the liminal nature of dreams and their relationship to the material. Monstrous figures within dreams function as manifestations of anxieties, but within the Gothic text, we see examples of beings and monsters who move from dream image to literal embodiment. This chapter explores the material manifestations of dream figures in the Gothic, taking the nineteenth-century short story as its focus. Gothic writing employs the dream primarily as a form of communication and is also concerned with the materiality of language, with articulation and (re)iteration. This materiality is a focus for psychoanalytic critics following Freud, such as Lacan, who regards language as essentially material, and Derrida, who in his concept of the trace picks up on the relationship between presence and absence, present and past, which these stories also explore. This chapter, then, will engage with theoretical concepts around language and communication to consider the materiality of the dream’s communications, through its nocturnal visitors/visitants. The concept of the trace is particularly fitting to the short story, which is able to infer without fully elucidating, to leave a trace, or a suggestion, of an idea. Like the dream, the short story’s latent content may appear ‘scant’ in comparison to its interpretation. Through the concept of embodiment in the dream narrative, the chapter will investigate the use of this format to explore anxieties around the unconscious dreaming state and its vulnerability to the monstrous, to a trace which becomes a presence, the spectral made manifest..

in Gothic dreams and nightmares
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Nightmarish realities in Thomas Ligotti’s fiction
Elisabete Lopes

Many of Thomas Ligotti’s tales are endowed with an oneiric nature and narrate encounters with otherness within an uncanny framework. Horror pervades the narrators’ accounts, who often find themselves lost in the claws of some mysterious nightmare that has suddenly breached into their reality, recalling the atmosphere of Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). Through these disturbing dreams, narrators discover that the reality they know and take for granted might be only a façade, a creation of cosmic unknown forces to disguise the true nature of the world. In fact, once these protagonists step into these alternate realities made available by dreams, they have contact with ‘the madness of things’, a phenomenon that encompasses evil, chaos, and monstrosity all combined. The purpose of this chapter is then to examine how Ligotti resorts to the dream to explore the limits of Gothic fiction, expanding its span towards the uncanny and the weird, by means of these eerie encounters with otherness. In this context, it is also important to explore the dream as a literary phenomenon that gives way to the intrusion of cosmic horror, which, in turn, is liable to deconstruct the world of the narrator and put into question his identity, thus leaving him hopeless and on the verge of madness..

in Gothic dreams and nightmares
Sam Hirst

The interpretation of Gothic dreams frequently focuses on psychoanalytical or narratological readings of Gothic dreams. This emphasis is often based on the underlying and often averred assumption of the secularisation of the period and the Gothic’s essential lack of concern with the metaphysical realities of the supernatural events it portrays. This chapter contests the assumption of secularity in early British Gothic literature, pointing to the survival of theological interpretations, their importance in contemporary dream discourse, and the ways in which Gothic texts engage with these beliefs. In order to map the complex nature of dream discourse in the period and its connection to the theological, this chapter provides a historical overview of theological ghost belief. It points to the survival of these conceptions of the dream and elucidates their influence on, and importance to, Gothic dreams. Theologised understandings of supernatural dreams and their provenance, purpose, and meaning are central to the Gothic. They are also intrinsically linked to wider theological debates about the nature of the soul, free will and determinism, theodicy, and providence, making, as will be explored, Gothic dreams as an index to the theological concerns of Gothic novels. Dream depiction in Gothic novels was by no means static. This chapter also maps the ways in which an increasingly medicalised discourse around dreams manifested in Gothic fiction. The influence of these discourses did not result in the rejection of supernatural understandings of the dream but rather in an increased emphasis on interpretative ambiguity, which allowed for both secular and theological possibilities of interpretation.

in Gothic dreams and nightmares
The night, the haunt, and the female vampire
Maria Giakaniki

In Samuel T. Coleridge’s Romantic poetic narrative ‘Christabel’ (1816), Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s Victorian Gothic novella ‘Carmilla’ (1872), Théophile Gautier’s hallucinatory novella, ‘La Morte Amoureuse’ (1836), and Mircea Eliade’s Romanian horror novel Domnișoara Christina (1936), the bizarre, unsettling dreams that the protagonists experience are alternately erotic, repulsive, and/or premonitory, either resembling the state of trance or appearing to be a vivid simulation of real life. In this context, this chapter constitutes an individual but also comparative analysis of the dreams and nightmares in these four classical literary vampire works and the ways they expose the central character’s subconscious, forbidden desires and fears, at the same time remaining attentive to each text’s sociohistorical context. Particular attention will be paid to the ways in which dreams are employed by each author to depict different forms of complex vampiric relationships, while the chapter will also demonstrate how the ambivalent persona of the female vampire represents (queer) sexual desire, but also parasitic otherness and how these features are illustrated through the use of dreams. In this respect, the exploration of the emblematic figure of the female vampire as a classic Gothic horror motif, as well as the theme of repressed sexuality within the broader scope of dreams and nightmares in Gothic/horror literature, adds an intriguing dimension to an already fascinating topic. The inclusion of lesser-known continental literary works will offer fresh perspectives on the subject, thus providing a more comprehensive, enhanced view of the misty landscapes of troubled sleep in Gothic/horror fiction. .

in Gothic dreams and nightmares
Phrenology in the British Isles
William Hughes

This chapter starts by reassessing the significance of the intellectual hostility expressed towards Franz Joseph Gall’s former assistant, Johann Gaspar Spurzheim, by the Edinburgh physician John Gordon. This opens the chapter up to the first substantial assessment of the content, significance and consequences of Spurzheim’s lecture tour, which began in London, took him across the English provinces and saw him also lecture on, and practically demonstrate, phrenology first in Ireland and latterly in Scotland. The chapter advances an unprecedented body of detail with regard to the content of the lectures delivered in London in particular, with substantial quotation from unreprinted contemporary accounts of these events. The significance and impact of Spurzheim’s later symposia is also discussed at length, with particular reference being made to his lectures in Bath and Bristol, and his tour of Irish venues which saw him speak in Dublin and Cork prior to a long tour of Scotland.

in The dome of thought
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William Hughes

The book ends with a coda which illustrates and analyses the enduring presence of phrenological imagery within a culture that retains little memory of the theory itself. Towards the close of his presidency, Donald Trump was on several occasions mocked by political cartoonists who purported to analyse and explain his behaviour and aspirations by mapping these out upon a recognisable phrenological map of his profile. The implications of this act demonstrate the continued presence of phrenology in a contemporary culture very different to that in which the pseudoscience originated.

in The dome of thought
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William Hughes

The concluding chapter examines the persistence of phrenology into the twentieth century, and the relative success of a small number of practitioners in Britain who maintained not merely a programme of instruction but also continued to offer consultations and cranial analysis. The chapter contemplates the significance of the British Phrenological Society which was founded by Lorenzo Fowler in 1886 and which survived until 1967. The activities, pedagogical programme and publications of the society are acknowledged, as is the ostensible value of the endorsement it provided to practitioners through the status of membership or fellowship signified by postnomial letters. The effective cessation of phrenological practice in the decades that followed the society’s dissolution is noted.

in The dome of thought
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Phrenology and the nineteenth-century popular imagination
Author:

The dome of thought examines how phrenology and phrenologists were represented in British daily newspapers, popular magazines and serious journals from the opening of the nineteenth century to its conclusion, before tracing the residual influence of the pseudoscience across the twentieth century and, surprisingly, into the second decade of the twenty-first century. The book opens with a consideration of how phrenology was deployed to explain literary celebrity in the Victorian period with particular attention being directed to the interpretation of the skulls of William Shakespeare and Robert Burns. The book then continues by recalling the manner in which the doctrine of phrenology was introduced to British culture in the early nineteenth century, and the manner in which the Continental activities of Franz Joseph Gall and Johann Gasper Spurzheim were reported. The lecture tour of Britain and Ireland subsequently undertaken by Spurzheim is discussed, and the book reassess the controversy which surrounded his encounter with the Scottish medical establishment in 1816. Spurzheim’s influence upon George Combe, the Scottish lawyer who was the popular face of British phrenology for much of the century, is then considered, as is the interface of phrenological thought with mesmerism in the work of John Elliotson. The final chapter of the book surveys the declining years of speculative and theoretical phrenology and its transformation into a primarily commercial activity under the particular influence of the American Fowler brothers. The conclusion surveys phrenology in the twentieth century, and its resurgence in political satires directed against Donald Trump.

Phrenology in Britain during the first decade of the nineteenth century
William Hughes

The origins of phrenology are Continental rather than British. The opening chapter therefore surveys the earliest theories of an identifiable phrenology – those formulated by the German physician Franz Joseph Gall in Vienna – as they were reported in the British press. The religious controversy surrounding Gall’s studies, which were ostensibly associated with a form of secularism incompatible with Roman Catholic spirituality, is noted for its prominence in British popular reportage, where authors were quick to avail themselves of the opportunity to enjoin in xenophobic mockery. Gall’s extensive tour of Europe, which followed the apparently hostile reception by the Austrian authorities, is then considered, and hitherto unreprinted reports of the doctor’s earliest phrenological experiments are quoted and analysed. These include both favourable accounts and others which dismissed phrenology as a fad already in decline, and thus not likely to attract any following in Britain. The possibility of Gall travelling to Britain, and of his analysing the crania of the upper classes, was similarly the subject of mocking journalism. The chapter reproduces some of the earliest graphic images of the phrenological model of the skull and discusses and explains the significance of the earliest tabulation of the phrenological organs to appear in the English language. Notably, the fluid and developing nature of the phrenological map of character is acknowledged, and the debate about the function and location of different organs is played out in the popular press. This is an important chapter as it outlines the earliest incarnation of phrenology in anglophone culture.

in The dome of thought
Exhumation and the autopsy of talent
William Hughes

The chapter opens by contemplating the Victorian debate as to whether Shakespeare’s grave should be opened in order to ascertain not merely the presence of his body but also the conformation of his skull. The significance of that skull is outlined with reference to Wilkie Collins’s novella Mr Wray’s Cash-Box, which emphasises the role that the bust of the dramatist in the parish church of Stratford-on-Avon plays in the myth of Shakespeare’s genius. Other portraits of the Bard are then highlighted as the focus of phrenological speculation, and the connections between physiognomy, phrenology and genius are made further with reference to the actual exhumation of the Scottish poet Robert Burns, during which an authorised cast of his skull was taken specifically for phrenological analysis. Having established the presence of phrenology in a popular culture that proceeds far beyond medicine, the remainder of the chapter outlines the basic tenets of the pseudoscience, identifies the central protagonists of its early years in Britain and describes the chapters which follow.

in The dome of thought